The last three installments of The Walking Dead have been a departure from the usual group- in-peril setup, and so far, the results have produced episodes jam-packed with excellent character development, tense scenes, and some promising new storylines. Here’s hoping things continue in the same vein for as long as our characters remain separated.
“Claimed” opens with another peek at the character of Abraham, this time in action, as the small group’s military vehicle stops and he gets out to kill some walkers. Tara notices that oddly, he is smiling as he puts them down. It’s a tad bit ominous, but maybe Abraham just feels lucky to be alive, and he doesn’t really enjoy taunting zombies and smashing their heads in.
Meanwhile, life is almost normal for a few precious moments for Carl, Michonne and Rick. They found a nice house and Rick is doing dishes while Carl and Michonne are sitting down to breakfast. But the harsh realities of life come bursting through when Carl accidentally mentions his deceased (though we know she really isn’t) baby sister. Though their happy moment is disrupted, Michonne and Carl will get another chance to bond when the two leave Rick – still recovering from his fight with the Governor – and go on a supply run nearby.
A good chunk of this episode is spent with Carl and Michonne. Their growing friendship seems authentic – a son who lost his mom and a mother who lost her little boy drawn to one another – and both Danai Gurira and Chandler Riggs play it with poignancy and sweetness. As they are clearing rooms in a house, Michonne tells Carl about her son Andre, and Carl confides that his dad let him name Judith. The sadness is palpable, especially when Carl later tells Michonne that maybe Andre and Judith are together somewhere.
After sharing about their families, Michonne, ironically, stumbles into a room where the bodies of another family (obviously involved in a murder/suicide) lie– their heads blown off in their beds. The scene was unsettling, though it certainly isn’t the saddest or most disturbing thing the show has ever shown. The most chilling aspect of it was how the children’s toys – a stuffed monkey and a dinosaur comic book – were lovingly placed next to their bodies.
One of the best scenes of the episode involved Rick, who awakens from a nap to the terrifying sounds of intruders (aka survivors) scavenging in the house. He dives under the bed, and the next moments play out like a good old fashioned Hitchcock film. The tight close ups of a horrified Rick – sweating and shaking – and the camera angles showing his perspective of shuffling feet (as two men fight for the big bed – no less) was thrilling to see. Rick watching as one of the men gets knocked down and choked to unconsciousness – all while the guy spies Rick’s hiding place and is trying to tell his cohort about it – was nail-bitingly exciting. The fact that it’s unlikely the show will ever kill Rick off (since he is the lead, after all) didn’t lessen the impact. The whole scene reminds us that The Walking Dead really knows how to do high-quality tension moments, and they don’t always need zombies to do it. After Rick strangles a third guy in the bathroom (wrong place, wrong time) and escapes outside just in time to alert an approaching Michonne and Carl, we are also reminded – lest we ever forget – that the other huge threat in this walker-infested landscape is survivors who may have lost their humanity while battling to stay alive.
Meanwhile, back with Abraham and company, Glenn finally wakes up from his exhausted collapse. When he asks Tara if she saw an abandoned bus (that he believes might lead him to Maggie), Tara reveals they passed it three hours earlier. Glenn has Abraham stop the truck and gathers his stuff to go look for his “wife.” Abraham informs Glenn that his group needs able bodied people like Glenn and Tara to accompany them on a mission to Washington D.C. where Eugene, a scientist, will meet with leaders still standing. It seems even though the CDC didn’t have the answers Eugene does – he knows what started the whole zombie apocalypse. Glenn inquires as to what that might be, and Abraham tells him it’s classified. Now, Glenn’s passivity about the matter is a bit perplexing, because that answer seems to totally satisfy him. But then again, Glenn doesn’t care about saving the world. He just wants to find Maggie. When Abraham tells him locating her is highly unlikely, Glenn punches him and a fistfight between the two ensues. And while the rest of the group is distracted, Eugene notices a pack of walkers and tries to handle things on his own, shooting up the group’s truck. Convenient that he didn’t bother to yell to the group for help, isn’t it?
Since the truck can’t be fixed, Abraham and his group decide to go with Glenn, who will not be deterred from his search for Maggie. As the group is seen headed for the bus, we see Rick, Carl and Michonne on another path by the railroad tracks, passing by the increasingly familiar (to us) “Those that arrive Survive” sign. With nowhere else to go, the trio decide to follow it.
– One of the rowdy survivors that Rick was hiding from was played by character actor Jeff Kober. He has had substantial parts in many popular shows, so it seems strange that he would have just a tiny cameo appearance here. Maybe that means we’ll see his character again.
– It was a bit off-putting to have the character of Rosita Espinoza dressed the way she was. I gather that she probably looked like that in the comics and the show wanted to have it canonically consistent, but short-shorts and a midriff top? Really? She could be a kick-ass, no nonsense (and attractive) character without all that nonsense. Her outfit isn’t even practical for the kind of life they lead, exposed to the elements most of the time.
– Michonne is going through a few changes. She’s smiling and laughing more, opening up and forming stronger bonds with Rick and Carl. It’s interesting to watch, as long as it happens slowly and subtly.
This episode was a great marriage of different tones, blending high tension with Rick’s scene and infusing poignancy through Michonne and Carl’s interactions. It, and the two episodes before it, stood well on their own, even if they were a set up for future events when the group comes together. And even though the audience has known the present fate of the players all along, the show has built up enough anticipation to make these reunions, especially between Maggie/Glenn and Rick/Carl/Judith, potentially very moving.
With this episode, the show has done one other thing: It introduced a revelation (regarding Washington D.C.) that could affect the entire remaining human race. Whatever the outcome of this storyline, exploring something, even temporarily, with a much bigger scope broadens The Walking Dead universe. As engaging as our group’s struggles have been, the acknowledgement that this event changed not just their little world but the whole world – is refreshing. In many ways, this second half of the season has felt like an entirely new one, and we’re only three episodes in. It’s made for absorbing TV. And from what we’ve seen so far, they’re just getting started.