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'The Walking Dead' 'After' recap: Waking up to heads and pudding

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"The Walking Dead" season 4 returned Sunday, Feb. 9, to AMC with episode 9, "After," which offered a look at Michonne's past and saw Carl take the lead as Rick recovered from his wounds from the prison.

In a way, the "Walking Dead" season 4B premiere was exactly what we expected it to be: a bit light on walker killing and action after the midseason finale, with more time spent on character exploration, making for a very powerful episode. Sure, some of it was predictable – like the fact that it only focused on a few of the characters (since the group had split up as they had to leave the prison and practically no time had passed, they couldn't have all met up so quickly and it would have seemed to disjointed to show what each person or group was up to in "After") – and it wasn't the best episode of the season, but while it felt a bit like "Live Bait" in a way, this hour was executed better.

Michonne's backstory was revealed and Carl showed that while he may have grown up and become a man, that didn't mean he didn't still need his father (and hopefully worked out all his issues while his father was unconscious). Chandler Riggs and Danai Gurira were the stars of this episode, and overall, it was a good start for the second half of the season.

What was Michonne wasted no time before she created two new pets for herself with the help of the spike barrier outside the prison, and after taking a moment to put Hershel's head to rest, she left the prison behind, bypassing footprints in the road. This was when we got a look at what her life was like before and soon after the world went to hell. She once used a blade to cut something other than walkers' heads (and arms and jaws) off while two guys sat at a dining room table. She had a family, and while Mike ("Leverage's" Aldis Hodge) didn't know if the camp would work out, he didn't want to risk their son's life. He asked "why," which would come up later in the episode. Michonne tried to retain a sense of normality, but time kept passing until the two guys at the table had no arms. She screamed and then woke up in a car, her pets outside.

Michonne went for a walk in the woods amongst the walkers with her pets, but the uneventful walk didn't last for long and when one got too close for her comfort and could have very well been her, she killed them all, including her pets. It was a moment she needed, and after she returned to the road and followed the footprints from earlier to a restaurant with a dead walker inside, she took another much-needed moment. "Mike, I miss you," she admitted. "I missed you even when I was with you back at the camp. It wasn't you who did it. You were wrong because I'm still here, and you could be too and he could be. I know the answer. I know why." She then continued on her way until she found an empty can of pudding and found Rick and Carl inside a house.

What could be Carl was the one leading as Rick limped and wheezed his way down the road, and when they came across a restaurant, Carl was the one to point out that if anyone should stand guard outside, it was Rick. Instead, both went in to clear the place, and when an axe to the head didn't take down the walker they found there, Carl was the one to make the decision to shoot, prompting a reminder from Rick that every bullet counted.

When they moved to and cleared a house, Carl took only a moment to admire the nice TV and game setup in an upstairs bedroom before using the cord to secure the door they busted through to get inside, taking offense when Rick wanted to make a barricade with a couch as well. Shane had taught him to tie knots. "Remember him?" Carl actually asked. Ouch. At that point, Rick was basically just one big bruise and wheeze away from blending in with a herd of walkers, so it wasn't a shock when he didn't move the next morning through Carl eating breakfast, reading, and trying to shake him awake.

When two walkers began pounding at the front door, Carl slipped out the side entrance and took them on a walk, and he was doing a pretty good job – until a third walker came up behind him because he made the mistake of walking backwards while out alone. Carl did manage to kill all three, but it took some crawling and too many bullets to do so. "I win," he still declared, the same words he used when comparing his haul to Rick's back at the restaurant.

Rick still hadn't moved when Carl returned, even as he told him all about killing three walkers and saving him and ripped into him for not being able to protect him like he hadn't protected the others, including his sister and his mother. "Now you're nothing," Carl said of the man who had once been their leader, and while he did need a moment to wipe his eyes, he told him, "I'd be fine if you died," before heading out alone to look for supplies. Again, ouch. Good thing Rick was unconscious for that.

However, his experience out there alone seemed to say otherwise. Yes, Carl did raid the kitchen (and climb onto the counter for a giant can of pudding), but he struggled when he opened a door upstairs and found a walker inside. He wasted all his bullets trying to kill it and couldn’t open a window wide enough to escape through, leaving him with no choice but to leave his shoe behind and just barely manage to enclose the walker in a room, leaving a note on the door reading, "Walker inside. Got my shoe. Didn't get me." Then he settled down on the roof to eat 112 ounces of pudding while the walker tried to reach out the cracked window.

Carl seemed fine, but when Rick suddenly moved that night and sounded like a walker, he admitted he was wrong and said to just do it. Fortunately, Rick was not a walker (come on, did anyone actually believe he was?), despite his breathing sounding like it and his movements looking like it, and he was just a worried father who wanted his son to stay inside where it was safe. That was when Carl admitted he was scared.

The next day, Rick explained that he knew they couldn't get things back to how they used to be, but he had only clung to that for his kids. But Judith was gone and Carl was a man, and Rick was sorry. When there was a knock at the door, Rick looked through the peephole before laughing and sitting down. "It's for you," he told Carl.

"The Walking Dead" season 4 airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC. What did you think of episode 9 "After"?

© Meredith Jacobs 2014

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