[contains minor episode spoilers]
In the midseason finale of Season 4 (“Too Far Gone”) that aired on Dec. 1, 2013, the entire dynamic of AMC’s The Walking Dead irrevocably changed. The episode was action-packed, complete with explosions and gunfights and zombies galore, and fans of the show have been waiting with no small amount anxiety for the next installment. With “After,” the midseason premiere that aired on Feb. 9, the fans may or may not have gotten what they had been hoping for over the past two months.
“After” follows the stories of two of the new units formed after the fall of the prison: the Grimes men, and Michonne. With Rick largely out of commission due to injuries, Carl must fight to prove himself as he takes care of his father. Meanwhile, Michonne struggles to regain her former stoicism as she sets out alone.
In some ways, “After” feels like a letdown from the dizzyingly fast-paced violence of “Too Far Gone.” While this episode picks up immediately following the conclusion of the previous (complete with burning prison and encroaching Walkers), the sense of purpose is largely missing. Fortunately, the show compensates for the lack of direction by imbuing a sense of desolate hopelessness as the characters go through the motions of survival.
Of the three, Rick is the only one to actually demonstrate any eagerness to keep moving, a fact painfully offset by that fact that he’s crippled from a gunshot wound to the leg and a few broken ribs poking into his lungs. Both Michonne and Carl have moments in which they clearly contemplate giving up altogether and accepting the fate that awaits everybody in the zombie apocalypse.
Also potentially problematic to viewers is the fact that so few familiar faces are actually present in the episode. After months of waiting for the show to return, fans favoring Daryl or Maggie or Tyreese were surely frustrated at their absence beyond previews for next week.
Now, despite the fact that “After” will likely not be a universal favorite, it was exactly the episode needed to bridge the gap between the destruction of “Too Far Gone” and the individual on-the-run storylines that will likely dominate much of the second half of the season. It also gave a closer look at the mindsets of two of the more enigmatic characters. Carl had always been little more than a trigger-happy tagalong who never stayed in the house, and Michonne’s popularity was mostly derived from her awesomeness with a samurai sword. With “After,” we got a much more in-depth look at both.
As an added bonus, viewers were treated to on-screen evidence that the Governor is, in fact, finally dead. Sadly, viewers also had to see Hershel’s disembodied head snapping at Michonne’s ankles in order to get a good look at the hole in the Governor’s forehead, but at least we have a 100% definitive answer to put an end to any wild speculation about his fate.
Now, we just need one about baby Judith.