In this week’s episode Rick and Carl bring Michonne along on a road trip to their hometown. The purpose of the trip isn’t to walk down memory lane, but to grab the weapons Rick left behind in his sheriff’s station back in season one. The trip not only paid off for Rick & Co., but also for the viewers who got the answer to a question most had been asking for years.
“Clear” begins with Rick, Carl, and Michonne driving down a road. They pass a sign on the side of the road that reads, “Erin, we tried for Stone Mountain. -J.” A short time later, they encounter a man wearing a large backpack. He pleads for the group to stop, but they don’t even slow down. Then, they are forced to slow down when they encounter a group of cars blocking the road. Michonne tries to get around them by driving off the road, but the car gets stuck in mud. Suddenly, walkers surround the car. Michonne stares at one of the walkers banging on her window. It’s wearing a bracelet with the name Erin on it. Rick warns the group to cover their ears. He rolls his window down just low enough to stick the barrel of his gun out of it. He fires. Next, the group is searching the nearby cars. The bodies of dead walkers are littered around their car.
Rick finds a dress and wraps it around a few branches. He gives Carl a quick lesson on how to get a car out of mud using cloth and branches, but Carl has other things on his mind. He asks his father how he can trust Michonne after she abandoned the group in Woodbury. Rick tells him that he doesn’t trust her, but explains that they can work together since they share a common goal. Michonne overhears their conversation from inside the car. The group notice that the backpacker has caught up to them. He’s running toward the car, yelling for help. Rick and Carl jump in the car and they drive off.
They arrive at Rick’s sheriff station to find that the armory has been completely cleaned out. Michonne asks if there is another police station in town. Frustrated, Rick tells her that it’s a small town and he was the police. But he isn’t ready to give up. Rick says he knows where there are other guns in town. Guns that only he knew about because he signed the permits for them. Michonne scoffs at searching the town for just a handful of guns. Rick asks if she has a problem with his plan. “No, Rick, I don’t have a problem,” she says calmly. Her demeanor suggesting that she is talking about more than just his plan. Michonne hands Rick the one bullet she found on the floor of the armory.
As the group walk down the street, they see a pile of burned bodies. There are also arrows spray painted onto the street. On a nearby wall, someone has painted “NO GUILT, YOU KNOW THAT.” They turn the corner and see the main street is filled with booby traps. As they approach, the phrase “TURN AROUND AND LIVE” is painted in the crosswalk. They survey the area: there are spikes jutting out everywhere, a makeshift guard tower, animals locked in traps, and trip wires. They decide to walk through the walker traps so that Rick can check a shop that’s close-by. A walker comes up behind them, and they watch as it gets caught in one of the traps. All of a sudden, a shot hits the walker in the head. A masked man on a rooftop yells at them to drop their weapons and leave. Michonne tells Rick that she can get to the roof where the shooter is. Rick yells for Carl to run, and then opens fire on the man. The man returns fire and Rick takes cover. When he looks again at the rooftop, the shooter is gone. The masked man has made his way down to the street and sneaks up on Rick. Carl appears and shoots him. Rick lifts up the man’s shirt and sees that he’s wearing body armor. He’s still alive, but unconscious. Rick takes the man’s mask off…it’s MORGAN!
Rick and Michonne carry Morgan upstairs to his apartment, closely watching for more booby traps along the way. When they reach it, they discover the room is filled with weapons. Rick ties Morgan down to a cot. The group begin packing up guns and ammo. Rick notices that there is writing scrawled all over the walls. Carl walks into an adjacent room and sees a detailed map of the town drawn on one of the walls. Morgan has written the words “Burnt out” over a drawing labelled Rick’s house. Carl stares at it. Rick notices and asks Carl if seeing their old house is the reason he came. Carl tells his father that he wants to go to a nearby baby store to get a crib for Judith. Michonne offers to help Carl carry the crib. Rick tells Carl that he can go, if Michonne goes with him.
Outside, Carl tells Michonne that he doesn’t need her help. Michonne insists. A walker approaches and Carl suggests she kill it. While she’s busy disposing of the walker, Carl runs off. Michonne notices and quickly catches up to him. She points out that they’ve already passed the baby store. Carl tells her, “I’m getting Judith something else first.”
