Spoilers through Season 9 of 'The Walking Dead' follow.
Carol doing her best Legolas impression in Sunday night's 'The Walking Dead.'Credit: AMC
Sunday night's episode ofThe Walking Deadwas yet another good episode of AMC's zombie drama. That's seven episodes in a row that have received my stamp of approval. I'm not sure the show has ever been this competent. Seven good episodes in a row? And only in the season premiere did we see anything like characters acting like idiots for no good reason.
The rest of the season has been surprisingly good, and the two episodes we've seen after the time jump have both been really strong, giving me faith thatThe Walking Deadcan survive in a post-Rick, post-Maggie timeline. In fact, I don't really miss Rick or Maggie at this point. I like Jesus as the apathetic leader of Hilltop. I like the ruling council of Alexandria.
Really, the only thing I don't like aboutThe Walking Deadright now is Michonne. And while that's a pretty big problem, it's something that I hope we'll see resolved by the midseason finale.
In Stradivarius, we pick back up after last week's insane cliffhanger. Rosita is stumbling through the forest, bloodied up, no sign of Eugene. Her pursuers are coming. The creepy factor here is through the roof, somethingThe Walking Deadhasn't pulled off in ages. This is supposed to be a scary show, but it hasn't been in quite a while. Now we have real terror again, if only for a moment at the beginning of the episode. The rest of the episode builds toward next week.
We have a few different storylines going on in 'Stradivarius.' As is the case with the rest of this season, the show's writers and producers have done a bang-up job weaving all the different characters' stories together across each episode (for the most part.) In the past,The Walking Deadhas had an annoying habit of either giving us just one or two characters per episode, or telling just one group's story per episode, leaving major characters like Carol out of the show for five or six episodes at a time.
Not so in Season 9. Each episode covers most of the characters. Sure, we didn't get Hilltop last week, but we do this week and we see that Jesus has become its reluctant leader, with Tara his lieutenant, pestering him to actually lead when all he really wants to do is have her job. He's even meeting in secret with Aaron where they spar and try to keep open lines of communication between the two communities.
Jesus and the Hilltop
It appears that after Rick's death, Michonne blamed Maggie and the bad blood between the two led to the splintering of the various communities. Alexandria has closed itself off to the rest of the world, and Michonne herself won't even go all the way to Hilltop for fear of running into Maggie. It's Siddiq who reveals to her that Maggie has left the community with Georgie. Somehow Michonne didn't know.
In any case, for a minute I thought that perhaps Aaron and Jesus had formed a romantic relationship but that doesn't appear to be the case (or at least not yet, though it would make sense.) I like both their characters a lot more this season. I was, frankly, enormously critical of both actors over the past couple seasons but I think they were just given bad writing and poor direction to work with. Both are far more likable this season. That applies to almost everyone (except Michonne.)
While Aaron and Jesus are talking, they see a flare go off nearby and race off to find Rosita leaning against a tree in bad shape. They take her back to Hilltop. The whole time I'm worried that they're about to be ambushed. I'm actually tense and afraid for these characters again. Remarkably,The Walking Deadis evoking real emotions in me other than annoyance and eye-rolling. That's a good thing!
Michonne and the newbies
Meanwhile, Michonne, DJ and Siddiq are escorting the newcomers from Alexandria to Hilltop, because Michonne is too stubborn to let them stay in her community but too compassionate to hang them out to dry. She still won't let them have their weapons (until they need them) and she won't accompany them the whole way to Hilltop (until she learns about Rosita.)
They go to where Magna, Luke and the others had last had camp and find it completely destroyed. They find their weapons there (which Michonne confiscates) and Luke finds his priceless violin, an original Stradivarius from the 18th century. Later that night, Michonne finds him looking at his violin and assumes it's a weapon. When he doesn't drop it she slashes it in half with her sword. It's an accident, but one based on Michonne being an insufferable jerk now.
Everyone sits around talking after this completely avoidable travesty, and Luke (who I really love as a character) talks about how the humans "defeated" the neandertals. He talks about how just sitting around playing music, sharing stories and art, is such a powerful thing. How it's so essential to rebuilding society. It's a great monologue. You can almost see it piercing through Michonne's icy defenses. Almost.
Later, the group is taken by surprise by the herd of walkers that killed Bernie, the newcomers' lost companion. It appears to be a real herd, but I wonder if there are Whisperers there. After they make their escape, at one point the group stops. The deaf woman, Connie, notices something in the trees. Everyone stops, watching, listening. They see nothing and move on, but we see the camera looking back from the woods. Someone is out there, and they're not friendly.
The Walking DeadCredit: AMC
Legolas and Luke Skywalker
In the third major storyline of the evening, Carol (aka Legolas) takes Rey (aka Henry) to see Luke Skywalker (aka Daryl) in his self-imposed exile. Daryl now has a pet dog named Dog, which is awesome.
Carol wants Daryl to come back to Hilltop where he can keep an eye on Henry, though I suspect she also hopes Daryl will take Henry under his wing to some degree. It's all well and good to train as a blacksmith, but Daryl could teach Henry how to survive. How to fight and how to think in the apocalypse.
At first, Daryl isn't interested. He enjoys his isolation. It turns out that he started going out to look for Rick after the bridge blew. He never found a body, so he has no reason to believe that Rick is actually dead. The sad thing is, Daryl is right but everyone thinks he's crazy. After a while, he just stopped going back to town.
This whole sequence was quite good except for when Carol asks if he's eaten lately and he replies, petulantly, that the dog ate yesterday. I get it---Daryl is bitter. He's bitter about Rick. I think he's a little jealous of Carol marrying Ezekiel. But still, you don't answer that question with that answer, no matter how bitter you are.
That night, Dog is snared in one of Daryl's traps. Zombies, also snared, are trying to get to the poor creature. Daryl goes to save him and tells Henry to stay back. Henry doesn't listen (of course) and intervenes in time to save Daryl from a straggler. At first Daryl is angry, but later he thanks Henry and the two talk. Henry doesn't want Carol to know about the incident, but she was watching---bow at the ready---the entire time (like a good wood elf.)
Henry tells Daryl that he's Carol's best friend and that she misses him. Daryl asks if Henry really wants him at Hilltop always watching over his shoulder, and Henry replies "It isn't just about me." So Daryl melts and agrees to go back to Hilltop.
They head that way and reach the town before Michonne and her group. Everyone is converging on Hilltop as we approach the midseason finale. Jesus, Aaron and Daryl head out to look for Eugene. Rosita is in sickbay. Michonne and her crew are heading there and surely Michonne and others will go out to help with the search for Eugene.
And the Whisperers are coming. I get the feeling next Sunday's episode is going to be insane. Some characters are almost certainly going to die. Something very, very bad and frightening is about to happen. I'm not sure who is marked for death just yet, but I think next week is going to be big. Eugene seems to be in the most peril, but he's got a special kind of luck and never seems to die no matter how useless he is.
I'm also really curious about these X scars on Michonne and Daryl's backs. What do they signify? Do other characters have them as well? Perhaps it's some blood pact, some commitment to finding Rick, or to the original group---though given the apparent bad blood between Maggie and Michonne, I'm not sure about that. I guess we'll find out soon.1
What do you think about these mysteries and about this episode more broadly? Let me know on Twitter and Facebook, and thanks so much for reading!
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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero