“People like you–the good people–they always die. And the bad people, they do too. But the people like me, the weak people, we have inherited the earth.”
In spite of the episode’s big twist being spoiled about 2 seconds into “Previously on The Walking Dead,” “Clear” is one of the strongest episodes in S3, actually balancing action and character development instead of leaning too heavily on one or the other.
Michonne drives, speeding along a back road as a silent Rick and Carl each withdraw into their own thoughts. A backpacker on the road pleads for a ride and all ignore him. The car gets stuck in mud but the away team manages the swarming walkers with ease. While Rick takes it as a teaching moment to instruct Carl in useful car tricks, Carl chooses the moment to fight about why Rick has invited Michonne along. Rick explains, “We’ve got common interests. Right now we’ve got the same problems.” Carl is annoyed but lets it go. As they dig the car out the screaming backpacker catches up to them, but they don’t heed him. Honestly it’s amazing this guy has survived this long, yelling like a jackoff.
When they arrive at the police station to clean out the weapons cage, they discover it is already empty. Rick is prepared to scavenge bars for all the firearms for which he’s issued permits, and though Michonne knows they need more than a few stray guns, she is working very hard to play nice with Rick. Perhaps it’s because she overheard his conversation with Carl or perhaps she’s tired of arguing.
In town it becomes swiftly apparent that something is up. Graffiti warning people away with messages like “Away with you” conflicts with spray-painted arrows leading into a fortified area. Rick spies a charred pile of corpses and some very creative walker-traps baited with live animals before a masked gunman on a roof tells them to leave their guns and shoes and get out. Michonne tries to get up on the roof behind the mystery figure as Rick engages in a firefight. Carl ignores Rick’s command to get back to the car and shoots the person. Rick explains eh was trying to protect Carl from having to take a life, but the person was wearing body armor. And by ‘the person’ I mean Morgan from S1.
Rick refuses to leave Morgan behind, and Michonne swallows her disagreement. As they avoid another tripwire and dodge an axe labeled ‘told you,’ they find that Morgan has cleaned out the weapons cage and cached away a metric fuckton of weapons and ammunition. The walls of his hideout are covered in chalk babble and as Rick examines the radio he gave Morgan in S1, Morgan’s crazy writing mirrors Rick’s scattered mental state. When Rick picks out the words “Duane turned,” he insists they wait until Morgan wakes.
Michonne argues, “He tried to kill us and we didn’t leave him for the walkers. He’s had a good day.” But when Rick insists he knows Morgan, she doesn’t push it harder. Carl finds a chalk map that emphasizes Morgan is probably as brilliant as he is crazy, having devised an elaborate system of survival. The map notes, “Rick’s house: Burnt out,” but before they can consider it, Rick calls Michonne out for snacking on Morgan’s food. “Mat said ‘welcome.'” She deadpans, before offering to help Carl when he decides to go find a fucking crib. Carl doesn’t want Michonne along, and distracts her with a walker so he can try and sneak off. The attempt fails, and he admits he’s got another plan that he doesn’t want her help with.
Morgan wakes and sneakily cuts the zip ties so he can attack Rick. Rick hits Morgan with the butt of the rifle he left Morgan, and Morgan screams that people are “wearing dead people’s faces.” Rick subdues him, trying to break through the veneer of crazy and make him recognize Rick, but Morgan begs for death. With the radio Rick gets through to Morgan, but the reunion isn’t a joyful one; Morgan accuses Rick of never being there when he said he would be, and Rick replies, “I had people. I had to keep them safe.”
Morgan rambles about clearing, and reveals he failed to put his wife down. “You gave me the gun. You tried. You tried to get me to do it because I was supposed to do it. My Janie. I knew I was supposed to do it but I let it go. I let her go, like there wasn’t gonna be a reckoning.” The wife he couldn’t kill was ultimately the walker that killed his son Duane when Duane couldn’t pull the trigger on his walker-mother. “I see red…. and I do it. Finally. It was too late.” Morgan laments, and this is clearly the event that turned him from practical post-apocalypse father who corrected his son’s grammar to unhinged badass whose only mission was to ‘clear.’
