Rick is gone — he’s got bigger things to deal with, like a movie or three — and six years later the group is still dealing with that void. Alexandria flourished under Michonne’s protective watch, and the same goes for the Kingdom, despite a few bursting pipes. Carol, sporting Legolas locks, is the new Queen Mother to Henry and wife to Ezekiel. The colonies are now the land of the many mothers with Maggie ruling Hilltop (for anyone who appreciates a Mad Max: Fury Road reference). Although Lauren Cohan seems to have Irish goodbyed without so much as a text. It’s here where a familiar group to comic readers comes into the picture and forces Michonne to reconcile with the past in order to move on with her future. And she’s going to have to reconcile fast because a new, dangerous threat is on the move: The Whisperers. After hearing about them for some time, the incoming adversaries make their debut.
Magna, Luke, Yumiko, Connie, and Kelly are like the main group in many ways — disparate individuals thrust together by circumstance and forced to band together in the face of continuing tragedy. They just went down a different path than Rick’s group and have now found themselves at the mercy of young Judith Grimes. It’s in that way that our main protagonists look back to where they once were.
Rosita, Aaron (now the Jaime Lannister of Alexandria with his metal arm), Laura (Katniss Everdeen-ing it up) and a more war-hardened Eugene (though he still insists on having that dangling rat tail whipping about the back of his head) are out in the woods looking for Judith when they find she’s brought back some guests. Though they’re hesitant to help, the Grimes girl lays down the law. “If they don’t go, I don’t go,” Daryl’s Little A– Kicker declares. So they welcome them to Alexandria, though their presence is quite the scandal about town. They’re the first new faces the community has seen within their walls in quite some time, according to Gabriel. Bringing them in also goes against the “current security protocols” put in place by Michonne (as head of security) and the new set of laws she was able to draw up for the colonies.
Magna and her people are also wary. They fear this place could turn out to be like Jones Springs or Cold Port. We don’t need to know the specifics of what they’re referring to, just that these were likely their equivalent of Woodbury or Terminus, places that seemed like safe havens but turned out to be anything but.
When Michonne returns from her trip to visit Rick’s gravesite (but not really a gravesite) by the remains of the exploded bridge, she’s not too happy to see these newcomers. She found a small plastic figurine of a man holding a gun, one that looks an awful lot like Rick, and it reminds her of what they lost to get to where they are now. Gabriel suggests they allow the group to stay until the next day when the council can convene and decide their fate.
Carol and Ezekiel, too, are dealing with their growing child looking to make his mark on the world. Henry wants to go to Hilltop in order to support the Kingdom. Fixing broken pipes with duct tape, for one, isn’t a permanent solution to the aging infrastructure. Ezekiel, the ever-fearful parent seeing his son off into the world, mentions how Hilltop seems so distance ever since… something happened. Carol cuts him off, but this could mean some explanation for Maggie’s absence is on the way. The Kingdom is also planning for a fair in the hopes of bringing the colonies back together as true partners, hinting at some kind of falling out since Rick’s apparent death.
Back at Alexandria, the council convenes and the newcomers explain their stories. Before the outbreak, Luke was a music teacher, Miss Star Is Born over here (Magna) waited tables at a truck stop, Connie was a journalist, and Kelly was a high school student. They had others with them, but, like the Andreas and Carls and Loris, they didn’t make it. The council’s questions — “Who were you before?” “Who are you now?” “What did you do to survive?” — recall questions Rick used to ask of newcomers before bringing them to Alexandria. Michonne, however, can’t forget that stranger danger can be fatal. The prison tattoo and the sneak belt-buckle knife she finds on Magna don’t put her at ease either. She storms out, leaving the room riled up as the rest of the council continues deliberating.
Another big surprise, as we continue to hear what went on with these characters in the past six years, is that Rosita and Gabriel are a thing now. It’s a surprise to Eugene, too, as they go off on a carriage ride to set up antennae to expand Alexandria’s radio signal and potentially contact other survivors. They’re doing this under the radar, since Michonne would consider it a security breach, but more importantly, Eugene wonders why his female compatriot didn’t go for someone more preferable of science and facts than “fairy tales.” Nice try, Eugene.
