Spoilers through Season 9 of The Walking Dead follow.
Judith Grimes steals the show in Sunday night’s ‘The Walking Dead.’Credit: AMC
Sunday nights episode of The Walking Dead serves as an almost complete reboot of AMCs zombie drama. We saw it coming last week, when Rick Grimes was taken away in the helicopter followed by a major time jump that featured a much older Judith Grimes sporting her dads hat and revolver and her adoptive mothers sword (or a miniature version of it.)
This week we leap forward into a future that sees many of our long-time characters changed in dramatic ways and some of the younger folk (like Henry) recast. Of all these changes, its Carols long, snowy hair that’s most striking, though Eugene’s braided locks are an improvement over the mullet, if a small one. In fact, seeing Eugene brave may be more shocking still.
Alexandria has come a long way. When the new characters that Judith saved last week arrive, we witness to the same sweeping changes to the community that they see for the first time. Alexandria looks like a town pulled straight from an old Western film, if those towns were walled in on all sides to keep out the dead. Newly erected buildings that you might find on a street in Westworld have been erected next to sprawling gardens. The windmill spins at the center of it all. It’s all a stark contrast to the dilapidated Kingdom. One wonders why the two forces haven’t joined, not just symbolically but geographically as well.
Michonne struggles with her new role in this post-Rick world.Credit: AMC
Who Are You Now?
Six years into the future, the question on everyones mind is where all the characters have landed. What’s become of our heroes in a post-Rick universe? (And, given what we know, why hasn’t the sheriff come home in all this time?) For some of these figures, like Maggie who is suddenly (jarringly) no longer on the show, we have no answers . For others, we have a bit more of a concrete portrait of whats going on.
Carol / Henry / Ezekiel / Daryl
At the Kingdom, Ezekiel and Carol are married and raising Henry as their own. Hes now a young teenager played by the very capable Matt Lintz. Henry is full of fire and verve, a passionate young man itching to break free of his fathers protective embrace. On the road to Hilltop (though not really) he and Carol are ambushed by some of the Saviors we thought we saw the last of during the shootout at the bridge. They take their supplies and even Carols wedding ring, and Henry is mortified when she goes down without a fight.
Carol and her long white hair.Credit: AMC
Later that night Carol finds the Saviors, gets her ring back, and burns them all to death. Carol is on fire, too hot to handle, good old cannibal-killer-style Carol but more confident, less broken by inner turmoil. She is the best version of herself.
The two were supposed to head to Hilltop but instead went out into the woods searching for the Last Jedi…akaDaryl doing his best impression of Luke Skywalker in self-imposed exile. Daryl was no more fond of these communities than I was as a critic, and after Ricks death it appears hes decided to go it alone, living off the land, fishing and hunting and keeping to himself. Im not sure what Carol is doing tracking him down, but I suppose it has something to do with Henry.
(Perhaps it’s fitting that Daryl is giving off such a Bitter Old Man Skywalker vibe here, given that Judith is now played by Cailey Fleming who plays a young Rey inStar Wars: The Force Awakens.)
Daryl “The Last Jedi” DixonCredit: AMC
Michonne / Judith / Alexandria / Negan
Meanwhile, back in Alexandria the survivors have formed a real society. Theres at least some form of democracy in place, with a council that votes on important issues (like whether or not to let the new characters stay). Its members include Aaron, sporting his cool beard and a metal arm, Siddiq, a one-eyed Gabriel who appears to have taken the council-leader role, and Michonne as chief of security, a job she takes seriously. Gone is the softer version of this woman. In her place is someone fiercely devoted to keeping her children and community safe, to the point where throwing out strangers (even strangers who seem like mostly good people) is something she doesnt bat an eye at.
The big surprise is Michonne is mother not just to Judith, but to another young boy, Ricks son. The Grimes family lives on, even if Judith is Shanes daughter after all.
It doesnt really matter one way or another. Judith is a great little kid. Shes tough, sweet, compassionate, and just an all around badass that the people of Alexandria respect and even defer to in some instances. A budding relationship is forming between her and Negan, who remains in prison though with a good deal less hair. Whatever relationship was supposed to form between Carl and Negan is happening instead between these two, with Judith on the steps doing math and Negan telling her whats the point.
It doesnt if youre a good person on the inside or not, she quips. The numbers dont care.
A New Threat
It turns out that somehow Rosita and Gabriel have become an item, much to the dismay of Eugene who apparently has a thing for Rosita now also (despite some, uh, less than romantic moments between them last season.) Gabriel wants to reach out to the rest of the world but the radio isnt strong enough, so Rosita volunteers her and Eugenes services to go set up a relay.
The task done, a herd of walkers who were supposed to be going the other way suddenly approaches and the two attempt to escape. Their horses run off, Eugene falls and hurts his knee, and their escape is more like a mad rush for survival. Eugene volunteers to throw himself in their path and save Rosita, and tries to profess his love for her. Dont make things weird, she yells at him. Theres still time to escape.
They make their way to a ditch, throw themselves over the side, and cover their bodies and faces in mud. This is when the big, shocking and most terrifying moment of this season (or any other for a good long time) happens. As the zombies move past we hear them speaking to one another. Dont let them get away, one says.
Of course, these arent zombies (or at least not all zombies.) These are a new group of sadistic villains comic book readers will be familiar with: The Whisperers. A group of people who dress in zombie skins and do various horrible things. This is such a terrific, unsettling moment in the episode, cutting to the credits shortly after.
I’m worried about Eugene and RositaCredit: AMC
I really liked this episode—a lot. I love that it feels like a whole new show, because The Walking Dead needed to become a whole new show to survive. I never thought theyd pull it off, but so far this may be the longest stretch of good episodes this show has ever aired.
Im still shocked by how good The Walking Dead has gotten, and while I was worried before (and still have some doubts) I dont think its going to suffer too much without Rick. His death serves as an interesting catalyst for character growth throughout the community, as they no longer have the luxury of one leader calling all the shots. Now they need to rely on one another, on this budding civilization, to survive. Michonne is certainly broken by Ricks death—Judith finds her pacing, talking to Rick out loud in her room—but shes tough and she has two children to look after as well as the rest of the flock.
Im curious to see where all of this goes. I like the new characters like Magna (Nadia Hilker) and Luke (Dan Fogler) and the rest of that crew who I hope we get to know much better in coming weeks.
The newcomers.Credit: AMC
And Im really intrigued by the Whisperers and what horrors theyll bring to the story. I hope we dont get another two-season dragged out arc with a new set of villains, but I think were in for a conflict thats far better and more terrifying than anything during the All Out War days.
Not everything is perfect. Michonnes opening monologue sunk into some of The Walking Deads bad writing habits. Too repetitive, too vague, too sappy. Im not sure why Eugene was so tough in the beginning and wimped out so spectacularly by the end. I prefer to see how these characters have changed in the intervening years since for the most part each one has been stuck in the same malaise forever. I dont want to see them all fall back on old habits, still shackled to past selves.
But this is small potatoes stuff. For the most part Im thrilled to finally enjoy The Walking Dead again and to be excited for whats coming next week, week after week. What did you think?
(P.S. Sorry for the late review. Im traveling in the South Pacific with very little access to internet and had to watch this episode after it aired. I may run into similar issues next weekend, but Ill be home by the midseason finale.)
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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero