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The Walking Dead 9.06 Review – ‘Who Are You Now?’

November 12, 2018 | Posted by Katie Hallahan
The Walking Dead - Who Are You Now
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The Walking Dead 9.06 Review – ‘Who Are You Now?’  

Tonight on The Walking Dead, welcome to the future! The post-Rick Grimes, well-established but not exactly brighter future, where the dead may not just walk but also talk!

The plot: Tonight was a lot of playing catch-up and setting up new storylines. We don’t learn everything that’s happened, but we do know that while the communities are loosely allied they aren’t close like they once were. They operate in more of a vaccuum than what we last saw. Alexandria has a council now to make their big decisions; Michonne is their head of security. The bridge where Rick “died” has never been rebuilt. Michonne is not only mother to Judith but also her and Rick’s son, RJ; Carol & Ezekiel are married, and have adopted Henry; and Aaron is still father to Gracie. Michonne also has an X-shaped scar on her back, and something happened to make her and Alexandria incredibly wary of strangers coming. This leads her to lead the vote on not allowing the new group, led by Magna, to stay, but she does eventually decide to lead them to Hilltop, which might take them. Carol is taking Henry to Hilltop as well, to learn to blacksmith, and they run into Saviors 2.0 trouble along the way. Nothing Carol, a match, and some gasoline can’t handle, though! Rosita and Gabriel are a thing now, though Eugene obviously harbors feelings for her, and goes with her to try and boost a radio signal. They end up on the run from a herd of walkers who, to their terrifying shock, speak to one another as they shamble past their hiding spot. And finally, Daryl seems to be living the life of a hermit while Negan has taken to helping Judith with her math homework.

TWD has explored the themes of found families and how far people will go for the ones they love, especially their children, before now. But when these themes came up tonight, it wasn’t quite the same as it’s been in the past. For one, we aren’t talking solely about found families of peers anymore, but of children. With the exception of RJ, every child in the episode was an orphan taken in by someone whom they now called mom and/or dad. For some, these were the only parents they’ve known, while in Henry’s case, he’s old enough to remember his birth family. Not that there’s any reason to think one type of relationship would naturally be any lesser, it’s more that we’re seeing a reality of this kind of world now more than ever. Carl was the only consistent child character on the show for the majority of its run, and through him we saw a child of ‘our’ world adapt to the new world. Now, we’re seeing children who have only known the world of the walking dead, the apocalyptic place where one must always be wary, armed, and ready to defend themselves. This is nowhere more clear than when Negan asks Judith is she’s ever seen or thinks she ever will see, an airplane, and she simply answers ‘probably not.’ This world, in short, is increasingly further and further away from our own.

But that doesn’t make it incomprehensible or unrelatable. The lengths these parents are not just willing to go but which they default to in order to protect their kids are ones we can relate to. If a stranger comes to your door, wounded and needing help, and you have a sleeping child inside, do you let them in, knowing nothing about them or why they’re injured and running? You probably wouldn’t. Does that make you a bad person? Well, that’s the question Michonne has to face, especially since Judith firmly doesn’t believe she should turn away these new people whom she rescued. Judith can’t understand why Michonne is so wary when she firmly believes that Rick would’ve let them stay. “You’ll understand someday,” Michonne tells her, not to be condescending, but because it’s true. Judith hasn’t got the life experience, for good or ill, to comprehend this decision. But, for all that and for her youth, it doesn’t make her wrong, either: it is a good thing to help people in need and to not turn them away. Michonne knows that, too, and it haunts her. That’s why she still talks to the ghosts of Rick and Carl when she thinks her children can’t hear her, why she talks about how hard it is, how it’s a darker world and about her struggles with doing whats best for her kids. In the end, she stands by not letting these people into Alexandria, but she doesn’t throw them out entirely either, instead escorting them to Hilltop.

