This is a spoiler-free review of Episode 4 of Season 9. Already seen the episode? Read on for full spoilers following its UK broadcast.
The Obliged is a tale of two conversations and two sides. Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), cast in shadow and metaphor, try to establish who each other are, while the relationship between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) runs headlong into a hole when the betrayal surfaces. It’s an episode full of the wordplay and meaningful dialogue that the series has been missing over the past couple of seasons. Outside circumstances (Andrew Lincoln leaving) may have forced their hand somewhat, but new showrunner Angela Kang is thriving with four strong episodes under her belt and, for the first TV show credit for award-nominated playwright Geraldine Inoa, this is an incredible achievement that has helped The Obliged push forward a story that needs to be told before it runs out of time.
Michonne has been busy taking care of Alexandria and Judith (Chloe Garcia-Frizzi), working on laws and ethics for a new government, settling disputes and overseeing the camp’s industrial development. But all that work by day can really take a toll on a person and so, by night, she sneaks off into the darkness to relieve some stress and slice some zombies. As the leader, she takes charge of everything that goes on, including trying to convince Negan to end his hunger strike. It is his petty insolence that seduces Michonne and the pair both reveal parts of their past that has made them who they are, and, what has made them so alike, despite Michonne’s vehement denial she could be anything like Negan. It is a powerful conversation that shows prison might not have changed Negan, but made him into something even more deranged, like most movie villains when they return for the sequel. It ends, however, in a bizarre fashion that may turn out to be an escape ploy yet also may have revealed Negan’s biggest weakness.
Rick’s dreams of a brighter future are falling apart. Carol (Melissa McBride) has decided to go back to the Kingdom, leaving the Sanctuary to decide who it wants to be and after Jed (Rhys Coiro) and the other Saviours figure out who has been killing them, they appear to decide to be Negan. There are two enormous herds nearby, so the Saviour’s noisy confrontation was a move that may prove ill conceived. With the future looking threadbare, it could take a major incident like a herd of walkers to bring them all back together. The internal politics and group dynamics has provided interesting viewing thus far, but the greater threat of the undead is one that hasn’t been explored in a while – with it comes more adrenaline and excitement to provide the utmost test of Rick’s future.
The Obliged may be building to one forgone conclusion, one that we aren’t ready for, but it’s going to take us an emotional journey to get there. Parts do feel rushed and words are left unsaid, but that may only be because we know what’s coming. Michonne may fear what’s to come too. Negan believes the two of them to be alike, despite Michonne’s horror at finding herself wielding a baseball bat on one of her night runs. With Maggie (Lauren Cohan) on her way to Alexandria, she will need to put her fear aside, embody everything she has learned and decide who she wants to be.
The Walking Dead Season 9 premieres at 9pm on FOX UK on Mondays. Don’t have pay-TV? You can also stream it on NOW TV, for £7.99 a month, with no contract and a 14-day free trial. Seasons 1 to 8 are available on Sky Box Sets and NOW TV until 30th November 2018.
Entrails and innards (spoiler)
– Is this seriously the end of Rick Grimes? Thrown from a horse onto some rebar? This isn’t how it’s supposed to be! Think about everything the tortured soul has gone through since waking up from that coma. He’s been shot, stabbed, beaten, nearly eaten and yet he’s survived it all. Now, this. We always thought he might go out like some other character favourites do in the comic issue 145.
– His tragic end doesn’t feel worthy for the man who is the very essence of the show. He hasn’t been able to make peace with Maggie or say goodbye to any characters, other than the exchanges with Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Carol and Daryl. (One of Rick’s final exchanges with Daryl may have been a poor choice of words. “Brother, take my hand,” says Rick, as Daryl hangs on for dear life. Don’t misconstrue that Daryl, don’t be reminded how Rick took your brother’s hand!)
– As the marketing has been keen to let us know, Rick Grimes has one more episode left: this must be the one filled with guest stars from the past. If you think the season so far has been intense, we think you’re going to need a bigger box of tissues for next episode.
– Did none of Jed’s merry band of misfits do their research on Carol? In the 18 months that have passed, did none of them tell stories around the campfire of what each of them has had to do in order to survive this apocalypse? Not even one rumour about how badass Carol is made it through to Jed, who decides to call her a “weak little woman who got a lucky shot”. So long Jed, nice to know you. The ensuring gun-fight that is all handled off-screen is what draws the two Shakespearian-named herds together and on top of Rick. So, in a way, Jed is responsible for Rick’s death.
– Another character we might have seen the last of is Anne (Pollyanna McIntosh), who decides to spare Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) the fate of being eaten by an old lady zombie and instead goes fast into the who-knows-where. Did the helicopter pick her up and, if so, what or who did she have to trade, an A or a B? Anne has distanced herself from the group since Rick whispered about her involvement in the Saviour deaths; maybe she will soon find herself in another group that trusts her.
– The episode was full of dialogue with double meaning. Some of our favourites:
“I’m not destroying the bridge,” – Rick Grimes (Jed and Carol probably have, Rick. Your future is over.)
“We’re keeping you alive and the living eat,” – Michonne (Well, the dead eat too Michonne… which is probably why later she says: “You’ll eat, one way or another.”)
– Negan misses his wife, taken by cancer, back when that was the most dangerous thing the living had to worry about. Before Michonne leaves him to his cell, he begs with her, pleads with her to see “her” again. Michonne says that they don’t have his bat and Negan goes crazy, bashing his head against a brick wall. Is he really that enamoured by a bat? It might be his last reminder of the past, of his wife, but it also might be his strength to survive in the new world. If what Michonne says is true, Lucille is just out on the battlefield, waiting for someone to come find her.