“Claimed”, the eleventh episode of Season Four of The Walking Dead is a deceptive little episode. On the surface, it felt like there was little forward motion — the main collective remains as fractured as it was last week, and the pair of groups felt like they didn’t move that much. But when you dig deeper, there are a number of critical changes that happened, and overall it was a solid transitional episode.
The most intriguing storyline is certainly that of Tara and Glenn, who fell in with a brand new group of allies. This new group — Abraham (Michael Cuditz), Rosita (Christian Serratos), and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) — is taken straight from the comics and is one of the most literal visual translations we’ve seen since Michonne’s first appearance. They’re almost exactly as drawn, to the extent of almost being too comic bookish. Regardless, their opening moments with Tara (“You smiled. You were smiling”) made for a discomforting sense of anxiousness. Has she once again fallen in with psychopaths? Or are they simply men who are so joyless in this bleak new world that the pitiless work of dispatching walkers is all the happiness there is for them to find? Yet the truth — if it is indeed the truth — is something far more fascinating. For the first time since Season Two, we are once again dealing with a larger issue. What caused the outbreak? Is there a cure? Is there hope to be had at all. And while the nebbish, mulleted, useless-in-a-fight Eugene is not what one would expect from a scientist on a top secret mission, the idea is too interesting to resist.
Yet it’s never that simple, particularly in light of Glenn’s single-minded determination to find Maggie. And despite Abraham’s grim outlook and brutal honesty about what their future might be worth in this world. Glenn will not be deterred (demonstrated by another great outing by Steven Yuen). What’s equally interesting is Tara’s resilience in sticking with him, as if her guilt over the prison now drives her every step. In the end, of course, Eugene’s ineptitude forces them all back on the path that Glenn had already chosen, taking them back into the darkness they left behind.
As for Carl, Rick, and Michonne - there was less plot, but some great character work going on. There’s a genuine charm to the Carl/Michonne dynamic, and it’s part of what’s allowed Michonne’s character to become more heartfelt and human. Their banter in the opening scene is endearing and ultimately tragic, a rare moment of levity broken by the mention of Judith. And while Riggs’s frozen guppy face doesn’t quite sell the moment, Gurira’s does perfectly. Truly, this was one of Gurira’s strongest episodes, and there was a soft, subtle strength to her performance that was contrary to the overwhelming sense of raw power and fury that she usually gives off. The moment in the kitchen, where Rick still looks like hammered shit — Michonne shows an unexpected sense of leadership and geniality in how she handles him (though I can’t help but wonder why she found a fresh shirt so quickly while Rick still looked like Indiana Jones after fighting the Thuggees).
That easy rapport between her and Carl continued throughout the episode, even as Michonne took a firm hand in guiding it, gently setting rules and guidelines for him in a way so subtle that it’s almost missed. It showed, as in the kitchen scene, that MIchonne is also capable of being a relatively masterful manipulator, even as she opened up about herself as a result. As they explored the house, new sides of each of them slowly were dragged to the forefront. Finally, the episodes most chilling sequence capped it off perfectly — Michonne finding the terrifying painting, and then finding that horror show of a room, a picture of despair, a family that couldn’t go on any more. It served as a marvelous contrast to the new family slowly, tentatively being built around her, and the final minute between them was a great example of two people delicately coming to terms with their own fragility, their individual weak spots, and leaning on each other to find their strengths..
The other very effective moment of genuine tension was Rick’s eerie wakeup scene. The entire sequence of Rick in the house with the marauding interlopers was one of the more enjoyable mini-vignettes we’ve seen in a while. What followed was a nerve-wracking bit of silence and fear, as unknown aggressors invade the house and he is trapped, weak and weaponless, staggering from one predicament to another. It was a nifty bit of storytelling, one that didn’t necessarily serve a larger purpose other than to show that Rick still knows how to handle himself, but was still satisfying to watch. It didn’t have a lot of flash or gunfire or hyper violence, but was instead a stealthy, tense, gut-churning little escapade.
In the end, the only real movement was Rick, Carl, and Michonne leaving the house and setting themselves on the road to Sanctuary, and whatever that may bring. Glenn has found new comrades, however unusual and potentially unstable they may be, and he’s heading back to find Maggie. Rick and company are headed to Sanctuary, where we know that Carol, Tyreese, and the girls are going. It appears that all roads will eventually lead there, and the questions that remain are ominous ones. What is it? Will they find each other? And just how safe is it there? Just how safe is anywhere?
Oh, and let’s not forget — satellite phones, military scientists, and the answers to all their questions lie in D.C.? The next few episodes should be interesting.