Tonight's episode of "The Walking Dead," titled "Claimed," explored the question of why Rick and company don't just settle down in the clean, comfortable environs of the last couple of weeks. It's a good enough reason, really, especially if you don't want another big fight for no reason like you got with The Governor.
In another week where the cast was split up, the writers once again elected to only reveal what was going on with about half of them; while Glenn and the newcomers started to head north on a mission of great importance (at least according to Abraham), Carl and Michonne made an emotional connection and searched for supplies ... and Rick was forced to deal with the unexpected threat of a group of intruders in the house where he was sleeping.
Check out 17 highlights from the episode "Claimed," which aired on Sunday, Feb. 23. Warning: Spoilers ahead!
1. Wasting no time
As often as not, when you leave off on a cliffhanger, you want to start back up someplace else and worm your way back to the reveal. Nothing of the sort here; we open on Abraham's truck, with Glenn and Tara having joined the trio of newcomers.
2. Tara vs. Andrea
Tara stands up to Abraham quietly, calling him out on for being disingenuous long after they're already stuck together but not actually picking a fight with him. Andrea, by contrast, disarmed them as soon as they showed up, and then got hit by Abraham for her troubles.
Tara sees that he's a bit unstable -- the big guy enjoys this. It's an interesting take, not something we've seen very much, and if Abraham sticks around on TV for as long as he did in the comics, it will be interesting to see them grapple with that. The idea of "I'm good at this, it makes me feel needed, I enjoy it" is certainly a thing that exists in the world psychologically, but in fiction we rarely see soldiers depicted that way; usually they're more tortured and doing what they do because they must.
In the comics, he was a generally good guy ... but there was a subplot where he was quietly tortured by some murders he committed earlier in the outbreak, and he had a "stop me from killing again!" moment where he felt compelled to shoot Rick instead of a walker. We'll see whether they deal with that at all.
3. Normal life
All the houses in this neighborhood are very clean/fancy. It's surprising that there's been no serious disturbance by prisoners, guards or roaming survivors like the ones Rick encounters.
For now, though, Michonne has clean clothes and she and Carl are eating at the table, talking about foods they hate. Even after the happy moment is shattered by Carl's memories of Judith, Rick is sleeping on a clean bed and reading recreationally.
"Is this place home?" Michonne asks. And for a short while, it seemed like it could be.
Michonne is taking on the role of Carl's best friend -- something Rick says he can't be and still be his dad. She takes it pretty seriously, too, with her "you don't seem fine" routine and later the confession of what happened to her son.
Giving him Michonne as a best friend is arguably important because in the comics, he's had somebody with whom he could have a connection all along: Sophia. She died in the TV series and it seems as though in Michonne, the writers have selected another character likely to last a really long time in order to provide Carl with a friend and a character dynamic that won't have to be reset when the other character dies.
It also seems worth noting that Michonne is telling Carl things that she never even revealed to Andrea. Whether that's by design -- they still wanted to depict her as guarded, even with her friends, whereas the Grimeses have become family to her -- or just because the writers hadn't yet decided they'd give her a kid, it works well for this episode.
The idea that they just hadn't decided to give her a kid yet -- might be the "right" answer since she later claims it's "not really a secret."
5. Callback lite
There weren't a ton of callback references to previous episodes in this one, which is unusual when you consider how prevalent that theme has been in the last couple of episodes that immediately predated it. We did get a look at "clean" Michonne that looks a lot more like her old self, but that hardly counts. One thing we did get, though, was more time with shirtless, bandaged Rick inspecting himself in the mirror. This time, though, it's clear that progress has been made and recovery is underway. It's my guess they did this specifically so that fans would buy his later action-hero antics.
I'd argue that one other callback in the episode is the "Shh! Sleeping!" sign on the door where the dead family is closed away. It's reminiscent of "Don't open, dead inside," but less horrifying.
6. Rick and the Three Bears
I'm impressed that he had enough forethought to grab the bottle of water and hide it so that nobody thought to inspect the room. The fact that there was wet laundry downstairs and all of their supplies around the house probably would have made me feel like there was little point, but ultimately it seems plausible that one move played a role in keeping Rick alive.
