Credit: Gene Page/AMC

A quick note for viewers who care about such things: the dog survives at the end. Now onto this week’s episode…

There’s a quote from painter John Sloane that gets repurposed a lot. Barack Obama used a variation in one of his speeches as president. Sloane’s really trying to make a point about how “taking up art as a profession,” to “make a living” as an artist is “incompatible with making art.” But this is the more popular kernel: “Art enriches life. It makes life worth living.” The Walking Dead is faced with a similar realization — for the umpteenth time. The group fought to live, but what do they live for now, especially with the colonies so dispersed? The show still hasn’t gotten much better about approaching a concept like this in a nuanced manner, but leave it to Dan Fogler, the lovable baker in Fantastic Beasts and now the lovable music teacher in The Walking Dead, to start lightening Michonne’s cynical heart.

Alexandria shut itself off from Hilltop, which has become the epicenter for culture. There’s pottery, agriculture, metalworking, medicine, an outdoor laundromat powered by a guy on a stationary bicycle, blacksmithing, government, and music. Jesus, now the acting governor of Hilltop, listens to old records sent over as a gift by Georgie, while Tara, serving as his liaison to the people, mentions a noise complaint about a kid with a kazoo in reading off the day’s bullet points. Maggie appointed Jesus governor when she decided to go help Georgie start some new community far away, and he’s since been re-elected by the people — this is something that Michonne still doesn’t know. He’s reticent of this post, but he also recognizes that the communities need to be together. That’s why he supports the fair the Kingdom is setting up and why he’s been secretly training Aaron off in the woods under the radar of Tara and Michonne, to keep the communications open.

At the risk of suggesting Jesus and Aaron should shack up together because they’re the only gay people we know in The Walking Dead, they should shack up together. And they are the only two gay people.

Art, specifically music, becomes a common thread for unity and survival. Daryl, like Michonne, has blocked out the world. He left Alexandria, Hilltop, and the Kingdom behind to go search for Rick’s body. Soon it became easier and easier for him to stay in the wild and embrace the quiet. He’s the pitstop Carol mentioned to Henry before heading to Hilltop. She wants him to come with them to look after Henry, but it seems she’s really using Henry to coax her old friend back to reality. He has a dog, whom he’s named Dog and trained to warn him when walkers get caught in his traps, but it’s Henry saving Daryl’s life that’s a breakthrough.

When Dog gets caught in one of Daryl’s traps along with the sickos, as Magna’s group calls them, he goes to save the animal. He commands Henry to remain back, but the boy, having snuck off in the night to follow him, intervenes when the walkers become too much. The two share a private moment by the fireplace wherein Henry explains the bigger picture, that it’s not just about one person, it’s about them all.

Luke serves the same purpose for Michonne. Along with Saddiq and DJ, she’s escorting Magna’s group to investigate their rig, where they were based before Judith saved them from walkers. They find it overturned, having seemingly been ravaged by a larger herd. Some things survived, like Luke’s recorders. He’s determined to preserve music where he can.

Michonne initially says that’s as far as she’s going because that’s all she promised to Judith, so Saddiq and DJ will be the ones to escort them to Hilltop. Yet, she definitely promised the newcomers last episode that she would argue on their behalf to Maggie, which seems like lazy writing. Magna’s group is understandably on edge; Michonne won’t give them their weapons and now won’t be the one taking them to Hilltop. Yumiko and Luke convince the others to wait it out until they get to Hilltop, so they find shelter to spend the night.

Michonne, still untrusting of her guests, finds Luke foraging for something during the night. She confronts him and ends up slicing the object in his hand in two. It was a rare Stradivarius violin. He believes art is what separates man from animal. Art brings everyone together, makes them evolve together. The argument is a valid one but it lacks a creative approach. These exchanges — the monologuing that goes on to relay the episodes’ main revelations — have become formulaic. There needs to be a point to the events so a character asks a question and another character explains the meaning of the episode.

In the morning, Michonne is preparing to leave for Hilltop when Saddiq mentions she doesn’t have to worry about confronting Maggie because Maggie’s not there anymore. She doesn’t have time to wrap her head around this because the herd of walkers that overturned the rig is now moving towards them. The action demonstrates the fighting styles for each of the new characters. Magna’s the brawler. She’ll pick up a brick if her knives are unavailable. Yumiko can take out a structure’s weak points with her bow and arrows. Connie and Kelly have their slingshots. Luke has a pickaxe, but he’s not much of a fighter.

It’s during the commotion that they encounter Bernie — or, rather, the walker that used to be a member of Magna’s group. Yumiko previously described his paisley shirt as “like looking into creation itself.” Now, the artful pattern is coated in blood as Bernie’s intestines dangle from a gap in his torso. Michonne is moved by their loss, but she’s still resolved to head back to Alexandria. Then two riders from Hilltop approach them, stating that they have Rosita. During their training session, Jesus and Aaron spotted a flair that they followed and found Rosita, bloodied and dehydrated, propped up against a tree. Tormented by the haunting whispers reverberating throughout the woods from the Whisperers, she had to leave Eugene behind at a barn somewhere. Tara, Jesus, Aaron, and Daryl (having arrived at Hilltop with Carol and Henry) are going out to look for him, but Michonne now decides to go to Rosita. Before they leave, Connie spots something in the woods. She says it’s nothing, but there’s something there, spying the convoy through the branches. It reminds us that, while the colonies are struggling to unify, The Whisperers are out there, and they’re cohesive.

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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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