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Negan, much more groomed than his previous state, has also formed a relationship with Judith. She speaks with him through the cell window, getting advise and help with her homework. This was something Carl used to do with Negan in the comics. He also went to apprentice with Earl at Hilltop on the page, just as Henry is doing on the show. Carl may be gone, but his presence remains.
The Sanctuary, meanwhile, has fallen, which means trouble for Carol and Henry on the road. We don’t know the specific circumstances but can assume that without the proper resources and with the falling out between the Saviors and everyone else, Negan’s former home couldn’t sustain its people. As Henry learns when he rushes to help a woman screaming for help, they now lure in wayward travelers and steal their supplies. Jed leads a small faction and they commandeer all of Carol and Henry’s supplies, but they leave them the horse and carriage as a courtesy for Carol sparing his life six years earlier. Henry tries to fight back when Jed also demands Carol’s wedding ring, but he’s easily overwhelmed.
As they make camp later that night, Henry is frustrated over his mother’s inaction with the Saviors. He remembers a day when she used to uphold what was right and fight what was wrong, but she says things changed when she became his surrogate mother. It reminds us all that this is Carol’s first real family unit since she lost her daughter in season 2, but the old Carol, the one who delivers a plate full of homemade cookies with a knife hidden behind her back, still lives. She sneaks out, hunts down the Saviors, and burns them all alive in their sleep. It was brutal, it was unforgiving… it was Carol. Henry spies the ring back on her finger as they ride off in the morning and all of a sudden that Lord of the Rings arrow-slinger is looking a lot more like the Mother of Dragons. They’re not going straight to Hilltop, she says. They have one stop to make before. And Daryl, who apparently has been living on his own in the woods, becomes a welcome sight when he stumbles upon their path.
Trouble continues to brew as Eugene sets up an antenna on a water tower. He spots a herd of incoming walkers and warns Rosita, but he injures his leg in the climb down. A reasonable solution would’ve been for Rosita to climb up on the water tower and just wade out the herd with Eugene, but being that these are really the Whisperers, that probably would’ve failed. So they bound towards the woods in the hopes of losing them. They mask themselves in mud to mask their scent as they hide behind a dip in the road.
That’s when they hear it.
It starts as a whisper. “Where are they?” But soon the walkers roaming by are audibly groaning. “You let them get away.”
These are the Whisperers, barbaric villains from the comics who wear the faces of walkers to camouflage themselves from the dead. This means that we’ll soon get to meet Alpha (Samantha Morton), leader of the Whisperers; her daughter, Lydia (Cassidy McClincy); and Beta (Ryan Hurst), Alpha’s second in command.
On the plus side, Michonne has come around to the newcomers. Magna and the others debate whether to attack Alexandria so as to remain in a safer space — something Rick & Co. once considered way back when. But she’s outvoted. Magna goes to Michonne’s house to hand over her knife and clear the air. Surprise! She finds Michonne has another child beside Judith, a little boy named R.J., a.k.a. Rick Jr.
Judith hears Michonne’s conversation with Magna from the stairwell and still wonders why they are going to turn the newcomers away. She returns the policeman figurine to Michonne, saying how she knows her mom talks to Rick and Carl sometimes. She’s forgetting what their voices sound like, they keep fading from her memory. This strikes something within Michonne. There’s still much we don’t know, like where that “X” scar on her back came from, the one spied as she’s changing shirts. But she’s able to reconnect with her humanity and offers to escort Magna’s group to Hilltop and speak with its leader about taking them in. Michonne notes the leader is a “her,” but with Cohan off the show for the time being, who could she be referring to?
It’s a new world for The Walking Dead, one that offers more of a season premiere feeling than the actual season 9 premiere. Questions remain as we head deeper into this uncharted territory, but it’s a journey that brings a fresh start to an often stale story. It’s the promise of something different.
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