Credit: Gene Page/AMC

“I’ve done things to protect this place, some things I’m not proud of, some things I try to forget. To save my people, I’ve had to risk others. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s what I had to do.”

For weeks, Michonne alluded to certain events that transpired within the time jump in season 9, events that left everyone scarred, both physically (per the X on the backs of Michonne and Daryl) and psychologically (per the locked-off mentality of Alexandria). It’s only now with the surprise arrival of Jocelyn, played by True Blood and Queen Sugar star Rutina Wesley, that we finally get answers through a series of flashbacks.

The name Jocelyn is mentioned briefly by The Governor in The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor, a novel from Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga, but it’s unclear whether it’s the same character translated for the screen. On AMC, Jocelyn is an old friend of Michonne’s. We pick up that they’ve known each other for years; Jocelyn mentions a moment from their junior year of school and Michonne tells Daryl she helped her through her mother’s death. Fifteen years have passed since the last time they saw each other before the outbreak, and their encounter brings us back to this six-year span following the bridge explosion.

The first of the flashbacks takes us to see Michonne, well into her pregnancy with RJ but still out searching for signs of Rick. She digs up his pistol from the mud of the river bank — later placing it in a wooden box for Judith — when Daryl comes across her way. He, too, has been out searching for Rick’s body, but he refuses to return to Alexandria until he has something to bring home.

Daryl’s arrival at Alexandria in the present with Connie, Lydia, and an injured Henry brings up more memories from this time. She trusts Daryl’s judgment but remains wary of Lydia because outsiders came to Alexandria’s gates years prior and they changed everything. She remembers how her scouts found a group of children accompanied by a woman, Jocelyn, after an apparent attack. Overcome by the sight of her friend, Michonne welcomes them into their community and takes a group to go out looking for the remaining kids.

At night, the children prove themselves to be experienced hunters by bringing in game to cook. They play games as Jocelyn tells Michonne all the adults in their group are now gone. So now she takes care of them. The pleasantries and good tidings abruptly end the next morning when Michonne wakes to find Jocelyn and her kids have absconded, taking their food and medical supplies, as well as Judith and a whole host of Alexandria’s kids, with them.

In the present, Judith sits by the water wheels with Daryl. She worries for Hilltop and fears, based on the stories she heard about the Saviors, that they might soon be in the midst of another war with The Whisperers. Daryl dismisses these fears, but, with Hilltop struggling, she wonders what her father would do in this situation. Michonne knows Judith is frustrated with her and Daryl suggests telling Judith everything about why they do what they do. But the memories of Jocelyn compel her to remain steadfast in her ways. The manhole cover by the gate incites another vision of a trail of bloody footsteps leading away from the man Jocelyn’s kids killed to escape down into the sewers.

The past and present continue to progress down parallel paths as Michonne of the present finds Judith’s room empty after dinner. She goes to Negan, hoping to find clues, and he gladly tells her about all the conversations they’ve had together, even how he killed Glenn and Abraham. He’s honest with her, even with his own ugliness. When things grow heated between them, he mentions that Judith is Michonne’s daughter and most likely “she’s not taking s— lying down.” Michonne sprints to the wooden box in Judith’s room and finds Rick’s pistol gone, but a note scribbled in crayon remains: “I’m sorry, but our friends need help.”

So both Michonnes set out into the wild to find their daughters.

(Recap continues on the next page.)

In the past, Michonne and Daryl track Jocelyn to an abandoned school, but they are overwhelmed by her children. They get knocked out and awake bound, gagged, and strung up from the ceiling. Rambling off commandments that echo The Whisperers, like “the strong survive and thrive,” Jocelyn’s kids brand both Michonne and Daryl with an X on their backs. Jocelyn says she teaches kids to be “strong,” because in this world they can’t be “soft” — “not like I was,” she says. She intends to make Judith and the kids of Alexandria strong, too.

Later, Daryl frees them from their binds, forcing Michonne to confront Jocelyn in another nail-biting sequence to follow last week’s fight between Daryl and Beta. Michonne fights off the children with a pipe and retrieves her sword, but she’s under the clock. The others are preparing to flee with Judith.

A boy slashes his blade across Michonne’s stomach, but she still fights forward. The image of Michonne unimpeded in the face of danger is significant on its own. She’s one of the few examples of pregnant women in science-fiction, fantasy settings who don’t lose their agency or their power. She’s not treated like a damsel to be tucked away and protected. It’s a portrayal that follows Wynonna Earp; actress Melanie Scrofano portrayed the supernatural gunslinger while pregnant on the show, backflips and all. Michonne may need Daryl to complete this rescue mission, but Daryl needs her, too. In Whisperer speak, she’s the Alpha, he’s the Beta.

When Michonne bursts through the backdoor, Jocelyn surprises and beats her to the ground with a log. Michonne is able to reclaim her sword and plunges the blade through Jocelyn’s chest in front of the children as her own child has been stashed in an RV. She tries to reason with the kids, but then she hears the older teen command the others to kill the kids of Alexandria while the rest attack Michonne. She once vowed as she buried Carl to never bury another child, but now she’s forced to kill these kids or allow her own to be slaughtered.

Visions of Michonne coating her sword in the blood of children cut in and out of the present, where she’s hacking through walkers to find Judith. In the flashback, only Winnie is left of Jocelyn’s kids and she chooses to flee. Judith walks out of the RV and at first, doesn’t recognize her mother, but then she sees Michonne is still there underneath all the blood and embraces her mom. In the present, after Michonne saves her daughter from a walker, Judith remembers all this to the surprise of Michonne. She recalls how Jocelyn’s kids made it all seem like a game so she went with them. Judith never said anything to Michonne because it always made her mom sad.

It’s because of Judith that Michonne now has a change of heart. It reminds Michonne that it’s about family. Jocelyn was supposed to be a “real” friend and she betrayed her. Judith is her adopted daughter — “you chose me because you love me and I love you,” Judith says. Carol, Daryl, Ezekiel, and the others are her adopted family, the family she chose. Judith asks why it feels like she stopped loving them, but she never did and now she’s deciding to bring Alexandria back into the fold. Jocelyn warned Michonne that children are “capable of anything,” but Judith brings a more hopeful meaning to that claim.

Yet, as Michonne and her daughter ride to catch up with Daryl and the others and bring them to the Kingdom, Judith’s earlier fears of another war grow more prominent. Two scouts from the Whisperers made their way to the Kingdom and are watching carriages roll through the gates. They must tell Alpha.

Speaking with Michonne on a swing set in flashback, Daryl mentions that “some people got so much evil in their hearts. They hide it like they’re wearing a mask or something.” The Whisperers are just a more literal interpretation of these musings.

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The Walking Dead

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

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