I didn’t notice it before (and who knows maybe on some level i’m reaching with tyrannosaurus sized arms) but when Hershel and Rick are in the prison’s garden and Hershel is inspecting a plant he breaks off a stem and says, ”Things break but they can still grow, these little bristles they’ll take root and you’ll have a whole new plant.”
Immediately after he says this Rick hears the tell tale whistle indicating that Michonne is back. It’s as though he completely forgets he’s with Hershel and looks in her direction. As soon as he’s certain it’s her he drops everything and he and Carl hurry to open the gates for her then we see the camera pan over to her.
I want to believe this was a conscious decision. It’s been said that there are no coincidences in The Walking Dead, that they plant moments in premieres that pay off down the line, therefore I’m willing to believe this was a simple yet effective creative decision that can be, and that I’m sure is, overlooked but that speaks volumes to me.
That moment really feeds into the idea that Michonne is without a doubt Rick and Carl’s future.
“Things break but they can still grow,” is a line that is easily applicable to Rick, Carl, and Michonne.
After losing Lori both Rick and Carl shut down but in noticeably different ways. Rick struggles with holding on to the remains of his sanity after the devastatingly abrupt loss of his wife, he struggles with self condemnation and he blames himself for her death. The guilt is so powerful that it pushes him past the brink of sanity for awhile and he not only sees Lori he begins to speak to her. And all the while he still has people that look to him for leadership but he’s in an extremely vulnerable place after losing the one person he’d fought so hard to protect and keep alive.
Carl is, in a way, thrusted into a responsibility the likes of which he’s never known (but was somewhat prepped for by Rick back at Hershel’s farm –– ie “no more kid stuff” and “people are gonna die. i’m gonna die. mom”). He’s forced to grow up because the day Lori dies he doesn’t just lose his mother, for a time, he even loses his father but Carl recognizes that he now has a little sister to look out for and thats where the undue responsibility comes into play. He also internalized a lot of the grief he felt over having to mercy kill his own mother because he might’ve felt that both he and his father couldn’t leave Judith and spiral out of control so he forced himself to stay together.
And then we have Michonne who is broken when we meet her and for very similar reasons. Except her grief is magnified to a degree because she didn’t just lose her boyfriend she lost her 3 year old son as well. We go on to find out that she lost her son because of her boyfriend, because of his cowardice and negligence, and that the walkers she used as pets to ward off the dead were not really to ward off the dead at all but were there to serve as a reminder of what she had lost.
All three of these characters are extremely broken but we see in the premiere of season 4 that there has been remarkable growth between them. Rick and Carl race to greet Michonne when she returns to the prison and the smiles on their faces are smiles that are reserved only for her.
She comes back with gifts for them. Comics for Carl because I’m almost positive they’re something she introduced him to and a razor for Rick which she presents to him with playful banter, “your face is losing the war.” Michonne jokes with Rick and she gets another smile out of him but the fact that these two characters can be something apart from serious with one another is amazing. It’s growth. And then Rick asks her if she’s going to stay for a little while which can only be interpreted in one way really –– he missed her, he was undoubtedly worried about her while she was beyond the safety of the prison, and when Rick cares about you when he accepts you into the fold he’s going to want to be able to make sure you’re okay, he’s going to always want you there with them but he probably understands he can’t push Michonne. A lot of the concern and affection that he’s developed for her shines through in that moment.
“Things break but they can still grow,”
All three of these characters are broken at the end of season 3 and through the bonds formed within their trifecta they grow.
Things even become rocky for them all when they lose the prison because they not only lose the stability that a home offers but they lose the stability, familiarity, and comfort that they offer one another. It’s just Rick and Carl and Michonne is by herself once more. Carl blames Rick for everything that’s transpired, Rick blames himself as well, and Michonne blames herself for daring to get comfortable, for getting close to people again. And they’re all ready to let go of what was but Michonne fights against it. She fights against her old way of “life” and finds her way back to them. She doesn’t want to regress.
She finds them and it’s like an all encompassing relief washes over everyone. And it still leads me back to “Things break but they can still grow," Even though for a while after the loss of the prison they were all broken, Michonne and Carl mentally and Rick both mentally and physically, they find ways to overcome the adversity, the curve ball life has thrown them. First they do it alone –– Carl realizes if his dad died and left him alone in the world he would not be fine, Rick comes to terms with the fact that nothing will be as it was before but as long as he and Carl are okay maybe things could be alright, and Michonne understands that she can’t convince herself any longer that she doesn’t need people, she can’t convince herself that loving openly is a weakness. She understands that choosing to care about people is a strength and that choosing life over death is an act of strength.
That’s personal growth that translates into further interpersonal growth when they’re reunited with each other.
"These little bristles they’ll take root and you’ll have a whole new plant." Is symbolic of the new family Rick, Michonne, Carl (and later Judith) become once they’re reunited. It’s foreshadowing.
It’s this idea that yes they did lose vital parts of their original family, no they’ll never be replaced because that’s impossible, but that from the broken remnants (Carl, Michonne, Rick, Judith) a whole new family can be formed. Hence “you’ll have a whole new plant.”
That’s a line from the premiere episode of season 4 that paid off throughout the entirety of that season for Rick, Michonne, and Carl. And that is still significant this season. One that shines through in a small moment shared between the newly formed family unit after Rick and Carl are reunited with Judith.
It’s such a small moment but seeing Michonne join Rick and Carl with Judith of her own volition, seeing her stroke her hair, seeing her genuinely smile at the sight of a child she couldn’t even bear to hold before, seeing her playing with her and staying by Judith’s side it now leads me back to that pivotal line.
“Things break but they can still grow, these little bristles they’ll take root and you’ll have a whole new plant."