Who Are You Now?

‘The Walking Dead’, Season 9, Episode 6

The first episode après-Rick leaps six years into the future, and little has changed except a few haircuts. The ever-practical Carol has a bizarre white mane that can charitably be called Medusian. The caged Negan is closely-shaved, and Eugene now wears a long braid. Eugene looks good otherwise, despite the ongoing commitment to cargo shorts.

The show begins with a fairly ponderous monologue by Michonne, delivered at the bridge that has never been repaired since Rick’s disappearance. Judith Grimes makes a startling appearance, wearing her dad’s hat and bringing strangers back to Alexandria.

Carol did marry King Ezekiel, and in her blunt way, she mothers the prince, Henry, who they have been raising for years. Carol and Henry encounter Jed and an old band of Saviors when they’re on a supply run, and Henry nearly gets them killed when he attacks Jed. Carol’s long dormant savage side awakens, and later that night, she sneaks into the Savior camp and douses them in gasoline. When Jed realizes what’s about to happen, he promises Carol that if she lets them go, “You’ll never see us again.” Carol responds, “I know,” and her calm, casual delivery is the best moment in this lackluster episode. Then she throws the match.

Much of the episode feels tired. There’s a group of strangers, and that causes friction – a well-worn plot by season 9. A nicely-groomed Negan helps Judith with her homework, which is simply ridiculous. There’s a decent scene where the Alexandria community is shown to have a council, and the strangers make their case to stay. And one of them watches Michonne through the window, and seems ready to attack – and then sees Michonne embracing a little boy, the second son Rick never knew he would have. The surprise is sweet but hardly a revelation.

The show ends with another bit of excitement flares when Rosita (now partnered with Father Gabriel?!?!?) is on the run with a wounded Eugene. The two cover themselves in mud and hide by a riverbank. To their horror, they hear the walkers whispering, “Where are they?,” which is a creepy moment indeed.

The show’s been fading for years, and there’s not much point in trying to compare this ep to glorious, truly heart-rending episodes like “What Happened and What’s Going On,” back when Carol and Tyreese had to make some truly horrible decisions and Tyreese confronted the ghosts of his past. The show hasn’t made us care about these survivors in years, and this awkward leap forward doesn’t do much to change the dynamic. Rick and Carol had been the bright spots throughout the dullness of season eight, and this season feels like it’s going through the motions until those characters grind out new storylines in movies and other shows.

Let’s hope for better. The band of strangers is heading to Hilltop, presumably to Maggie, and the walkers might be evolving. Please, let us care what happens next.

Rebecca Kurson

Rebecca Kurson writes about literature, pop culture, television, science fiction and music. Her work has appeared in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Observer, The Federalist and Rodale's Organic Life.

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