Jeffrey Kopp

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Jeffrey Kopp is the Editor-in-Chief of the Niner Times. He is a senior double majoring in Communication and Political Science. His interests include writing and keeping up with an excessive amount of television shows. He is also the go-to expert on all things “The Walking Dead." Reach him at editor@ninertimes.com or @JeffreyKopp97 on Twitter.

TV REVIEW: ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘Scars’

Spoiler Warning for Season 9, Episode 14 of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed. Minor spoilers from “Fear the Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

“Loving someone means doing whatever it takes to keep them safe.”

“The Walking Dead” is a dark show. It always has been. It’s no stranger to taking risks and putting the characters through absolute hell. Since the six year time jump, a looming darkness has been present in the story. Something bad happened, but it was only just danced around…until now. The latest episode gets dark to show just how far a parent is willing to protect her children.

Due to the fact that this episode switches back and forth between timelines, events will be discussed in chronological order.

Rick Grimes took his last stand and blew up the bridge that was meant to unite the communities. Fans know that he was whisked away in a helicopter to star in a film trilogy, but the family he left behind received no real closure. They were left with that chilling image of him heroically pulling out his colt python before disappearing in a fireball. Soon after his disappearance, Michonne began coming out to search for him. She stumbles upon the embankment where his body washed up and where Jadis/Anne rescued him. Walkers from the blast litter the area, but that isn’t of interest to her. Instead, her focus is the colt python that she finds buried in the mud. It’s the only remnant she or anyone has found of him. Time passes and her belly grows to show the progression of her pregnancy with RJ, and she is still out searching. She carefully looks at the walker faces just to make sure none of them are her beloved husband. Daryl crosses paths with her and explains that he has followed the river all the way to the ocean and hasn’t found Rick. The two have a beautiful moment where they check in on one another, and Michonne asks Daryl to come back to Alexandria. He has to keep up the search and states that he won’t stop until he finds something. Michonne asks if he is okay being alone, to which he states that he is, but Michonne isn’t. This really says a lot about who they both are and how they have progressed in the series. In many senses, Daryl has always been better on his own, but he does still need his family to serve as his anchor. Michonne was alone for a long time and while she is a lone-wolf, she does need people around her and she always has; even keeping Mike and Terry as her walker pets before meeting Andrea was a way of not feeling alone. Such a seemingly simple opening scene says so much about these characters and their pasts.

The past blends with the present and future as Michonne is called to the gate of Alexandria to greet new arrivals. Scott tells her that this group, most of which are children, were found nearby. One of the members is injured and is propped up by Rosita. Michonne is stunned when she recognizes the woman named Jocelyn (Rutina Wesley). The timeline progresses a bit and Jocelyn is taken to the infirmary to be treated by Siddiq. She ultimately rushes out, causing a stir in the street as Michonne, Rosita, Aaron, Siddiq and others try to calm her. She claims that there are others out there that must be brought back. Michonne leads a group that includes Rosita, Aaron, Eugene, Father Gabriel, and some of the children arrivals to a location where the missing members of Jocelyn’s group may be hiding out. Inside are charts detailing the steps to skin a deer and cook a rabbit. The group ultimately finds a handful of additional children survivors to bring with them to Alexandria. The number of children suddenly at the community gives everyone a childlike persona as a campfire celebration is held outside the new arrival’s home. Gabriel, Siddiq and Rosita hang out with the children, showing that they were already equipped to be parents way back when. Michonne and Aaron watch from the porch with a happiness that they haven’t been able to have in a while. Wishing Rick was still here to see this, Aaron tries to comfort her, but it’s clear that his loss is still a touchy subject. While doing dishes, Michonne and Jocelyn reminisce about their college days, revealing how they actually knew one another. Jocelyn encourages Michonne to keep up the search for Rick, but to also enjoy what’s currently in front of her. The fact that Jocelyn and Michonne were able to find each other after not seeing one another for 15 years proves that nothing is impossible. The concept of finding someone you knew prior to the apocalypse is absolutely mind-blowing, but this episode proves that some things are better left in the past.

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The fact that Michonne knew Jocelyn before the apocalypse gave her and the rest of the Alexandrians plenty of reason to trust her and the children. The morning after a kids sleepover at Jocelyn’s proves that this was the wrong move. Michonne goes to the new arrival house along with Scott and Frankie (who hasn’t been seen at all this season, but moved to Alexandria after the fall of the Sanctuary) to pick up their children. They find the house empty with Jocelyn, Judith and the other children nowhere to be found. Scott finds the pantry completely raided and the same is true of the infirmary. Michonne waddles in a panic through the community as she realizes what has happened. One of the guards is found dead and footprints of blood lead to the manhole cover that accesses the sewer. Jocelyn has kidnapped Judith and the children of Alexandria that were trustingly placed in her care. It’s the ultimate betrayal. Michonne immediately takes off to recollect the children, and she enlists Daryl’s help. They manage to track the traitors down to an old school, but Michonne needs to take a moment to rest and the two have a heart-to-heart. Feeling totally betrayed by what Jocelyn did to her, Michonne expresses the fact that she shouldn’t have been so trusting. Daryl comforts her by stating that it isn’t her fault whatsoever. Michonne and Daryl have such a beautiful friendship that goes back so far, and the fact that we are getting to see more layers of their dynamic after all these years just proves how rich it is. From this point, things get dark as the two split up to cover more ground. Michonne ends up coming across one of Jocelyn’s kids, but he takes off running and she follows after. Daryl hears this and enters the school to help with whatever is about to happen. He finds the children at the end of a hallway with their weapons drawn. Michonne is in front of them and begs for her children to be returned to her. One of the kids, a girl named Winnie (Elle Graham), fires an arrow at Daryl’s shoulder while another child named Linus (Luke David Blumm) knocks Michonne unconscious. One might wonder why Michonne and Daryl didn’t attack straight away…but fighting kids is surely something no one is ever prepared to do. That’s seen even further as the episode progresses.

The mystery of the scars on Daryl and Michonne’s backs is finally revealed. When they come to, our heroes have their hands bound to pipes on the ceiling and are gagged. The children prepare an iron and Linus brands Daryl’s back as Jocelyn eerily encourages him. Daryl screams out in absolute pain and Michonne lets out tears as her friend is put through this. Jocelyn gets in Michonne’s face and states that she is doing this to make the children stronger and to assure that they survive. Winnie then uses the iron to brand Michonne’s back, causing her to also scream out. It’s a disturbing sight to see these people we love, particularly one who is pregnant, go through this. Fortunately, Daryl is able to free himself from his binds after the group leaves, and he takes down one guard before freeing Michonne. For some reason, they decide to split up again and Michonne wanders the halls with a pipe as a weapon. She comes across Jocelyn, Linus, Winnie and some of the other children, and she demands that Judith be returned to her. Jocelyn orders two of the children to attack, and one does such with Michonne’s own katana. Linus manages to slice Michonne’s stomach with a knife before he and the other child soldier storm out to join their friends. Judith and the Alexandrian children are rushed outside in a hurry, making the viewer realize that Jocelyn has built up this group by kidnapping children. Screaming Judith’s name, Michonne rushes outside, but is slammed across the head with a piece of wood by Jocelyn. In another disturbing bit of events, Jocelyn repeatedly beats Michonne. Using a moment of distraction, Michonne grabs her katana and stabs Jocelyn in the leg, knocking her to the ground. She then uses the katana to stab her best friend straight in the chest, ending her life without any hesitation. Michonne then finds herself face-to-face against a small army of children. She states that they will be welcomed back in Alexandria if they surrender, but they instead charge forward and Michonne is forced to kill each and every one. She initially hesitates and begs for them to stop, but she realizes that they must be killed if she wishes to save her unborn baby and Judith. Winnie is the last child standing, having being given orders to kill the Alexandrian children. Michonne is able to talk her down and the child runs off before Judith steps out of the trailer she was being held in. There’s a chilling moment where it seems as though Judith doesn’t recognize her, but the young girl eventually runs forward in embrace of her mother. Daryl FINALLY arrives and comforts the rest of the children as the nightmare comes to an end.

Danai Gurira as Michonne, Rutina Wesley as Jocelyn – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

In many ways, the present timeline mirrors that of the past. Years after find Rick’s colt python and giving it to Judith, Michonne cleans it and places it in a box for Judith. Bringing news of Daryl’s arrival at the gate, Aaron has a grim look on his face and Michonne is confused as to why their friend is not being let in. Outside, Judith and Gracie teach RJ how to ride a bike; a rare singular moment of childlike innocence in the apocalypse. At the gate, Michonne questions why Lydia is with the group, but Henry stands up for her, as usual. Daryl explains that they only came to Alexandria because Henry is injured and this community was closest. There’s a great scene at the infirmary as Henry is being stitched up and Michonne is checking in with Daryl to learn that the group is headed to the Kingdom. Connie writes a note to Michonne explaining that she would do everything she did again…but in better shoes. Later, Michonne asks to speak with Lydia alone, prompting Henry to thank her for sending a delegation to the Fair. Without flat out saying it, Michonne basically tells Lydia to leave and go be on her own so Henry and the communities are no longer threatened by the Whisperers. While this may have been a valid option earlier, those days are long gone as this conflict has intensified.

For the first time since the time jump, we get a scene between Daryl and Judith. While it would have been nice for it to be a little longer, the content is great. The two discuss the trouble at the Hilltop and Lydia’s involvement in it all. Judith really wants to help and basically tells Daryl that she knows what the group has been through from the stories she has heard. Daryl tells her that she hasn’t heard all of the stories, but Judith questions what Rick would do in this situation…leaving both of them silent, knowing he would help. After taking the day to recuperate, Daryl and his group leave Alexandria…at night. Before leaving, he tells Michonne that Judith should probably hear the story of Jocelyn so that she can better understand why Alexandria is the way it is now. Judith isn’t a child anymore due to the apocalypse and Daryl sees this. We see how much Alexandria’s lack on involvement in the conflict is weighing on Judith as she sulks at family dinner with Michonne and RJ. Judith ultimately excuses herself, and when morning comes, she is no longer in her room. Michonne decides to stop by Negan’s jail cell to see if he has seen her lately, but he hasn’t. This is where yet another fantastic scene between Michonne and Negan unfolds as the former Savior leader explains that he has told Judith many stories of what happened between the groups. He has told her about Carl storming the Sanctuary in “Sing Me a Song” and about Rick slitting his throat in “Wrath.” Much to the surprise of Michonne, Negan has even told Judith about how he killed Abraham and Glenn after she asked about it. Once again, Michonne isn’t happy about Negan being so knowledgeable about herself and her children…but he makes several valid points here.

