The Walking Dead: Season 9, Episode 8 – Evolution

“You are where you do not belong.”

(SPOILER WARNING!)

After last week’s rather dreary talkathon, this week The Walking Dead limped to its mid-season finale with at least a little more pace. Though, it has to be said, this was still a pretty slow and uninteresting affair, only enlivened by some last minute Walker/Whisperer shenanigans that slightly advanced the plot.

Before we got there, though, most of the ep was basically more of the leisurely paced soap opera stuff we’ve become accustomed to in recent weeks. I’m glad we’reintroducing new characters to potentially liven up the format, but while Magna’s gang are interesting, did we really have to introduce an annoying bunch of teenagers too?

Henry’s  dalliance with the Hilltop’s sheltered versions of juvenile delinquents was quite the low point of David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick’s script, and their broadly sketched characters would feel more at home in the likes of Beverly Hills 90210 than here. I’m assuming the point was to develop Henry himself as a character, making these guys basically cyphers; but fair’s fair, they could have been given some actual characters as well. If they pop up again, hopefully they’ll be better written or end up as Walker chow.

Henry himself does seem to be shaping up into someone interesting though, and credit to Matt Lintz for that scene in the Hilltop drunk tank with John Finn’s Earl. Finn is always excellent, and his own recent (from our perspective) sojourn in the cell after his assassination attempt on Maggie gave the scene extra resonance. Henry at least is being written as something more thoughtful than just ‘rebellious teenager’, though I hope they’re not just basically grooming him as a replacement Carl; his crush on Enid certainly made it seem that way.

In other soapy plotlines, we got perhaps more exposition than was necessary regarding Gabriel’s nascent relationship with Rosita, as the ever-patient man of God played this week’s guest host of the Negan psychathon. It sort of made sense,after his assertion a couple of seasons ago that he was Negan’s ‘confessor’,but this still felt like a copy and paste of one of the comic scenes involving Rick or Carl than anything original.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan is never less than watchable of course, tossing a baseball in his cell like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape; and at least this strand gave us the mid-season’s secondary cliffhanger. Someone has rather foolishly left the cell door open, and with that old shitkicking grin on his face, everyone’s favourite nutter is once again free to go and find his beloved Lucille. I like that they’ve played the question of his apparent reform deliberately ambiguously; he may have begged Maggie to kill him, but these last two weeks have shown us a man every bit as darkly cynical as before.The question of what he’ll do next is… well, at least something to get you to come back for the second half of the season.

Whether the main plot will is perhaps more questionable. Obviously being a comic reader I kinda knew what to expect here, but if you didn’t know then the revelation about the Whisperers may have seemed a little anticlimactic. So they’re just living humans after all? That’s in keeping with the show’s decidedly unsupernatural outlook; despite numerous hints, the only unexplained event, as was pointed out, is the fact that the dead have risen.

Fair enough, but how much more interesting might it have been to have evolved Walkers,presenting a far more dangerous threat to Our Heroes than just another bunch of still-breathing nutjobs? The Whisperers are an interesting idea, sure, and could be looked at as a voluntary evolution of humans rather than an evolution of the Walkers. But another war with a group of humans, coming so soon after the long-overdue end of the one with the Saviors? Well, they’re going to have to try hard to keep people’s interest in that one.

At the very least the climactic scenes were well-directed, with some real tension in Michael E. Satrazemis’ direction. Given the show’s subject matter, it’s been surprisingly reticent to give us any scenes in actual graveyards till now; this one, shrouded in twilit fog, was an effectively spooky setting. And it was a genuine shock moment when, in the middle of some standard Walker-dispatching,one of them suddenly grabbed a knife and stabbed the unfortunate Jesus.

That’s kind of a shame, losing him, and a departure from the comics where he not only plays a vital role in the forthcoming plot but is also still alive. Still, as we saw with the departures of Rick and Carl, survival in the comic is no guarantee of survival on the show. And it’s fair to say, as actor Tom Payne has, that the character has had precious little to actually do for quite a while. If the show had to lose another main character so soon after Rick himself, Jesus was probably the most convenient one to off. Still seems a little lazy though.

Gore of the week

Not a very gory week, despite the herd of Walkers hunting Eugene. Pretty much none at all, really… So here’s a picture of Matt Lintz looking cute.

As a mid-season finale, I’m afraid this felt little more than functional after the Big Event of losing Rick earlier in the season. Perhaps nothing could have topped that for drama, but this ep didn’t feel like it was even trying very hard. Yes, we’ve lost Jesus, and the plot is starting to advance; but I didn’t come away from this breathless for more. I’ll keep watching of course, like a fool, but I’m still feeling this is a show that’s treading water and could have done more to change with the loss of its leading man.

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