With the group at the prison fearing for the future, the latest episode of The Walking Dead examined the past, as Rick and Carl go back to their home town to find how much things have changed.
Focusing on just the two of them and Michonne, the refreshingly divergent episode is arguably the best the show has produced yet, the three characters and Rick's long forgotten friend from the past providing an intimate portrayal of hope, despair, and the emotional with one another that we rely on.
Rick's decision to take both Carl and Michonne with him might seem strange initially, but does make sense. Rick sees the opportunity for him to clear his head, but knows that he can't leave Merle and Michonne in the prison without the chance of all hell breaking loose. Importantly, the excursion provides ample time for the two to get better acquainted, as well as for Rick to spend more time with his son.
For the two Grimes, the supply run takes them back to the town where they used to live. Based on my knowledge of the US as a vast sprawling landscape, I'd assumed the group had travelled far from Atlanta into the heart of the country, but it instead appears they haven't gone far at all.
Turn Around and Live
This doesn't stop the town from being one of the scariest and most unnerving locations in the show yet. Rather than a metropolis swarming with walkers, it is their lack of undead presence in the isolated area that is most disconcerting.
Crazy scribbled messages appear cross the town with warnings such as, "Away with You" and "Turn around and live". A giant pyre lies over what once was a village green, the charred zombie corpses reminding you of how many lives have been lost since the apocalypse occurred.
The show's creators have done a great job again of setting the scene, with the booby-trapped house another fine twist on the defence methods now employed by the survivors.
What does come as a major surprise is when we find out the madman holed up by himself in this house is Morgan, the man who saved Rick's life right back in very first episode of the show. Merle was the first blast from the past, but many viewers will at first struggle to recall the plight of Morgan and his son Duane.
Since they last met, things appear to have gone terribly wrong for Morgan, sending him spiralling over into insanity. After at first attempting to stab Rick, he is tied down and told that their meeting once more must be a sign to be rescued.
It's revealed that like Rick, Morgan has lost a loved one dear to him, his own son. In a similar vein to the show's hero, this loss has frazzled the man's mind, and has proven the last straw for his sanity.
We remember that Morgan used to be like Rick, and with them sharing two walkie talkies, they also shared a hope that they would one day be reunited and the disaster around them be overcome.
It's painfully revealed that Morgan's inability to kill his undead wife led directly to his own son being bit, an emotional weakness that he has struggled to deal with. He delivers a rueful message to Rick:
"People like you, the good people, they always die. And the bad people do too. But the weak people, the people like me, we have inherited the earth."
This season's major thematic arc has been to show how emotionally draining and psychologically devastating such seismic life-changes such as death can be, with until now Rick and the Governor compared as men driven to the edge by their feelings for their loved ones.
Rick, a man who has struggled with the burden of being leader of the group and great protector, sees in Morgan the danger of holding on to the past. Lori's death was a harrowing experience, but he must now make sure that his attentions are invested to the group and in particular his son and daughter.
Carl's development this season has seemed rather jarring, abruptly changing from the reckless youngster who inadvertently brought about Dale's death in season two, to the more considered and mature character in season three.
This episode did a great job of revealing that under this newfound exterior is still a boy, as he embarks on a near-suicidal dash to a local bar in order to retrieve a picture of his mother. As he explains to Michonne, "I just thought she should know what her mum looked like". Such a consideration for his new baby sister is a touching moment that highlights the warm-heartedness and optimism he still holds.
Michonne is another character who has been little explored up until now, but we get a chance hear to see that the mute martial artist can show signs of humour and compassion.
Paired with Carl for the majority of the episode, she not only watches his back but actively helps him out. Her preposterous retrieval of the photo for Carl is a funny moment that also reveals her more tender side. She also lets slip to Rick that she too has struggled to control her senses in the past, admitting she used to talk to her deceased boyfriend.
"Never Be Sorry"
The three return to the prison not only stocked with fresh supplies but bolstered by their reinforced bonds. The Walking Dead is strongest when it focuses on people rather than bloodshed, which is why this episode, stripped down to its most essential elements, felt so punchy and powerful.
The strength of the show hinges on how much we care for the characters and the jeopardy they face, with 'Clear' making us realise why we root for Rick and his band of survivors. We can only hope now that with the group united once more, they can prevail against the Governor.