For the first time this season, this week's edition of The Walking Dead stepped back from the overarching storyline of Prisonville vs. Woodbury and focused on four characters, including one that hadn't been heard from since the very first episode. By doing so, the episode had a strong theme running throughout the hour that wasn't diluted by the presence of too many characters or the need to move the central plot along.
The excellent Lennie James returned to the series in the role of Morgan, the kind fellow who helped acclimate Rick to the changed world in which he awoke during the pilot episode. Since that appearance, fans have clamored to find out what happened to Morgan and his son Duane, but the answer was not a pleasant one.
After failing to put down his walking dead wife the last time we saw him, Morgan later suffered the soulcrushing fate of watching her tear into Duane when his son was unable to pull the trigger on his mother. It was only then that Morgan finally mustered the fortitude to put his Jenny out of her ghoulish misery, but it was too late. Not only did his weakness put his young son in the unfathomable position of being forced to turn a gun on his own mother, it led to the boy's cruel, painful death and Morgan's own loss of sanity.
Let's just say, Morgan isn't dealing with his grief well. Dedicating the rest of his existence to clearing the world of the undead menace, Morgan has embraced his isolation and constructed a series of booby traps to protect him from walkers and people alike. His story is a perfect parallel to Rick's, right down to their respective sons and wives. Instead of allowing his wife's demise to consume him like Rick did, Morgan pooled his efforts into protecting his son and sheltering him from the brutal truths outside their door.
While that might seem like an appropriate parenting strategy in a traumatic situation, it ultimately resulted in poor Duane being ineffectual and losing his life in the most horrifying way imaginable for a young boy. This proves that Rick's style of treating Carl like an adult and raising him to show no mercy against walkers, even his own mother, was the proper way to keep him alive.
Now that he has seen the extreme end of the spectrum, Rick will likely try even harder to pull himself back together for the good of his son and the community that relies on him. While trying to convince Morgan to snap out of his funk and come to the prison, Rick was really acting out his own inner dialogue and realizing that he has many reasons to keep living.
Similarly, Michonne realized that she needs the group as well and took heartwarming steps to ingratiate herself with Rick and Carl. As I alluded to last week, Michonne revealed to Rick that she used to have conversations with her dead boyfriend. The interaction between the two characters was well-played with great writing and both actors showing restraint. Whether or not it turns romantic/sexual remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to see their bond develop now that Rick has a confidant who understands what he's going through.
Driving home the theme of isolation, "Clear" was bookended by the appearance of a lone hitchhiker with a backpack on the side of the road. On the way to town, Michonne and Rick sped past him without batting an eye, not prepared to trust a stranger under their current circumstances. I was sure Backpack Guy would figure into the story and make our heroes regret leaving him behind, but when they came back through at the end of the episode, all that was left of him was some pulpy entrails and his backpack. Just as casually as they ignored his pleas for help earlier, they stopped and picked up the loaded backpack before heading home in a beautiful closing shot.
An instant classic, this episode was one of the best of the entire series and a highlight of the season for me. Michonne opened up and revealed her personality, Rick may have realized that he needs to snap back to reality, and we finally found out what happened to Morgan. Despite being out of the Walking Dead loop for nearly three years, Lennie James stepped right back into this world and provided a phenomenal performance. Although Morgan seems bizarrely content trapping and destroying walkers, there is always the possibility that he will come to his senses and head to the prison just in time to lend a hand against the Governor.
Of course, it's also just as likely that Morgan stumbled over the tripwire on his way up the stairs and received the axe in the face right after Rick and his crew left. I'm hoping this isn't the last we see of him, though.
FINAL GRADE: A+