It looks like the next stretch of The Walking Dead will be focusing on building up towards the eventual Woodbury army vs. the Prison crew showdown. “Clear” takes us on a little road trip to Rick and Carl’s old hometown and the reappearance of an old friend. It is once again pretty clear that sanity is a rare commodity in this world, and being kind to strangers is an almost extinct behavior.

I Hate It When an Old Friend Greets Me with a Knife to the Shoulder

Rick returns to his hometown, and it looks very different than we remember from the series premiere. But I want to know how they’re even anywhere close to where Rick started three seasons ago. During the excursion over the entire series, were they content with covering a little less than a quarter of a mile a day? Or was their goal to travel in a circle because, hey, who doesn’t love circles, since they resemble doughnuts? Rick obviously misses doughnuts. If you ever have to move across the country, it appears it would be best to not ask for assistance from Rick’s crew.

It doesn’t really make sense that Rick would be anywhere near his hometown, but it does end up becoming important. Like many long-time Walking Dead viewers, I’ve been wondering what ever happened to Morgan and Duane from the first-ever episode. It appears poor Duane became dinner for his zombie mom, and Morgan has become about 50 more kinds of crazy than Rick.

Despite Morgan creating a deathtrap wonderland that would make Kevin McCallister proud and seeming to have a new life goal of killing Rick, our favorite crazy former sheriff wants to reminisce about old times with Morgan. Once Morgan suddenly breaks out of his daze of crazy, he realizes he does know who Rick is. It probably would have been less painful for Rick if Morgan figured that out before stabbing him in the shoulder. It also appears Morgan isn’t thrilled to see the man who failed to radio him every noon like what was promised. Obviously, Rick’s life got a little busy for a daily noon-hour broadcast, but apparently, he has been close enough to shout out to Morgan.

Morgan’s purpose seems to be a representation of what Rick could turn into if he isn’t careful. Rick is lucky that he still has some family alive and aligned himself with people that care about him. Morgan was a sane and kind man when this series started, and now he has a hobby of caging mice so he can make zombie traps. This may be the moment Rick needs to stop isolating himself from the group and being kept company by images his mind creates.

The big question posed by this episode is, Should Rick feel responsible for Morgan’s current loss of sanity? Maybe things would have been different if Rick continued to call Morgan for weeks and weeks. He also was the person that told Morgan he needed to permanently put away his zombie wife, and it looks like that advice could have saved Duane. Rick isn’t really at fault, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t carry guilt with him for several episodes anyway. After all, this is the man that saved his life and is responsible for this series being about Rick for longer than one very special episode.

Lennie James delivers a stunning performance as Morgan. The confrontation is a little contrived, and the character has moments of bordering on being too far-fetched. He does jump out of insanity a little too quickly. But James makes you believe in Morgan, and it’s a pretty emotional exchange with Rick. It definitely ends up being one of the more powerful and memorable confrontations of the entire series.

Bonding at the Cafe

We also get some character development with Carl and Michonne. Carl seems to suddenly acquire an extreme dislike of Michonne this episode, and he starts reminding me of the annoying spoiled brat he was a season ago. It looks like the sudden strong dislike is the writers’ attempt to finally allow Michonne to get accepted into the group. Carl and Michonne have a bonding moment, and that’s enough for Rick to decide Michonne might be buddy material now.

Carl is on a mission to retrieve a family picture. The Grimes were apparently celebrities here, and worthy of having a framed photo in a local cafe. Carl almost offers up a tasty ankle to a hiding zombie, and Michonne comes to his rescue with the old classic “blade to the noggin” defense. They then enjoy a good zombie killing party in the cafe, which is always a great way to bond.

It is Michonne’s great magic trick that wins Carl over. It is clearly shown that Carl drops the picture and is dragged out of the cafe by Michonne. Carl is then pissed off that she won’t allow him back into a cafe, where it appears zombies are continuously repopulating inside. Michonne then makes it all better by turning a corner and then reappearing with the picture in hand. This is the episode we learn Michonne’s career before the zombie apocalypse was being the warm-up act for Penn and Teller, it would seem.

At least the storyline now means Michonne has finally connected with the group. It’s sweet seeing her try so hard to impress Rick and warm up to Carl. It’s a subtle character development for her. It reinforces how badly she wants to belong and contribute to the crew. Hopefully, this now means her storyline can move in a different direction, and Rick can finally add a new person to his trust list.

Hitchhiker isn’t Any Way to Make a Living

The last key moment of this episode is the hitchhiker. The poor fellow is ignored by Rick and company at the start of the episode. At the end, we see smeared guts and his backpack on the road. Michonne then stops the car so they can take the backpack. It is a reminder that these characters have drastically changed their outlook in season 3. They are focused on doing whatever it takes to protect their family, and they no longer have time to help any outsiders. Each of these characters may have times when they’ll be willing to risk their lives for each other, but they’ll also become much darker and less willing to care about the outside world as things progress.

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(Image courtesy of AMC)

Chris Spicer

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV