Ever since Lori's (un)timely death, the man, the myth, the hot mess that is Rick Grimes has been on an annoying downward spiral with an end that seemed to be nowhere in sight. And who would have known that, 31 episodes into the series, it wouldn't be Carl, or Hershel, or any of the other misfits he's met along his journey that would snap him right back to reality. Instead, it was Morgan Jones, the kindly man who fostered Rick during the show's pilot, that would unintentionally drill in a very important message: Rick Grimes, s**t could always be worse.
I'm guessing that tonight's episode will be a polarizing one. Not only did we not see any forward movement on the Grimes versus Woodbury plot line, but there were no epic Walker battles — and, oh yeah, the only characters shown in the episode were Rick, Carl, Michonne, and Morgan. Any episode that excludes Daryl Dixon in favor of generally unpopular characters like Carl and Michonne is a risk, but I think that this particular risk was very well worth taking. It was the first episode that actually humanized Michonne as a real live being with feelings, and not just a scowl-face ("I think she might be one of us," says Carl). Also, it furthered Carl along on his journey from annoying pre-teen to courageous adult with a strong sense of morals in an increasingly morally deprived world. Plus, that cat! And rats on skateboards! (ASIDE: Why have we not seen any cats on The Walking Dead? If anyone can easily escape a herd of Walkers and remain well-fed during a Zombie Apocalypse, it's a cat. New showrunner Scott Gimple, please hire some cats.)
But mostly, this was the episode that effectively halted Rick's downward spiral, by sending him back to his home town for ammo (ASIDE: Was anyone else laughing at how little they've traveled over the last few seasons?), and putting him face to face with someone who has fared far worse in this post-apocalyptic society. Rick may have lost Lori and some other randos along the way (sorry, T-Dog), but he still has his son, and some pretty good people to share some semblance of a life with. Something to fight for, if you will. When Rick stared Morgan straight in the face, he saw what he himself would become if he continued on his current trajectory. He saw the face of what all-encompassing loss can do to a person. It sucks.
And it wasn't even just Morgan — the whole episode was a giant jolt for the audience, too, as we've become accustomed to a season filled to the brim with cray cray humans, both in Woodbury and the prison. (Fight the dead, fear the living — remember?) This season has felt very alive in a show about the literal and metaphoric walking dead, and tonight offered a huge break from that. The trip to Rick and Carl's hometown gave us and them their first real look back, and boy was it depressing. The opening shot of the episode offered a glimpse at one permanently forgotten family's tragic story ("Erin, we tried for Stone Mountain — J"), and the other car on the highway, filled with rotten corpses, was an obvious metaphor for RICK GRIMES, THIS COULD HAVE BEEN YOU. (Rick did show occasional looks of remorse when he saw the misfortune of others, but come on — you know he wouldn't let that family into the Grimes Gang if they had survived. If only they too had been driving a Hyundai.)
Case in point: the faceless dude who ran after the Grimes' Hyundai, completely alone and desperate, on the highway. Dude, you're about to become a statistic. I'm not sure if it was Rick's unwillingness to take people in — highlighted again by the conversation Michonne overheard where Rick told Carl that she was only with them now, temporarily, because they had common goals — or just seeing the lonely desolation that would be her life without them, but a lightbulb finally went off in Michonne's thick head. That talking lightbulb said, "Maybe be nice to these people and smile now and then, Michonne, before they throw you out on the road with Merle. This world is f***ing brutal and you're lucky to have friends, even if one of those friends is Carl." Talking lightbulb is deep, you guys.
But we'll get back to Michonne and Carl's B-plot bonding later, because the Rick and Morgan stuff was really good. After the Grimes trio unsuccessfully raided Rick's old company headquarters (the sheriff's station) for guns and ammo, Rick suggested that they head to main street because, as Plainsville's NRA spokesperson and gun permit-signer, he knew where all of the town's secret stashes were. ("Do you have a problem with that approach?" Rick asked Michonne, being a total prick. "No Rick, I don't have a problem," she sincerely replied with a look of sadness, as she handed him a lone bullet. Michonne can be endearing when she actually tries.)
So off to main street they went, except main street wasn't main street anymore, it was a mess of Mount Vesuvius-style charred corpses, ominous graffitied warnings, and Walker traps that vaguely resembled the barricades from the stage version of Les Miserables. The town was clearly being run by a very resourceful lone loon. And that lone loon, we soon learned when he appeared from a rooftop demanding their guns and their rapid departure, was MORGAN! A shoot-out immediately followed, and Carl shot him — because Carl shoots everybody nowadays. Just ask Saturday Night Live. Then Rick took off Morgan's mask, and had a "holy s**t" moment when he saw his old pal. He'd been wearing a bulletproof vest so he was fine, just passed out. And without his little son Duane, so it was obvious that this man's story was going to descend into tragedy-ville as soon as he woke up.
