The Walking Dead: Season 9, Episode 4 – The Obliged

“We’re the same. All or nothing. You’re trapped, same as me, you’re connected to the dead, same as me. We are the same, and you can’t stand that we’re the same.”

(SPOILER WARNING!)

This felt very much like a continuation of the previous episode – it probably didn’t help that I watched them back to back, but the tone and the content was so nearly identical I had to check to see if it was the same writer – no, this ep was down to Rosemary Rodriguez after Corey Reed’s stint last week. vlcsnap-2018-11-09-15h45m39s002 (2)

Like last week, it’s plainly shaping up into some kind of Big Farewell Tour for Rick Grimes, while slotting his replacements into place. It was noticeable that Rick got big scenes with many of the other main characters that felt like goodbyes; notably his pep talk to Eugene about how much they all owe him, and his regretful chat with Carol about the still-failing peace process.

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The most vital relationship to conclude, though, was obviously that between Rick and Daryl, and the ep spent a deserved amount of time over that. The useful contrivance of having them stuck in that hole together allowed for some excellent two-handed scenes between these two icons of the show, as they discussed the past and their opposing viewpoints of the future.

It didn’t feel like either entirely convinced the other; and that’s emblematic of the show’s continuing debate over the pragmatics of survival versus the finer points of civilisation. But what was satisfying – and felt right – was that, in the end, their disagreements couldn’t shatter their friendship. When Rick dragged Daryl out of the hole with the words, “take my hand, brother”, it was a cheesily sentimental but still tearjerking moment.

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Rick aside though (as much as he can be on his Big Farewell Tour), this was very much a Michonne-centric episode. And it’s not hard to see why. Clearly, Michonne is being groomed to take Rick’s central place in the narrative, filling his role in any future adaptations of stories from the comics.

Nowhere was that more evident this week than in her interaction with the imprisoned Negan, still crowing like Hannibal Lecter from his extremely dimly-lit cell. In the comics, these scenes with Negan take place with Rick or Carl, but with one gone and the other about to go, the showrunner is getting in early slotting Michonne into their places.

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And so far it seems good. Danai Gurira played the scenes with Jeffrey Dean Morgan very well, and the different character necessarily gives a different dynamic from the scenes in the comic. Michonne’s more mature than Carl, but less measured than Rick. Her early scenes, as she horrifiedly found herself holding a bloodied baseball bat on one of her nocturnal Walker-squelching expeditions, played up her worry that she could become like Negan – quite a nightmare for someone intent on founding a new civilisation.

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And of course Negan played up to that in some dynamic scenes in the cell, during which we learned more about both characters. It’s good to finally give Negan more depth than a perma-smiling sadist, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan showed once again that he does have more range than that. I don’t know whether these scenes will be an ongoing thing as they were in the comic, but if so this is encouraging so far.

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On the other side, the seemingly unconnected B Plot of Jadis/Anne and Gabriel continued to be… unconnected to any other events. It’s a weird one, this – I’m not at all sure what to expect from it. Both characters got some nice moments, particularly Seth Gilliam as Gabriel persuading Anne not to unleash a handy Walker on him by means of the Word of God. But ultimately, I’m still not sure whether this plot really has a point yet.

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Gore of the week

Actually not remotely gory this week, not even much of the usual head-squelching. The Walkers in the show this week did at least feel like they belonged in the narrative though, unlike last week where it felt they’d just been shoehorned in to remind you it’s a zombie show despite all the talking. It did make sense that so many of the approaching herds fell into Rick and Daryl’s sinkhole, and gave a fair bit of tension as to whether both would make it.

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Just a bit of tension though, really. I can’t see Daryl leaving the show any time soon, and obviously Rick’s being shaped up for a bigger exit than that. As seems suddenly more imminent at the end of this ep, when the only real bit of gore leaped out to impale our longtime hero on an unfortunately placed bit of rebar.

This ep didn’t move much more than the last, but the drama felt a lot more significant. Rick’s Big Farewell Tour of the other characters made perfect sense by the ep’s end, which makes it look like he’s going to be leaving rather earlier than the mid-season point we’d all thought. That’s a welcome surprise from the behind the scenes gossip at least.

I doubt this is the final end for him though, not least because we haven’t had any resolution in his conflict with Maggie yet. She’s still on her way to her Ultimate Confrontation with Negan in Alexandria, which should make for some big drama next time. Ultimately though, despite only being episode 4 of the season, this felt like it was the one before the mid-season finale, with so much building to fruition, and that edge-of-seat cliffhanger.

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