Turns out the road to Hilltop can be quite dangerous these days, however, as we see with Carol and Henry. A group of what’s left of the Saviors trap them, led by none other than Jed himself from way back when. Turns out he got out of that face-off alive, by Carol’s grace, and so he only takes their stuff, but doesn’t harm them nor does he take their carriage or horses. But he hits Henry when Henry goes for him, and takes Carol’s wedding ring, and makes the mistake of thinking Carol with long hair is somehow less dangerous than she used to be. You know, I’ve realized why everyone underestimates her: generally speaking, if you go up against Carol, you end up dead. So there’s no one left to tell the tales of her badassery! After getting her own reminder of what it means to do the right thing and stand up for what’s right by Henry, she also resorts to her old ways–which is very different from Michonne getting in touch with her forgiving side. Carol douses the Saviors in gasoline and lights them on fire in their sleep! Damn! This is a far cry from the woman who fought so hard to save them just a few episodes ago, going so far as to try leading them. But now here she is, killing them all in a fiery blaze to remove any threat they might pose. But when Henry first accuses her of not standing up to them, she says the same thing that Michonne does: “You’ll understand someday.” Having someone she loves, a child, someone whom she needs to protect at all costs, changes both what she is willing to do, what she does do, and how she goes about doing it.

They aren’t the only ones who have changed, and who are willing to push themselves to change in order to protect and provide. Rosita is now involved with Gabriel, and takes on a side mission to help boost his radio signal to see who else might be out there in the world–something Eugene points out must mean she’s serious. Eugene, meanwhile, has become remarkably more self-sufficient: he hunts and he kills walkers without hesitation or fear, and even climbs a very tall water tower to help Rosita, whom he clearly has feelings for. I particularly enjoyed Rosita’s reactions to his thinly-veiled attempts to tell her, especially, “Don’t make it weird!” Sorry, Eugene, your princess is in another castle, if you will.

Even among the new people we see this theme emerge: Magna’s answers to the interview questions make it clear she’s a hard woman, a fighter, someone with little mercy who will do what she must. And to keep her people safe, she’s ready to resort to violence against Michonne to get it, despite telling her friends she wouldn’t. But when she sees Michonne with her young son, Magna finds some kind of understanding. Maybe she was a mother once, or maybe just seeing this unexpected part of Michonne forces her to realize that the people here are not one-sided, and they are not kicking her out without reason. The end result is that Magna, too, changes to help the people she loves.

“Who are you now?” Gabriel and the episode ask this question, and resoundingly the answer seems to be that these characters are exactly who they always were. But at the same time, they’re also very different. They are the people who came into this new, harsh world, and they are the people this world made them into. They are more than one thing. And given the struggle to find light and hope that Michonne describes, that pervades the episode and their communities, hopefully they can all yet become something more than this, too.

Other thoughts:
– I am naturally very curious what incident happened to make Michonne so wary of strangers coming into their community, and I expect it’s to do with that scar on her back.
– Ezekiel remains almost blissfully the same and I love it. I love that he’s the one throwing a fair to bring everyone together again! Also, he’s doing some great dadding to Henry. The world still needs dreamers like you, Your Majesty.
– What’s going on at Hilltop? Is Maggie still there? Why are they so glum, as we’re told?
– The sheriff figurine was a nice touch and a great way to give another physical aspect to Rick’s here. His absence is felt, but he is also very much gone but not forgotten.
– I’m digging everyone’s new hairstyles.
– Daryl is a hermit!
– The biggest holy crap moment is, of course, walkers talking! On top of a herd turning without any obvious reason to! We only got a short glimpse of this, though, so there’s not much to say just yet, but that’s a pretty huge change, and Eugene and Rosita are right to look terrified.

8
The final score: review Very Good
The 411
The first episode back without Rick was always going to be hard and have a lot of pressure to do well. I have to say, I think this worked. The episode gave us enough distance from his 'death' to change things up significantly for everyone, but to also acknowledge his absence. You could feel his presence and influence all over this episode, and on the people and communities. It's sad to see how some thing shave fallen apart--the wariness in so many of them, Michonne in particular, the bridge that was never rebuilt, the communities growing more distant from one another. But the show didn't feel like it was lacking anything. We still had a lot to learn and new developments to follow. Life still carried on, and I'm optimistic right now about the transition away from having that one central figure to build the narrative around.
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