This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 9 Episode 7
This is the 122nd episode of The Walking Dead. For nine seasons, I’ve watched this show, not counting a couple of seasons of spin-off Fear The Walking Dead that I also covered for Den of Geek. That’s a long time to watch a show, and I’ll be honest, I’m feeling a little burned out on the show. Even with the big changes in the show’s team, both in front of and behind of the camera, the change hasn’t been dramatic enough, or positive enough, to make the show feel different in episodes like this.
The episode is split pretty evenly between two events. Carol and Henry have a nice time camping with Daryl, and Michonne leads Magna’s group to Hilltop with a little help from DJ (Matt Magnum), a former Savior, and Siddiq. With no Rick to keep them together and no Maggie around to run Hilltop, things have gotten increasingly distant between the four possibly extant survivor communities. The Kingdom is trying to bring everyone together with a fair, but Alexandria is against the idea and Hilltop seems ambivalent at best, despite Jesus’s work at trying to keep the communities bonded and the inevitable exchange of food and supplies (and community members) between the three. (Oceanside is not discussed).
The ties that bonded the survivors together for years are strained by separation and by political differences. Michonne has been avoiding Hilltop—and is going to leave Magna’s group to fend for themselves halfway to Hilltop—because of her disagreements with Maggie, who isn’t even at Hilltop. Her lack of presence at Hilltop doesn’t make a difference to Michonne. Without Rick, or rather with Rick as something to search for, Daryl has gotten so used to living outside of the confines of one of the survivor groups that he’s still almost feral, even if he’s a little more willing to talk now that he’s got people to talk to in the form of his oldest friend Carol and Henry. Some folks, like Aaron and Jesus and Ezekiel, are trying to keep everyone together, if not united, but it’s a struggle in a world in which even a short trip from one community to another carries the risk of robbery or death by zombie.
Putting Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus together always just seems to work. There’s a reason people have shipped Caryl for eight seasons, and that’s not changing just because Carol is now with the King. There’s still a connection between the two, a unity of damaged souls that brings them closer than most friends get. That’s a clever subtext in Vivian Tse’s script; no one comes out and says it—which is a huge improvement over previous seasons—but it’s there. Carol wants to get Daryl to watch over Henry not because Henry needs it, but because Daryl needs it.
He’s shut himself off, as Carol did, and he’s actively avoiding being part of a community and making friends because he feels as though he let down everyone by not somehow managing to track down Rick or Rick’s body. He’ll teach Henry valuable survival skills while getting something to do out of things. Carol has proven herself to be one of the smartest survivors, particularly when it comes to manipulating people in positive ways, either to her benefit or to their own benefit.
Michonne never learned that soft skill. Her interactions, even when she tries to be nice, are blunt and direct. She’s a hammer, or a sharp edge, and not glue. Michonne is very much the outsider where it concerns Magna and her group, and while she tries to talk to them, sometimes, she’s not very good at it, and she’s not interested in getting to know them or having them get to know her.
Danai Gurira goes a great job at communicating this mostly through looks and expression. She doesn’t have the chemistry with her group that McBride and Reedus do, but that’s by design. Michonne is the boss, not so much a friend, and the only reason why she’s going out of her way to be nice to Magna’s group is because she made a promise to her daughter Judith. There’s distance there, and hesitance; Michonne has seen too much death to go looking to make new friends, even with a perfectly nice group of survivors.
For a first time director, Michael Cudlitz makes some bold moves here. The opening montage, of a terrified Rosita fleeing through the woods, while whispering voices are heard all around her saying disparaging things, is really well done. Cudlitz, probably because he spent so long on the show, has a good sense of place, and he does a great job of establishing the sets with a couple of beautiful swooping camera pans that have to be from drones given the height and speed at which they dip through the constructed sets (it looks to real to be CGI, though I’m certain CGI has sweetened the scenery a bit).
The action scenes are fun and energetic. Henry and Daryl’s trap and walker fight is a little cluttered, but I enjoyed the novelty of the special effect of the foot ripping off to escape the snare, and the slingshots are a novel weapon that hasn’t been seen before on the show, which adds a little spice to the new survivor group. Daryl’s traps, and rescuing the dog, is an obvious setup for Daryl to run afoul of the Whisperers, as is the scene in which Connie notices something hiding off by the side of the road (which is hammered home by a POV of the survivor group from within the woods that’s entirely too heavy).
There’s some much-needed character development for one of the new survivors. They’re worked into the mix with more grace this week, and being paired up with a character that’s popular and well known is a smart decision. I’ve been watching this show for too long to become fast friends with some random group who may not be around after this episode. Magna and her group seem like they’ll be on for the long haul, but still, we don’t know them and we don’t have a real reason to care about them, slashed violin or no. Having Michonne to play off gives them a reason to be important, and the action sequence helps to flesh them out as a group on their own with their own unique survival style.
I’m still not invested in them, but it’s at least something. The episode itself is fine, but without Rick and Maggie, there’s going to be a struggle to retain interest. Leaning on new people won’t help things, but going back to what works, like Caryl and Michonne, will. The newer characters will integrate in time, but they can’t be forced in after nine seasons.