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The Walking Dead 9.12 Review – ‘Guardians’

March 4, 2019 | Posted by Katie Hallahan
The Walking Dead Alpha Lydia
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The Walking Dead 9.12 Review – ‘Guardians’  

Tonight on The Walking Dead, there is a whole lot going on, and it’s all centered around harsh truths and difficult changes–and sometimes bloody results.

The plot! Lydia is taken back into the fold of the Whisperers, dodging much of Alpha’s interrogation and feeding her some lies about the Hilltop. Before too long, Beta captures Henry, who’s been following them, and he gets a front row view of how they make their skins and resolves their conflicts, and both of them involve a lot of blood. Alpha and Beta agree to test Lydia’s loyalty by telling her to kill Henry or they’ll both be killed. They’re saved from that by Daryl and Connie wearing skins of their own to lead some walkers into the camp, and they escape with Lydia willingly in tow. Meanwhile, back in Alexandria, Michonne’s veto power as head of security is shown to have lead to her ruling the supposedly-democratic Alexandria from behind the scenes as she prevents them from even voting to go to fair at the Kingdom. However, after confronting Negan and then Judith, she’s forced to face what she’s doing and backs off from her veto, resulting in a vote to attend despite the dangers. And in a smaller corner of Alexandria, Gabriel grapples with deciding if he should stay with Rosita despite her being pregnant with Siddiq’s child, while Eugene tries to “help” by providing some spreadsheets and advice. In the end, it looks like these crazy kids are going to work it out with their mixed family situation.

Tonight, everyone is dealing with hard truths and challenges to their status quo, and not surprisingly, they all react in different ways. Perhaps most telling here is the stark difference we’re shown in how Alpha and Michonne both run their communities and how they respond to challenges.

While it comes later in the episode, Alpha’s most telling moment is the story she recounts to Beta about her daughter. When a three-year-old Lydia nearly suffocated from a plastic bag, Alpha not only watched and waited for the last moment to save her, she also followed it up by hitting her so she’d learn to never do it again. To Alpha, this was teaching her daughter how to protect herself. To her, this was being a good mother. And it says a whole lot about how she still treats Lydia–talk about new context to the hit followed by hug at the end of the hostage exchange–as well as how she treats her followers. And I do hesitate to call this a community, considering how loose, unfeeling, and unsupportive it is. Her methods of leading and teaching are harsh and if you don’t learn, that’s on you. If you challenge those methods, you will be killed, and if you expected that challenge to met fairly, you’re a fool. If you also expected Alpha to respond fairly to being told she wasn’t sticking to the rules she’d set out, well, see above.

It’s a very key shared point between her and Michonne’s stories tonight, though. It’s been heavily hinted at but not said outright before tonight, but Michonne has basically been running Alexandria for years via her security-based veto power. Or at least, she’s been containing Alexandria with it. (We’re still not entirely sure what the cause of her paranoia is, and I hope we find out soon.) All this despite that Alexandria has a council in charge of it, despite that she drafted the charter that remains unsigned, despite that she insists she is not the leader. When Gabriel confronts her, she sticks to her script. When Negan confronts her with the hypocrisy of her system, she plows right over his accusation with a show of the power she has over him, because she has no respect for him. And rightly so given what he’s done to her and her loved ones. But even given that, she doesn’t try to hurt him, much less kill him. It’s already a far cry from Alpha. But when Judith confronts her and makes it not about single decision, or a rigged system, but about who Michonne herself is, when it comes from someone she loves, someone innocent, her own daughter, that’s a different story. Judith has none of the established malice or duplicity that Negan has, but she is just old enough to make some nuanced judgments on people. Now, is she naive to be so trusting of a man like him? Absolutely. That little friendship could’ve easily gone much, much worse. But at the same time, Judith knows Michonne in a way only a daughter could, in a way no one else there possibly could. And when she’s the one to say that Michonne has not just changed the rules, but that she herself has changed, we know it’s truth. We know it in a different way than Judith, granted, but we still know there was another time in her life when Michonne let paranoia keep her distant from others, kept her from connecting with them, and instead she surrounded herself with the dead. Come to that, Michonne’s way of surviving, when we first met her, wasn’t all that different from how Alpha lives. Had that Michonne met up with Alpha, would she have joined her?

