*Yes, we try to avoid big spoilers in here*
Instead of hitting us with an epic and explosive mid-season premiere, The Walking Dead decides to return with character-driven episode, focusing completely on Michonne and the relationship between Carl and Rick. The best part about this strong focus on each character is the fact they're able to tell us a whole lot about the three without blatantly spelling everything out for us. There's some legitimately creative shots and somewhat subtle moments that are totally appreciated throughout this one.
The decision to shine the spotlight on Carl more than usual is certainly going to be a polarizing move. Sure, Carl isn't nearly as likable as he is in the comic and yes, you'll want to scream at him in this one, but despite this, it was still a surprisingly effective character study. Although, who else gets insanely frustrated when zombies seem completely unable to bite someone's legs even though they have all the time in the world to do so?
Watching Carl go through this struggle is interesting (albeit annoying a few times), but the real highlight is with Michonne. Her dialogue is incredibly limited in this episode, yet "After" is still able to speak volumes about who she is as a person and what she wants. Plus, there's quite a bit of her slicing and dicing zombies, and who doesn't enjoy that?
Focusing on three main characters is good and all, but it's a surprising approach for the mid-season premiere. Yes, it's a good reminder of what they need to face again and allows them to show their true colors, but to give us no hint of the greater picture is a bit of a letdown and it also makes me somewhat concerned the post-prison source material could be drawn-out just like in Season Two. Also, this episode does drag at times, so the pacing is likely going to make or break it for some of you. Lastly, there's a scene taken from the comics (between Carl and Rick) which didn't translate all that well and went on longer than expected.
"After" is a great character study of Carl and Michonne. It doesn't build the hype for what's to come and definitely feels a bit too slow at times, but it's a good reminder of what life outside the prison fences is like and, more importantly, it's a solid analysis of two key characters. It may not be the most exciting or gripping episode yet, but it's one that's sure to give you a better connection to these two very important characters.