The Walking Dead ‘After’ (409): Survivors regroup and face their demons

Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) - The Walking Dead _ Season 4, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) - The Walking Dead _ Season 4, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC /

Carl was somewhat highlighted in The Walking Dead. However, it wasn’t until season 4’s “After” that we really got insight into his psychological struggles.

Growing up and becoming a man can be difficult under normal circumstances, let alone while zombies walk around. The hardship is even worse when The Walking Dead‘s Carl sees daddy Rick as a failure! Many people surely saw this as a negative aspect to Carl’s character, and that’s understandable. Still, if you put yourself in his shoes, it shouldn’t be difficult to see where he’s coming from.

In many ways Rick was a failure. What Carl doesn’t realize is that, when it comes down to it, very few people do everything right in life. There are so many errors one can make, even when they think they’re smart or wise. With Rick, everyone and everything was putting him to the test, and it seems even he wondered why everyone turned to him as a leader. In the previous episode, when the Governor demanded he speak for the group, Rick emphasized that he wasn’t even in charge. Originally, it is part of Rick’s character to be a self-assigned “decider.” However, Rick (unlike Carl) understood by now that things were out of his control, and wanted to defer to the wisdom of the prison’s council.

Carl believes his father has faltered, leading to the deaths of his mother and the loss of his baby sister, Judith.  In fact, Carl was the one who ended up mercy-killing his mom, as Rick simply was not there.  Carl also has complicated feelings about Rick’s killing of Shane, who had become a secondary father figure to him.  Now, as Rick lies on the couch, wounded and exhausted, it gives Carl a chance to vent these frustrations and to strike out on his own (against his possibly overprotective father’s wishes).

Carl on his own

Carl, the impetuous youth, doesn’t bother considering these circumstances. There are signs that he either romanticized his father as a hero, or at least wanted to. In “After,” Rick is the complete opposite of that. Bloody, broken and sore, nothing about him seems heroic. He barely put up a fight against the Governor (which, if you think about it, was pretty bold writing). So, when Carl sets out on a supply run, he’s fulfilling the role of his fallen father.

However, reality lunges at him, snapping its jaws in the form of walkers. He learns that life isn’t just about courage. It’s sometimes too complex and dangerous for one person to call all the shots. This, of course, isn’t just Carl’s problem, but a fact that belongs to everyone. No matter how secure we wish to make ourselves, life has its ways of blowing up our best intentions and aspirations.

Michonne’s moment of truth

The Walking Dead‘s  Michonne is not only a survivor but a warrior. Still, “After” also reveals her to be an emotional human being. This episode offers hints into her troubled past, as well as a possible troubled future. For a time she literally walks with the dead, joining a walker herd leading away from the prison. In previous episodes, Rick and crew used this technique by draping walker guts on their bodies as camouflage. However, this strategy was never as symbolic as it is here.

When she sees a walker who looks similar to her, it snaps her out of her malaise, and she doesn’t merely slice up walkers to save herself physically. It’s more of an affirmation of life, and a denial of her death. This is despite having a horrific nightmare where she had killed her boyfriend and his pal. Life may be like that nightmare, but she’s going to take control of her life, and her mind. Of course, in the episode’s beginning, Michonne put poor Hershel out of his misery, too. That may not be particularly symbolic, but it shows a determination to do what has to be done.

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De-romanticized storytelling

Looking at all of this, it suggests that The Walking Dead is all about de-romanticizing its characters. It may be a silly “zombie show” to some, but its writing has generally been on the mature side. In this episode, not a single living character is depicted as one-dimensional.  That;’s not always the easiest feat.  The Walking Dead tends to leave that aspect to the walkers. Now, as the survivors have fled the prison, one wonders if these people can even pretend to have security anymore.

What are your thoughts on this Walking Dead episode? Let us know in the comments!