Carl echoes Rick’s speech to Michonne, brattily insisting she can’t stop him from doing what he needs to do. “I can’t stop you, but you can’t stop me from helping you.” This togetherness is new for Michonne, and predictably she is an incredible asset to Carl; together they set a trap for the walkers in a cafe to distract them. Led by one who looked suspiciously like Morgan’s dead wife, the walkers chase the pair. Carl has dropped the family photo he wanted. “I don’t know you. I get that.” Michonne notes, but asks him to trust her so she can get his picture (and a horrible paper-mache cat). Michonne is warming up at last (and didn’t die!).
“You couldn’t kill me. I couldn’t kill you. I take that as a sign.” Rick wants Morgan to come back to the prison with them but Morgan won’t; he’s seen the arsenal Rick’s taking from him and knows there’s more going on than Rick is saying. “If you’ve got something good, someone wants to take it.”
In what could just as easily be a speech to himself, Rick pleads with Morgan to get a hold of himself and his sanity. “You will be torn apart by teeth or bullets.” “You know there’s a chance…. We both started out in the same place. Things went bad for you, things went bad for me. But you’re not seeing things right. I don’t blame you. What you’ve lost, what you’ve been through. You’re not seeing things right. But you can come back from this, I know you can…. You’ve got to be able to come back from this.” But Morgan has to clear.
Michonne and Carl get the crib. Between that and the bulging bags of supplies, guns, and ammunition, it has been a successful supply run for the group. Michonne says Morgan is okay and Rick contradicts, “No. He’s not.” Carl apologizes for shooting Morgan, explaining that it’s what he had to do. Morgan tells him to never be sorry. Carl tells Rick he thinks Michonne “might be one of us.” Michonne has found a new crossbow, and takes a moment to bond with Rick. “I know you see things. People. I used to talk to my dead boyfriend. It happens.”
Back on the road, a smear of fresh gore is identifiable as the backpacker they refused to help earlier. They’ve made a hard choice that has resulted in someone’s death. The car stops, and Carl grabs the backpack before they continue back to the prison.
In some ways while Morgan is obviously further afield than Rick, he’s also coherent enough to fortify his space to keep intruders out. If Rick takes some inspiration from what he’s seen, the group might be able to make a stand at the prison after all. Speaking of what he’s seen, Rick’s earnest insistence that Morgan can come back from it and can be okay again is encouraging about his own mental state; he’s acknowledged that he’s seeing things that aren’t there, so he might be on the mend for real. However, when Morgan pointed out the prison was where Lori died I wondered if that was part of Rick’s reluctance to leave the prison behind.
Morgan makes a big deal about things he and Duane didn’t have the strength to do, and how their self-acknowledged weaknesses caused their suffering. The weak are inheriting the earth because the good are dying from noble sacrifices and the bad are getting caught up killing the living, like The Governor. While Carl and Rick have suffered as well, they are clearly doing better than Morgan because they have made hard choices like putting down Lori and Shane. Thought Rick might feel guilty for failing to connect with Morgan prior to now, as he points out he had his own people to look after. Leaving Morgan to his own devices is one of Rick’s hard choices, and further proof he can still be the leader his group needs. With the return of Morgan, we also see the return of Rick; the concrete morality that guided him through S1 floods back, though too late for the backpacker.
Also, Michonne. Michonne. The woman finally gets some lines, and they are both hilarious and awesome. She proves she can be an effective team player, simultaneously making command decisions and falling in line with Rick’s judgment as long as it’s sound. It’s proof (possibly even to herself) that she can get involved without compromising her ruthlessness.
Carl, who has been a man’s man throughout this season and behaved with the utmost good sense, came dangerously close to bratty S2 Carl in this episode. His desire to do things ‘on his own’ without clear thought is childish, proof that while he is growing up he’s not yet grown. His sentimental insistence on a photograph reinforces that he’s not developing into some little psycho like it seemed he might toward the end of S2.