Oh, did it ever! Morgan was living in a booby-trapped apartment, with walls covered in scribbles (the first lesson you learn in Looney Loon 101) and Rick's walkie-talkie of missed opportunity. Do you know what that walkie-talkie smelled like to Rick Grimes? It smelled like guilt. Rick hadn't turned on that outdated piece of technology every day at dawn to rescue his ill-fated friend. He'd gone on living — becoming embroiled in Lori/Shane scandals, having children, making friends with Daryl. A pretty okay life, considering. Michonne — the voice of reason in Daryl's absence — wanted to get the you-know-what out of there ("I think he's dangerous," she said. Duh!), but Rick Grimes loves confronting his demons and feeling guilty about things so he stuck around, while Carl and Michonne went on a photography-inspired adventure that we'll get to momentarily. Before they left, we had our @LOLMichonne moment of the week when Rick scolded her for eating the still passed out Morgan's food. "Mat says 'welcome,'" she replied with a hefty dose of monotone and a shrug. Girl, you silly.
Morgan woke up a few minutes later (right after we saw that he'd scribbled EVERYONE TURNS on the wall), and tried to stab Rick. Dude appeared to be three sheets to the wind with madness. "I don't know you!" he screamed, after mumbling something about Rick wearing a dead man's face. "You don't clear! You turn! You just die! Psycho babble psycho babble!" he ranted, whilst still trying to stab Rick in the face. He nicked him in the shoulder, then began to cry and begged Rick to kill him once Sheriff Grimes got the upper hand.
Of course, he regained clarity and recognized Rick as soon as Rick brought out the symbolic walkie talkie. "You said you'd turn yours on at dawn, that's what you said," Morgan cried. He'd turned it on every day, for weeks. With his boy. But no, nothing — nothin' but nothin' from Rick Grimes. "You said you'd turn on your radio every day at dawn, and YOU WERE NOT [period] THERE [period]," he screamed. Great, just what Rick needs — more ruined lives to feel accountable for. Rick tried to explain his actions to Morgan, but duh, mostly to himself. He had lives he was in charge of, he explained. They had to keep moving. (ASIDE: I've been saying for weeks that Rick needs to get over feeling accountable for every person that's been somehow f***ed over since the beginning of this series if he's going to survive, and it seems like this is finally happening. Thanks for being the sacrificial lamb, Morgan.)
Morgan is sad and crazy so we'll give him a pass, but he was being kind of a d**k to Rick. You know, sarcastically telling Rick his life was great because he didn't have to see his wife turn like Morgan did. I hated him for about ten seconds, but then he told a horrible story that makes Carl shooting Lori sound downright uplifting. Remember in the pilot, when Rick gave Morgan the gun to shoot his Walker wife? But he couldn't do it? Morgan remembers that, too. "I let her go like there wasn't going to be a reckoning," he said. (ASIDE: I mean, it was totally obvious that this story was coming from the moment we found out that Duane was dead, but Lennie James' deliverance was just soul-crushing.)
Morgan and Duane were looking for food, you see. (It always comes down to food.) He looked away for just long enough for his wife to reappear, right over Duane. Duane held up his gun, ready to shoot. But, alas, Duane was no Carl Grimes, and Morgan was unable to stop it. "He turned, and she was just on him," he explained. "And I just see red. I see red." Oh boy, this is heartbreaking. Call your loved ones and get back to me…
… K. My mom says hi. So Morgan didn't kill his wife, then his wife killed his son, and Rick Grimes was the man that gave him the gun that could have prevented all that. That's why he's bananagrams, and it totally makes sense. Rick Grimes was starting to look and feel very normal in comparison, as Morgan told him that Carl and everyone he knew would surely die. I mean it's true, but telling white lies never hurt anyone, Morgan.
Regardless of Morgan being a total buzz-kill, Rick invited him back to the prison, selling it as some kind of Utopia. (ASIDE: Really, Rick? You kick out the lovely, totally mentally adept Tyreese and his gang and deliver them to the welcoming hands of the Governor, but beg this loon to join you? Think about your life, Rick. Think about your choices.) But Morgan decided to rot in the prison of his own making, instead. It was an awful lot of guns Rick was taking, and Morgan wanted no part of any sort of human struggle. He'd already chosen a slow and brutal death, and was clearly in the right place. "Why do you need the guns, Rick? Cause if you've got something good, that just means there's someone who wants to take it. That is what is happening, right?" I mean — yeah.
