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The Walking Dead 10.05 Review – ‘What It Always Is’

November 3, 2019 | Posted by Katie Hallahan
The Walking Dead - 'What It Always Is'
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The Walking Dead 10.05 Review – ‘What It Always Is’  

Tonight on The Walking Dead, a number of people are having trouble reconciling the past with their present, especially when it comes to communicating.

The plot: Out hunting a boar, Kelly struggles with her worsening hearing to the point where she ends up being surprised by walkers, losing her kill, and falling down a steep slope. When she’s noticed as being missing, Daryl, Connie, and Magna head out to find her and eventually do–at which point, Daryl and Connie learn that Magna and Kelly have been the ones stealing some supplies from Hilltop and stashing them elsewhere. They’re able to help Kelly and get her back because of it, though, and Daryl covers for them, but Yumiko and Magan’s relationship suffers when a long-held lie comes out in the aftermath. Hilltop, meanwhile, has been still working on dealing with the tree on top of said thefts and recurring walker attacks, and folks like Earl and Alden are not happy about not doing anything against what look like Whisperer attacks. Ezekiel is revealed to be suffering from thyroid cancer, but as he tells Siddiq, while he saw relatives survive it before, they don’t have that kind of medicine or resources anymore. Siddiq confesses his own struggles with PTSD and encourages Ezekiel to tell Carol, but the former King chickens out when Carol comes to the radio later on. Aaron runs into Gamma blocking up the river with walker bodies, and it looks like she might try to play on his sympathies in the near future. But most interestingly, Negan is caught up to by a young man named Brandon who’s apparently a fanboy–he even brought Negan’s old coat and Lucille! He keeps trying to get Negan to jump back into his glory days mode, so much so that even after they initially save a woman and her son, Brandon kills them anyways, thinking it was a test. Negan kills him in turn, then dons his old outfit and crosses into Whisperer territory, taking down some walkers before himself being hauled off his feet by Beta.

There are a lot of interesting personal stories going on in tonight’s episode, but let’s get to the one everyone wants to talk about first: Negan! He’s footloose and fancy free! Or at least he is until this idiot Brandon shows up and fanboys out on him. Brandon, who seems to be the son of people who lived under Negan’s rule, maybe from Sanctuary itself though it’s unclear, and at least one of his parents died in the fight against Rick Grimes. Ever since, this kid has heard tall tales about things Negan, but basically only heard the exaggerated machismo versions about he killed everyone and was such a badass and etc etc. Basically, stories that I can see Negan actively encouraging back in the day in order to build his reputation and the cult of personality he built around himself, though I also believe he would’ve always seen this kid as an idiot. But whereas he may have once used said idiot and milked his admiration to gain a loyal solider, now he seems completely turned off by this behavior.

But more than Brandon’s idiocy, Negan’s reactions, actions, and decisions in the episode are much more interesting. There’s always a bit of debate about whether Negan is truly reformed, about whether he would revert to the person he once was if he were free, but I feel like this episode seals the fact that he’s changed. Maybe more than he even expected! I think his own level of disgust at Brandon’s…everything goes beyond even what he himself realized. He’s being presented with the kind of devotion he strove to create before and it isn’t him anymore. He uses Brandon for a little while, trying him out, but he finds nothing in the young man worth even using, much less cultivating, and kicks him to the curb as soon as that’s clear. Hell, it’s even notable that Negan tries to dismiss him bluntly, honestly, and without violence.

Of course, now it looks like he’s going to lean into his old persona to take on the Whisperers–and I do legitimately believe he intends to help the communities when he crosses that border and starts swinging. What his plan is exactly I don’t know, but it should be interesting alright. I mean, for starters, we all know how much Negan loves to talk and that isn’t exactly how the Whisperers roll! Plus, we still don’t know the circumstances of his escape, either, and that could be key here as well.

So Negan gets a hard look at his past and how it gels, or doesn’t, with who he is in the present, and I daresay that he does better with that than most in this episode. Kelly ends up in obvious danger by trying to keep on exactly as she has in the past with her hunting excursion, ignoring the change in her circumstances and it nearly gets her killed. Gamma even has flashes of things that have happened with Alpha that she has not been a fan of, most notably her sister’s death, but she ignores that and continues to be loyal. I suspect with Gamma that when it becomes known that Lydia is not dead, she won’t be so eager to ignore these things anymore. And Alpha encouraging her to play on Aaron’s sympathies is a big risk that makes it even more likely she’ll learn the truth.

But the more notable places where this clash of changing circumstances and a past that cannot, or at least should not, be ignored come up are with Ezekiel and with Magna and Yumiko. In Ezekiel’s case, it is crushing to learn that the fallen King is now dying from thyroid cancer. A cancer that he’s even seen people survive, but he knows that with the world they live in now, with the limited technology and medicine they have, this is a death sentence for him. He’s lost so much, Carol has lost so much, and honestly he’s just such an enjoyable character, that this is heartbreaking on a number of levels. I don’t know what hope there could be for him, but I’d be fine with something coming up! I mean, hell, Rick got picked up by a helicopter and a promise of medical help for his battered condition, so we know there might be something, somewhere in this world, that could still save Ezekiel.

More important for now is the great talk he has with Siddiq, and the talk he then doesn’t have with Carol. I love Siddiq’s line, “But we can talk about it. What are we here for if not each other?” Yes! This! It feels like the thesis statement of this episode. Maybe even this season? Communication is always key, especially in connecting in a larger, more meaningful and lasting way. It’s a luxury, or has been, in a world like this, but that doesn’t make it any less important, on both a personal level and for a collection of communities to thrive, it’s even more necessary. I’m happy to hear Siddiq finally admitting to his problem without prompting–as has been the case with Dante–and I wish that Ezekiel had done the same and talked to Carol. Alas, and as know, the King isn’t always a brave man. Here’s hoping he gets past that soon.

And then we come to Yumiko and Magna, an example of communication happening, but not being done well. Given how things are going, I can’t entirely blame Magna for thinking ahead for if things don’t go well here, but I am surprised and disappointed in her. More important, however, is this strange fight with Yumiko. It’s origin isn’t clear still, but the confession she makes is a doozy later on. For the extent of their relationship, for 13 long years, Yumiko has believed that Magna wasn’t guilty of the murder she was serving time for when they met, when she was her lawyer. And now, of all times, Magna confesses that she yes, she did kill that man, and for reasons she believes are justified. She then jumps on Yumiko for daring to give her a look of shock and judgement, given that they’ve both killed a lot of people by now, but honestly, that isn’t remotely fair. She’s just admitted that their relationship is based on or at least started from, an enormous lie about exactly who she was and what she had done. That kind of confession isn’t one you make and expect to not get a reaction, you make it specifically to get a reaction. Meaning Magna is intentionally sabotaging her relationship and we still don’t quite know why. There are reasons I could extrapolate and guess at, but it could easily be things that still haven’t been revealed, as well.

And who is communicating well? Daryl and Connie, who are learning literally how to talk to one another, reassuring one another, and connecting so much so that Connie calls him family. It’s darned adorable, these two, and I’m so here for it.

8.0
The final score: review Very Good
The 411
An episode that forces a number of characters to take a long look at themselves and their pasts, but in a way that's different from the usual. There's an attention here to the idea of acknowledging change while acknowledging where you come from and who you were that's more subtle and more deeply personal. Though the different characters we focus on all come from different experiences and face different new realities, there's a thematic similarity that works well here. Also, some great developments that are both positive and negative, that could have interesting yet-to-be-seen effects. All while moving the plot forward, which is my favorite combo!
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