Morgan wakes up and realizes he’s tied down. He slowly reaches under the cot and grabs a knife that’s taped to it. Rick isn’t paying attention. He’s found the walkie-talkie and rifle he gave to Morgan. Suddenly, Morgan attacks. The men struggle and Morgan stabs Rick in the shoulder. Rick throws Morgan to the ground and pulls his gun on him. Morgan begs Rick to kill him.
Morgan doesn’t remember Rick. Rick tries to jog his memory. He shows him the walkie-talkie and Morgan begins to remember. He tells Rick that he tried to reach him on the walker-talkie several times, but Rick never answered. Rick explains that he checked every morning until his group was pushed too far out of range. It’s a heartbreaking moment for both men.
Morgan tells Rick that he was never able to kill his undead wife. Then one day, he and his son Duane were searching a house for food. He went to check the cellar and told Duane to wait for him upstairs. When he returned, he saw his wife standing in front of Duane. He yelled at Duane to move, but it was too late. He tells Rick that his son died because he was too weak to kill his wife when he had the chance. He goes on to say that he believes the good & bad people will all die, and the weak will inherit the earth.
Nearby, Carl and Michonne approach a cafe. Carl peaks in and sees walkers sitting at the tables inside. He tries to enter, but Michonne stops him. He snaps at her, “you can’t stop me.” Michonne tells him that she may not be able to stop him, but he can’t stop her from helping.
Carl and Michonne open the cafe doors and roll in a few of Morgan’s caged animals. The walkers get up and try to get attack the animals. With the walkers distracted, Carl and Michonne sneak in. Carl climbs on top of the bar and takes down a framed photo. A walker behind the bar grabs Carl. Michonne stabs it in the head with her sword. Carl jumps down and they try to sneak back out quietly, but a rat has escaped its trap. It runs right past Carl and Michonne, and the two come face-to-face with a group of walkers. They fight their way out, but Carl drops the photo.
Once outside, Carl insists on going back in for the photo. Michonne tells him to trust her and stay put. Moments later, she returns with the photo and hands it to him. Carl looks down at the photo of him, Rick, and Lori. He tells Michonne that it’s the last photo of his family, and he wanted Judith to be able to see what her mother looked like.
Back inside, Rick tries to convince Morgan to return to the prison with him. Morgan declines. Rick tells him it’s a safe place, but Morgan questions why they need so many guns to live in a safe place. “You’ll be torn apart by teeth or bullets,” he says, confessing that he can’t bear to watch anyone else die. Rick gathers up the guns.
Outside, Rick meets up with Carl and Michonne as they arrive back with the crib and some other baby supplies. They watch Morgan as he removes a few walkers from his traps. Before they leave, Carl tells Morgan that he’s sorry for shooting him. Morgan tells Carl to never be sorry.
The group load the car. Rick asks Carl if everything went okay with Michonne. He’s surprised when Carl tells him, “I think she might be one of us.” Carl gets in the car. Rick stares out into the distance for a moment. Michonne asks him if he sees something, or someone. Rick looks puzzled. She tells him that she knows he sees people, and she understands. Then, she confides in Rick that she used to talk to her dead boyfriend.
As they drive out of town, they see Morgan burning the bodies of the walkers he collected from his traps. On the road back to the prison, they see blood and guts spilled all over the side of the road. They pass a backpack next to the remains. The car suddenly stops and reverses. They pick up the backpack and drive away.
“Clear” was unlike any other episode we’ve seen in the past 3 seasons of The Walking Dead. It featured only one setting, and only three of our survivors. That allowed the story to focus on what could happen to a person who tries to survive the end of the world on his own. The answer in this case being paranoia & insanity. While living with other humans may not always seem like the safest choice, Morgan demonstrates that living in total isolation could have far worse consequences. It was a brilliant choice on the part of the writer because it showed a view of the zombie apocalypse that the audience had not previously seen.
Between the masterful storytelling and brilliant acting from Lennie James (Morgan) & Andrew Lincoln (Rick), “Clear” is an episode that will go down in The Walking Dead‘s history as one of its finest.
It’s interesting to note that recently named new showrunner Scott Gimple wrote this episode. I think that should give every Walking Dead fan the confidence that the best may still be yet to come.
In next week’s episode, Rick and the Governor decide to sit down together to discuss a possible peace treaty.
Take a look at a sneak peek from “Arrow on the Doorpost”