Danai Gurira as Michonne – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Michonne has to go after Judith. She’s already been through the horrors seen in this episode, and she lost Carl because he wouldn’t stay in the house. Michonne finds herself in an area with tons of walkers that she must dispatch on her own. The editing flawlessly intermixes between her killing walkers in the present and her killing the children in the flashbacks. Judith is also here and manages to get a badass kill in herself before a walker reaches for her, prompting for her to scream for her mother. After they’ve caught their breaths, Michonne talks to Judith about what happened with Jocelyn years ago. Judith states that she remembers it happening and that she hasn’t brought it up because she knows it makes her mother sad. Even though they both went through that horrible event, Judith still believes they are wrong to close themselves off from their friends. “When did we stop loving Daryl? Aunt Maggie? Carol? The King?,” she asks tearfully. It’s a good question about a complicated situation. For the first time, Michonne really sees Judith as more than just a child. Instead, Judith is someone who understands risks, but knows that love means risking it all for those most dearest to you. Because of this, Michonne and Judith decide to head to the Kingdom in a horse-drawn van. They cross paths with Daryl’s crew and provide them with transportation to the Fair. In a chilling end to the episode, two Whisperers watch from the treeline as the Hilltop’s delegation enters the gates of the Kingdom. “We must tell Alpha,” one of them states as the location of the Fair has been officially compromised. Mind ya business, Whisperers.

The good in “Scars”

  • The parallels between the past and present, as well as the editing between timelines, is flawless. This really shows that history repeats itself and that learning from mistakes is key to survival.
  • The darkness. This is always a dark show, but episodes such as this remind viewers that these characters experience trauma that influence future decisions. If this hadn’t happened, the entire season post-time jump would be different.
  • The concept of someone from the prior to the apocalypse reuniting with a friend YEARS into the apocalypse, only to turn out to be too far gone is just great.
  • The friendship between Michonne and Daryl has always been wonderful, but this is the best episode they’ve ever had together. They have such a sibling bond wherein they would literally kill for one another.
  • The references to Michonne and Daryl keeping up the search for Rick serves as some hopeful foreshadowing that they all may reunite one day in the film trilogy.
  • Judith continues to be amazing. She’s such an old soul, but still has that childlike innocence.
  • Michonne and Negan scenes are great, and really show that they are foils to one another. There’s incredible chemistry between the two that continues to get better.
  • The chilling tease of the Whisperers finding the Kingdom is the perfect segway between this episode and the next.
Luke David Blumm as Linus, Joey Simon as Mitchell, Jessi Goei as Gina, Elle Graham as Winnie – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The iffy in “Scars”

  • The complete mystery of why the communities were so split, particularly Michonne and Maggie, was not explained all the way. Either there are more flashbacks coming to fill in the missing pieces, or viewers are left to interpret for themselves why the split happened. It does make sense that the other communities would be angry at Alexandria for being totally isolated, especially if no explanation was given.
  • While it makes sense that Michonne needed to go through all of this for story-sake, it’s rather odd that a heavily pregnant woman was forced to be the savior of everyone while Scott, Frankie and the other Alexandrian parents just sat at home.
  • Daryl taking so long to tie up the member of Jocelyn’s group while Michonne was forced to fight off the children alone is similarly odd, but understandable.

Top performances in “Scars”

  • Danai Gurira as Michonne (This is one of her finest performances to date and is totally worthy of award recognition)
  • Cailey Fleming as Judith Grimes
  • Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon
  • Chloe Garcia-Frizzi as Judith Grimes
  • Rutina Wesley as Jocelyn
  • Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan
Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Luke David Blumm as Linus, Joey Simon as Mitchell – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Lingering thoughts and predictions

  • Based on the conversation with Jocelyn, it seems like the story is already being set up for Michonne to depart the main series to join the Rick film trilogy either during/after Season 10 when Danai Gurira is set to exit.
  • Hopefully, more of the time jump is shown via flashbacks in the future, because SIX YEARS is a lot of time to have missing.
  • It’s remarkable to see how far Michonne and Judith’s relationship has come since they first met. Michonne arrived at the Prison with baby formula just trying to help. In Season 4, Beth literally had to force Michonne to hold Judith. She wasn’t ready to love another baby, but now their bond is stronger than ever.
  • This is also true of Daryl. He gave Judith the nickname “Lil Asskicker” and she has totally lived up to it.
  • Michonne telling Judith the story of her and Rick burying Carl is an emotional callback to “Honor.”
  • The fact that Winnie runs off without being given any closure may hint at her still being alive. Some fans have theorized that she is now part of the Whisperers, possibly even being the one at the end of the episode that spots the Kingdom.
  • Fun fact: that particular Whisperer is played by Emma Coulter, the daughter of Steve Coulter AKA Reg Monroe from Season 5.
  • This episode has major vibes of Season 3 and Season 4, mostly in terms of the tone and environments.
  • Rarely do the characters discuss their lives prior to the apocalypse, but there is actually significant backstory given for Michonne this episode. Who knew her mother died prior to the end of the world? It would be great if we could get more of this moving forward.
  • Much like Season 4 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” a filter is used to distinguish between the timelines. In this case, it is far less ugly and is far better utilized than that of its sister show.

“Scars” is an upsetting and disturbing episode for many reasons. It really allows viewers to understand Michonne’s rationale behind isolating Alexandria. That being said, we also see that no choice is perfect and Michonne is able to learn from Judith to chart Alexandria’s future. With that in mind, the Fair may just throw everything back into chaos.

Be sure to tune into the penultimate episode of Season 9 next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC. 

TV REVIEW: ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘Chokepoint’

Spoiler Warning for Season 9, Episode 13 of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed. Minor spoilers from “Fear the Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

“It looks like violence is the only currency of this future, same as the old one.”

The latest episode of “The Walking Dead” sets the stage for the Fair to reunite the communities while also proving that our survivors are not all that equipped to defeat the Whisperers. With Daryl facing off against Beta in the long-awaited battle, we see just how skilled this villainous force is at battle. Some issues do persist, but this is yet another strong chapter of this season.

Following their infiltration of the Whisperer camp at the end of the last episode, Daryl and Connie speak to Henry and Lydia about the escape. Henry notes that they cannot return to the Hilltop, and Daryl states that Lydia will not be coming back with them at all. Henry proposes that he and Lydia just run off together, but Daryl shuts this down for being stupid and selfish. Connie decides to lead the team and directs them in a different way from Daryl, clearly not wanting to follow along with what he has planned for Lydia. Even Dog follows her, showing that Daryl isn’t right all the time and some other characters can have good ideas. At the Whisperer camp, a bitten member of the clan is inspected by Beta. There is a great pride in becoming a walker, so Beta comforts the man and notes that he will always be a Whisperer. He then speaks to one of the soldiers and learns that they have found the trail of Daryl’s team, and will follow it to retrieve Lydia and get revenge for what happened. A game of cat and mouse is beginning.

At the Kingdom, preparations are underway for the Fair to begin. Banners for the Kingdom, the Hilltop, Oceanside and Alexandria are unveiled, a Shiva statue is perched, storefronts are set up and electricity is unleashed. Carol and Nabila walk through the impressive layout and discuss the miraculous fact that this Fair is actually happening. Carol shares that she had doubts, but Nabila notes that because of everything they fought through to get here, she isn’t surprised it’s happening. Jerry, Dianne and some of the other Kingdom fighters have returned without theirh armor, alarming Carol and Nabila. They go before the King to explain what has happened as Jerry delivers a letter after stating that they were jumped while out on a run. The letter is from a group called the Highwaymen whom are claiming ownership of the roads surrounding the Kingdom and are demanding to be paid in order for guests to arrive. The letter has the same mark that was seen on a sign on a road traveled by the Kingdommers in “Bounty.” Everyone knows that the Fair is incredibly important to the community, and Jerry notes that the arrivals are counting on safe passage. It’s a troubling ultimatum, but King Ezekiel orders for all of the fighters available to be gathered.

Khary Payton as Ezekiel, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 13 – Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

The Hilltop sends their first delegation to the Fair with supplies and a handful of fighters to clear the road ahead. Tara leads this group that also consists of Magna, Yumiko, Kelly, Kal, Oscar, Addy, Gage, Rodney, Earl, Tammy Rose and the Whisperer baby. Another group led by Alden is following behind. In the back of a wagon, Tammy Rose notes that she was up all night with the baby and Earl explains that they will find a younger couple to adopt it at the Fair. At the front of the convoy, Tara tells Kelly that Connie will be just fine since she’s with Daryl. Yumiko retorts this by stating that Daryl will be fine since she’s with Connie. Magna also comforts Kelly and guesses that they are already at the Fair. The convoy runs into trouble when a pack of walkers block the road ahead. Tara leads a crew to go and clear them, leaving the Hilltop teens to guard the wagons. Gage, Rodney and Addy get the chance to kill a few walkers while Earl attempts to hitch the horses. He is attacked by a walker and thrown to the ground, prompting Tammy Rose to place the baby in a box and run to the rescue of her husband. Equipped with a spear, Tammy lets out a battle cry before killing three walkers and saving Earl. Suddenly, the arrival of men on horses shocks the convoy as the Highwaymen dispatch the rest of the walkers and introduce themselves. There’s an odd moment as Tara and Ozzy stare at one another for a moment, almost as if they know each other.

Connie points out a tall apartment building that she suggests to be used as a chokepoint. Being that the Whisperers travel with walkers, they will have to break away from a herd to move up the building. Daryl is impressed with this idea, but Lydia worries that they will be trapped and that Beta will overpower them. Once inside, Connie reveals a secret stash of supplies from when she and the rest of her group took refuge inside the building previously. Daryl points out how smart it was for them to leave an emergency cache. Looking at a map of the building, he notes that there are two entry points that are blocked and that they should cut hole in them so Whisperers can make their way up. Connie wonders what will happen to Lydia once they are done here, and Daryl explains that their people will be killed if Lydia isn’t returned. While fortifying the defenses, Henry presents Lydia with a sharpened spear to use when the Whisperers arrive. Lydia explains that she doesn’t want to kill her own people and asks that Henry try not to also. There’s further dialogue from Lydia that makes it clear she finds Henry’s actions to be stupid and reckless. That being said, she also questions if he would really run away with him. They embrace in a kiss, but are interrupted by Daryl who wants them to get back to work. While standing lookout, Henry and Lydia give each other loving looks before shits hits the fan. The arrival of the herd puts everyone on high alert. Beta and his friends are here.

Lauren Ridloff as Connie, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 13 – Photo Credit:

With the threat of the Highwaymen now causing stress for the Kingdom, Ezekiel, Carol, Jerry, Dianne and the other fighters go on a reconnaissance mission to see what they can learn about this new group. They are armed, but Carol proposes that they try to speak with them rather than going in killing. The fact that the Highwaymen sent a grammatically correct letter is a good sign to Carol, and she convinces everyone to take her route. Entering into a warehouse, Carol, Ezekiel and Jerry are met by figures shrouded in darkness and intermixed with mannequins. The leader, a man named Ozzy (Angus Sampson), steps forward to declare that this meeting is only with the King. Ezekiel explains that the King and Queen lead together. The Highwaymen really aren’t wanting to listen and pull out their weapons, ready for a fight. A single arrow into the head of a mannequin from Dianne, followed by the swarm of Kingdom soldiers shows the seriousness of the royal army. Ezekiel offers the Highwaymen access to the Kingdom and the Fair for agreeing to keep the roads clear for the guests. Ozzy is not pleased by this offer and pulls out Jerry’s sword to kick start a fight, but Carol proposes an additional offer. Putting on her meek voice, Carol asks the Highwaymen when the last time they saw a movie was. This offer leaves the crew stunned and also curious. Carol ALWAYS knows just what to say and do.

As the Whisperers arrive, there’s a chilling shot of the member of the crew who was bitten earlier and has now turned. He’s a guardian, but a shot by a crossbow bolt from Daryl ends that quickly. The Whisperers lead the herd inside and realize they will need to separate from the walkers by climbing up a blocked stairwell. Upstairs, Daryl locks Lydia in a closet, noting that she will only get in the way if she isn’t going to help out. Dog is also put in the closet and Daryl tells Lydia that he will attack any Whisperers that try to get in. The Whisperers begin their attack, and Henry manages to fight off one with his stick as Connie uses her senses and takes down several with her slingshot and a knife. Inside the closet, Dog growls and Lydia panics, deciding to leave and try to help Henry. While distracted momentarily, Henry is impaled in the leg by a Whisperer, who is tackled by Dog. Lydia apologizes to Henry as Connie tends to his wound, which is spills out blood. Meanwhile, Daryl is stunned when Beta comes crashing into frame and a vicious fight erupts. This isn’t the typical fight where the hero has the upper hand. For once, it actually feels as though Daryl might meet his end here. Beta is an absolute beast and his fighting style is dirty. Using the supply cache that Connie showed him, Daryl is able to hide before charging forward at Beta and pushing him down an elevator shaft. For a fight that was hyped up like crazy, this one sure lived up to the expectations and surpassed them.

Khary Payton as Ezekiel, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 13 – Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

Following the arrival of the Hilltop convoy at the Kingdom, the new arrivals bask in the glory of the community. Ozzy and Jerry have a stare off, hinting a possible tension between the two in the future. The Hilltop teens are just happy to be somewhere other than the place they’ve been at since the start of the apocalypse. Nabila welcomes Earl and Tammy, stating that they will be wonderful parents to the orphan baby. Carol and Ezekiel welcome Tara with hugs and ask where Henry is. Tara is stunned to find out that he nor Daryl and Connie have arrived yet. Back at the building, Connie uses her slingshot to break nearby car windows and pull the rest of the walkers outside. Inside, Lydia tends to Henry’s wound as Daryl explains that they will head to Alexandria for the time being until his wound can be treated. After that, they will find some new place to go, citing Henry’s line about it being a big world out there. As the squad leaves the building, the camera eerily returns to the elevator shaft and zooms in on Beta’s lifeless body as he reawakens after a nasty fall. An elevator broke his fall, and he is clearly injured and PISSED. Daryl showed him up, and he is ready to get his revenge once and for all.

The good in “Chokepoint”

  • The Daryl vesus Beta fight is perfect. There needs to be fights such as this where the hero gets their ass beat from time to time. Beta is menacing and terrifying to watch, and this fight is the culmination of what we’ve seen from him so far.
  • Tara’s leadership continues to be one of the shining examples of excellent character development this season. Her in this role feels totally natural and serves as a necessary point for her character.
  • The relationship between Daryl and Connie continues to be fascinating to watch. They’re amazing on their own, but their dynamic together is simply so fascinating.
  • The disagreement over how to handle the Highwaymen allows for some really solid group discussion among Carol, Ezekiel, Jerry and Dianne. It’s also great to have coy Carol come back into the fold to attempt to prevent further bloodshed.
  • Tammy Rose getting the chance to be involved in some action. Who knew she was that skilled at killing walkers?
Brett Butler as Tammy Rose – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 13 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The iffy in “Chokepoint”

  • The Highwaymen are corny. That may be the intended way they are to be perceived, but with everything else being so serious…it kinda comes across as lame.
  • Tammy Rose and Earl bringing the baby to the Fair, across clearly dangerous territory is a strange decision to make.
  • Beta not being fully covered by walker skins (unless he is and it isn’t super noticeable) seems like a inconsistency in the walker rules. It appears that only his face is covered with a walker mask, so how is he being camouflaged?

The bad in “Chokepoint”

  • Beta surviving the fall in the elevator shaft is ridiculous. We are clearly meant to understand that he is superhuman, but a fall like that should have killed anyone.
  • Henry is willing to leave behind everyone, even his own parents, for a girl he literally met just days ago. He also continues to jeopardize the operation by not listening to what others are telling him.

Top performances in “Chokepoint”

  • Ryan Hurst as Beta
  • Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon
  • Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier
  • Cassady McClincy as Lydia
  • Khary Payton as King Ezekiel
  • Cooper Andrews as Jerry
  • Lauren Ridloff as Connie
Angus Sampson as Ozzy – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 13 – Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

Lingering thoughts and predictions

  • The way Daryl pushed Beta down the elevator shaft parallels Beth making the same move against Officer O’Donnell back in Season 5’s “Coda.”
  • The Whisperers have such a deep appreciation and respect for walkers even after their own have been killed by them. They seem to acknowledge that they are just part of the world, and humans live and die by them.
  • Oceanside is confirmed to be attending the Fair, but will we actually see the residents, including Cyndie? Why haven’t they been shown up to this point?
  • The Shiva monument shows how much she meant to the community and it’s residents. All these years later, they still honor her.
  • Now that Jerry is a father, he seems to have developed a sharper edge. He is ready to do whatever is necessary to keep his family and Kingdom safe.
  • Dianne makes a reference to killing adversaries quickly and quietly before they know what happened. This is what she was forced to do during “The Damned,” before infiltrating the Savior satellite outpost.
  • The Highwaymen introduction feels similar to how the Scavengers were introduced in midst of the Savior conflict during Season 7.
  • The references to a larger world feel like some sort of nod to the extended universe, and possibly the upcoming spinoff that was announced by AMC.
  • Henry was injured in the exact same spot as his brother Benjamin back when he was fatally shot in the leg by Jared during “Bury Me Here.”
  • The characters that received more screentime that usual this episode may be on the chopping block as we head into this Fair; Tammy, Nabila, Hilltop Teens…look out.

“Chokepoint” is an highly entertaining piece that balances time among each of the stories nicely. As we head into this final stretch of the season, the lighthearted moments that were shown in this episode are going to be missed. Lots of people are about to die. Get ready….

Be sure to tune into “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

TV REVIEW: ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘Guardians’

Spoiler Warning for Season 9, Episode 12 of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed. Minor spoilers from “Fear the Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

“They all follow me by choice cause I make ’em strong, cause I keep ’em alive.”

There is a lot going on in “The Walking Dead” right now. On one hand, we have a disgusting and horrifying new threat that may just wipe out everyone we love. On the other hand, we have a compelling love quadrangle between four of our main characters. Nothing is ever simple on this show and this fantastic episode within a fantastic season reiterates that long-known fact.

Lydia is officially back with her people after being returned to Alpha in the previous episode. The opening to this episode finds a mother questioning her daughter about what she went through while at the Hilltop. Alpha finds it suspicious that Daryl was ready to put up a fight to keep Lydia at the community. We really see Lydia show that she doesn’t want to give up information to her mother as she states that she lied to get Daryl and the others to trust her. There’s a few tidbits of details about the Hilltop that Lydia reveals to her mother, but she doesn’t say anything about the Kingdom even though she was told about it by Henry. Alpha is pissed that Lydia doesn’t have more information for her, especially considering she broke her own rules in retrieving her daughter. It’s hinted that even though Alpha has this hardened edge and doesn’t seem to care about Lydia, there are still parts of her motherly instinct that come through. Still, Alpha is winning no mother of the year awards at all.

This episode really dives deep into the inner-workings of the Whisperer way of life when they’re not in the midst of an active conflict. Stopping to rest while headed back to their camp, members of the Whisperers are watched by Alpha as she strolls through her army. Nearby, Henry watches and a Whisperer sneaks up behind him, but using his aikido skills, Henry manages to gain the upper hand. This doesn’t last long as a boot steps into frame, belonging to an extremely tall member of the Whisperers who grabs Henry, throws his staff and flings him to the ground. This is Beta (Ryan Hurst), the second-in-command of the Whisperers. Alpha questions who Henry is, and Beta reveals that he has been following them for a while. Henry ultimately reveals that he is from the Hilltop, but that he is alone and came for Lydia. This sets Lydia off and she steps forward to punch him to the ground. Fearing their location may be compromised, Alpha leads her herd out of the makeshift camp to continue on their journey. While traveling, Alpha questions why Henry would chase after Lydia. The full extent of their relationship is kept a secret from Alpha by Lydia. Once again, Lydia’s actions show that she isn’t willing to turn against the people who captured her.

Matt Lintz as Henry – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 12 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

For the first time, we get to see the Whisperers camp…and it is worrisome. They have NUMBERS. Countless members of the group are spread out through a mostly barren nomadic camp going about a variety of tasks. Some clean animals they have hunted, while others create new skins from walkers. Lydia needs a new mask after losing hers when she was captured, so Beta gets to work on making her one. The process is actually shown, and it may be the most disturbing and graphic thing shown this season. Beta uses a knife to cut away the facial skin clear off a walker as Henry watches with disgust. Two unmasked members of the group step forward, bothered by the fact that Alpha broke her own rules to retrieve Lydia. Alpha defends her actions totally and states that the boyfriend and girlfriend have the right to challenge her leadership if they wish. After a game of taunting the boyfriend, Alpha comes to the realization that the girlfriend is actually the mastermind of this wannabe coup. She shuts that shit down right away by taking a wire and using it to decapitate the girlfriend right in front of everyone. Henry is shocked and horrified as Alpha picks up the headg and places it in the arms of the tearful boyfriend. He’s gotta go too and she stabs him in the abdomen as a show to her people that she is still their alpha. The sudden and violent gore within these scenes really demonstrate the brutality and ruthlessness of the Whisperers. Gore has always been part of the series, but this is more graphic than usual to represent the danger Alpha poses.

This episode also follows Daryl, Connie and Dog as they track down Henry. They manage to come across the creek bed that he was captured by Beta in, and recollect his staff which was dropped. There’s a really fun scene as Connie notes to Daryl that she needs to speak while looking at her before they kill a pair of walkers with their respective weapons. In an unscripted moment, Dog is told to retrieve Daryl’s crossbow bolt, but snaps it in half. Later, Daryl and Connie watch as a handful of Whisperers drag out the corpses of the couple into a field to allow some nearby walkers to feast. Inside the camp, Alpha speaks with Beta after removing her mask. There’s a chilling moment where she almost shows some motherly love while detailing a frightening moment when Lydia nearly suffocated as a child. Any chance at her being seen as a good mother goes out the window as she states that after checking to make sure her three-year-old daughter was okay, she hit her as a warning to never do what she did again. The manipulation and abuse Alpha forced Lydia to suffer under can be traced to far before the apocalypse even began. Lydia has been living like this forever. After night falls, Beta retrieves Henry and brings him before Alpha and Lydia. In a stunning turn of events, Alpha presents Lydia with an ultimatum: kill Henry or Beta will kill them both. Thankfully, a herd of walkers passes through and causes chaos on the unmasked survivors. A familiar voice speaks to Henry and orders him to follow. It’s Daryl…in a Whipserer mask, and Connie is with him. They manage to retrieve the star-crossed lovers and head off into the darkness.

Ryan Hurst as Beta, Matt Lintz as Henry, Samantha Morton as Alpha, Cassady McClincy as Lydia – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 12 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The other primary story arc of the episode takes place at Alexandria following Michonne and the others returning to inform everyone about the new threat. At a Council meeting in the church, Michonne is angered to find out that Father Gabriel and others were secretly setting up radios to try and communicate with others survivors. This was first seen back in “Who Are You Now?” when Eugene and Rosita went out to the tower to set up one of the radios and were later caught among the Whisperers. Michonne notes that weren’t it for these two going out on this mission, Jesus wouldn’t have died. There’s a clear split among the Council as the discussion shifts to the upcoming Fair at the Kingdom. Michonne states that the issue has already been voted on and that they are not attending; Aaron agrees, citing the death of Jesus. Gabriel and Siddiq are on the other side and totally believe they should attend, stating that not going will only hurt their friends at the Kingdom. Based on her dialogue, it seems as though Michonne is completely willing to let the Kingdom fall. That being said, she does propose that Alexandria opens its doors to Ezekiel and his people if the Council votes to do so. More explanation to the operation of the Council is given as Gabriel explains that Michonne, as Head of Security, has the authority to veto any decision made by the group. This has worked for a while, but Gabriel is fed up.

It was revealed in “Adaptation” that Rosita is pregnant with Siddiq’s baby. This episode, we see her struggling to fit into her clothes before speaking to Gabriel about the fact that she wouldn’t blame him if he left her considering he isn’t the father of her baby. We really see excellent growth in Eugene as he speaks with Gabriel about the pros and cons of sticking with Rosita and helping to raise her baby. In typical Eugene fashion, he even has a numerical list and series of graphs to help explain. While he doesn’t understand why Rosita is in love with Gabriel, and he is disappointed she doesn’t love him back, he does note that they are good for one another. He basically tells Gabriel to stick with her through this IF she wants him to. At the end of the day, it is up to Rosita as to who she spends her life with. Later, Michonne pays a visit with Negan who is back in his cell after willingly returning to Alexandria. This scene is really amazing as the former and current leader read one another for filth. Now, they aren’t all that much different, but Michonne doesn’t see that. After explaining that he is aware of the problems the Council is facing, Negan proposes that Michonne and the community start trusting him more. He even goes so far as to offer to be someone who will listen and provide leadership advice to her. Michonne isn’t budging one bit and orders the guard to seal his window and bind him while the cell lock is reinforced. Before leaving, Michonne spots someone lurking near the entrance. It’s her very own daughter Judith, trying to pay a visit to her murderous friend.

Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel Stokes, Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 12 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Michonne really learns a lot this episode and showcases herself to be a leader who listens to her people, unlike the other highlighted leader of the Whisperers. At her apartment, Michonne checks in on RJ and catches Judith as she’s sneaking in from her training session. Wondering why her daughter was hanging outside of the jail, Michonne questions if Judith has been talking to Negan. The two erupt into a disagreement as Michonne forbids Judith from ever speaking to the tyrant again. Judith states that while Negan isn’t her friend, he is a human being and should be trusted. Michonne basically tells Judith that she didn’t have to witness the brutal killings of Glenn, Abraham and many of their other friends. In a line that is shut down immediately, Michonne tells Judith that people don’t change…but she herself did. Judith is a smart kid. She likely heard stories of how Michonne came to meet her father and be part of the group, and is therefore able to call out this discrepancy in her story. It’s here that things really take a turn. Michonne pays a visit to Aaron and is greeted by Gracie. The leader tells Aaron that she appreciates his support, but that she has decided not to veto the Council’s decision if they vote to attend the Fair. Neither she nor Aaron think attending is a good idea, but the people of Alexandria agreed to a charter that gave them the power; plus she actually does want to help the Kingdom. The episode wraps up as we see Gabriel make the decision to stick with Rosita and be a co-parent alongside her and Siddiq; from afar, Eugene watches with a huge smile on his face. The community packs up supplies and food into vehicles as they prepare to make the journey to the Kingdom. If you’re familiar with the comics, you know that some of these people will never make the journey home.

The good in “Guardians”

  • Alpha is the villain we need. She is EVIL. There is no gray area here. She is EVIL.
  • Lydia’s struggle to not reveal crucial information about the Hilltop while also trying to stay on her mother’s good side. It’s fascinating to see the child of abuse come to realize that her mother is a massive piece of shit…and also EVIL.
  • Beta is legitimately terrifying. He is massive, he’s loyal and he is here to kill.
  • The dynamic between Daryl and Connie is really interesting to watch. Many fans have pointed out that there seems to be some romantic chemistry between the two. There is definitely some there. Is it finally time for Daryl to get some?
  • The comparisons and contrasts between Alpha, Negan and Michonne. All have their similarities and each are just a few steps away from being each other, but Michonne is able to keep herself from slipping to the dark side by trusting in her own people.
  • Judith continues to be an amazing amalgamation of Rick, Carl and Michonne…and maybe Shane and Lori just a bit.
  • Eugene pushing Gabriel and his respect of Rosita really show how much he has grown as a character. He’s actually putting her wants and needs before his own.
  • The Council scenes are really great and show how effective group leadership can truly be.
Danai Gurira as Michonne, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 12 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The bad in “Guardians”

  • Henry’s antics continue to be infuriating. Even after nearly being killed by Alpha, Beta, Lydia in this episode, he STILL hasn’t learned to listen to Daryl. He really will die for his two-day old girlfriend. It’s noble, but it’s a hard to believe.

Top performances in “Guardians”

  • Samantha Morton as Alpha
  • Cassady McClincy as Lydia
  • Danai Gurira as Michonne
  • Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel
  • Ryan Hurst as Beta
  • Matt Lintz as Henry
  • Cailey Fleming as Judith Grimes

Lingering thoughts and predictions

  • Lydia not ratting out the Kingdom really seems to be a sign that she will join our survivors entirely once she has the opportunity. They actually treat her well…unlike her mother.
  • Alpha and Beta’s hushed speaking voices are genuinely frightening and help to fully explain the Whisperers’ name.
  • What must the Whisperers camp smell like? Death. Pure death most likely.
  • Seeing the Whisperers walk and talk is totally unsettling. Seeing what your mind thinks are walkers do human things hurts the brain.
  • The Fair is coming up really soon. We should be very afraid.
  • The love foursome, PLUS Rosita’s pregnancy, does not bode well for their future. At least one of them is probably going to die before the season is over.
  • Negan really seems to have this respect for Michonne. Would he actually get violent if they were to trust him and give him more freedom? Obviously, his past cannot be forgotten.
  • Alpha beheading the traitor in her group has to be some sort of sick foreshadowing. If you know, you know.
  • Will RJ ever get some proper screentime?
  • Daryl trying desperately to safely retrieve Henry parallels his quest to find Sophia in Season 2. He wasn’t able to bring her back to Carol, but he is making damn sure that his best friend doesn’t have to experience the tragic loss of a child again.

“Guardians” is such an entertaining and well-balanced episode. We’ve seen our main characters only in bits and pieces so far in this second half, so it’s refreshing to see several at once. The next episode looks to deal with the aftermath of Henry and Lydia’s escape, as well as the Kingdom’s discovery of the new threat. As we move into the final quarter of the season, things are about to get deadly.

Be sure to tune into “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

TV REVIEW: ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘Bounty’

Spoiler Warning for Season 9, Episode 11 of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed. Minor spoilers from “Fear the Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

“You live with it by staying who you are, by not letting the bad things change you.”

War is brewing. Tensions are rising. In the latest episode of “The Walking Dead,” the conflict with the Whisperers takes a chilling turn as a hostage exchange is negotiated. We also check in with the Kingdom for the first time in quite a bit, adding much needed levity to the story while also setting up many important plot lines. Without any doubt, this is the strongest episode of the second half and serves as further proof that this is season is downright amazing.

We know very little about what transpired between the communities during the six year time jump. This episode opens up with a flashback to some period years prior to provide a small bit of insight. King Ezekiel, Jerry and Carol are shown to be waiting for some of their friends to arrive for a meeting. Jerry has an exciting bit of news to share in that Nabila is pregnant with his child. The trio are giddy from this reveal and Ezekiel congratulates his best friend with a hearty hug. Two familiar faces come riding up on horses; it’s Tara and Jesus. The Kingdom hands over supplies to Jesus to help assist with what appears to be an outbreak at the Hilltop. Jesus notes that Maggie is back at the community taking care of the crisis, but it is getting better. Mention of the tension comes in the form of Tara explaining that she has decided to leave Alexandria, taking extra supplies and also the charter that Michonne created for the communities in the process. It is clear from the dialogue that Alexandria has already isolated itself from everyone, but that not everyone agrees with Michonne’s leadership. Tara hands over the charter to Ezekiel in the hope that he will be the one to bring about the reunification of the communities. As Jesus and Tara depart, the trio open up the charter and take a look at it, seeing the various articles that are intended to bind the communities for life. The document is officially titled “Multi-Community Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” and is a clear example of just how hard Michonne worked to craft a basis for the future of all her people. Sadly, years have passed and the charter has not been signed and the survivors remain distant. What happened to cause this rift is still unknown, but that reveal may just be on the horizon.

