This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 9 Episode 3
Rick is determined to push the survivors into some sort of Utopian new world, in which everyone works together for the greater good, everyone cooperates, and everybody puts all their dead friends and family members in the past. To Rick, letting go of the past is the best way to honor the dead. As Justin the long-haired Savior’s reanimated corpse sits up after being mauled by a group of walkers, the telltale weapon wound in the middle of his chest—which bled out prior to his death, not before—suggests that other people have a different idea of how to honor the dead.
Rick says let it go and make a world their lost friends would be proud of; someone else clearly believes that the best way to remember the dead is by getting revenge for them.
The Saviors are being targeted. Despite having the advantage in numbers, they’re relatively unarmed—they have axes and hatchets, everyone else has guns and spears and bows. Despite their protests, and the knowledge that they’re being targeted for murder, everyone seems to agree that giving the Saviors guns is a bad idea.
So it’s up to Rick and company to track down the person or people hunting down and killing the Saviors while keeping the disappearances quiet to avoid a full-scale job walk-off. For Rick, helping the Saviors is a matter of conscience. For Maggie, Daryl, and pretty much everyone else, helping the Saviors is needed to keep the peace and get the bridge finished before the stormy season rolls in.
“Warning Signs” operates on something like the buddy system, literally and figuratively. The literal use of the word comes into play when Rick tells his team to break up into pairs with people they trust and go looking for the missing Arat (and all the other Saviors).
They have to use small groups and keep it quiet, because just a few moments earlier, the Savior workforce gathered together to protest the disappearances, and their lack of protection by their armed guards. Pushing and shoving happened, Daryl and Anne/Jadis were accused of being the secret killers, threats were used, and just when it seems as if the complaining would become violent, Rick rides up on horseback and gives out a lot of assurances. He’s got the best people, and the Savior crew will be kept safe.
The search mission helps the big cast spread out. The pairs that go out—Rick and Carol, Daryl and Maggie—reflect the divide in the characters Angela Kang has been fostering since the beginning of the ninth season. Corey Reed doesn’t belabor the point in his script. Rick and Carol discuss the whys of Rick’s decisions, and how well they work, while Daryl and Maggie do the real detective work and track down the people who have been eliminating Saviors. As it might turn out, the killers are kindred spirits with the revenge-minded Daryl and Maggie, as established by the discussions Daryl and Maggie have regarding capital punishment, revenge killings, and local politics.
In other hands, revenge killing could easily become something kind of silly. It’s the basis for thousands of movies of dubious quality, but there’s something about the concept of getting back at people who have hurt you and your family that is appealing. The scene in which Arat begs for help from Maggie and Daryl (along with her work keeping the Saviors in line) establishes that she has changed, at least for the moment, but the details of her former life are chilling, and merit punishment of some kind.
That punishment was inspired by Maggie having Gregory hanged in front of the people of Hilltop; as the leader of the assassination crew says, Maggie is proof that Rick’s way isn’t the only way. Oceanside cooperated, says Cyndie, because they wanted to fight the Saviors. Now, they just want to make sure that the people who ruined their idyllic life are punished to the fullest extend of what passes for the law in the post-apocalyptic wasteland.
One or two set pieces aside, it’s not a plot that lends itself to any flashy action sequences. “Warning Signs” leans more heavily on ambiance, aside from a couple of people put into walker peril due to their own silly behavior. There’s still a problem with that on The Walking Dead, even if the resulting scenes of Cyndie in peril are fun. Dan Liu mostly works with tension here, with shots of actors creeping through the woods and the occasional scene of walkers shambling a little too close for comfort.
The square-off between Maggie and Kal with the Saviors hunting for their missing friend is well crafted; Maggie might have a gun, but they have numbers and they were able to come out of the woods without being detected, so their threat feels real. The Saviors clearly have a larger group at the camp, and they’re all armed with melee weapons, while only a few of the other bridge employees have guns and the rest are similarly armed. Until Rick shows up, that pushing match could go either way, and could easily spill over into violence.
There have been some fun action sequences this season, but the biggest change from season 8 seems to be a renewed emphasis on characters having relatively logical reasons for doing the things that they do. The discord between the groups is one of the most reasonable things that The Walking Dead has put forward since “All Out War” began.
It doesn’t matter how long you work alongside someone, when groups keep separate—as these groups seem to have done—and as long as there are hard feelings from all the murders carried out by The Saviors, there will always be that risk for sudden, vengeful violence. The people who are used to being in charge are now just working alongside the very groups they used to terrorize.
Rick has quite literally reshaped their known world with a waved gun and a cavalry charge, and no matter how long the time jump has taken, a years-long campaign of terror isn’t something people will forget easily. The Saviors are still a separate community. They work alongside the others, and they cooperate under the leadership of Eugene and Daryl, but they’re not part of the greater community in any real sense. All the Saviors are is a food burden on Hilltop and a reminder for Oceanside, Alexandria, and The Kingdom how much has been lost.
It’s hard to build a new world when the remains of the old refuse to be buried.
Read and download the Den of Geek NYCC 2018 Special Edition Magazine right here!