Chris Philpott 's Opinion

Chris Philpott is nzherald.co.nz's resident TV expert.

Chris Philpott: Michonne shines in Dead's return

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How was The Walking Dead's return after a mid-season hiatus? Chris Philpott investigates a "quiet" episode of the zombie show.
Michonne and some friends in a flashback from The Walking Dead's new episode. Photo/AMC
Michonne and some friends in a flashback from The Walking Dead's new episode. Photo/AMC

Well, that wasn't at all what I was expecting.

I was thinking The Walking Dead would come back with all guns blazing, rapidly switching between all the survivors as they deal with suddenly being thrust back into the wide world in groups of two or three, fighting off walkers and leftover Governor soldiers for an entire hour.

Instead, we got a relatively - dare I say it - quiet episode that eschewed the majority of the cast and drilled down deep on Carl and Michonne, two characters in desperate need of development, while perfectly balancing the pathos and humanity any good drama needs with the zombie annihilation we know and love.

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I thought the Carl-centric portions of the episode were the most touching parts of the hour. Young actor Chandler Riggs did a good job of portraying the teen angst that his character is surely suffering, magnified by a trio of losses in mother Lori, baby sister Judith and pseudo-step dad Shane, even though I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the dialogue.

"Shane taught me," Carl barks at Rick, who just questioned whether the door to their newly-commandeered home was securely closed. "Remember him?!" The pair might as well have been in a family melodrama.

Yet, there was something strangely emotive about much of Carl's exploits during the middle acts of the episode. It's hard not to feel for this kid who has effectively grown up in an apocalypse, yearning for the normal childhood that passed him by, as you watch him eat his way through a tub of pudding - complete with cute musical cue - or read a book in a bedroom that might have been much like his own in an earlier time.

He defiantly screamed that he'd be fine without his dad, but the implication in those scenes, and in the fact he couldn't pull the trigger when it mattered, betrays where Carl is really at. He is just as lost and scared as anybody.

Carl's story - a little insight into an earlier time he never really got to enjoy - was a nice reflection of Michonne's story in this episode, an exploration of an earlier life she'd rather forget, which told us more about the character than we've learnt in the two seasons we've spent with her so far.

It confirmed that Michonne lost a child of her own, a fact hinted at last year when she broke down while holding baby Judith. It also seemed to confirm that the two armless/jawless walkers she had with her in season two were her partner and a friend.

Both facts were revealed during a dream sequence which gave actress Danai Gurira a chance to stretch her legs, performance wise - and use more syllables than any other scene in which she has appeared.

Don't worry. Fan-favourite Michonne also got to stretch her samurai sword straight through the heads of more than a dozen walkers during the most intense zombie carnage of the episode.

The more introspective story arcs seem to confirm that the writers, led by showrunner Scott Gimple, will likely seek to develop their core characters during this transitional half-season.

It's definitely the right move: as much as I like The Walking Dead, even I have to admit that many of the characters are flat and lifeless and in need of something to make them more compelling.

This episode, at least, proves they might be up to the task.

It wasn't as explosive as I might have been expecting, but this was a nice re-introduction to the world of The Walking Dead, and cause for optimism as we head toward the end of season four.

* What did you think of the episode? Post your comments below.

Chris Philpott

Chris Philpott is nzherald.co.nz's resident TV expert.

In a strange way, Chris Philpott has grown up with television: his first big addiction was The X Files, which he watched as a teenager, enthralled by what was possible with the form. Chris’ love of TV grew over the years, parallel to the popularity and quality of serial dramas like The Sopranos, Lost, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. He began writing about TV professionally in 2010, before joining the NZ Herald in late 2013, and considers writing about TV more than a passing interest or hobby: he genuinely loves sharing new series and discussing the big shows with readers. Chris is based in Whangarei, and lives with his wife and daughter. When he isn’t watching television … just kidding, he’s always watching television.

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