The Walking Dead: Season 9, episode 6 – Who are You Now?

“Weeks, months, even years go by while you try to make sense of it all.”

(SPOILER WARNING!)

Last time, I wondered if the loss of the character who’s been the lead since the beginning (and still is in the comics) would make a whole new show of The Walking Dead. It certainly had that potential, for the show to diverge more thoroughly from its source material than before, and become its own, more unpredictable story.

On the basis of this ep though, it looks more like the showrunners are anxious to downplay the changes and emphasise that it’s still the same show you’re watching. Hence, we saw the beginning of another adaptation of a comic storyline, but with the roles of Rick and Carl pretty much photocopied onto Michonne and Judith. That’s understandable, but felt like a missed opportunity.

This is not to say it was all that bad an episode, though I question if its lengthy exposition of where each character is now was substantial enough to justify its extended runtime. Still, it had a lot to do in not only the time jump for the characters we knew, but also to introduce a few more – again, from the comics, but the show’s ensemble cast is now so huge it’s starting to look like Game of Thrones. Much focus was on those new characters this week, but with such a big roster, I’m guessing a lot of characters will spend various eps sidelined even more than they do now.

The new bunch do, however, widen the diversity of an already diverse cast. It’s great to see the introduction of a deaf character, in Lauren Ridloff’s Connie; though I wonder if some of the show’s more… reactionary fans may have a problem with the need to now read subtitles 🙂 Interestingly, I gather American Sign Language and British Sign Language are quite different, so any British deaf people watching the show may be at the same disadvantage as the rest of us.

Most of the established guest were behaving in much the same way as they always had, albeit hardened by another six years of apocalypse. Looks like there’s no fuel for cars any more, and everyone’s on horseback. Daryl, predictably, has gone ‘full wilderness’ and is living in the forest spearing fish and Walkers alike. Michonne has become leader instead of Rick, and wrestles with the same doubts and mistrust he always did. And Judith is basically Carl; she even wears the same hat.

But that aspect at least was one of the ep’s two strongest character threads. Cailey Fleming, as the new Judith, has to step into Carl’s shoes in the upcoming plots, and Eddie Guzelian’s script managed to faithfully adapt Carl’s building rapport with the still-captive Negan in the comics into an equivalent with Judith. Their one scene together was one of the strongest in the ep, Fleming more than holding her own against a now tidier looking Jeffrey Dean Morgan. These are good scenes in the comic, which develop both characters; let’s hope that works in upcoming episodes.

The other strongest character thread, for me, was the development (or has she?) of Carol, six years on. Now married to Ezekiel, who has so far defied the rules of the show by aspiring to happiness and actually getting it, Carol seemed to have softened. Her longer hair and maternal attitude to young Henry (actor Matt Lintz replacing his younger brother in the role) suggested a less badass Carol than before, one more at peace with herself.

So it was a good script rugpull, after showing her capitulation to the ragged remains of the Saviors, that we saw she could be just as dangerous as ever. The Carol who went back and burned their robbers alive was very much the Carol of old – she’s got form at this sort of thing. The overall impression, Western-like again, was that of the retired gunfighter trying to live peaceably in his old age but drawn unwillingly back into action.

Elsewhere, the plot was dominated by two threads – what would happen to the new arrivals at Alexandria, and Eugene and Rosita’s seemingly rather irrelevant attempt to hook up a radio mast at Gabriel’s insistence. The latter played out over quite a few scenes of amusing byplay between Eugene and Rosita, but other than providing the ep’s only main bit of Walker action this week, they seemed rather slender to hang so much time on.

That plotline also led to a real confusion over the timeline of this episode. The scenes, always set in daylight and suggesting they all happen over the course of a few hours, were interspersed with scenes from the other plots in which it got dark, people talked, then it got light again. There was no suggestion that Eugene and Rosita had been running all night, so it had the effect of making you speculate whether any of the plotlines are actually running concurrently.

Still, the real point of this arc was to introduce the Whisperers – the centre of this new adapted comic plotline. The Walkers seem to be able to talk now. Are they evolving? Or is something even weirder going on? Mind you, the ‘whispers’ were so low down in the sound mix I found myself wondering if the casual viewer, not expecting them, would even have noticed. I actually like that kind of subtlety, so well done to director Larry Teng.

Gore of the week

Again, not much to speak of – I might have to stop doing this bit! Still, while not especially gory, Carol’s immolation of the scurvy Saviors was pretty wince-making.

And top marks for the swamp-dwelling Walker, its jaw hanging off, speared by Daryl at the start.

So, this ep showed us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Norman Reedus may now have top billing in the credits, but Rick’s real replacement is Michonne; it was telling that, for the nominal lead character, Daryl barely showed up this week. Judith is Carl with the age reset of being a child rather than the teenager Chandler Riggs had grown into. Carol, despite her comfortable living arrangements, is still very much Carol – don’t cross her and expect to live.

Despite the opportunity for change then, it seems that Angela Kang has very much gone for continuity with what went before. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, some of it was good. The Savior storyline was overstretched to breaking point, but if Kang and co can do a more concise version of the Whisperer storyline (taking less than three years would be good), then there may still be good stuff to come. Even if it is more of the same.

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