This is a spoiler-free review of Episode 9 of Season 9. Already seen the episode? Read on for full spoilers following its UK broadcast.
The Walking Dead returns with an introduction to the newest villains to torment the survivors, The Whisperers – a group without walls, who walk with the dead by wearing matching skins. They pose a disturbing threat to face: the living imitating the dead, with the potential to control hordes of walkers, the survivors not knowing if the zombie in front of them is living or dead. The post-apocalyptic landscape was supposed to belong to the dead. Nowlit seems the living are trying to take it back from the inside, but is there anything left in this world for those who survive?
Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who escaped from his cell at the end of the mid-season break, gets his first taste of the world beyond his cage. This is a different Negan, one that isn’t all genitalia jokes and vicious swagger. Prison may really have changed him, proving that Rick was right to keep him alive. His flourishing paternal relationship with Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming) may be the straw that has finally broken the back of one of the group’s most evil enemies, rounding him out into a relatively normal human being – well, as normal as you can get on this show. Negan has been able to develop a strong bond with the Grimes children – although with Carl he still boiled rage, like he did spaghetti. With Judith, he has created a more affectionate bond, almost father-like (although he didn’t make it onto Judith’s family portrait) and it’s one of the strongest and most honest relationships on the show.
After re-exploring his past, including a stop at the clearing where the character made his brain-crushing introduction, Negan returns to the one place that he thinks there may be a future for him, and it isn’t where he thought it was. With the loss of Andrew Lincoln, the series needs a big name like Jeffrey Dean Morgan to steer the ship. The supporting cast have done well to step up – Norman Reedus has the most lines he’s spoken ever – but the new Negan could be just the refreshing jolt the show needs.
Adaptation picks the story up right where it was left, in a graveyard after a deadly encounter with The Whisperers, and deals with the aftermath of those tragic events. There isn’t much time for the reality of the situation to sink in and Aaron (Ross Marquand) may think he’s fine but he’s clearly in denial, which may hinder the survivors in their fight. As we’ve seen before, revenge isn’t always successful. Michonne (Danai Gurira) is able to keep her head and remain a leader, even though thoughts still haunt her about Rick. While the Hilltop may be able to get closure on their recent event, the lingering shadow of whatever happened to Rick still leaves both Michonne and Daryl unable to close that particular door, and thus, move on.
The Whisperers are a confusing bunch. Wearing the skins of the dead to be able to walk among them is smart, it’s the evolution of the idea of covering human scent with walker guts from Episode 2 of Season 1, Guts. But with it comes huge risk. Walkers are the biggest threat to survival, so encountering one, or someone dressed up like one, will trigger defensive shots to the head. The Whisperers must understand this risk and their reasons for how they came to be will be one of the most interesting things that can be explored this season.
The world outside of the community walls may have been ignored to focus on the survival of those inside, and it’s evident that Alexandria, the Hilltop and the Kingdom (even though the latter is falling apart) have made huge industrial strides in crafting a better world, but how much have they done to protect themselves from threats? They may always be ready to fight, but what is left in this world to fight for?
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 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)
– Daryl’s smart play on the bridge has gained the survivors some new intelligence as they capture and imprison an actual Whisperer. It’s a young girl named Lydia (Cassady McClincy). She is frightened by the aggressive questioning she receives, but keeps changing her story. First, there were only a few of them, then a lot more. She claims they were always planning on killing our survivors as that’s “just what you do now”. Daryl is tasked with getting all the information he can from her and if he can’t, he knows what to do. No, not killing Lydia. He plays both her and Henry (Matt Lintz) with threatening both of them and then listening in when the two teens spark up a conversation.
– Comic Book Spoilers: Lydia is the daughter of the leader of the Whisperers and she formed a relationship with Carl. It looks as though Henry will be stepping into that role, but whether Lydia remains as her comic-book counterpart is yet to be seen.
– Having survived yet another near-death experience, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) has decided that he simply must confess his true feelings to Rosita (Christian Serratos). But before he can utter the words, Rosita bolts for the door and vomits. Yet it’s not the thought of Eugene wanting to snuggle with her that causes Rosita to throw up, as she reveals two huge bombshells. Firstly, she is pregnant. Secondly, the child isn’t Gabriel’s (Seth Gilliam), but the guy she was messing around with before him – Doctor Siddiq (Avi Nash). What was initially a love triangle has grown an extra side. Eugene overhears this news too – which marks the second time someone has overheard something through a window in the same episode. The news could send him into a pit of despair, as he’s already blaming himself for the death of Jesus (Tom Payne). This story arc is very similar to one in the comics, but has received a little twist. With the series’ insistence on killing off big names in every finale, Eugene and Rosita are both possible casualties in this upcoming Whisperer War. Be warned.
– Negan walked all the way back to the Sanctuary to find only one remaining Saviour waiting for him: the re-animated corpse of Big Ritchie. After some moping around feeling sorry for himself, Negan finds some catharsis and eliminates Big Ritchie, and thus the Saviours, from his life. Heading back to Alexandria, Negan once again must confront little ass-kicker and allow her to let him back into his cell. He’s realised there is nothing for him anymore – no Saviours, no Lucille, just a cell. The one thing he does have is Judith. She doesn’t remember him as the baseball bat-wielding psychopath, just the man in the cell who has an interesting take on algebra and swears too much. While Negan shouldn’t be allowed to get too soft, this new rounded character could be just what the series needs and his dynamic with Judith has a certain Game of Thrones Arya-and-The-Hound vibe that has potential for some fun and violence if Negan is ever let out of his cell again.