This is a spoiler-free review of Episode 6 of Season 9. Already seen the episode? Read on for full spoilers following its UK broadcast.
Who Are You Now is a slow telling of how the world has moved on in the wake of Rick’s apparent death. Six years have passed since the bridge and yet the shadow of Rick Grimes still casts itself over the survivors. In that time, the communities have grown apart and Rick’s vision of a future together looks over. Something has happened at the Hilltop, maybe between all the communities that has driven this wedge between them. Since then, things have never been the same. This could be what is keeping Maggie (Lauren Cohan) off-screen for the rest of the season – something that was glossed over in place of Rick’s farewell. The Kingdom is falling apart, literally, but Ezekiel (Khary Payton) is determined to host a festival to reinvigorate the spirit of community for all.
Moving on from Rick would never have been an easy task, following something that has been the staple of a show for the past nine years. Unlike a season (or even mid-season) finale, where the viewer is forced to wait until the next episode, this explosion of an ending occurred in Episode 5 with three more instalments to come. In the past, the show has dealt with deaths of major characters and how the other survivors cope (or not) with the losses. In an attempt to not tread still water, The Walking Dead has tried ease us into the next episode by including this six-year time jump – with mixed results. The gap was supposed to show the cast removed from their grief, but although Judith (Cailey Fleming) has grown up and Michonne (Danai Gurira) has established some order in Alexandria, they are still living in Rick’s world and the show is yet to find its new voice.
This is further evidenced when Carol (Melissa McBride) stumbles upon her old Saviour sparring partner, Jed (Rhys Coiro), while on an excursion to the Hilltop. Despite being grubbier, Jed still acts like what happened at Oceanside was only yesterday and his appearance does little to help the story, other than offering us affirmation that Carol is still a badass, despite being a Queen. Her reaction to this meeting only further pushes aside the hope Rick had for a future together. Despite the time and storytelling devoted to try and work together, it is clearly over and the only thing the six-year gap has done is force everyone to feel a little cagier about what they’ve got.
When Judith brings some new survivors to Alexandria, then, everyone is over-protective. There are five new survivors in all, led by Magna (Nadia Hilker), and including Dan Fogler as Luke. Five new faces are a lot, especially when there are still many long-term survivors that haven’t been completely fleshed out. It seems when they’re not sure what to do with someone, the show’s writers throw them into a relationship and hope it plays out – and that’s exactly what they’ve done with Rosita (Christian Serratos) and Gabriel (Seth Gilliam). This is a character switch from the comic books, but to have this sprung on us, no matter who it is, just doesn’t fit right. Hopefully, the new faces will be given something to do. This is a new chapter for The Walking Dead and we have spent so long with these survivors that the show could use the opportunity to shift the focus to someone new.
Who Are You Now establishes where most of our survivors are and what they are up to now and the main takeaway is that in the six years that have passed no one has decided to learn a trade as a barber. After a splendid end to Rick’s tenure, this episode struggles to re-establish itself. With his departure, Rick’s future looks to be over, his voice forgotten by his daughter. The world he worked so hard to build, left, like the bridge he worked tirelessly to build, in ruins.
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 7-day free trial. Seasons 1 to 9 are available on Sky Box Sets and NOW TV until 25th March 2019.
Entrails and innards (spoiler)
– The Whisperers are here! When out on a run to try and extend their radio signal coverage, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Rosita stumble upon some fresh tracks. After the transponder is in place, the herd is suddenly upon them. Cue a leg injury and a hobbled escape attempt (it’s almost become a cliché after the number of times this has happened). The pair hide in a ditch and cover themselves in mud. As they bury themselves, the herd passes above them and they can be heard talking. Have the zombies gained some of the brains they’ve been feasting on? No. Comic book spoilers ahead – the next big baddies are here. The Whisperers are a community built on power, where the most dominant are the ones who are in charge. Don’t like the leader? Simple, kill them and take their place – if you can. The Whisperers are able to hide in plain sight, mingling around with the undead by wearing the skins of zombies. Yep. This could be fun.
– When everything looks bleak, Eugene wants to confess something to Rosita, but she doesn’t let him. It’s obvious that Eugene is in love with her, Rosita knows it too, and she probably knew Eugene had taken a liking to her ever since he watched her and Abraham from behind the bookshelves. But Rosita has fallen for another: Father Gabriel. Why Gabriel has suddenly become this object of affection, we don’t know. As Eugene says, “machete wielding men of the cloth with zero depth perception aren’t exactly a dime a dozen”, so it must be his unwavering faith that attracts the ladies. That, or again, there just isn’t anything for Rosita and Gabriel to do for the rest of the season.
– Aaron (Ross Marquand) has a new arm! We don’t get to see it in action so it’s likely to just be a simple prosthetic, but this isn’t the only big Aaron news from the past six years. Aaron has adopted Gracie, that baby Rick rescued from the Sanctuary and then we didn’t really see or hear anything about. The Walking Dead looks to be preparing for the future with a larger number of children around than ever before. Gracie, Judith, a more grown up Henry (played by Matt Lintz – the brother of The Walking Dead alumni Madison Lintz, aka. Carol’s daughter Sophia) and there is one other child we are introduced to…
– R.J.! (Rick Junior?) It appears Michonne was pregnant before Rick vanished and in the last six years she has been super busy being a leader and a mother. R.J. (Antony Azor) only makes a brief appearance, but he may be the reason Michonne is so guarded and protective of Alexandria. Or maybe it has something to do with that ‘X’ scar on her back? In being so defensive, Michonne is doing the opposite of what Rick and Carl wanted for the refuge. Luckily, Judith is there to help her find the right path, but Judith has been spending a lot of time talking to Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) – still imprisoned below Alexandria. Can Judith keep to the moral path when she has this devil in her ear?
– What has happened at the Hilltop? Who is in charge? Jesus? Enid? We will undoubtedly find out more as soon as Carol and Henry finally arrive there after their slight detour. Why did they take the long route to the Hilltop? Carol wanted to check in on an old friend. After the explosion at the bridge, Daryl (Norman Reedus) was seen walking off into the forest and it would appear that over the last six years, Daryl has been living as a hermit. This is exactly the arc that Daryl would take and despite being alone, he still enjoys the little things (like terrible CGI birds feasting off the dead).