*Spoiler Alert; big plot reveals lie ahead.
Oh 'Walking Dead', you were showing such promise. After several weak seasons, you ended on a high note with the mid-season finale; a battle royale between Rick and The Governor, with casualties on both sides.
But now with the mid-season premiere "After", (what's with this mid-season stuff by the way? Is it so difficult to shoot a full season like every other show out there?) it feels like a big stumble. We're back into a ho-hum episode with little thought or direction.
When last we left, Rick's group were in shambles, sent scurrying in all directions after the Governor's assault on the prison camp.
Things pick up pretty much where they left off; Michonne is scanning the prison for any signs of survivors. She finds no one worth saving, except a mercy killing; she demolishes Hershel's severed head, which is in the zombified stages.
But even for a show about the undead, you need to apply some basic suspension of disbelief. The basic rules for 'Walking Dead' or any zombie film, is to kill the body, destroy the brain. A severed head would only have life for a scant few seconds. It just seemed a gratuitous gross-out scene, and nothing more.
Elsewhere, Rick and Carl are on the run, and crash in a deserted suburban home. Thus begins a tiresome culmination of Carl's rebellious puberty-ridden self clashing with his father. Arguing over how to survive, how to fortify the home, it became a tediously repetitive sequence that offered scant reward; seeing a teenager miserable by puberty has a short self-life, and becomes even more brittle when survival is at a premium.
Rick, beaten and bruised, crashes from exhaustion. Carl becomes spiteful when his father doesn't awaken, and gives him a litany of complaints; primarily blaming his Dad for the death of his family and friends.
This reads as palpable, but actor Chandler Riggs just doesn't have the heft at imbuing any real emotion beyond a sullen pout and feigned tears.
But off he wanders into the unknown, seemingly resigned to the fact that his father might be dead, or dying from injuries. No matter what the strain of adolescent youth against parental authority, the fear of losing a father in an unkind world would override that emotion.
The worst moment comes when Carl is attacked by a walker while perusing the bedroom of a kid presumably his age. Carl barely escapes, and loses one shoe in the process. He then writes on the slammed shut door with chalk "Walker Inside. Got my shoe. Didn't get me." He has a smug, satisfied look. The whole scene just proves that emotional resonance continues to be the show's Achilles heel.
And surely at some point, one can find a good set of shears or clippers to fix that ever annoying droopy hairstyle. Either that or the hat needs to go.
The rest of the episode was devoted to Michonne. Which leads into a dream sequence. We see her in happier times, serene, smiling, talking to her lover and good friend.
Through the dream sequence we learn she lost a child, and that the two men in her life became the walkers she lead on leashes to avoid detection. Danai Gurira's emerging vulnerability hints at what the show could become with better writing. This is more like it.
The episode ends with her discovering Rick and Carl through the window of their home. The men hear a knock on the door. Rick looks through the peephole, laughs and tells Carl, "It's for you."
Not a very satisfying ending, and a fairly stillborn episode. One hopes that when we catch up the rest of the crew, and meet the new characters, that 'Walking Dead' has a chance to sustain the momentum brought this past fall. But all bets are currently off.
'Walking Dead' airs Sundays on AMC.