Carl leaves the last of his childhood behind him (except for a gigantic tub of chocolate pudding) in the season 4 return of "The Walking Dead." Credit: AMC Carl leaves the last of his childhood behind him (except for a gigantic tub of chocolate pudding) in the midseason premiere of "The Walking Dead." Credit: AMC

“After sadness comes tears,” sang Wendy Rene, the Southern soul chanteuse, and the muted season 4 return of “The Walking Dead” has sorrow aplenty.

“After” picks up with walkers swarming the prison, the survivors’ former home, like a plague of locusts. The always-badass Michonne goes into full-on samurai mode, lopping off zombie heads like she’s popping Pez from a dispenser. She crumbles when she finds the zombified head of Hershel, the former conscience of the show, and has to drive her blade through his skull — a mercy killing. She then flees, co-opting a new pair of zombie slaves to mask her scent, into the woods.

While Michonne escapes, Carl and Rick make their own getaway. Poor Rick has been beaten bloody in his confrontation with the now-deceased Governor. He limps behind his son, one eye swollen shut, arm held against his battered ribs, as Carl stalks angrily ahead. They are in shock over the death of Judith, their infant daughter/sister, during the walker rampage into the prison.

 

“We’re gonna be...” Rick starts, before faltering, unable to finish the lie he’s about to tell his son.

The two take shelter in a zombie-free house, but there's little peace as Carl, seethes and snaps at his dad, the pent-up resentment at their devastating loss pouring out of him.

Nearby, Michonne walks numbly through the blasted landscape, remembering her own past. She was a lover and mother before the old world order ended and everything went to hell.

As Michonne ruminates over her life and what she’s lost, walkers show up at the house where Carl and Rick are holed up. Carl tries to wake his possibly grievously injured father to no avail and must confront the walkers alone. After the kind of drawn out nail-biting suspense that inevitably comes in every episode of “The Walking Dead,” Carl dispatches the zombies and comes back to read the riot act to his unconscious father.

“I still know how to survive,” he yells, berating Rick for not being able to protect Judith, the other survivors who’ve died — and even his mom.

Carl and Michonne must learn how to deal with the tragic hand that they have been dealt. Carl must man up, even though enough of his childhood lingers that he’s impressed when he discovers the cool teenager’s room in the house where they are staying, or when he finds a mega-sized tin of chocolate pudding in a house he’s scavenging in, where he loses his boot and almost his life to a walker. Michonne must decide if she is going to revert to her isolated ways, and in fact, becoming an emotional zombie unable to draw close to anyone.

After another day of recovery, Rick finally wakes, telling his son, “You’re a man.”

Michonne makes her decision and slaughters the herd of walkers she’s traveling with, then tracks Rick and Carl to their new hideout.

They may not have much in this crazy mixed-up world, but at least they still have each other.

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