It sounds like fun when you say it like that right?
All fast drives in the countryside, music on, top down, not a care in the world as you speed to your destination.
Ah yes but that was then … and this is the apocalyptic now and whatever romance was attached to life out on the open road has long since evaporated.
Not to mention that driving with the top down is simply an invitation to a walker to reach over and leap … well, amble over and topple … into the car. (Which reminds me – what was Andrea thinking last week when she left the prison with the window down? Was she going to offer a lift to a pleasant-looking walker back to Woodbury?)
As “Clear” opens, with Rick, Michonne and Carl driving at speed in their always clean car along a deserted back road (are there any other kind now?), their grim expressions confirmed that this particular vehicular jaunt was all business – the business, it turns out of finding and accumulating enough citizens to fend off the Governor and his paranoid followers when next they attack.
You could pretty much guarantee by the strained conversation that (a) no one had remembered to pack sandwiches and snacks for the trip, and (b) more importantly that their unusual threesome was forced on them by convenience rather than a desperate desire to see more of Georgia together.
This was pretty much confirmed when they stopped at their destination and Carl queried Rick on why they had brought Michonne along at all.
“Shared interests” was the gist of Rick’s reply; those shared interests being of course allying themselves against the redneck nightmare that is Merle.
Carl wasn’t thrilled by the explanation but accepted it nonetheless, in the process clearly vowing not to cede an inch of ground to Michonne.
Ah but how things change (more of that later).
Before reaching the town though one simple scene underscored how much the world had changed and not for the better.
Speeding along an almost straight stretch of road, the three travellers-in-a-hurry race past, and don’t stop for, a young male hitchhiker who pleads with almost manic desperation for them to stop.
They don’t of course, and all it takes is an exchange of knowing glances between them to communicate that while they know that their actions will almost certainly spell his doom, they cannot risk picking him up.
I got the sense they all felt a small amount of guilt at driving on but it was more than outweighed by the need to survive, a fact they all tacitly acknowledged without a word spoken.
It was a chilling, almost harrowing scene, made all the more so by knowing that this cruel new apocalyptic world penalises rather than rewards what would have once been a simple act of kindness.
Their refusal to take him with them is reinforced when they drive off again, after freeing themselves from a muddy bog on the side of the road (blocked by the usual assortment of crashed cars, rotting bodies and shuffling walkers) with the young man running with all his might up the road, again frantically begging them to stop.
Truly terrifyingly cold (though necessary, admittedly, for survival), it was a sequence of stripped back elegantly-constructed scenes that left my heart mourning, once again, the loss of what makes us human.
But that is the beauty of this show which forces us time and again to reassess what makes us who who we are and whether it is possible to hang on to that when civilisation falls?
Their humanity that little bit more reduced, the trio reaches Rick and Carl’s old stomping grounds to find that someone has fortified the main street with sharpened stacks of poles designed to impale any walkers who attempt to traverse them (lured by the animals in cages scattered strategically through the booby-trapped barricade) … and plenty do.
That someone, clad in homemade body armour and shooting from on high turns out to be a familiar face – Morgan, the man, who along with his teenage son Duane, saved Rick’s life way back in the pilot episode and who has, with the death of his son, and the subsequent loss of any companionship, gone quite mad and who is taken down (but not fatally injured thanks to his body armour) by Carl.
This naturally precludes any kind of warm, bear-hugging reunion, and even though Rick carries him upstairs to his “Not Shitting You” lair on high (filled with more than enough guns and walls full of demented scrawling), after negotiating a rather ironic booby-trapped welcome mat and an artfully strung trip wire, and insists on staying with him till he wakes up, Morgan doesn’t recognise him, and rather ungratefully tries to attack him with a knife.
While he does eventually come around to remembering who Rick is, it’s clear that losing Duane and not being able to contact Rick on the walkie-talkie has left Morgan with significant abandonment issues and atrophied social skills, and no amount of persuasive argument by Rick is going to convince Morgan to rejoin what’s left of humanity and come with them at the prison.
As Morgan observes there is no safe place anymore, poignantly remarking that “you will be torn apart by teeth or bullets” and it’s clear to a profoundly emotionally-affected Rick that there is no point arguing any further, and when they leave town it is without Morgan who remains behind, manically obsessed with clearing the never ending stream of walkers from the town.
While Rick is involved in his ad hoc therapy session with Morgan, and quietly realising that he has been lucky, if there is such a thing anymore, to still have some family members alive, Carl very reluctantly accepts Michonne’s help to go and retrieve a crib for Judith from a baby wares store in town that used to be operated by a friend of his mother’s.
It soon becomes abundantly clear that Carl has an ulterior motive for his little mission, and that he is determined to do it alone.
Michonne, charged by Rick to keep an eye on Carl, naturally won’t have a bar of the going -it-alone schtick, and after Carl tries to do just that on more than one occasion, is informed by his protector that he should just “stop the bullshit” and let her help him.
Thus they join forces to liberate the boy’s real objective – the only remaining photo of Rick, Lori and Carl from a cafe on the edge of town – which Carl is insistent they must take with him for Judith’s sake (their old house alas had burned down taking any mementoes with it).
While the mission doesn’t quite go according to plan – what actually does in the blighted age in which they live? – they manage to grab the prized photo and a “gorgeous” piece of colourful cat-themed artwork that Michonne can’t leave behind, inducing an all-too-rare smile from the normally taciturn woman.
It is but one of several small feel good moments in this episode, an unusual commodity in The Walking Dead, and is quickly followed by Carl’s quiet confirmation to Rick that Michonne is “one of us” and a heart-to-heart of sorts between Michonne and Rick where the normally guarded katana-wielding warrior admits she used to talk to her dead boyfriend too after he died.
So moved is Rick that he lets Michonne drive.
It’s a small but important act on Rick’s part (who by the way seem to heal significantly in an episode which by rights should have sent him further into gaga land; something about seeing Morgan so far gone seems to have snapped him back to sanity … or as close as he’s going to get).
If anything defines this episode, which began with the sense that all basic decent human deeds had died with the apocalypse’s arrival, it was these small moments of exquisite humanity which was a reminder that even in the middle of great horror can great beauty lie.
Troubling though the abandonment and death of the hitchhiker was, and sad though Morgan’s seemingly irreversible descent into madness is, “Clear” was a much needed reminder that the world of The Walking Dead.
And that maybe, just maybe, there is some fun to be had on road trips yet …
* Here’s a fabulous review of “Clear” by the very talented and funny Katla McGlynn at Huggingtonpost.com. Enjoy!
And naturally what would a review of a The Walking Dead episode without a preview of an upcoming episode.