The Walking Dead: Season 9, Episode 7 – Stradivarius

“They came together as an answer to defeat.”

(SPOILER WARNING!)

The Walkers may be learning to talk, but it’ll be a while before they’re as talky as this episode was. Written by Vivian Tse and directed by former cast member Michael Cudlitz (Abraham), this was intended as a character piece; but with comparatively little plot advancement or Walker action, it seemed more like a post-apocalyptic soap opera than anything else.

Your enjoyment of this ep, therefore, probably depends on your tolerance of that. To be fair, there was some top notch acting on display from the regulars – particularly Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus. They’re such watchable fan favourites, they can even be interesting sitting by a pond and eating eels. Daryl’s more taciturn than ever, and has adopted a dog (imaginatively known only as “dog”), to whom he feeds chunks of dead Walker; Carol, meanwhile, has popped by to cut his hair with what appears to be a blunt knife.

There wasn’t much more to their strand other than Carol’s extended request that Daryl return to civilisation to babysit truculent teenager Henry. But they kept you watching at least, and there was a little Walker action to break up all the chatting – there’s probably a script editor somewhere who advises that Walkers appear at least every ten minutes, even if only to be instantly head-squelched.

I was less enamoured of the lengthier introduction to the new characters, but I recognise they have to get integrated into that big cast quickly. Still, at least the cast’s diversity has grown, with Eleanor Matsuura’s Yumiko being the first of a long list of British actors appearing in the show to use her own accent – finally I feel represented by having a Brit as one of the characters 🙂

The main focus this week though was actually on Luke, who I’m still undecided on. Is he this group’s Rick Grimes, or their Eugene Porter? Dan Fogler certainly plays him more as the eccentric sidekick than the leading man.

Yet he got this week’s Big Speech, nominally about music but actually about the show’s ever competing philosophies – survival vs civilisation. As an allegory, it was easier to forgive that everything he said about Neanderthals was wrong; the point was about the music, about the art… about what makes life worth living. It was well said, but we could have got through these characters’ intro with far more economy than here.

Still, they played well against the embittered, hardened Michonne. Danai Gurira is making a good job of showing us a character six years down the line, the loss of Rick obviously still haunting her and buried in her role as ‘mother’ not just to the kids but to Alexandria itself. Seems her feud with Maggie was never resolved either; fortunately Maggie has disappeared to go join Georgie… somewhere. At least until Lauren Cohan makes up her mind about coming back.

She might want to think twice about that. After all, her replacement as Hilltop leader, Jesus, can’t seem to stand the place either, and seems to spend much of his time riding off to give Aaron the chance to knock him over by surprise. That was more than a little hilarious, especially given the implication that they do this a lot. I had visions of Aaron suddenly bursting out of cupboards to attack Jesus at inopportune moments, like Burt Kwouk in the Pink Panther movies.

That was about the only interesting bit in the whole Hilltop strand though. There was an opening montage of Hilltop life rendered cool by virtue of having the Jesus and Mary Chain played over it, but the overriding theme of the strand seemed to be that Jesus was bored. By that point, it was a feeling I sympathised with.

The only nod towards advancing the plot proper was the discovery of Rosita, now mysteriously separated from Eugene and terrified out of her mind by the Whisperers. Good way to build the threat, I guess – Rosita’s always been one of the show’s tougher characters, so if these Whisperers can reduce her to a gibbering wreck, they must be scary indeed. Or the writer is just being lazy.

Gore of the week

After many recent grue-free weeks, the make up effects guys were back in action with some nice gory bits despite a shortage of much Walker action. There was some impressive head-squelching at the wreckage of the new guys’ camp.

Daryl’s traps were shown to have a logical flaw in capturing mobile rotted corpses, as one of them casually pulled off its own foot to escape.

And Magna had to deal with the trauma of seeing her now undead boyfriend, still in his eye-burningly hideous paisley shirt but now with his guts hanging all over the front of it.

This was a slow-paced, and if I’m honest, filler episode. Yes, some nice character moments; but we didn’t really learn much about anyone, nor did anyone develop in any way. It’s surprising to have such a talky, uninspiring ep just before the big mid-season finale, but the usual formula has been rather upended by Rick’s departure in only episode 5. Still, I’m guessing next week will have to up the plot ante at least a bit if they want viewers to come back for the second half of the season.

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