This is a spoiler-free review of Episode 13 of Season 9. Already seen the episode? Read on for full spoilers following its UK broadcast.
As much as the world has changed, the more it has stayed the same. The Kingdom, fighting so long for peace and harmony, has made King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) weary. All his hopes and efforts have gone into making the fayre an event that brings the communities back together, to try and get everybody to sign the treaty and usher in a new era. But nothing is ever easy. The day before the festivities, Jerry (Cooper Andrews) and his crew are ambushed on the road by a new threat, a band of merry men, known as the Highwaymen, who hold the Kingdom to ransom.
Unable to give into their demands, Ezekiel prepares for war, but his Queen, Carol (Melissa McBride), may have an alternative solution. The Highwaymen, fronted by cowboy hat-wearing Ozzy (Angus Sampson), are the group behind those signs that have been seen on the roadsides over the past few episodes. The group might not be the most threatening, but they know how to freak the viewer out, hiding in plain sight among some mannequins, providing spooky, shadowy cinematography. They’re an interesting, new, non-comic book group, unlike any other villain we’ve met as they’re willing to listen… in between weapon-pointing. If nothing else, their appearance allows the music department to mix in some classic western vibes to the score and seeing that accompany them riding into action is really fun.
Daryl (Norman Reedus) always seems to be the subject of highly anticipated brawls – remember when he was due to go up against his brother? Now, he is about to come face to face with Beta (Ryan Hurst), the second-in-command within the Whisperers. Is Daryl still a beta within our survivors? He would deny taking on any sort of leadership role, but coupled with Connie (Lauren Ridloff), he confidently plots out a plan of attack, executing it with (almost) perfect precision. Although Beta is the standard big-man heel, grunting and brawling his way through the fight without much in the way of charisma, and although we’ve only just been introduced to him, the stand-off provides anxiety and exhilaration and ends with the promise of more to come.
In the past, just as the show starts to bubble, it is quickly taken off the boil. The next episode will explore those mysterious scars that adorn the body of some of our survivors, which could once again stymie the momentum bubbling up in Chokepoint, which had otherwise stood out for its tense action. The season is building up to something happening at, or just after, the fayre. Keep those bubbles boiling as we find out exactly what.
Chokepoint delivers an episode high on tension, with some super close combat fighting and one particularly stunning visual evocative of American Psycho. The introduction of the Highwaymen feels like it’s only bolstering the roster with red-shirts, at least for now, but they do make us fist-pump with delight when they mosey into action. The showdown with Beta provides the yang to the Highwaymen’s yin; two clashes, each with different methods of execution. With the Kingdom royalty willing to try a peaceful approach, how did none of that influence young Henry (Matt Lintz)? If he had just let the Whisperer’s leave with Lydia (Cassidy McClincy), instead of letting his emotions take over, would they have kept their promise and left the Hilltop alone? Nothing is ever easy.
The Walking Dead Season 9 is available on Sky Box Sets and NOW TV until 9th November 2019. Don’t have pay-TV? You can also stream it live and on-demand on NOW TV, for £7.99 a month (until 9th October 2019, when the price rises to £8.99), with no contract and a 7-day free trial. Seasons 1 to 9 are available on Sky Box Sets and NOW TV until 25th March 2019.
Entrails and innards (spoilers)
– Once Daryl and company have escaped the Whisperer’s camp, he asks Lydia about Beta and when told that he is their biggest, Daryl decides that they’ll kill him first. Good idea, Daryl, take out their biggest and best fighter, end this quickly before it gets out of hand. It’s curious, then, that from his vantage point high in the tower block, he chooses to take out one of the Whisperers’ guardians with a pinpoint bolt and not Beta. In his defence, he may not have seen Beta before, so doesn’t know who to kill, but Lydia could have identified him. It’s the whole Rick and Negan Sanctuary-Showdown debate all over again – will The Walking Dead never learn?
– The Kingdom think that the Highwaymen could be fronted by some old Saviours, maybe Jed. Carol instantly dismisses this, reminding us that she burnt Jed and his Saviours alive when they messed with her and Henry on the road, raising a smirk for the dramatic irony. It is refreshing, then, that it is Carol’s choice to negotiate with the Highwaymen, rather than go in bows blazing, but what will she do when she learns about Henry?
– The Hilltop have arrived at the Kingdom, but without Daryl and Henry. Carol questions their whereabouts and worry arises when nobody is quite sure what has them delayed. Tara (Alanna Masterson) may divulge the information about the Whisperers to the group, which may very well turn Carol from peaceful negotiator back into the one-woman wrecking crew she has been before.
– Having taken a spear to the thigh in the Beta-Brawl, Henry is being taken back to Alexandria for medical attention, as it’s closest to their location. The brawl has seen some blood spilt, but Lydia may have earned some trust with Daryl. She said before the fighting that the Whisperers were her people, that they had looked after her for most of her life and, as a result, she refused to take part in the fighting, even getting Henry to agree to try his best not to kill any of them. But with her beau now bleeding, Lydia looks like she’s happy to be on his side, behind walls or exploring the rest of the world.
– COMIC BOOK SPOILERS: Anyone up to speed with The Whisperer War in the comic books knows there is the potential for multiple deaths among our survivors, when the Whisperers decide to mark their territory in a particularly gruesome way. Two potential candidates for this scene have to be Tammy-Rose (Brett Butler) and Earl (John Finn), as they have decided to keep the Whisperer baby for themselves. Earl has been looking to retire, so they’re happy, and, as we continually say, happiness in the apocalypse always leads to death. Honestly, we’re hoping that none of the main characters face this end, which will likely come at the season finale. If it must be anyone, it can be the new Highwaymen.