This is a spoiler-free review of Episode 7 of Season 9. Already seen the episode? Read on for full spoilers following its UK broadcast.
Stradivarius is the penultimate episode before The Walking Dead’s mid-season finale and, as has been the case with those that have come before it, the penultimate episode tends to be a slow burn setting up for the big finale. We return to the Hilltop for the first time since the time jump and learn more about the fractious relationship that has left the communities divided, as well as learn the real reason Carol (Melissa McBride) visits her old friend, Daryl (Norman Reedus). There is a lot of talking but only a little discussion to move the story along.
Michonne (Danai Gurira), previously the positive influence, seeing the good in people, has regressed. She has become protective and guarded, ignorant to others and even bitter – she has become Rick. The time jump has made this character switch all the more confusing, as we are still expecting to see Michonne embracing newcomers into the community. Her new attitude has not only caused the new group to be more cautious of both Michonne and the communities, but even her own friends also find themselves unable to confide in her. We learn more about where Maggie has gone, yet this is the first time Michonne has heard Maggie is absent – and it isn’t the only thing that the survivors are keeping from her. If they’re unable to trust their own leader with information, it seems almost impossible that these communities can overcome their differences.
Like Michonne last episode, Daryl also has the mysterious ‘X’ scar on his lower back, but again, no reference is made to it. This may be part of the long game – did another group brand our survivors, perhaps mark them for death? Something has happened to change everyone’s attitudes so much without Rick fighting for togetherness; a lot then rests on the community fair to bring them back together.
If not the fair, then maybe another threat to the group can reunite them – the mysterious walkers who appear able to talk. Rosita (Christian Serratos) is seen injured and panicking as she runs through the woodland, whispers dancing between the branches everywhere she turns, echoing “get her”. She has left Eugene (Josh McDermitt) hidden in a barn while she desperately searches for help. But again, this is just a tease, a set up for the mid-season finale. There is still so much to learn about these walkers and the episodes have been so slow in coming forward with the information that it will likely be the next half of the season before we fully understand the threat.
Someone that knows about the dangers of the Walking Dead world is Michael Cudlitz, who played the former army Sergeant Abraham Ford. Cudlitz has returned to the show, this time behind the camera as the episode’s director. It is in the action scenes that he excels, the cold opening with Rosita provides a real sense of fear. Using a handheld camera to dodge the trees with her envelopes you in the action. But while Cudlitz satisfies in his directorial debut, the writing lets the episode down. Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) is fleshed out a little more, having been hospitalised while we were introduced to the rest of the gang, but it is only when they are engaged in combat that they show their worth. Stradivarius suffers from a serious case of penultimate-episode-itis. Knowing Andrew Lincoln was leaving really lit a fire under the show, creating some great episodes and viewing, but since his departure, there no longer is that sense of urgency to tell the story.
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)
– The Walking Dead is treading a very fine line with its latest addition to the show. Out in the woods, living off the land for the past six years, Daryl has been looking for Rick – they never did find his body. Knowing that he’ll never find his former companion is hard enough to swallow but now Daryl has found a new best friend. A dog, aptly named… Dog. What the creators have done here is create a new character that has instantly become the star of the show and able to finally topple Daryl as the one character the fans will riot for if killed. This may have been a genius way to kill off Daryl as now, as long as Dog survives, we wouldn’t mind.
– Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Jesus (Tom Payne) have been meeting in secret to train in combat. These are star-crossed lovers in the making. From communities torn apart, their love could be what brings people back together. That is, if Jesus isn’t ripped from us soon. He has become the elected leader at Hilltop since Maggie left, a seat he thinks he is only keeping warm before her return. Desperate to get out and away from the politics, Jesus may as well have uttered horror movie trope “I’ll be right back!” to Tara (Alanna Masterson), before leaving the safety of the community. Will you, Jesus?
– There is someone in the woods! Someone watching Michonne and the escort of the new survivors to Hilltop. It could be one of the talking walkers or it could be someone else, watching and learning about the others in this world, learning and being led directly to the Hilltop. It is in this scene that Michonne is confronted by riders from Hilltop and learns of Rosita’s injury. The riders don’t seem to know who Michonne is, indicating that it might have been longer for Michonne to visit the Hilltop than it was for Maggie to visit Alexandria.
– Carol wants Daryl to look after Henry (Matt Lintz), while he completes his apprenticeship at the Hilltop School of Blacksmiths. At first, Daryl is hesitant, not eager to give up his life as a hermit, eating snakes and sailing the river, to become a babysitter. After a little bonding (saving Dog from some walkers), Daryl agrees to head back to civilisation, but no sooner does he arrive at Hilltop than he’s gone again. Out with the rescue party to find Eugene. Henry will be fine.