This review contains spoilers.
9.6 Who You Are Now
The Walking Dead is a show that seems to be stuck in behaviour loops. Like the replicants on Westworld, the characters on The Walking Dead are caught in patterns not of their own making. The same issues come up time and time again, with slightly different results. Take, for example, the decision to trust (or not trust) a group of survivors you’ve just stumbled across. That’s come up a lot on this show, and it plays out a different way every time, but there seems to be no codified way on how to handle these newcomers short of convening a council and having an inquisition.
Rick had three questions. Deanna had her interviews. And Michonne has a council, drawing together the elected leadership of Alexandria to decide, as a unit, who to let into their sanctuary and who to reject from their sanctuary. If that sounds like a familiar debate, that’s because it is. It’s been that way since the very beginning of The Walking Dead, as the survivors have had to decide who to trust, who not to trust, and who to allow to join up with their own. Carl, once upon a time, risked his life to help out a stranger who turned out to be a valuable member of the community. Judith, growing up without a father or a big brother in the apocalypse, seems to be leaning more towards the Grimes family kindness than her birth father’s callous survival ethos. Granted, Rick knew to not trust outsiders because he came into communities and took them over, and Judith isn’t growing up in that sort of world. She’s growing up in a far different world.
Robert Kirkman always maintained that the story of The Walking Dead wasn’t the story of Rick Grimes, but the story of Carl Grimes. Without Rick, and without Carl, that story seems like it’s going to be divided up between two characters, Judith (Cailey Fleming) and Henry (Matt Lintz, taking over for his brother Macsen Lintz). The introduction of Judith was clunky, to say the least, but in her second episode, Judith is a little bit easier to handle. Cailey Fleming is definitely a young actress, which comes with a different set of problems, but while she’s not believable handling a gun, she’s at least cute enough to pair up with Negan to work on her math homework. Henry seems to be getting a lot of the leadership and action movie and leadership stuff, taking up his fighting stick and going off with Carol on a trip to Hilltop that’s interrupted by some loose-end Saviors and a side-trip to Vengeance Town for Carol.
For a lot of Carl’s time, he wasn’t really mentored, save by Negan. Negan appears to be mentoring Judith now, and Henry has Ezekiel to teach him love and Carol to teach him toughness. Both kids are going to be learning hard lessons in the apocalypse, as both have been pretty sheltered during the time-jump. Judith is bringing home strays and Henry is looking to do something other than hang out in the Kingdom. The isolated scenes with the kids and their adult mentors all work, because of some sharp writing from Eddie Guzelian. Negan is kind of cute with Judith, which is a surprise, giving her some solid advice about how to bring new people into their community; he’d learned that lesson before the walker uprising, like Rick learned it along the way.
The interactions between Michonne and Magna (Nadia Hilker) are appropriately tense. Michonne has little reason to trust a new group, especially since Magna has been lying to her about her time in prison and hiding weapons from her. She is clearly taken in by Judith’s need to help others, but she’s got people to protect and the weight of a community on her shoulders. The council meeting is a good showcase for the newest members of the cast. Dan Fogler is charming immediately as the soft-spoken, lucky Luke, and Lauren Ridloff and Angel Theory are entertaining as Connie and Kelly, a pair of sisters who communicate via sign language. There’s a solid chemistry between the two, and there’s a lot of humor in their exchanges with one another, and with the world at large.
They haven’t escaped the apocalypse unscathed, but they haven’t had the rigid rules that are in place at Alexandria and the Kingdom. Operational security is there for a reason, and it’s a reason that characters are willing to flaunt or ignore because of a desire to reach out to others. Gabriel wants to make connections to other survivors via the radio. Eugene loves a good science project and a chance to sweet talk Rosita. Henry and Judith are idealistic, wanting to be heroes, and while it seems to work out for Judith, it doesn’t work out for Henry.
Director Larry Teng does a solid job setting up the trap and springing it, and Carol’s fiery revenge for being robbed is satisfying. Henry broke protocol chasing after a helpless screaming girl and landed in a trap. Eugene and Rosita flout security rules to plant a radio transmission extender and land in a walker mess. The council discussion is put together well, and is tense enough without pushing the point. The final moment of the episode is very well staged, and well shot, highlighting the show’s ability to make things look good, even when they’re not appealing (or taken from Predator).
Still, the rules seem to be changing. The walkers are behaving strangely, and someone is heard speaking from within the horde while Eugene and Rosita hide in the mud. Op Sec doesn’t matter much if the walkers have become the talkers. Humans have advantages over the undead, but if they’re getting smarter and adapting (or people are learning to use walkers as tools), then life is going to be very different in Alexandria and The Kingdom much like The Walking Dead is a much different show without the Grimes family.