Tara: You smiled. You were smiling.
<em>Sgt. Abraham Ford: Well, I’m the luckiest guy in the world.
Welcome back, Walking Dead fans. We’re three episodes into the back eight and continuing the quieter, more character-focused narrative that kicked off in “After.” “Claimed” isn’t quite as strong as the last two weeks but it has its good moments – mostly with Carl and Michonne — and introduces a trio of characters who will obviously become pretty important in the rest of the season.
Michonne and Carl
“After” spent a lot of time on Carl and Michonne, so it’s no surprise to see them paired up here. We know that Michonne has been kind towards Carl in the past (see the comic books she brings back to the prison for him) and Carl respects her as the cool capable adult he’s not always sure his father is. With Rick still recovering from the righteous ass-kicking the Gov gave him, Carl and Michonne set off to find more supplies in the neighborhood. Before they leave, two important things happen – Rick thanks Michonne for making Carl laugh, even for a moment and Carl openly tells his father he loves him before they leave. Both of those things are possible because of what happened in “After.”
Now that the writers have really focused on developing Michonne and are not just using her comic book fame as a short cut for giving her a personality, we’re seeing all these wonderful aspects to her character. So much of this can be credited to Danai Gurira, who just glows in this role. We know that Michonne’s anger was a way of protecting herself from feeling after the tragedy of her son’s death. Now that she’s committed to living, not surviving, she seems really committed, spending the scavenging trip trying to bond with Carl. He’s a character just as damaged as she is, and hurt in many of the same ways. But Michonne’s a capable adult who had at least some tools in place for dealing with tragedy. Carl is just a child and someone has to guide him through not just regular old childhood issues, but with the absolute shitshow that life with walkers means.
Michonne at first tries cajoling Carl into happiness by clowning around, filling her mouth with spray can cheese and mocking walkers. But she hits on the real way to draw Carl out when she mentions that she used to have a son. Carl is of course curious and Michonne devises a game where she’ll answer one question about her life per room cleared in a house they’re searching. This is how we learn more specifics about the nightmare revelations in “After.” Michonne had one 3-year-old son and didn’t want any more, his name was Andre, and he died after the walkers rose. This trust is the kind of responsibility that Carl has been craving – he’s a kid-but-not-a-kid, and most of the adults around him refuse to see that. Michonne is treating him as an equal and he responds, gratefully, to it.
However, opening herself up to caring for Rick and Carl, and committing to living, as I said, has its drawbacks. While investigating the house, Michonne stumbles into a child’s bedroom. Four bodies are laid out carefully on two twin beds, siblings, obviously. One of them has a comic book. She’s off kilter, upset, and almost loses it when she discovers a woman’s corpse in a rocking chair. The woman is an obvious suicide, her kids were clearly mercy killed by someone who didn’t want them to, or couldn’t see how, they could survive this new world. Michonne bolts out of the room, visibly disturbed in a way that last season, I don’t think we would see. And she protects Carl from knowing the truth – the horrible things you do to protect your loved ones — telling him she found a dead dog inside.
Glenn and Tara
Last week ended on an ominous note as three army-types showed up after Glenn passed out by the side of the road. Given that we know that the living are far more dangerous than the undead, it’s a relief to find Tara and Glenn completely unharmed in “Claimed.” Sure, they’re heading in the complete opposite direction that Glenn wanted to go in, but Glenn should really be looking at the bright side of things – these three aren’t raging sociopaths who murdered him at his most vulnerable. Thank heavens for small favors.
Tara tells Glenn that they passed the prison bus and everyone inside was dead, which means they’re behind Maggie’s group of survivors. Glenn immediately wants to go back and try to track his wife, forcing Abraham to pull the truck over. We get a little info dump about Abraham, his girlfriend, the impractically dressed Rosita, and be-mulletted Eugene. Eugene, they claim, has the “cure” to this whole zombie thing and getting him to DC is the most important mission ever. This would be a good time for Glenn to mention the whole CDC fiasco, but he doesn’t. Instead, there’s a bit of a macho showdown, and then an actual showdown, with Abraham and Glenn rolling around on the ground while Tara and Rosita try to break them up, and incompetent Eugene ineffectually tries to tell them that there’s a whole bunch of walkers coming at them. Eugene has obviously skipped Bad Ass Survivor school, as he’s the only person we’ve met in age who doesn’t innately know how to handle a fully automatic gun, missing the head shot on every walker he manages to hit while destroying his army ride.
Glenn and Tara storm off after the walkers are handled. Without anything else to do and no ride to do it in, the trio scrambles after them.
Rick is one trashed ex-cop. After blocking the front door of the house with his trusty couch, Rick calls it a day and wanders upstairs to nap and read a book. As an aside, it’s nice to see that both Carl and Rick with a lot of downtime on their hands are reading. Because walkers only use the front door – no need to be rude just because you’re a shambling reanimated corpse – Rick apparently didn’t bother to lock up any of the other entrances to the house, which is how an armed group of Very Bad Men waltz into his house. We know they’re bad men because we can’t see their faces. Also, when one of them finds Michonne’s washed shirt, they start arguing over who gets to rape her first.
This part of the episode is completely dialogue free on Rick’s end, giving us yet another stellar Andrew Lincoln performance as he hides, scrambles, and fights his way around the house. Lincoln is pretty much the master of wordless tension at this point – who would have thought it was the same guy as that lovestruck puppy in Love, Actually? Actors, man.
Clearly, this is the most dysfunctional survivor group we’ve run into yet. Woodbury was a polite veneer over a rotten core, but at least the cogs knew which way to turn. I have a hard time believing any gang would stick together if they regularly choke each other into unconsciousness in order to get the full-sized bed in the houses they’re raiding. And what was with the guy Rick fought? What was he doing in the bathroom? The seat was down on the toilet and his pants were pulled up. So he was… just hanging out? Waiting for everyone to pass out or fall asleep so he could figure out what bed he could crash in? (The correct answer is: he was there waiting to get killed by Rick.)
Rick manages to escape the house through the bathroom window, but not before making sure that the toilet guy he killed could get out of the bathroom and murder-eat the other bad guys once he reanimated. The walker comes to right before Michonne and Carl are spotted by Head Bad Guy, Jeff Kober (my Buffy fans may recognize him as Rack, among his many other credits), enabling a fairly clean getaway. Though it’s not dwelt on in the episode, my heart hurt to know that Rick left behind Lori’s wedding band, which was on the bedside table in the room he was sleeping in.
Rick, Michonne, and Carl eventually encounter the same or similar map that Carol and Tyrese found last week, and head down the tracks towards Sanctuary.