This is a spoiler-free review of Episode 14 of Season 9. Already seen the episode? Read on for full spoilers following its UK broadcast.
This week, The Walking Dead airs an episode that really twists the stomach, not just with some gruesome katana kills. Intersected with flashbacks, we learn just how Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) ended up with those physical scars on their backs and those mental scars in their heads.
We have to go all the way back to Season 4’s The Grove to honestly explore how the apocalypse has affected children. That episode was awkward to watch, as Lizzie stabbed her little sister to death, fully expecting her to come back to life, and then, we had to watch Carol (Melissa McBride) deal with the consequences. Scars is just as hard to watch, as Michonne searches for a young Judith (Chloe Garcia-Frizzi), kidnapped by an old friend, someone Michonne trusted. To further add to the tension and discomfort, in these flashbacks, Michonne is pregnant. Every action she takes doesn’t only put her life at risk and it’s this that makes us squirm.
What makes Scars uncomfortable is the moral dilemma that Michonne faces, when she’s confronted by a group of children with knives, ready to attack. She looks genuinely terrified, more so than when faced with any walker. The apocalypse has affected adults, making them desperate and greedy as they search for power in a world without laws – but what about the children? We’ve only seen a few throughout this series and, with the exception of Lizzie, none of them have really been affected by the dead coming back to life. The world contains more kids than those we know and this new group we meet have all been lured together by one woman acting like The Pied Piper – led under false pretences of fun and games, when, in reality, they are being groomed for something much darker. The episode doesn’t go into great detail of the manipulation, but it’s unsettling enough to watch – and that’s even before the violence begins.
If you can bear to watch it, the rescue attempt is both traumatising and thrilling, as we see Michonne hacking and slashing her way to save both younger and older Judith (Cailey Fleming), each slice cutting between past and present. The flashbacks are cleverly cut into the narrative but are washed out in sepia to make sure that we know this is in the past (come on, viewers are smart enough to be able to tell the difference). There isn’t much time devoted to why this new group choose to behave the way they do and, disappointingly, there isn’t much meaning behind the scars, as was initially alluded. But the focus of the episode is really on the relationship between Judith and her mother – not one she was given, but one she chose.
Chokepoint had the series bubbling up with excitement and the prospect of more from the Beta-Brawl, and, although the story takes a step in another direction, this episode doesn’t feel like a let-down. It actually becomes one of the better episodes of the season, which is mostly thanks to another fantastic performance from young Cailey Fleming. Judith has had a tough time in the apocalypse, losing her birth mother, only brother and father before she’s even been alive a decade. But all this had made her stronger, living up to her moniker of “Lil’ Asskicker”. She is older than her years let on and so much wiser, able to be the voice of reason and understanding as she guides the season into its final two episodes, proving it isn’t only Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) with whom she has on-screen chemistry. The apocalypse has left its scars on all its victims, and this episode may leave one with you.
The Walking Dead Season 9 is available on FOX UK, with new episodes airing on Mondays at 9pm. Don’t have pay-TV? You can also stream it live and on-demand on NOW TV, for £7.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial. Season 9 is available until 1st May 2019.
Entrails and innards (spoilers)
– In the flashbacks, Michonne opens the gates to some strangers in need of help, although one of them isn’t that unfamiliar. Jocelyn (Rutina Wesley) is an old friend of Michonne’s and the two of them used to do everything together, so it stands to reason why Michonne would trust her. If only she’d asked her the questions at the gate. Jocelyn isn’t who she was anymore and, after recovering, loots the stores, kills a guard and lures the Alexandrian children into her group to groom them into fighters strong enough to survive in this world, making everything appear as a game. She believes that the kids need to be able to live in the new world and not mollycoddled into thinking everything is playtime. Jocelyn tests her children by making some of them brand a captured Michonne and Daryl with a hot iron, she thinks it is helping them, when it is only breeding a new generation of Lizzie’s.
– The fight to find Judith is made so much harder to watch, as Michonne has to fight against both children and her own morals. She has a hard time doing what she has to do to save herself and her daughter and it’s what she’s struggled with ever since. She can easily be forgiven. As well as being branded, she takes a knife to the belly. Although there have been far worse things, graphically and psychologically, in The Walking Dead, this is one of the scariest things the show has ever done. Michonne has continued her search for Rick, but only come away with his revolver, her unborn child one of the last things left to remember him by, so it feels acceptable for her to do what she has to do for herself and her baby.
– The actual murder of the twisted children is left to clever editing – with one swing of the katana, we cut quickly to a walker in present day losing his head or a limb. The bodies are only shown in a blurry background, which could be to appease the censors, or we could take it that this is a memory that Michonne would rather forget. It ends with Judith mirroring the murder of Jocelyn, as she stabs her blade into a walker… but, being a horror show, there is always one last scare.
– Judith wants to know: if they would do anything to help the people they love, then when did they stop loving Maggie, Carol and the King? Michonne realises that they never did, and so it’s time for them to help their friends and it’s off to the Kingdom they go. But in the woods, walkers lurk… or should we say, Whisperers lurk, now with the knowledge of where the Kingdom lies. With the fayre underway, the harmony the King seeks may not be forthcoming.