'The Walking Dead' Mid-Season Premiere Recap: Carl Steps Up and Michonne Confronts Her Past
'The Walking Dead' Mid-Season Premiere Recap: Carl Steps Up and Michonne Confronts Her Past
Megan Cole
Megan Cole
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
When we last saw our survivors, the Governor and his group attacked the prison. The Governor killed Hershel, before getting a bullet between the eyes and the prison had to be abadoned. In the chaos, our survivors split off into many separate groups. Though Rick managed to find Carl, baby Judith was presumed dead.

In this week's mid-season premiere, "After," Rick, Carl and Michonne try to recover from their recent losses and we learn more about Michonne's past. Read on to find out if this episode of The Walking Dead can deliver that mix of sweet zombie action and rich character development we crave.

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Michonne's Evolution

Michonne is still at the prison after everyone else has gone. As Walkers swarm all around her, she takes out a few with her katana before deciding to make some new pets. Before she leaves the prison behind, Michonne finds what remains of Hershel. Danai Gurira is amazing in this scene, as Michonne dispatches Hershel's zombie head into the afterlife. Later, when she comes across Rick and Carl's tracks, she chooses to walk in another direction, away from the people she has come to care about.

One of the great things about focusing on just three of our characters in this episode is that we get to spend a lot of time with them. This leads to a bit of Michonne back-story, something that has only been hinted at in the past.

In a chilling dream sequence, we learn the identity of Michonne's two pets -- her boyfriend and his buddy -- and that she did indeed have a child -- a son -- in the pre-zombie world. We also learn that her boyfriend eventually lost all hope and his friend began to resent her for the way she adapted to the Walker-filled world, thanks to her skill with the katana.

After trying to shake off her dream, Michonne channels her grief into a Walker slaughter that ends when she kills her new pets. She then goes back to the tracks she found earlier in the episode and follows them to her people. Before ultimately making it to Rick and Carl, Michonne has a great moment where she talks to her boyfriend again, essentially putting that part of her life behind her so she can move forward with the people she has now opened her heart to. It is one of those great cathartic moments and Danai Gurira plays it beautifully.

Rick and Carl Struggle to Survive

Following the death of his daughter -- though we still can't be sure of Judith's fate, Rick and Carl believe she is gone -- Rick is in bad shape. He lashes out at Carl whenever he tries to do something on his own and orders him around, determined to keep Carl safe even if it also means pushing him away. Rick's physical weakness is evident when he tries to kill a walker via an ax to the head, only to fail in doing so because he can barely stand, let alone take down Walkers.

After gathering some supplies, Carl and Rick eventually stop at a random house, because it is as good as any. They argue as they clear the house and realize that the doors will not stay shut. Carl finds some cables to tie the doors and Shane gets a shout-out, as Carl mentions that he taught him how to tie knots and coolly asks Rick if he remembers Shane.

Later, Rick has passed out from his injuries and Carl loses it when he cannot wake him. Carl screams at his father to wake up, driving home the knowledge that Rick is literally the only person Carl has left in the world, at least as far as Carl knows. All that yelling draws the attention of two nearby Walkers and they pound against the doors, trying to get in.

Carl slips out of the house and lures the two Walkers away, since Rick is in no condition to be moved. Carl does a good job of getting both Walkers away from the house, but gets into some trouble when he stumbles upon a third. After a short scuffle, he kills all three Walkers and returns to the house to tell Rick about his victory.

Carl Deals with His Anger at Rick

In an absolutely stunning scene, Carl unleashes his anger on his unconscious father. He blames Rick for the deaths of their people, because Rick was their leader and he could not protect them. Carl tells Rick that he knows how to survive on his own and he does not need him anymore. "I'd be fine if you died," Carl says, though we know that is not the case.

With Rick still passed out, Carl goes out alone to hunt for more supplies. He gets into a dangerous situation in one of the houses he searches and it is the closest call we have seen in a while, as Carl narrowly avoids getting munched on. But he manages to slither away and celebrates by eating a lot of pudding.

When Carl is trying to sleep that night, he hears moans coming from Rick and believes his father has turned. In a devastating moment, Carl raises his gun to shoot his father, only to realize that he can't do it. He begs his father to just get it over with, before Rick speaks and proves he is still alive. Carl crawls over to Rick, who has passed out again, and cradles his's head in his lap as he chants "I'm scared" over and over again.

"It's For You"

As the episode comes to a close, Rick is finally awake and he takes a moment to acknowledge his son. He knows that Carl is a man now and he apologizes for treating him like a child. Carl forgives his father and we get the sense that their relationship is back on track. As the men bond, they hear a knock on the door. Rick goes to answer it and dissolves into laughter, telling Carl that the visitor is there for him. Of course, that visitor is Michonne and part of our family has been reunited.

After such a weighty episode, this moment is almost magical. It lets us know that while things will never be the same and the losses will keep piling up, there will always be a little hope left in the world.

Is This the Season of Carl?

This week's mid-season opener has been touted as Carl's coming-of-age moment and it definitely delivers on that front. Chandler Riggs has done some great work during the past four seasons, but he takes it to another level in "After." Riggs' performance here is nuanced and compelling, as Carl deals with so many different emotions and challenges, all while wondering if he truly is alone now. If this is the start of Carl-the-adult, I hope we get much more of him this season.

What did you think of the mid-season premiere? There have been hints to Michonne's back-story for a while now, but did it surprise you to see it come out in a dream-sequence?  This episode follows the comics very closely, probably as closely as any episode other than the pilot. If you have read the comics, did you like seeing so many of those moments play out on screen? Or do you prefer it when the show deviates from the source material? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights at 9pm on AMC.

(Image courtesy of AMC)