the walking dead clearI’ve made no secret of the fact that The Walking Dead is probably my favourite thing on television right now. Not only that, but season three is undoubtedly the best of the show’s short life so far.

Originally, I took issue with The Walking Dead. While I enjoyed it, I didn’t really find myself invested in the post-apocalyptic world, primarily due to the emotionally impenetrable (read: poorly written) characters. Combine that with the cringeworthy forced character development of the farm and the warning signs began to flash for the show as early as mid-Season 2.

The first half of Season Three put everything right. In those eight episodes there was drama, shock deaths, fantastic new characters and, believe it or not, we actually started to care about our group. Sure, it couldn’t all be perfect — Andrea suffered a character assassination (not literally… yet) and Michonne probably doesn’t speak as much as she should, but the show was in undoubtedly good form, smashing its own ratings records week after week.

Three weeks after the return of Season Three, how are things looking?

The ratings are looking good — the comeback episode, ‘The Suicide King’, smashed records again. As for the episodes themselves, well, the pace seemed to slow down a bit, taking time to focus on Rick’s descent into madness and general frolicking in the woods after Ghost Lori (bloody Lori). We had one of the best set-pieces of the entire show towards the end of ‘Home’, where we said goodbye to another of our characters just as we were beginning to love him (R.I.P. Axel). Other than that, it was all kind of building up to something greater. The episodes seemed to be setting up for the inevitable finale showdown between Rick and The Governor without actually going anywhere. News that episode twelve, ‘Clear’, was to follow Rick, Carl and Michonne on a separate mission of their own didn’t exactly instil confidence in everybody.

Which is a shame, because ‘Clear’ is the best episode of The Walking Dead since Season One’s much-acclaimed ‘Pilot’ episode. Warning – spoilers ahead.

It’s easy to forget amidst all the fast-paced drama and growing conflict between two groups of survivors fading in humanity just how brilliantly this show can handle the more intimate, human conflicts and emotions. Season 2’s ’18 Miles Out’ framed the conflict between Rick and Shane perfectly, exploring the psyche of an isolated, confused character who literally lost everything. The episode was one of my favourites of the entire show at the time, perfectly summed up by the visual metaphor of the lone walker striding through the field.

‘Clear’ is that sort of episode, in which we see Rick, Carl and Michonne return to Rick’s hometown to gather supplies for the inevitable battle between Team Prison and Team Woodbury. The episode opens with Rick still not quite in a sound place mentally, but after a visit from the Ghost of Rick-mas Future, we are grateful as viewers that the characters are in a group and not isolated individuals.

No point dodging around it anymore — yes, Lennie James returns as Morgan. Remember the guy from the first episode? Had a son? Couldn’t shoot his wife? Yeah, him.

Except he’s insane. He has writing scrawled all over his walls.

And he’s on his own.

Through Lennie James’ brilliant, brilliant portrayal of a man without anything else to fight for, we are provided with the perfect mirror of what Rick could become should he allow himself to slip any further down the spiral. We also see the dangers of not being able to make the correct decisions, ultimately costing Morgan’s young son his life. Morgan’s sense of hopelessness was really painful viewing, not just for the viewer but for Rick, who perhaps began to realise just how fortunate he is to have a good group of people around him.

My particular favourite moment of the episode is the fact that Rick, Carl and Michonne simply left Morgan to get on with his life. There was no melodramatic sacrifice, no ringing of a bullet in the closing seconds — they just left, and Morgan continued his solitary existence. I realise this could be to leave it open for the character’s return in the future, but I almost hope they don’t rush to that now — it was a subtle, bittersweet ending, and one of the most striking moments of the entire show in its sheer subtlety.

Also, good news — Michonne speaks! Yes, her and Carl go on a little trip around Carl’s hometown, in which the pair of them make friends and form an unlikely team. I’m fast growing fond of Carl — it’s almost hard to believe this is the same kid who used to run off and cause mayhem just a series ago. His development is great. I particularly liked Carl’s exchange with Morgan towards the end of the episode: we see how far Carl has developed as a human being in this world where growing up is necessary to survive, and get the unfortunate feeling that Morgan’s son couldn’t quite adapt as well as him, costing him his life. It’s a wake-up call to Rick after Carl’s ‘you should stop being the leader’ comment last week, and one which will hopefully see Rick stepping up and making the right calls once again.

It’s a shame that we’ve only got four episodes remaining of Glen Mazarra’s stellar run producing the show, but it instills great confidence that the man taking charge for Season 4, Scott M. Gimple, was the man behind the writing of ‘Clear’. He writes solid, poignant drama, balancing human emotion with the threat of the walkers. ‘Clear’ was a fantastic episode, and everything right about The Walking Dead. Roll on next week.

Rating: A+

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