The point is, however, that Michonne turned away from that for a reason. She found people to love and believe in, she found family, she found a home. With that came trust and hope, and while something happened to break her, she doesn’t respond by digging deeper, but by pausing to consider her actions and what’s right. And then, even though she disagrees with the decision they make, she gets out of the way of the others making the choice she told them they would have. I applaud this move on her part, although I feel that she and Aaron may be right to fear they’ll regret this. With Lydia leaving with Henry and Daryl, and the foreboding sign that the Kingdomers passed when leaving the theatre last week, I doubt the Whisperers will be keeping their distance. In the words of Alpha, “there will be conflict.”

Echoing this in smaller ways is Lydia’s arc, and the love quadrangle. For Lydia, once she’s back in the fold, she sticks to a script that keeps her safe and also keeps Hilltop safe–she downplays what they have, makes them out to be nonthreatening, and isolated from other communities. This point in particular was interesting to me, when Alpha asked if there was trade. Does she consider that to be a sign of strength, a place to be avoided? Or is she so dedicated to the idea that civilization is dead that she’ll also go out of her way to act against it, to kill it? For Lydia, though, she has her own ways of rebelling, even when she plays along so far as to punch Henry for coming after her. Before she knew he was there, she had already made herself a string necklace for the coin her gave her, and after he showed up, I wouldn’t be shocked if she was trying to think of ways to save him, if not how to run away herself. Still, I’m not sure what she would’ve done in that ultimatum from Alpha and Beta if Daryl and Connie’s gambit hadn’t paid off at the exact right moment. But one way or another, she’s made her choice now. What will Alpha’s reaction be when she learns her daughter is once again gone, and will her followers tolerate a second foray to recover her?

The love quadrangle was the most contained storyline, but worth mentioning for its hilarious Eugene-tastic moments (those spreadsheets!), and the pleasant, modern family approach to resolving it revealed at the very end. I’ll be honest, I also don’t quite get what Rosita sees in Gabriel, but hey, she’s made her choice and it’s good that everyone respects that. Even if Eugene is still trying to inset himself in a friendly but very Eugene-esque manner.

Other thoughts:
– Shout out to the Whisperers’ physical acting! The way they all move and how markedly different it is from everyone else was fantastic. Henry’s normal gait stood out like a sour thumb when he was with them, and the change when they entered their own camp was also noticeable. Really good work there.
– Quotes:
— Eugene & Gabriel: “You love each other, you stop wasting time. It’s all we have in the end.” “Time or love?” “Both.”
— Michonne & Judith: “People don’t change.” “But you did.” “Go to your room,” “Why?” “Because I need a minute.” Gotta give props to Michonne for being honest!
– Clever call on Daryl and Connie’s part to grab their own Whisperer masks in order to make their rescue possible.
– I’m still waiting for Henry to make an impression on me. So far, he’s really just very middle of the road. I don’t blame the actor, as I also don’t think he’s been given the best material to work with, but I was really hoping that this episode would be a time for him to shine. Unfortunately, he hardly got to say or do anything.
– As someone who has a 3-year-old, I know well how adorably frustrating they are. So I speak with authority when I officially dub Alpha the Worst. Mom. Ever. What the hell, lady?!
– Seriously though, those spreadsheets! I wish I had a screenshot of them so I could closely examine Eugene’s scoring system!

8.0
The final score: review Very Good
The 411
This episode was packed! And with good stuff, too. The look inside the Whisperers, the real introduction of Beta (who is scary as hell), Alpha's assertion of her authority, and the clever rescue made for some great action, intrigue, and insights on that front. Meanwhile, Michonne's parallel arc showing how a good leader responds to such questions was not only a perfect counterpoint, but a step that fit well into her overall, both in this season and on the show as a whole. I'm glad to see Alexandria helping the Kingdom, even at risk to itself, and to see Michonne step back to reevaluate herself and her role. Negan's offer to help and insight are also intriguing, and while I think he may be genuine, I don't blame her for scoffing at him for a second. And finally, the love quadrangle was both hilarious and touching. I would've loved to have gotten another scene or two of this, even, but as it was, it was still a great lighthearted touch on an otherwise tense episode.
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