"You will be torn apart by teeth or bullets," Morgan went on. "You and your boy. Your people. But not me — because I am not going to watch that happen again." Chilling. And this was the moment, ladies and gents, where Rick Grimes CHOSE LIFE! "This can't be it," Rick said. "You have to be able to come back from this." He was metaphorically talking to himself, right? Or the version of himself that would be if he kept talking to visions of Lori? This is so the "Ghost of Christmas Future" section of A Christmas Carol. Rick stared his future in the face, and didn't like what he saw. He tried to reason with that future, then realized there was no reasoning once you jumped fully into the rabbit hole. So he took his guns, and he left. Bye Morgan, thanks for being symbolically brilliant and what not. Enjoy all the misery and the rats on skateboards. Maybe get a dog, too, because that worked wonders for I Am Legend.
Now it's time to delve into the unlikely friendship between Carl Grimes and Michonne… (does she have a last name?) Carl left Morgan's apartment under the guise of getting a crib for Asskicker at the Plainsville Baby Emporium, but Michonne knows bulls**t when she sees it (see: Woodbury). Carl is a terrible liar, and it was obvious that he was off to take some sort of ill-fated trip down memory lane. Also, Chandler Riggs is a good actor, and wears his emotions all over his f***ing adorable Bieber-y face. So Michonne either A, likes Carl as a human being, B, wanted to get in good with the Grimes Gang, C, knew that hanging out with Rick would be terrible, or D, doesn't care for the death of children. Whatever it was, she followed him. You know, to help "carry the crib."
As soon as they left, Carl gave Michonne the dip while she sliced open a Walker. She was scowley until she caught up with him and he walked straight past the Baby Emporium, saying he was going to get little Asskicker something else first. Clearly this was something of importance to poor little Carl, who should be learning Algebra but is instead learning how to survive in a world without hope (not sure which is worse), and Michonne's heart grew three sizes that day. Michonne decided to help out on this sure to be stupid mission, and selflessly accompanying a member of the Grimes Gang on a stupid mission is the only way to gain membership to this terribly exclusive group, so the decision was a good one.
Carl was very unwelcoming at first, spewing out his dad's hurtful argument that she was only there because they had common interests, then she would GTFO with Merle and the other unpopular kids. The thick-headed cowboy was headed into a Walker-filled restaurant though, so she ignored him. Way to turn down help from the warrior woman with a Katana, Carl. A total Carl Grimes move, if you will. Then, obviously, Michonne saved Carl's life and killed the s*** out of several Walkers, but they were not able to retrieve this mysterious restaurant item that Carl so badly desired. (Was it whiskey?) "It's the only one left!" Carl cried. "We have to go back, Kate!" Michonne knew he wasn't going to let this one go. "No more bulls**t," she said. "You wait here, and that's how we get it done."
Thankfully, Carl actually listened — and seconds later Michonne came back with a photo of Rick, Lori, and little innocent Carl. "I just thought Judith should know what her mom looked like," he said with an adorable smile. "Thank you." But Michonne was going to go back anyway, to retrieve a colorful statue of a cat. "I just couldn't leave this behind," she said. "It's just too damn gorgeous," she said. Then something wonderful happened — she smiled! Michonne smiled! Michonne likes art! We're learning so much about her, finally, and I like her. I maybe even cried a little. Sue me, this was an emotional episode.
In the end, Carl and Michonne (who found a crib!) met up with Rick and Morgan in the street. "He's okay," Michonne observed. "No, he's not," Rick replied. Carl apologized to Morgan for shooting him, and Morgan told him to never be sorry. This is not a world where you can feel sorry, Carl Grimes. Your father just spent an entire episode learning that very same lesson, let's hope you pick up on it sooner.
They packed up the Hyundai with their guns and baby stuff, (how totally red state, emiright?) and Carl announced to Rick that Michonne "might be one of us," while she was pretty much standing right there. I love how they do that. These two are absolutely terrible at talking about people behind their backs. Then Michonne buddied up with the elder Grimes, stating matter-of-factly that she knew that he had been seeing things. "I used to talk to my dead boyfriend," she said. "It happens." Michonne had a boyfriend! Michonne is so likable! I love this episode, and Rick's response: "Do you want to drive?" he asked. "Yeah," she replied. (It's a Hyundai! Who wouldn't want to drive a Hyundai?) "Good, cause I see things." Rick Grimes, you are so damn sexy when your head is on straight.
Michonne drove off, while Rick gazed out the window — saying goodbye to his old life, and his guilt — once and for all. To hammer this point in, they drove past the guts of the poor hapless hitchhiker from the beginning of the episode, and stole all of his stuff. That's the spirit! All in all, I thought that this was a tremendous episode, with some of the best writing and characterization we've seen all season. But enough about me — what did you think? Did you like seeing Morgan again? Do you feel that Rick is fully healed? What do you think Merle was doing while all of this was going down? Mentally torturing someone, I'd reckon. Let us know in the comments!
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[Photo Credit: AMC (2)]