This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 9 Episode 14
Michonne has spent most of The Walking Dead Season 9 resisting every impulse to do something good that might put her own people at risk. Aaron and Jesus are sneaking around in secret to have martial arts foreplay. She refuses to allow her people to go to the Kingdom’s fair. The bridge is in shambles and Alexandria is refusing to reach out to Hilltop, let alone anyone else, and the more things change for the groups, the more things seem to revert to a pre-Rick state. Everyone knows where everyone is, everyone seems to be friends, and yet nobody is really willing to play along and help each other out, even when trade might be mutually beneficial.
As it turns out, Michonne has a very good reason to be suspicious of outsiders, even ones she considers friends. From the very opening moments of the episode, in which an injured Jocelyn (Rutina Wesley) shows up at the gates of Alexandria, she seems genuine. The only thing that betrays her intentions is in the way the episode keeps cutting back to Michonne, violently hacking at zombies or being suspicious of Lydia’s intentions. She’s got a good reason to be; all things considered, the betrayal of her pre-Z best friend isn’t a huge surprise, but it is effective because the two actresses knock their moments together out of the park.
There isn’t a lot of novelty in zombie gangs at this point. We’ve seen everything from cannibals to health care workers who banded together to keep the old folks home running (remember the Vatos?), but the gang of killers that Jocelyn has put together is something that only George Romero touched on back in Dawn of the Dead, and those dangerous children were zombified. The children that Michonne is forced to confront—while pregnant nonetheless—are just normal survivors, as dangerous and violent as any other armed gang, albeit one manipulated by someone motivated by teaching them how to survive.
It’s an interesting inversion of what we’ve seen Carol doing in previous seasons. She taught children how to defend themselves with knives and spears and the like; Jocelyn has been teaching children how to survive by grifting, theft, confidence schemes, and then kidnapping to add to their ranks. It’s a clever trick to survive; the one adult caring for a group of abandoned children is sure to prey on easier marks than Michonne, and her personal connection to Michonne is enough to shake off Michonne’s natural skepticism. This is a woman who is an experienced con artist.
The Jocelyn scenes—and Michonne explaining just why she trusted Jocelyn—work well thanks to the actresses, and the naturalistic dialog between Michonne and Judith help bolster the adult scenes. Danai Guerira definitely carries this episode as a strong centerpiece. Without her performance, this whole thing falls apart, but she sells every emotion she needs to in every scene, from tearful reunion with young Judith to guilty confession to older Judith.
She’s concerned and loving to Jocelyn and angry with the constantly challenging Negan. Michonne is the glue that holds the whole house together, and as such, she dominates the episode. Even in her scene with Daryl, who is ostensibly the lead of the show at this point, she carries the weight, with Norman Reedus, Cailey Fleming, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Cassady McClinchey providing ample support.
Full credit to director Millicent Shelton, she’s able to craft a stellar episode around a simple question: will Michonne kill children to save her own children? The answer should be obvious, but Shelton emphasizes Michonne’s hesitance to kill kids—and she sidelines the more pragmatic Daryl—giving Michonne a truly reprehensible thing to do to save Judith and her own unborn RJ.
When Michonne tells Lydia that she’s done things she can’t live with to keep her own safe, it carries weight, because we watch Michonne mow down walkers as stand-ins for the children Michonne is really cutting down with her katana in a surprisingly tense battle sequence. It’s only a change of heart for the last surviving murder moppet that saves Judith’s life. That Judith was keeping that secret from Michonne is a solid reveal; children tend to remember more than their parents would like for them to (myself included, I remember lighting a pair of corduroy overalls on fire when I was 3) and keep that secret close to the vest because, as Judith says later, Michonne got sad when she spoke about it.
That’s another clever moment in the script from Corey Reed and Vivian Tse. Children keep secrets, not for their own benefit, but for their parents’ benefit. Certainly, Judith has her secret relationship with Negan, but Negan is a solid sounding board for her, and he tells her stories that Michonne attempts to keep from her out of some desire to preserve her childhood in a world where childhood gets you killed. Jocelyn, and Negan, have learned to operate in a post-childhood society; Michonne still labors under the delusion that you can let kids be kids. Negan, in his conversation with Michonne, makes that perfectly clear. Judith, for good or ill, is Rick Grimes’ child, and as such, she’s immune to bullshit.
Michonne takes awhile to come around to Negan’s way of thinking, but after rescuing Judith from a horde of zombies, she comes around a little. Judith, thanks to her brother’s letter, has a way she feels the world can work, and right or wrong, she’s sticking to that. That’s how Michonne’s influence can be felt. Michonne might not be doing what Rick and Carl wanted, but she’s doing what she thinks is best. So is Judith, even when it interferes with what Michonne thinks is best for her community.
But Michonne has a narrow view of what her community is. Judith raises a solid point; they’re not just Alexandria. Hilltop and the Kingdom are part of their community. Doing what you can for the people you love extends beyond the borders of your local community, regardless of the risks. (Aaron points out that the Whisperers will find them eventually either way, which is true by the end of the episode.) Michonne’s change of mind is brought about by Judith’s logic—the simple, clean logic of a child who isn’t caught up in seeing the shades of gray in the world—and as a result of coming clean with Judith about a secret Michonne’s been needlessly keeping. Judith isn’t a child of the old world, she’s a child of the new. She’s accepted that, even if her mother has not.
Being a parent isn’t always about guiding your child in the way you’d go, but about guiding her in the best path in which she’s going to go. You can’t control a child’s behavior; you can only try to guide the child along the best path of the options she’s giving herself. Slowly, Michonne seems to be learning that truth, and Judith is her teacher. Being burned by a friend is s miserable experience, but that doesn’t mean that every friend is going to burn you, too.
Doing the right thing is rarely easy, and in the world of The Walking Dead, doing the right thing gets people killed. With a little help from Judith, Michonne is deciding that the risk is worth the reward. Loving others can get you hurt, and loving others can get others hurt, too. But cutting yourself off from love is not way to live.