Cooper Andrews as Jerry, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 11 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

All these years later and the charter is still in the possession of King Ezekiel. While looking over it, Dianne comes to alert him that a hunting party is about to head out. While walking, the two discuss some nearby herds that will need to be avoided while out on the hunt. There’s a great moment wherein Ezekiel notes how great it is for Dianne to be back at the Kingdom after she spent a significant amount of time at the Hilltop. Carol comes to let Ezekiel know that she will be joining him on the hunt, wanting to get away from her empty nest and to spend more time with her king. We get our first look at Jerry’s family after the time jump and it is revealed that he and Nabila now have three children. After a successful elk hunt, Ezekiel wants Carol to return to the Kingdom while he and some others go out on a side mission. Carol wants some of the action and insists on joining in what Jerry repeatedly calls “movie time” at a local theater. This mission is far less serious than what is going down at the Hilltop right now, but it’s still important. Ezekiel wants to retrieve a film projector light bulb to screen movies at the Kingdom. The community’s last bulb burnt out several years ago and as such, most of the young children don’t even know what a film is. Carol questions whether this is worth risking the lives of themselves and the Kingdom soldiers, but Ezekiel is adamant. The community needs this. The people need this.

Once inside the theater, the Kingdom army splits into groups and each has their own task. Some fighters guard the entrance to the screening room where debris is keeping a collection of walkers from entering the lobby. Ezekiel has another mission while at this theater. He collects a poster case to house the charter permanently before and after the leaders sign it. Carol remains a bit hesitant to believe that all of the communities, specifically Alexandria, will attend the Fair. She also raises the idea that if the Kingdom continues into disarray, that the residents move to the Hilltop with Jesus’ approval. Sadly, they are kept so far out of the loop that not only do they not know Jesus is dead, but they are also completely oblivious to the conflict with the Whisperers. Still, Ezekiel remains hopeful that everything will work out, but he does acknowledge that they must prepare for every outcome. From inside the projector box, Jerry works extremely carefully with Dianne to retrieve the bulb. He notes that any wrong move could render it unusable or could even make it explode. Once the bulb has been collected and placed in bubble wrap, the two go to exit the room, but are attacked by a walker. Dianne manages to dispatch it, however Jerry accidentally drops in into the walker-filled theater. After returning to the lobby and alerting the king to the accident, Jerry and the others must decide whether to go and retrieve the bulb or cut their losses and go home. Carol steps forward and makes a queen’s decree that they will get the bulb. In an epic walker-killing montage set to “It’s All Right Now” by Eddie Harris, the members of the Kingdom use their skills to take down dozens of walkers and recollect the bulb all before the herd arrives. Talk about efficiency.

Khary Payton as Ezekiel, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 11 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The other prominent storyline of the episode deals with the immediate aftermath of the end of “Omega” when Alpha and the Whisperers rolled up to the Hilltop demanding Lydia. Before that, we check in with Enid, who plays a major role in the episode, as she treats Earl’s arm while Tammy observes and encourages her husband to retire from blacksmithing. Outside, there’s a great little moment as Tammy thanks Enid and encourages her to keep her faith alive that Alden will return. Marco alerts Enid and Tammy to the conflict brewing outside and the community goes into battle mode. From atop the lookout point, Tara tells Alpha that the Hilltop is more than prepared to defend itself and Daryl recommends that the group leave immediately. Alpha reiterates her singular demand that the community hand over her daughter. There will be no conflict if she is returned. Daryl decides to walk down to the barrier gate to speak with Alpha one-on-one. Realizing that the villain group is outnumbered, Daryl threatens to gun down Alpha and all of her people. The sound of a baby crying nearby chills Daryl to the bone as he realizes that the Whisperers have brought a newborn to what could be a bloody battle. Alpha orders Alden and Luke to be brought forward and their Whisperer masks are ripped off before they’re held with knives to their throats. “It’s a good trade,” Alpha explains, clearly believing she is in the position of power in this situation.

A decision has been made. The Hilltop must turn over Lydia or conflict will ensue. Daryl goes to collect Lydia from the jail, but Magna informs him that she is missing…and so is Henry. In a moment that proves Dog Dixon truly is Daryl’s dog, the canine manages to track down Henry’s last location at the Hilltop using one of his shirts. Daryl prepares to exit the community to go get him via the emergency escape route Sasha made, but Enid volunteers stating that she can make him come back and that she is responsible for Alden. Addy leads the way, realizing that he most likely took Lydia to the hideaway cabin that the Hilltop teens hung at in “Evolution.” At the shack, Lydia dresses in normal clothes rather than scraps and she notes that it feels nice. Enid and Addy arrive and Henry comes out to speak with them, vehemently refusing to give up his two-day girlfriend. It is here that Enid really shines as she explains that this life isn’t fair, and that they just need to look out for their own people right now. She also tells Henry about losing her parents, and also Carl. For the first time since he wrote it, the specifics of Carl’s letter to Enid are revealed by her; he told her that her life must be more than just surviving somehow. Since his passing, Enid has been working to follow the advice Carl gave her, but it hasn’t been easy. Lydia steps out of the cabin and states that she will return to her mother, citing the fact that she misses her people. It almost seems as if her decision was based more out of a desire to not want Henry to have to give her up. It’s been clear since her introduction that Lydia and Henry have feelings for one another, and this is further proof of that.

Lauren Ridloff as Connie – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 11 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

This episode takes a dark turn; dark for even “The Walking Dead.” In a series of events of that really highlight just how horrific this show can get a times, and also just how ruthless the Whisperers are, we hear the sound of the baby crying. Moments before, Alpha had sent some of her people to keep back a herd that was approaching the Hilltop. Now, the baby’s cries are drawing the real walkers toward the standoff. The mother and Alpha make eye-contact and the true nature of the leader comes to light. Giving just a glance, Alpha instructs the mother to lay down the baby on the ground and walk away. Alden is absolutely stunned to see this and calls Alpha out about it, but the Whisperer leader makes it clear that in order to move among the dead, you have to be quiet. In her words, the baby won’t be quiet, so natural selection will have its way. With his hands bound behind him, Luke manages to sign to Connie, who is still hiding in the cornfields nearby. She sees the baby laying on the ground and charges out of her hiding spot to the rescue, shooting a walker with her slingshot and kicking another one to the ground. She grabs the baby and runs back into the cornfields. Viewers are thrown right into Connie’s point of view as the sound is wiped away to highlight the fact that she must fend off walkers while not being able to hear them coming. The baby is crying, drawing more and more into the field, but Connie is all alone and manages to take several down. Thankfully, Daryl swoops in and kills one walker before it bites Connie. Kelly, Tammy and Earl help bring Connie and the baby back to the community. This scene is probably the highlight of the episode and really shines as a piece of genuine terror.

The episode wraps up as the hostage exchange comes to fruition. Daryl walks Lydia out of the Hilltop’s gate while Alden and Luke are brought forward. Once our people are returned, Enid embraces Alden and states that she never wants to let go of him again. When Lydia reunites with her mother it isn’t under happy terms. We see the abuse firsthand as Alpha slaps her daughter across the face before pulling her in for a warm hug. It’s clear from their dialogue that Lydia isn’t allowed to call her mother anything other than Alpha. When night falls, Henry stops Daryl and expresses the fact that he’s having a hard time with what they just did. Daryl flat out tells him that the world sucks and that some difficult decisions have to be made. A beautiful montage set to music shows where all of the characters are at the end of the episode. Magna’s crew celebrate Luke’s safe return in their trailer with booze, but Connie isn’t feeling it. Tammy and Earl hold the Whisperer baby, possibly revealing that they have adopted the newborn. Enid and Alden have romantic time in their trailer. Jerry inserts the new projector bulb as Ezekiel and Carol kiss in an absolutely stunning shot. Later, Jerry is shown taking care of his own baby while Nabila sleeps. This wouldn’t be an episode of “The Walking Dead” without something popping off in the final moments. Addy speaks with Daryl in the barn to show him a note Henry left behind. He left…to go find Lydia. As Daryl preps to head out in search of him, Connie steps forward and communicates with Daryl to let him know that she also can’t live with what they did and that she wants to come along with him. Daryl is hesitant at first, but Connie persists and the two head out with Dog to retrieve the prince of the Kingdom.

Samantha Morton as Alpha, Cassady McClincy as Lydia – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 11 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The good in “Bounty”

  • The ruthlessness of Alpha and the Whisperers in action. They really are animals that don’t act as normal humans do. Alpha rules by fear as seen in the glare given to the mother, ordering her to lay down her baby.
  • Daryl making the call to hand over Lydia solely to get Alden and Luke back. It isn’t the easiest or best decision, but it’s what needed to be done.
  • Enid really standing up and trying to make Henry understand why Lydia needs to be handed over. Her monologue about her parents and Carl really shows how much she has grown as a character.
  • Connie’s scene in the cornfields with the baby is some of the most intense moments the show has done in recent memory.
  • Connie teaming up with Daryl and Dog to go out and recover Henry. This is surely going to be an interesting dynamic that forms and could make for a fascinating friendship.
  • The opening flashbacks showing a brief moment during the time jump and revealing some insight into the
  • The juxtaposition between the intense conflict at the Hilltop and the lighthearted mission the Kingdom is really well done.
  • Jerry becoming a father is the good news we need in this world. What a wonderful father he must be. The excitement Carol and Ezekiel have for him is also great.
  • Carol and Ezekiel’s romance continues to be amazing. They really are made for one another. On the outside, Carol seems to be annoyed by Ezekiel’s campiness, but she loves it deep down.
  • The musical montages of the episode are simply too great to put into words.
  • Seeing Jesus again, even in flashback form, is very much welcomed and appreciated.

The iffy in “Bounty”

  • The interactions between Enid and Alden do still feel a bit forced, but that may just be because their relationship hasn’t received much screentime. It’s great that they’ve both found happiness, but we haven’t been able to witness the development together, so it still feels a bit stiff.
  • The same is true for Henry and Lydia’s relationship, but this is even more stiff considering they have only known each other for a handful of days. Henry risking it all for Lydia is pretty hard to believe.

