This is a spoiler-free review of Episode 8 of Season 9. Already seen the episode? Read on for full spoilers following its UK broadcast.
No matter how greatly things change, be it a six-year time jump or a change of Executive Producer, it appears The Walking Dead is doomed to remain the same. Despite some incredible visuals, Evolution isn’t able to live up to its title. The show hasn’t evolved into something fresh or new; instead, it re-treads the same ground it has been trudging for nine years. The departure of Rick Grimes has only proved that the urgency needed to tell his story in time is what gave the season its impressively strong start. Since his exit, Season 9 of The Walking Dead has been slowly paced and information pertaining to what actually happened in the past six years isn’t fed to the viewer quickly enough to hook them into life after Rick.
This mid-season inale isn’t a total failure, despite the familiar beats; it still evokes fear through its use of established horror tropes. The imagery of the survivors trying to escape the walkers who are always just one step behind, despite their supposed slow movement, is iconic. Even the setting – a graveyard, at night, drowning in mist – is like it’s been drawn straight out of the silver screen, creating spooky tension, as the whispers echo around them. The fight scene, especially the enthusiasm from Jesus (Tom Payne) and his sword, is great and the last beat provides real shock value, even if that is quickly dispelled.
The zombies, rather, appear to be evolving, as ridiculous as it sounds to the survivors. Eugene (Josh McDermitt) is adamant he heard them talk and Rosita (Christian Serratos) corroborates that. If killing the brain is the only way to eliminate this threat, then it stands to reason that the brain is still alive in some capacity, so it could be capable of speech and tactical analysis. These walkers are not behaving like regular zombies, they are grouping together, doubling back on themselves and not allowing themselves to be distracted by loud noises. This is a major development and one that could have been left at that to create intrigue, but because this is a mid-season finale, the show feels it necessary to pull out all the stops and reveal everything about the next big bad group our heroes must face.
Back inside the walls, Henry (Matt Lintz) has evolved from the annoying kid to the annoying teenager. Having no sooner promised his adoptive mother, Carol (Melissa McBride), that he’ll stay out of trouble does Henry befriend some Hilltop teens, only to find himself incarcerated for being drunk and disorderly. They are a typical bad crowd and the show could have easily seen Henry succumb to their ways and adopt an emo haircut. Thankfully, he quickly learns they’re rotten and shows sincerity and remorse for his actions. If Henry is to get a more prominent story arc going forward, it is important he does start to behave like he’s living in a new world.
We are still unaware of what actually has driven these communities apart, but they have certainly distanced themselves from one another. The Kingdom’s upcoming fair is trying to restore the bonds that have been broken and we learn a little more about what may have happened. Michonne (Danai Gurira) didn’t want to come to Hilltop because she didn’t want to have to face people again after what she did. What that is exactly isn’t revealed, but whatever it was caused people to hate her; but it was the same something that kept them alive. These survivors have been through so much trauma and pain already and come through it stronger, yet this has upset that balance. This is the thread that needs to be tugged on hardest in the second half of the season.
Ending with the show’s next obstacle could have been handled better, climaxing simply with the striking visual reveal, which itself is a huge twist. But the show once again decides that the only way to end a mid-season is to pile on the drama. Even though comic book viewers know what to expect, ending with evolving zombies would have been good enough. Instead, the final moments are sullied by unnecessary shock value, which doesn’t have as much of an impact, because we’re all still reeling from losing Rick.
The Walking Dead Season 9 Part 1 is available on-demand from FOX UK until 25th December 2018. 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 9 are available on Sky Box Sets and NOW TV until 25th March 2019.
Entrails and innards (spoiler)
– It’s incredibly frustrating, to the point where it’s almost expected, that in a mid- or end-of-season finale, there will be a character death, even if that death serves little purpose. Jesus did not have to die for the message to have the same impact. Just seeing the walker dodge his attack was shock enough. The character could have delivered his threat and shoved Jesus to the ground, leaving him and the rest of the survivors surrounded and in absolute disbelief. Instead, Jesus is needlessly killed, just like Carl before him.
– The Whisperers are revealed to be a group who blend in to their surroundings by wearing the skins of the dead. It cannot be an easy task to skin the skull of a zombie to create a mask so believable the living could pass as dead, but their reasoning is questionable. These people have been living in the zombie world for around a decade now and while it is a smart move to blend in and save themselves from attack from other zombies, they must know that human survivors are going to be relentless in their brutal attack directly to the brain. Are the Whisperers brave or stupid?
– Either way, they are the next opposition for the survivors to face. They pose an interesting threat, with their ability to hide themselves, but with their graveyard attack, it looks as though we are set for yet another community vs community war. We’ve seen this conflict time and time again and its disheartening that there isn’t enough faith in simply choosing to explore the theory of zombie evolution, rebuilding society and the communities. It feels too soon after the Saviours to be back on this track again, but perhaps a different path will be taken this time.
– Why is it that none of the communities that settle in the new world can get along? Friendly greetings have been replaced by pointless slaughter.
– Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is out of his cell. Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), furious with himself that he let Rosita leave only to get injured, slips up by not locking the door behind him. Negan looks pleased to be out – he’s been locked up for the best part of 10 years – but he also seems a changed person. He does make rude quips about the clean-up job Gabriel has to perform, but he also shows genuine concern to hear that Rosita is hurt. The two have shared some good screen time together before and this encounter is no different.
– Maybe Rick’s plan has worked and Negan is a changed man, or maybe he still harbours resentment and desperation to be reunited with Lucille. If he hasn’t changed, we’ll be looking at the survivors against the Whisperers and Negan – it could get too convoluted. Will Alexandria still stand in the second half of the season or will Negan rule once again?
– How are there still bad teens in this world? Gage (Jackson Pace) admits that he’s grown up at Hilltop, so who is it that’s teaching him how to be unruly and how are they sneaking off and it going unnoticed? This is the dead’s world now, don’t take them for granted by trying to keep them as pets. You know who else did that? The Governor. And look how well things turned out for him. At least Henry, the Prince of the Kingdom, has shown that he knows he did wrong, he won’t get into any trouble again…