In general, Rick's bit in this episode was great because it finally showed us why he's such a great leader and so respected. Throughout the series, we've heard other characters talk about this a lot, but as often as not, Rick seems wishy-washy and makes poor judgments. Seeing him the way the characters see him for once was nice, and the fact that he was all alone when we did suggests that maybe other times the others are holding him back a bit and he's still managing to hold it together.
All that said, he still should have gone for the gun on the bed rather than turn around and hide when he heard someone who was downstairs and far enough away that they couldn't see him say that they were going to get the gun. Yeah, you don't want to force a confrontation with this group ... but he had resolved himself to getting out of there as fast as possible at that point. Why not just arm up and bolt?
7. Hope & Faith
Michonne briefly gets her "Michonne voice" back following the shock of finding the family who apparently killed their kids and then themselves in order to all die together and not turn into zombies. Given the intimation that her boyfriend Mike was responsible for Andre's death under similar circumstances, it's understandable she'd be shaken by that. But tying back to Hershel's faith and its pervasive influence on the group, Carl's offer that maybe Judith and Andre are together somewhere brings hope and reconciliation to the situation.
A similar scene, though without all the hope and happiness, happened in the comics in "The Walking Dead" #60. In the comics, it was Rick and Morgan who saw it, both of whom had lost children much more recently and were quite raw. Rumor has it Morgan may appear somewhere in the last few episodes of the TV season, so we may get a bit of connection between he, Michonne ... and even Rick, if Rick hasn't found out about Judith by then. It's also fairly similar, of course, to the "God forgive us" tableau that Rick saw in the first season.
8. These guys aren't very bright
The gun-toting morons who come to the house while Rick hides pretty much deserve anything they get -- not just because they're depicted as loud and obnoxious, although that's part of it (do they not know that all the shouting for no reason can attract walkers -- maybe even a herd?). No, there's more to it than that.
When these two guys fight, it certainly sounds to me like the victor tells his friend that he's dead. That doesn't seem to be the case -- both because he's still kind of moving and also because he never turns -- but wouldn't you stop and check? I mean ... if you did kill him, and then take a nap, your friend would wake up as a walker and potentially kill you. Even though Rick had a jump on this information from the CDC, it seems likely everyone has figured out by this point in the show's timeline that the dead will get up and walk again even if they didn't die at the hands of the undead.
9. The deep sleep motif
Rick's deep sleep motif -- where he slept through a whole day after finally coming to rest following the battle at the prison -- is repeated here a bit with Glenn, who wakes up only to find that he's been napping for a bare minimum of three hours (since Tara says it was that long ago when they passed the prison bus). And, just like Rick, it appears that while he's not 100 percent, he's more or less back to normal after the long nap.
Normal enough, anyway, that he wants to take a potshot at Abraham and go looking for his wife. Which is pretty much what she just did at her first opportunity last week, not that Glenn knows that yet.
10. "The Special Nature of the Mission"
Abraham talks a lot about the special nature of the mission that he, Rosita and Eugene are undertaking to get to Washington, D.C. It gives us, tonight, the biggest, most potentially game-changing line the series has had this year: the revelation that Eugene is a scientist who knows how all of this started and, presumably, can stop it.
For some fairly big spoilers from the comic, check the bottom "bonus round" section of this story. We don't want to spoil potential future episodes in the body of the recap (even if it's pretty obvious, really), but it's worth mentioning -- especially because AMC has already spoiled a bit of it themselves.
11. He's lucky he's smart ...
... because in all other ways, Eugene is pretty useless. The producers may have been trying to communicate that message tonight, but it seems like they went the extra mile, showing him not just incapable but downright incompetent and dangerous with the gun.
While we're on that scene: I could be wrong, but the cornfield where they're stopped when everyone starts fighting and the walkers come looks a lot like the same location where they shot The Governor's massacre of his own people at the end of the third season. Could that be who some of these walkers are?
... well, no. Even if it is the same location where they're shooting, it's almost certainly not supposed to be, since according to Tara, they're hours away from the prison by now, rather than the few minutes they got to before The Governor started killing people.
