by Transmute Jun
Warning: this review contains multiple spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 9, Episode 12.
This episode allowed viewers to see behind the curtain of mystery that surrounds the Whisperers. They aren’t simply wanderers; they do have a camp, even if that camp feels transitory. Yet they have a base of operations that is at least temporary. Visually, the Whisperers appear to blend into the background, their drab colors mixing with the forest, adding to Alpha’s image of them as ‘animals’. Like animals, they think of themselves as a pack, eat their meat raw, leave their dead behind to be devoured (rather than bury them) and appear to be living off of the land. Yet when I saw the camp, the main thing on my mind was the baby from last week’s episode. Clearly, Alpha did not have to bring the baby out with her to confront Hilltop. There was a relatively safe place to leave it (and the mother) behind. This makes me feel even more that the baby was only a test for Hilltop, to see how they would react.
While we were able to see how the Whisperers live, we also got to see how their society works. Alpha’s rule is absolute, and Beta is her enforcer. There must be an interesting backstory about Beta, how he met Alpha, and why he is so devoted to her. I hope that we get to see that at some point down the road. Whatever the reason, he is eager to do Alpha’s bidding and immediately stepped up when there was trouble. It is because of him that Alpha is able to control her people so completely.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that all of the Whisperers agree with Alpha; there are dissenters. The unnamed couple’s confrontation with Alpha served to show viewers that she rules with an iron fist, and has no compunctions about making a graphic example of those who stand up to her. This was evident in Henry’s reaction to the woman’s decapitation. Yet this scene also revealed that some of the Whisperers aren’t happy with the way Alpha broke her own rules by going back for someone who was lost, and by trading 2 prisoners for 1. This dissention may prove to be a problem for Alpha in the future, but for now she appears to have tamped it down.
While Alpha is cold and vicious, she is not stupid. When Henry came after Lydia, she knew that there was more to the story, and that Lydia likely had an attachment to him. Lydia herself did a good job of acting as if she didn’t care, but her true allegiances were revealed when she neglected to mention The Kingdom to her mother, and when she made a pendant of the Hilltop coin, surreptitiously showing it to Henry. Presumably, she would have also refused to kill Henry, but the arrival of Daryl’s distraction saved her from having to make that choice. She was also willing to run off with Henry and Daryl when the opportunity arose, rather than stay behind.
Cynics might view Lydia’s newfound allegiance with doubt. Why would she change her mind so quickly, especially when most of the time she was at the Hilltop, she was a prisoner? This goes back to the abuse she has suffered at the hands of her mother. In the comics, Lydia suffered more than physical abuse at the hands of the Whisperers, and Alpha hinted at this when she asked whether or not Daryl ‘touched’ Lydia. The surfacing of Lydia’s repressed memory of her mother killing her father, as well as her budding feelings for Henry, also add to Lydia’s desire to get away. Alpha clearly sees Hilltop as a threat, so perhaps Lydia feels that she has a chance of being safe from her mother with them.
Another interesting question is why Alpha sees Hilltop as a threat at all. Obviously, Hilltop hasn’t moved for the decade or so that the apocalypse has been going on, and the Whisperers seem to be nomadic. Why is Hilltop suddenly ‘in their territory’ when this wasn’t the case before, and why wouldn’t Alpha just move on and find some place that was unclaimed? In the comics, the Whisperers resented any attempts to restore ‘civilization’, with an almost zealous view that the world now belonged to the dead, and that the dead should be embraced by all. This may also be the case in the show. Certainly it would fit with Alpha’s primary concern regarding Hilltop, which was that she was worried about them trading with others. Lydia told her that there was no evidence of trade, but that is actually the entire purpose of the fair that The Kingdom is sponsoring. They want to entice others to their community for trade, because The Kingdom cannot generate all that it needs on its own. The fair happens ‘the day after tomorrow’ and it seems pretty certain that the Whisperers will somehow stumble upon it.
Another interesting facet of Alpha’s leadership style was in how it contrasted with that of Michonne. Michonne, a former lawyer, wrote up a charter for Alexandria, stating that the people should rule in a democracy. Yet it was pretty clear when she met with the council that it had become a dictatorship, with Michonne vetoing everything with which she disagreed. In a way, her rule was as much of an iron fist as Alpha’s approach. Yet the difference lay in Michonne being forced to confront this aspect of herself, first with Negan (who made valid points regarding how she runs Alexandria) and later with Judith (whose statement that Michonne had changed caused her to re-think her actions). Upon seeing what she had become, Miconne took a conscious step back, even though she clearly didn’t agree and even though there was also an emotional cost for doing so. We still don’t know why she is so reluctant to interact with other communities, and frankly, it’s getting a bit tiresome. I wish that the show would explain this missing backstory and stop dancing around it.
Another question that arose as part of all of this: why was Michonne so surprised that Judith had been spending time with Negan? Clearly, this isn’t a new development, and Judith has definitely formed an attachment to Negan. As her mother, shouldn’t Michonne have known what Judith was doing and with whom she was spending her time? It seems like this shouldn’t have been as big a reveal as it apparently was.
Another side-story focused around Rosita and her many love interests. To be fair, she was extremely honest and open with Gabriel, admitting that she knew that he didn’t sign up for being a father, particularly to a baby not his own, and that their relationship was still relatively new. Yet she made it clear that she loved him, and wanted to be with him, if that was what he wanted as well. Poor Eugene is still a bystander in all of this, more of a third wheel than ever, yet he had enough strength of character to want what was best for Rosita, doing his best (in his own, unique way) to push Father Gabriel to make the right choice for all of them. Poor Eugene; I really feel badly for him, but I think that he is trying to be a better person, and his actions show that all the more.
All of this being said, Eugene’s chart and rubric for determining Gabriel’s future happiness brought a smile to my face, as Eugene tackled the issue in the way only he can. I also laughed when Dog brought back Daryl’s arrow, only to break it in half. Yet the humorous moments were few and far between this episode, possibly signifying a darker turn to the remainder of this season.
For those who play the AMC Walking Dead mobile games, Our World’s salute to ‘iconic heroes’, features Eugene. No Man’s Land’s season mission this week also features Eugene, who is going to an abandoned store with Gabriel to find more ‘pantalones’ for Rosita. The person at Next Games who writes Eugene’s dialogue is totally on point.
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