by Transmute Jun
Warning: this review contains multiple spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 9, Episode 8.
It was the midseason finale, and this episode definitely delivered. Drama, creepiness and even a bit of humor all combined to make this the best episode I have seen in a long time. The big reveal was literally the Whisperers, as Daryl ripped off the head of a walker, only to find that there was a human underneath. This scene in the graveyard was amazing, with the horror-film feeling of the walkers coming out of the fog, and the ‘serial killer’ shot of the walker holding the knife in the mist after he had just dropped Jesus. Add to that the fighting scenes, with both Aaron and Jesus having their hero moments while Eugene cowered at the gate (to be fair, he was injured and had killed a couple of walkers himself). Afterward, the discovery of the stitching on the back of the walker’s head, and cutting it open, only to find something completely unimaginable before this moment, was the icing on the cake. The fast pacing and plot development of this scene, along with the creepy environment, made the entire episode for me.
Of course, that scene was made all the more dramatic by the unexpected death of Jesus. The surprise on his face was evident as he died, as it was on the shocked faces of everyone around him. Jesus had been fighting exactly as he should… against walkers. But no one had ever seen a walker duck an attack, or use a weapon. It’s likely that Jesus would have been fine had he known that he was actually fighting a human, but his opponent used that surprise to his advantage. Aaron’s grief at Jesus’ passing added to the emotional weight of this moment, and I suspect that we’ll see more such emotions when the season begins again in February.
Jesus’ passing leaves Hilltop in Tara’s hands, a role that so far she has seemed unhappy taking on. It’s possible that someone else will come up to claim leadership of this community, but I doubt it.
The introduction of the Whisperers followed the general arc of the comics, making everyone wonder if perhaps the walkers had evolved. These changes in their behavior could be explained by increased brain activity, and Eugene made some good arguments as to how it could be so. It was believable enough to make the reveal that the Whisperers are actually humans a significant surprise. I am looking forward to seeing how the Whisperers’ motives and way of thinking are introduced in the second half of the season.
For those who were familiar with the comics and knew what the Whisperers were, the very first scene of the episode was exciting, as we saw walkers looking around with their eyes, clearly taking in what was going on in a more intelligent way than the other creatures around them. I love seeing these nods to comics readers in the television series!
While the Whisperers took center stage, there were other plot developments as well. Michonne arrived at Hilltop, and we saw more clues regarding the events that occurred during the 6 year time jump. The Hilltoppers were very touchy about an arriving group, with everyone scrambling for safety in the walls as soon as strangers were spotted. And while Carol had a hug for Sayid, she had only a polite-but-distant greeting for Michonne. Apparently, Michonne made a hard choice, which saved lives, but which others resent. The nature of this choice is such that Michonne doesn’t want to make amends, and prefers instead to isolate herself, along with Alexandria, from the other communities. It was acknowledged that the Kingdom has fallen on hard times (although I’d like to hear more details about that; it was vague) and that they need this fair to bring people together, perhaps to create trade opportunities. Carol pleaded with Michonne to send a delegation, but Michonne refused. The gulf between them was evident. This is a complete turnaround from the Michonne that was setting up a charter to unite all of the communities just before Rick ‘died’.
Even so, Carol revealed the name of Michonne’s son when she asked after him: RJ. I’m guessing that this stands for ‘Rick Junior’?
The big plot development that almost got lost in all of this was Negan’s unexpected release from jail. Father Gabriel, upset about Rosita’s condition, forgot to lock the door of Negan’s cell. Naturally, Negan was pleased to have access to the freedom so long denied him. The question is, what will he do with it? In the comics, Negan’s door was accidentally left open, and Negan chose to remain in his cell anyway, to prove to Rick that he was a changed man. On Talking Dead, Robert Kirkman said that this isn’t going to happen on the television series, and that Negan will do something different. What that may be remains to be seen in the second half of the season. My guess is that Negan will eschew revenge in favor of striking out on his own, at least, at first. He’s enough of a social person that he will want to find companionship eventually. It’s also possible that he may become the ‘new Rick’ and take over leadership of one of the communities.
There was also a hint of another possible future storyline. In the comics, at this point in time, Rosita is with Eugene, mostly out of guilt/obligation. They aren’t close, and she cheats on Eugene with another man. In the television series, she seems to be with Gabriel because she wants to be with Gabriel, yet Negan hinted that perhaps she was interested in someone else. This may play out in the second half of the season. It was also interesting to see Gabriel acting as a spiritual advisor for Negan, a role that he began last season when the two were stuck outside of the Sanctuary after Team Rick’s attack, and Gabriel said that he was there to hear Negan’s confession.
There was also Hilltop drama in this episode, with Magna’s group arriving at Hilltop to find themselves on probationary approval, and Henry attempting to fit in with this new group of people. It’s good to know that even in the zombie apocalypse, teenagers continue to make poor life choices and stupid decisions. Reeling from his disappointment at seeing Enid canoodling with Alden, Henry agreed to sneak out of Hilltop at night with the local teens and go drinking. To his credit, he did the right thing with the pit walker and then came back to face punishment. I was also glad to see Earl counseling Henry, although I had to laugh when Earl said that he had been in that cell for drunkenness before… in that very same season! Yes, technically 6 years have passed since episode 901, but it wasn’t that long ago for the viewers.
Of course, there are many Jesus jokes to make about this episode, such as ‘Jesus died to save his people’ and ‘Jesus will rise again’, etc. Yet my favorite Jesus joke was in the episode itself, when Magna’s group observed that with a leader named Jesus, Hilltop must be a cult. I also enjoyed Negan’s observations about odor, and Gabriel’s comment that if he had to deal with Negan’s literal fecal matter, that he shouldn’t have to deal with its verbal incarnation too.
For those who play the AMC Walking Dead mobile games, this episode’s No Man’s Land seasonal mission shows Jesus, Aaron and Michonne fighting walkers (and some mysteriously appearing humans) in the cemetery. Fortunately, in these missions, Jesus survives. Our World has added Jesus as a new playable hero (although unfortunately he is not wielding his sword, but a submachine gun instead). Jesus cards can be found in special epic Jesus missions.
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