12. No agenda
It's been a while since we met a group of survivors who were basically just like horror movie villains. The Governor and the people of Woodbury, as well as most of the other human threats we've seen in ages, have had a particular agenda or goal and so they could be talked to, reasoned with or delayed until a fight was needed. Here, we get what amounts to random looters/vagrants.
No agenda means they'd be just as likely to kill Rick on site so as to prevent him getting in their way and try and figure out what, if any, use he could serve for them, and it dehumanizes them to the point where the guy he kills in the bathroom for no reason other than to avoid being seen isn't a moral issue.
That's doubly interesting because it's Rick, who is usually Mister Talk It Out. Did what happened with The Governor break him of that habit? It'll be hard to tell until we get another, comparable threat.
13. This is why we can't have nice things
Staying in one place really just doesn't work on this show. Whether it's an organized evil like The Governor and his invasion forces, the mindless, animal instinct of the walkers or something in between, like these armed, aggressive drifters, it seems like any time you start to develop a comfort zone, it falls apart pretty quickly. Last week, we wondered why Rick and company wouldn't stay in the relative comfort of this clean, dry, relatively-non-infested neighborhood ... and now we get an answer.
14. Sic 'em!
It seemed like an oddly unnecessary thing for Rick to do when he reached over and opened the bathroom door before making his way out the window -- but then we got it. And, yes, it paid off to have the guy you just killed ("We're all infected," remember) reanimate and start going after his buddies inside while you're outside trying to figure out a quiet way around the porch.
This is the first time this season that NOT destroying someone's brain actually worked out well for the group. Last week, as we pointed out, it nearly got Daryl and Beth killed when Tyreese and Carol didn't offer to kill the dying, mourning man who later became a walker.
15. Subplot city
A three-hour drive is a pretty good distance from the bus for Glenn and the four new characters to walk. It seems likely we'll be treated to a couple of episodes of the group making their way back to the area where the rest of the survivors are operating. That should give us plenty of time to get acquainted with Abraham, Eugene, Rosita and Tara.
16. Abraham the flirt
Speaking of which, if you thought that Abraham was flirting with Tara this week when he was telling her what a good person she is, you're not alone. She saw through it and called him on it, but beyond that, fans of the comics will know that's in the character's DNA. Ultimately it cost him his relationship with Rosita, but we'll see whether that particular aspect of the character is explored on TV.
He's clearly barking up the wrong tree flirting with Tara, who is not only a lesbian but is also currently on kind of a self-punishment jag.
17. En route to Terminus
Last week, a little map magic revealed that Terminus seems to be in Macon, GA. That's where Rick and Michonne are heading -- a place where they'll meet up with Tyreese, Carol and company, if everyone makes it. Along the way, though, it could be interesting to see whether they'll meet up with anyone we know.
For comics fans, it's interesting that Team Rick is headed in the direction of Tyreese and Carol's group; everyone in that group is either dead in the comics, or never existed, which puts an additional bull's eye on top of the already-existing bull's eye that every character on "The Walking Dead" already has on them.
Some more stray thoughts ...
He's actually just a guy with limited survival skills who knows a little science and can talk a good game, so he hooks up with the strong-but-simple Abraham by convincing him that keeping Eugene alive will save the world. Of course, we find this out down the line, after he's already taken the whole group for a ride and they've made their way from Georgia up through part of Virginia en route to Washington, D.C. Alexandria, Virginia -- a city not far from Washington--is a key setting later on in the comics.
Promotional material for the new season of "The Walking Dead" have outed Eugene as a liar and somebody in a promotional interview said he was a science teacher, so hardcore fans who have been paying attention to every little bit of promotion should have been able to piece it together tonight without any help. What's really interesting is that they elected to break up the group and then to have the Eugene story happen before they reassembled everyone.
That's probably because Rick's got a life experience on TV that he doesn't in the comics: The trip to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the end of the first season. In the comics, that sequence never happened, but on TV, not only did it happen but Rick and Jenner had a conversation in which Jenner shared secret information with Rick. So if Eugene tried to sell Rick on the idea that this was some kind of government-designed super flu or something and he was a super-doctor who could help save the world, Rick would logically be able to see through that claim pretty easily.