In “After,” Michonne decided that the reason to keep living was to be with the people you cared about, but it could be even simpler than that: maybe the reason to keep living is just finding a reason to keep living. “Claimed” has Michonne hanging out with Carl and offering a few precious details about her past; but it also has Rick struggling to stay alive against a group of random assholes who wander into “his” house—Rick tends to handle things better when his reason for staying alive is simply staying alive itself, when the danger is immediate and pressing and there’s no time to get bogged down by more philosophical concerns. But that’s not always possible, so then we have someone like Glenn, who’s staying alive to find Maggie again, and Tara, who’s staying alive because she needs to convince Glenn (and herself) that she’s a good person.
This week, we meet the three new characters who introduced themselves at the end of the last episode. They’re sort of ridiculous, but in the best possible way. Sgt. Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz) has his reason, and it’s not something simple like rescuing a lover or protecting a son: He wants to save the world. To accomplish this, he’s determined to bring scientist Eugene Porter (Josh McDermitt) to Washington D.C., because Eugene believes he knows what caused the zombie outbreak, and also how to stop it. Along for the ride is attractive young person Rosita (Christian Serratos). Abraham is determined, resourceful, and will not take no for an answer. Rosita smirks occasionally. Eugene doesn’t say much.
As character beginnings go, Glenn’s attempts to extricate himself from the determined kindness of Abraham and the others has a spark of life to it that the show has often struggled to generate in the past. Abraham’s exhortations aren’t funny exactly, but they also aren’t dour or depressing, and when he and Glenn get in a fist fight, it’s more goofy than dire—even if that fight does mean they miss the herd of walkers of who wander in unannounced. There’s something refreshing about meeting people who know exactly who they are, and the almost comical preciseness of each of these three—it’s clear they were cast and costumed to match the comic book images they’re based on very closely—is a nice change of pace from empty houses and miserable forests. Rosita is, quite frankly, absurd; I can’t imagine anyone wanting to dress like a pin-up model in a world where every inch of open skin puts you at greater risk of death, but hopefully she has her reasons. We don’t know a whole lot about any of these people yet, not even Abraham, who does the most talking of the group by far, but they at least seem like they have an actual history together. So far at least, they have novelty, and while novelty can’t last forever, it’s a start, anyway.
Admittedly, Abraham’s conviction that they need to get to Washington is such a clearly lost cause that we are going to need more of a justification for his motives than just “it’s the right thing to do.” After all it’s been, what, a year since the outbreak? More? Any right-thinking person would look at this world and realize the chance of a government still holding its shit together is about as lost as causes get. It’s such a ludicrous notion that I almost want it to turn out to be true, just for the shock value. But it won’t, and the challenge the writers will face going forward is how to keep these new folks compelling even after everyone realizes their “quest” isn’t going to have a happy ending. But that’s further down the line, and so far at least, no one besides the trio themselves appear to really believe what they’re selling. Which makes them determined and also sort of sad, in a funny kind of way.
There’s life in them, at least. And life in other places as well. I don’t know who decided that Michonne could start smiling on a regular basis, but whoever it was deserves a raise. Danai Gurira has come to stand for the heart of the series; unlike Daryl, her uber-competence has more behind it than just an uncanny knack for killing dead people, and her struggles to build relationships in the wake of the tragedies of her past, remain moving, even though the latter is a conflict the show has dealt with time and time again. Watching her and Carl chat as they cleared a house, and how Gurira showed Michonne’s conscious decision to engage, and how much that decision cost her, made me life both characters considerably more, and Carl’s promise to keep Michonne’s secret to himself, even though it isn’t a secret, pretty much solidified him as someone I don’t want to see die. I didn’t think I’d ever say that, either.
In the light of all this character introducing and building, Rick’s desperate fight to stay alive is clearly an attempt by the writers to make sure the audience would be staying away awake for the talkier segments. As ever, Rick is someone who’s most exciting when he’s just getting shit done and not talking about how he has to do it; after a brief conversation with Michonne, establishing that Rick is still worrying about Carl and realizes how important his son’s relationship to Michonne has become, Rick spends most of the hour with his mouth shut, breathing hard and trying to keep hidden. As survivor scenarios go, it’s a decent, but not exactly astonishing, sequence; the thugs Rick encounters never get much characterization beyond their apparent willingness to kill one another at a drop of a hat, and the main impression is that this supposedly devastated wasteland is apparently so jam-packed full of people that you can go five minutes without bumping into either a savior or a psychopath. Or a zombie.
To sum up, then: Michonne, Carl, and Rick are forced to flee their temporary home, but they find the train tracks that Tyreese, Carol, and the kids were following, as well as a similar sign urging them onward. So the biggest question there is whether or not any of our heroes will find their way to Sanctuary before the end of the season. After Eugene fails to operate a machine gun properly, Abraham and the others find themselves without a working truck; they end up following Glenn on his hunt for Maggie. As with last week, “Claimed” was largely about establishing the status quo and setting people on their way, but the narrower focus (only two basic groups and three storylines), combined with presence of new faces and some likable, engaging character work, made for a stronger hour. This is the sort of episode which should arguably serve as The Walking Dead’s median: nothing truly exceptional, but solid, and not embarrassing to watch, unless Glenn’s obsession with his missing (to him) girlfriend got old for you. The writers and actors can pull this off, and that in itself is a reason to keep watching.
Delighted to find out that Abraham and the others weren’t bad guys. We’ll be getting more bad guys soon enough (and the fact that one of the thugs Rick escapes from is played by Jeff Kober makes me think that maybe they’ll come back).
- “Trust me. I’m smarter than you.” I wonder what Eugene’s deal is.