The bad in “Bounty”

  • Again, Henry’s actions continue to paint him as incredibly naive and not all that equipped to survive long term in the apocalypse. It just isn’t believable that Carol’s child would act this foolish, even if his motivations are pure. After all of the children she has had to witness dying, wouldn’t it make more sense for Henry to be a hardened survivor like she is?
  • The fact that Carol and the Kingdom are still unaware of the conflict with the Whisperers is downright ridiculous. It’s pretty much exactly what happened during the conflict with the Saviors when Carol wasn’t made aware until MANY episodes after Glenn and Abraham were killed. Keeping Carol out of the loop is tiring and does not benefit her story.
Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Matt Lintz as Henry – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 11 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Top performances in “Bounty”

  • Lauren Ridloff as Connie
  • Katelyn Nacon as Enid
  • Samantha Morton as Alpha
  • Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon
  • Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier
  • Callan McAuliffe as Alden

Lingering thoughts and predictions

  • There was something extremely worrying about how Connie was sitting by herself near the end of the episode. Is it possible that she was bitten during the scene in the cornfields? She’s seen writing a note, so could this be a goodbye letter?
  • Enid made reference to the death of her parents, which was shown in a flashback during the episode “JSS.” Her “Just Survive Somehow” mantra is mentioned once again, but it seems that Carl has inspired her to move past just surviving and instead build a life worth living.
  • Earl and Tammy made note of the upcoming Fair, and seem to be planning on attending. Who else plans on going from the Hilltop?
  • Earl and Tammy adopting the Whisperer baby parallels Aaron adopting baby Gracie after her father was killed by Rick at the Savior outpost. Now our group is raising two children that were orphaned by two villain groups.
  • Henry mentions that Daryl helped out at Alexandria when things went bad, but no specifics are given. Is this the unknown event that caused the separation of the communities and resulted in Daryl and Michonne having the scars on their backs?
  • Carol is the happiest she has been in a long time, but that probably means she is headed toward tragedy.
  • Once again, Tara gets to demonstrate her leadership skills, but Daryl is the one to step forward face Alpha one-on-one. It’s important to note that Tara had already made the decision to hand over Lydia before Daryl returned to the community to retrieve her.
  • The simple fact that Jerry has a family puts an immediate target on his back, as well as Nabila and their children. Please stay safe.
  • Ezekiel mentioned Oceanside in the present timeline so it appears that the community IS still standing, but is far removed from everyone else. We don’t know if all members of the community, including Cyndie, survived the time jump.
  • Ezekiel has a line about how Henry used to love movie nights. This is a direct reference to a great moment back in “The Well” in which Henry asks Benjamin if he can stay up late to watch movies.

“Bounty” is a wonderfully strong episode that really pushes the story in plenty of exciting directions. The conflict with the Whisperers continues to escalate and it looks as though we are headed straight for a deadly end to the season. Hopefully, the communities start to come back together, because we need everyone on the same page now more than ever.

Be sure to tune into “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

TV REVIEW: ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘Omega’

Spoiler Warning for Season 9, Episode 10 of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed. Minor spoilers from “Fear the Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

“When you stay soft, people die.”

Alpha is here. She’s dangerous. She’s ruthless. She wants her daughter back. After being introduced at the tail end of the Mid-Season Premiere, the villainous leader of the Whisperers is seen fully as the show provides viewers with backstory on how she became the person she is today. This chilling episode does a lot great, but does have some drawbacks and instances of just plain stupid character decisions. That being said, the horror is on another level.

This episode features a series of flashbacks scattered throughout and told via Lydia narrating in the present timeline. These flashbacks will be recapped at the end of this review while the current storylines will be discussed first. 

Still locked up in jail, Henry and Lydia decide to open up to one another and share their pasts. Lydia explains how much she misses the sounds and smells of the dead, something that is disturbing to Henry. While discussing their parents, Henry tells Lydia that his biological father and mother died and that Ezekiel and Carol are now his parents. There’s an interesting point made by Lydia that Carol sounds a lot like her own mother in that they are both not to be messed with. While the two teens talk, Daryl is sitting just outside, listening to everything. Henry states that he’s being nice to Lydia because someone (King Ezekiel) was kind to him and his brother when they were found. It’s here that Lydia starts prodding for information and manages to get Henry to not only reveal that there is another community, but he flat out states the Kingdom’s name and mentions that it’s a day’s ride away. From a strategic standpoint, this is one of the stupidest things he could have done. Daryl knows this and storms into the jail to remove Henry and lecture him outside. Rather than realize the error of his ways, Henry is angry to find out that Daryl, Enid and others have been listening to his conversations with Lydia to gain information. Storming off, Henry calls Daryl an asshole. Sure, Daryl is direct and blunt, but he’s just looking out for the safety of the community.

Angel Theory as Kelly, Lauren Ridloff as Connie, Eleanor Matsuura as Yumiko, Nadia Hilker as Magna – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 10 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The other notable story arc of the episode follows the Hilltop residents as they search for Alden and Luke, who were captured by Alpha. Tara leads a search party consisting of Magna, Yumiko, Connie, Kelly, Marco and Kal to a wooded area and they discover a cluster of walkers feasting on something. They realize they have to be careful upon approaching the walkers…as they might actually be people. In an action sequence that allows each of the characters to show off their skills, they take down multiple walkers before discovering the grisly sight of Alden and Luke’s horses mauled. Connie investigates and discovers that the horses were cut open and skinned, something that couldn’t have been done by ordinary walkers. This discovery causes Tara to reassess the search effort and orders her people to return to come up with a better plan. The fact that they have absolutely no clue as to how many Whisperers are out there is deeply concerning to her. Kelly tries to protest, but Tara doesn’t even give her a chance to fight her on this. They need to return. This is an excellent example of Tara’s leadership in action as she is forced to make difficult decisions that might not be the most popular. Throughout the episode, the ways in which Tara leads really make for impressive growth in her character.

This episode really hammers in parallels between Lydia and Daryl, and also sets up what should be a really fascinating dynamic between them. Daryl goes down to the cell and offers pain medication for Lydia’s injured ear, but she doesn’t accept it. The conversation shifts to Lydia’s past and she explains that the outbreak took over the world when she was around the age of six. Contrasting his “bad” cop persona last episode, Daryl tries to take a lighter approach and tells Lydia that the Hilltop has good people who could help her if she is willing to work with them. Daryl also hands over the pills and slides a ladle of water through the cell, but Lydia sees an opportunity and tries to fight back. Quickly disarming Lydia, Daryl spots a large number of bruises all over her arm and the two fall silent. Later, he returns with a switch to explain the tactics some fathers use to beat their kids. The flashbacks of Lydia’s past originally showed her father being abusive, but Daryl is able to determine that it was in fact her mother who beat her. Daryl was abused as a child, so he clearly understands and can spot cases of it happening to others. That’s such a crucial part of his backstory that shaped who he was in the earliest seasons, but he’s been able to come around from it to now help someone else in a similar situation. Something great about this particular relationship is that Lydia is also able to see the cracks in Daryl’s arguments. After he expresses the fact that society is being built back up, Lydia points out that Daryl doesn’t belong. To be fair, he has been living in the swamps and only recently returned to the communities.

Steve Kazee as Frank, Scarlett Blum as Young Lydia – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 10 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

In one of the trailers, Yumiko paces around and declares that her group needs to go out and continue the search for Luke. Magna is against that idea, citing the fact that she nearly made a move that would have ended things for them at Alexandria; she doesn’t want to do the same here and go against Tara. They hold a vote and after an emotional plea from Yumiko, Magna and the others ultimately decide to head out under the cover of night. When night comes, the foursome sneak out of the Hilltop via the emergency escape that Sasha created during Season 7; this was used by her and Rosita when they went on their rogue plot to assassinate Negan. Once outside the walls, Connie finds tracks in the dirt and realizes that they aren’t from walkers, but rather the mask-wearing adversaries. Yumiko expresses guilt over what went down in Coalport, a place that was referenced by the group when they first arrived at Alexandria. It seems as though they abandoned their posts in Coalport in order to survive when it was falling apart. A sneaky quiet walker manages to lunge for Kelly, prompting the group to realize that walkers are all around them. Yumiko, Manga and Connie all agree that they need to return to the Hilltop, but Kelly simply cannot go back. She tearfully explains that when things went bad in Coalport, the group was separated, but Luke found her. This is absolutely understandable that she would want to keep looking, but things get dangerous when Connie sends Magna and Yumiko back and states that she will stay with her sister. She assures her two friends that she and Kelly will be okay…but that is a risk that none of them should be willing to take right now. When two people are missing, why would you allow two more people to stay by themselves in clearly hostile territory?

Back at the Hilltop, Daryl’s finishes his chat with Lydia and comes to the conclusion that she is a broken girl. Henry had been sitting outside listening to the conversation and starts asking a million questions when Daryl clearly just wants to go to bed. There is some fantastic backstory provided via Henry as he explains that Carol used to have long hair when she was with Ed, but she cut it because he would grab onto it and throw her across the room. Now, all these years later, she finally feels safe enough to have long hair again; Ezekiel is the person she always deserved to be with, because now she gets to be the queen she is. Henry attests to the fact that Lydia is not a bad person, and that she’s just messed up and scared. Later, he goes and visits her in the cell and they get their first actual look at one another. Strangely, Henry admits to liking Lydia…even though he’s literally only known her for a day or so. In the most infuriating action taken during the episode, Henry actually releases Lydia to give her a tour of the Hilltop. The two exit the cellar and hide from the guards between the trailers. Being that she’s lived out in the world for so long and learned survival skills, Lydia picks a worm out of the dirt and eats it before offering one to Henry; this is something that’s absolutely foreign to him, but he does it regardless. In yet another naive move, Henry starts pointing out key areas of the Hilltop, including the medical trailer; he even names Enid and states that she is the community doctor. In yet another amateur move, Henry has his back turned to Lydia while revealing key information. This allows her to pick up a hammer, but the sound of a baby crying triggers her horrific memories and she has a panic attack. Thankfully, nothing bad came of this little excursion as Lydia asks to be locked back up, but it still was totally irresponsible of Henry to do this. Daryl was watching as usual, but even he wouldn’t have been able to save Henry if Lydia really wanted to whack him over the head. Henry locks Lydia up and per her request, stays with her overnight. The two hold hands under the cell and it becomes totally clear that Henry is madly in love with this girl he literally just met.

Scarlett Blum as Young Lydia, Samantha Morton as Alpha – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 10 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

When morning comes, Daryl arrives with food and finds Henry still outside of the cell. Lydia straight up tells them both that her people aren’t coming for her and that the group’s policy is to just leave their own behind when they’re injured or captured. She also reveals the existence of a temporary camp near the bridge. This builds up to Lydia coming to realize the truth of her past. Flashbacks sprinkled throughout the episode show the onset of the outbreak, but Lydia is an unreliable narrator and therefore the actual events are intermixed with lies her mother has been telling her. Set somewhere in or near Baltimore, a young Lydia (Scarlett Blum) is sheltered in a basement with her mother and father Frank (Steve Kazee) on day 23 of the global apocalypse. In these memories, Frank is erratic and panics in front of Lydia while her mother tries to comfort her. Other survivors in the basement listen to the Emergency Broadcast System, but quickly realize that help probably isn’t coming and propose leaving. On day 43 of the apocalypse, a survivor begins to panic and tries to break open a window, but Alpha throws him to the ground and suffocates him. Frank holds Lydia and comforts her, shocked by the drastic actions of his wife. In the next flashback, Alpha is bald and discusses the fact that the body of the man she killed needs to be disposed of. Frank comforts Lydia as Alpha creepily watches. In the middle of the night, Lydia awakens and stumbles upon the dead body. Suddenly, he reanimates and attacks, but Frank intervenes and has his throat ripped out. This is the memory Lydia has been living with; thinking that she is partially responsible for her father’s death. The real events finally come to her and she remembers the walker attacking someone else, causing chaos that prompts Alpha to hatch an escape. Frank doesn’t want to leave and stands up to Alpha, but the mad mother isn’t willing to lose her child and decides to kill her husband. In this moment, Lydia, Daryl and Henry all realize the sick mind game Alpha has been playing with her own daughter to keep her in line. The truth is finally out and things are about to change.

The final moments of the episode are downright terrifying. Henry and Daryl exit the cellar and discuss the fact that some people just aren’t meant to be parents. There’s a touching moment where Henry expresses his gratitude that Daryl and his mom are best friends. Outside the walls, Magna and Yumiko return and spot Tara on the lookout post at the gate. Yumiko speaks with Tara and personally apologizes as guards outside walk Kelly and Connie back to the community. Tara was aware that the group snuck out so she sent guards after them. This is another instance of Tara’s leadership shining as she makes it clear that she wants to hear feedback from her people and that not all of her decisions will be 100% right necessarily. Tara just doesn’t want anyone else to die, and Magna’s group are included in that. There’s a moment of panic as Yumiko spots something suspicious from afar. A large collection of Whisperers are approaching the community. For some reason, Connie is several yards back and must dive into the cornfields to hide as Kelly panics and is dragged into the walls by the guards. Tara alerts the guards and Daryl, and puts the Hilltop on high alert as the creepy collection of enemies march forward. The camera focuses in on a ouroboros belt buckle before turning and showing the back of a bald woman’s body as she marches through her soldiers up to the outer gate of the Hilltop. We see her face, dirtied and almost unrecognizable from the flashbacks. The two parties stare at one another before the woman opens her mouth and declares “I am Alpha,” in a frightening southern accent. Alpha wants just one thing: her daughter. This is our first look at current day Alpha without her walker skin. The fact that she is showing herself sans the Whisperer get up says a lot. She means business.

The good in “Omega”

  • The parallels between Daryl and Lydia are really excellent. It’s comforting to know that the writers haven’t forgotten about such a crucial part of Daryl’s backstory that made him into the person he is today.
  • Daryl’s lighter side coming to the surface as he realizes that taking a hard edge with Lydia is not going to work. He understands her, because he was once her. This is the start of what should be a great relationship.
  • Henry’s attempts to make up for his mistakes by citing Carol and her past, as well as her friendship with Daryl.
  • The backstory of Alpha and Lydia presented in a jumbled way so as to accurately showcase the horrific manipulation that a daughter has experienced from her own mother. Flashbacks on this show are typically clear, but this is a unique case of both the character and the viewer not knowing the whole truth and being fooled by an unreliable narrator.
  • Additionally, the flashbacks help to paint Alpha as a total villain that we shouldn’t have sympathy for. In the same regard, Lydia is shown to be a victim in this scenario.
  • Tara’s demonstration of her leadership shows just how much her character has developed since being introduced in Season 4, but also just from her reckless antics against Dwight last season. She’s really a formidable who should be able to lead the Hilltop through this conflict.
  • Magna’s group showing their absolutely willingness to risk it all in the name of saving their friend. That right there is some genuine loyalty.
  • The creepy factor. The Whisperers and Alpha are some of the scariest things ever shown in this series.

The iffy in “Omega”

  • Alpha and Lydia receiving backstory in the form of flashbacks when so many characters haven’t is a little odd. Negan has been in the story for years now, yet we only received snippets of his life prior to the Saviors. There’s also plenty of long-running main characters who have and will likely never be given backstory. Still, it was important for us to see Alpha and Lydia prior to the Whisperers.
  • Characters missing. It is very much apparent in episodes such as this that certain characters are not shown because that would require paying the actors. The fact that Alden and Luke aren’t shown is understandable, but is a noticeable result of this. Enid should have been shown even if only briefly. Additionally, while we are seeing the Kingdom next week, it is downright ridiculous that they are being kept totally out of the loop once again. Carol being separated from everyone is lame.
  • Magna’s group back-tracking and wanting to return to the Hilltop immediately after sneaking out feels extremely contrived. That being said, it would make sense for them to not think totally clearly in this situation.

The bad in “Omega”

  • Henry should not be this blatantly naive and reckless over someone he just met. It is in line with his character to be direct and careless at times, but some of his actions this episode are laughably ridiculous. From him giving up identifiable information about the communities to him releasing Lydia and touring her around the Hilltop, it’s really hard to believe Carol’s child would act this stupid. At this point, Henry is being treated more as a plot device to force things to happen rather than an actual character…and that’s a huge problem.
  • Connie and Kelly hanging out in the woods AT NIGHT when they clearly understand that they are in danger. Again, this can be chalked up to them not being in a great mindset, but this particular moment isn’t great.
  • Connie going on a leisurely stroll several yard behind Kelly and the guards while returning to the Hilltop. It is painfully clear that the plot calls for Connie to be trapped outside during this first interaction with Alpha…so they manufactured a way for her to get stuck.
Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Nadia Hilker as Magna, Eleanor Matsuura as Yumiko – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 10 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Top performances in “Omega

  • Cassady McClincy as Lydia
  • Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon
  • Samantha Morton as Alpha
  • Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler
  • Angel Theory as Kelly
  • Matt Lintz as Henry

Lingering thoughts and predictions

  • Transmission from the Emergency Broadcast System in the flashbacks revealed that the Army secured downtown Baltimore. It is unknown if that city was bombed as part of Operation Cobalt, which was explained in Season 1 of “Fear the Walking Dead” as the military effort to contain the outbreak. Los Angeles was firebombed fairly early into the apocalypse, but it is entirely possible that Baltimore may still be standing. It’s worth noting that Washington D.C. seems to have not been bombed, as seen in the Season 9 Premiere.
  • Young Lydia’s mention of Halloween may provide further clues as to when exactly the global apocalypse began. Small hints from both series place the theorized start of the apocalypse to either August or September 2010. This series of flashbacks helps with world-building and expanding the lore of the Universe.
  • Hopefully, Daryl opens up to Lydia more about the abuse he suffered. This could allow them to connect more and could provide some additional backstory for Daryl, while also allowing him to make reference to Merle and his family.
  • The current standoff between the Hilltop and the Whisperers is reminiscent to that between the Prison and The Governor, regarding Michonne. Rick really considered turning Michonne over…and thankfully he didn’t.
  • The circumstances surrounding the fall of Coalport and Magna’s group escaping could make for a really interesting series of flashbacks.
  • Luke and Alden being held hostage parallels the final showdown between the Prison and The Governor when he captured Michonne and Hershel.
  • Alpha and Frank sing the song “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” to young Lydia in the flashbacks. Fans of “Breaking Bad” will recognize this song from the series finale.

“Omega” is a solid episode even if it does have a handful of problems. Most of these problems relate to the recurring issue of characters making unbelievably dumb decisions that serve to move the plot forward. Still, the horror aspect as well as the flashbacks and handling of the new characters really serves to make this yet another worthy chapter in an amazing season. Just when we thought we had found peace, the living started walking with the dead.

Be sure to tune into “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

TV REVIEW: ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘Adaptation’

Spoiler Warning for the Mid-Season Premiere (Season 9, Episode 9) of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed. Minor spoilers from “Fear the Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

“It’s about doing whatever it takes to not bury more.”

Do you hear those whispers? They’re deafening. After more than two months on hiatus, “The Walking Dead” is officially back and the stakes are higher and more terrifying than ever. Coming off the heels of a devastating loss at the hands of the newest villains, the series charts the course for the next story arc…and it is chilling.

When we left our survivors, they had just witnessed the shocking stabbing of Jesus in a dark and foggy graveyard. Picking up moments later, Michonne takes charge and orders her people to evacuate the scene before the mysterious force that surrounds them has a chance to strike again. A heartbreaking close up shot of Jesus shows his lifeless face, followedda by blood pouring out of his wounds. Aaron plunges a knife into his head to assure that the Hilltop leader doesn’t reanimate. As Daryl, Aaron and the others collect Jesus’ body, Michonne stands guard and takes down several walkers…and also Whisperers who attempt to strike again. The cold open comes to an end as the group exits the cemetery, locking the gate behind them only for it to be unlocked moments later by a Whisperer disguised as a walker. This is downright horrifying and really plays up the element of horror beautifully.

Danai Gurira as Michonne – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 9 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

There are two primary plots of this episode, but the most pressing one deals with the aftermath of Jesus’ death. The sun comes up and the residents of the Hilltop are wary when they realize that the rescue crew has not returned. Tara holds a meeting with Enid, Alden, DJ and Marco (who has been absent since the Season Premiere) to come up with a game plan to search for their missing people. Luke joins the discussion, wanting to pull his weight and show that he can contribute to the community; he offers to head out and search alongside Alden. In the meantime, the rescue crew stumbles up to where they left their horses. Magna, Yumiko and Eugene discuss the bizarre nature of the people wearing walker masks as Daryl and Aaron note that there are certainly more of the group still out there. There is an excellent moment between Daryl and Michonne whilst heading back to the Hilltop where they note the importance of bringing back Jesus’ body and both apologize to one another for not being able to do so with Rick’s body. Daryl and Michonne have always been a solid team and it seems as though the strange split between our survivors did not impact them. Magna expresses her regret to Aaron about the fact that she didn’t get to know Jesus. This prompts Eugene to blame himself, but Aaron shuts this down right away. As with all of Season 9, these moments of character interaction are vastly improved from the previous 2 seasons, specifically in regards to the dialogue feeling more natural and realistic.

The events in the cemetery change everything. For roughly eleven years, our survivors came to know and totally understand the workings of walkers. Now, they are forced to question everything due to the fact that humans are hiding among the dead. The team flips back into action mode when they come across a herd of walkers, and decide to redirect them to a covered bridge to dispatch the threats. Being the smart and resourceful guy he is, Daryl shoots the walkers in the legs to determine who is actually dead and who is faking. He shoots one Whisperer, who falls to the ground in pain and is devoured by the real walkers. Two others pick up on Daryl’s plan and turn around, but are confronted by Michonne. They pull out knives and prepare to attack, but Michonne slices one and disarms the other. Daryl angrily rips off the walker mask to reveal a teenage girl (Cassady McClincy) who pleads for her life. They are not playing games. Daryl and Michonne scream at her, demanding to know how many of the girl’s people are out there. She states that she is alone now, but that is obviously a lie. As more of the herd closes in on the bridge, the squad decides to roll out…with their new hostage. Michonne issues a stern threat that the young girl shall not try anything lest she wishes to actually end up as one of the dead.

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Eleanor Matsuura as Yumiko, Nadia Hilker as Magna – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 9 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

The people left in this world are no strangers to death. It never gets easier though. The gates of the Hilltop open and the residents are thrilled to see the rescue crew back. However, the mood dramatically shifts when everyone spots Jesus’ lifeless corpse slung over the back of a horse. Tara and Enid are particularly shocked and heartbroken, stepping forward to learn the news from their family. Daryl and the others lower the body from the horse and carry Jesus to the cemetery. The fallen soldier has been brought home. It’s time for the people who loved him the most to honor him. Before the community can mourn the loss of their leader, they have to assess the current threat they face. The captured Whisperer is dragged to the entrance of the jail as Tammy Rose tells Tara that the Hilltop will demand justice for Jesus and that the people are looking to her for answers. Inside the jail, Henry is curious to find out what is happening. As Daryl informs him about the death of Jesus, Michonne and Tara throw the girl into a cell and begin their interrogation. This isn’t your ordinary questioning. Michonne really digs deep into the girl, demanding answers about the Whisperers. The girl seems genuinely terrified, but she also appears to be holding a lot back. Having not gotten anything substantial out of her, the team exits the jail and talks it through outside. Tara thanks Michonne for all she has done and states that Magna’s crew will be allowed to stay at the Hilltop, noting that Jesus would do the same. Michonne wants to get her people back to Alexandria and alert the others about the threat. She takes Daryl aside and makes sure he is aware of the risk that keeping the girl at the Hilltop poses. This is something he will have to deal with…and it’s incredibly tricky.

There’s a handful of other great character moments that take place in the infirmary as Siddiq sets Eugene’s dislocated knee back into place. Rosita is sitting right at his side, and when Siddiq steps away to gather more supplies, Eugene tries once again to open up. Eugene is torn up by the loss of Jesus, but he’s even more haunted by the thought that Rosita nearly lost her life during the altercation outside the walls. He takes this moment to try and express his love to Rosita, but she isn’t ready to hear what he has to say. She rushes out of the infirmary and vomits, prompting Siddiq to come and check on her. A MAJOR revelation is made as Rosita tells Siddiq that she is pregnant with his child. Before she and Father Gabriel were together, Rosita and Siddiq had a series of hookups that is now resulting in pregnancy. Eugene overhears the news and has a stunned and disappointed look on his face. And thus begins what will likely be a love square between Rosita, Eugene, Gabriel and Siddiq. Will tension arise among the foursome? Will it be a battle for Rosita’s love? Will this pregnancy also last three full seasons? It’s important to note that this reveal does tie back to a conversation Negan had with Gabriel in the previous episode where he mentioned overhearing Rosita speaking about someone else. That initially seemed like she may have cheated on Gabriel, but thankfully they didn’t go that route.

Avi Nash as Siddiq, Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter, Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 9 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

We have to talk about a drawback of an otherwise solid episode. It’s Henry. He’s given a few minutes of furlough from jail to talk to Daryl about his drunk and disorderly activities that resulted in him being locked up. Henry desperately wants to find his place at the Hilltop after spending nearly his entire life at the Kingdom. This conversation is actually really solid, and builds upon the relationship between Daryl and Henry that was established in the preceding episodes. It’s the events involving Henry later that are irritating. As Daryl heads back down to further interrogate the girl, she lets out screams of terror and continues her dishonesty about her group. Daryl is fed up with the games she appears to be playing and holds her against the cell door with a knife to her throat demanding answers. The girl mentions her weary mother who was at the cemetery, but was separated and is now apparently the sole survivor of the group. There’s also some dialogue from her revealing that the Whisperers always planned to attack and kill. Daryl threatens to literally drag the girl up to the residents of the Hilltop and let them string her up, but he ultimately backs down on this. All the while he is doing this, Henry is screaming for Daryl to back off, which results in the latter yelling back at the former about wising his ass up. After Daryl leaves, the girl thanks Henry and introduces herself as Lydia. This all seems to be part of Daryl’s plan as he eavesdrops on their conversation from outside. Here we have Henry talking up a clear adversary…because he likes her?

Michonne raises a massively important point about this new threat. Alexandria is completely in the dark about the danger lurking among the dead. Her decision to lead her people back is wise, and while packing up, Aaron seems to agree. He’s torn up about Jesus being killed and expresses his regret that he didn’t see Michonne’s point of view about the communities being separated. Even though he and Jesus were trying to reconnect Alexandria and the Hilltop, it seems as though the events that have just occurred have changed his mind. There’s another fantastic bit of dialogue between Michonne and Daryl that follows as the two joke about the hunter and his dog sleeping in the stables over night. Michonne tells Daryl that he should be co-leading the Hilltop with Tara as this is all too much for one person to handle on their own. This is an exceptionally good point as both Tara and Daryl have their own individual strengths that would make for an effective mutual leadership. Before Team Alexandria departs, they attend Jesus’ funeral along with the rest of the Hilltop. Tara, Enid, Marco and others pay their respects as the former leader is given a hero’s sendoff. Thankfully, the aftermath of his death wasn’t rushed over and we are actually able to see the majority of the character mourn this loss.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 9 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

A significant portion of the episode follows Negan after his escape from the jail cell in the Mid-Season Finale. Stepping out into the world for the first time in roughly seven years (presumably), Negan gets a look at just how much Alexandria is thriving. Under the cover of darkness, he walks to the gardens and snacks on a tomato before grabbing a shovel and claiming it as his new weapon. He oddly sneaks into the Grimes family apartment and enters Judith’s room, where he steals her compass. As the sun rises, he finds a spot on the wall to make his escape. The sound of a little girls stops him dead in his tracks. It’s Judith, armed with her colt python and still in her pajamas. She demands that Negan return to his cell, but he states that she will just have to shoot him. Negan promises that if she lets him go, he won’t hurt anyone ever again. Before he departs, Judith tells him that there’s nothing out there for him or anyone else, and that if she sees him again, she will shoot him. It’s extremely bizarre that no one managed to spot Negan during his early morning escape plot. Why is Judith the only one on watch? Who even is watching her and RJ while Michonne is gone? Much like her brother, Judith just can’t stay in the house…but with good reason.

A fact that is easy to forget is that Negan has been locked up for all these years. He hasn’t had to fight off walkers in this time, but now he is out in the world and must face the undead once again. He fights off two walkers and gets two really clever kills under his belt. Before being a prisoner, Negan had the Saviors around him almost constantly so he never really had to survive on his own. That changes now. He makes a rookie mistake right off the bat by drinking water straight from a creek without filtering it, causing him to vomit. The episode creates an incredible throwback as Negan finds himself in the famed clearing where he lined up Rick’s people on that fateful night and played a torturous game before brutally killing Abraham and Glenn. This time around, he is on his knees. He doesn’t have Lucille or his Saviors. He is alone. This doesn’t mean the Negan we know is gone. He decides to take a shopping trip and finds himself a new leather jacket to reclaim at least some of his old identity. Suddenly, a pack of wild dogs arrive and chase him around the store, leading him to make an escape that ends in a walker feasting on the canines. When Negan was first introduced a few years ago, who would have guessed that he would end up here…on the run from dogs? Again, this is a case of him being forced to adapt and grow as a survivor without the protection of the Saviors that kept him alive for so long.

Cailey Fleming as Judith – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 9 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

The Sanctuary used to be Negan’s own personal castle. It was where he reigned and commanded respect. Those days are long gone, but the building still stands. It was revealed via dialogue a few episodes ago that the Sanctuary fell apart, but this is our first time seeing it post-time jump. Negan arrives and strolls through the front yard, walking through the failed gardens that could have been used to sustain life at the community. He enters the factory and stands upon the perch from which he used to give speeches. Now he looks out at the trashed and abandoned shelter, still whistling that eerie tune that instilled fear in countless survivors. The look on his face makes it clear that he knows this isn’t his home anymore. He finds one walker that was once a loyal Savior under him, and he commends him for remaining when everyone else left. Negan exits and kills a few walkers outside in the main area before returning to the inside and realizing that he can’t remain here. He hops on the back of a motorcycle and speeds on the road, headed back to Alexandria. Out of nowhere, Miss Judith Grimes steps out into the middle of the road, pulls out her colt python and fires a shot right at Negan. He crashes and she holds him at gunpoint once again, restating her claim that there is nothing out in the world for him. She questions whether he is returning to Alexandria or not, and she ends up leading him home. And just like that, Judith quickly becomes one of the most fascinating characters on the show.

The other bit of the episode follows Alden and Luke on their search for the missing rescue team. Unbeknownst to them, the team has returned to the Hilltop, but they keep up the search. The two discuss Luke’s love for musical instruments and there is yet another mention of the upcoming Fair, which Alden suggests would be a good place for Luke to play music. There’s also a reference to Alden singing, which was first seen in “A New Beginning.” Luke spots one of Yumiko’s arrows and goes to investigate before being attacked by a walker…that has half a walker attached to it’s legs. The special effects team for the walkers never lets us down. Alden shows off his spear throwing skills as he saves Luke from being a walker snack. Luke finds another arrow and suggests that Yumiko left a trail for them to follow. The sound of a walker herd alerts them to the fact that they need to speed up their search efforts. Moments later, Alden and Luke are walking through the woods when they come across a walker in the foreground. They are confused when it suddenly stops dead in its tracks and just stares at them. Around them are similar walkers doing the exact same thing. The first suddenly flings an arrow in their direction before pulling out a shotgun, pointing it at Alden and Luke and stating “trail ends here,” in a chilling southern accent. This is Alpha (Samantha Morton)…and she isn’t here to play games.

Dan Fogler as Luke, Callan McAuliffe as Alden – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 9 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

The good in “Adaptation”

  • Judith and Negan are the standouts of this episode for sure. Each of their scenes showcase the hilarious and unique nature of their complicated relationship. Judith seems to have some compassion for Negan and vice versa. Still, she WILL shoot him if need be.
  • The horror element surrounding the Whisperers, particularly in the opening and closing scenes where their tactics and ability to be sneaky are shown.
  • Daryl and Michonne’s conversations really solidify their bond. They have been surviving together for years, and the trust between them is stronger than ever. Theya listen to one another and have developed a deep understanding for how each other operates. That is a deep dynamic.
  • Alden and Luke’s blossoming friendship allows for some levity in an otherwise dark and depressing story.
  • Jesus’ death was handled exceptionally well, particularly in the Hilltop’s reactions and at his actual funeral. Seeing Tom Payne reprise his role as the lifeless body of Jesus just really hurts. He’s actually gone.
  • The show not forgetting the deep bond between Rosita and Eugene. They have also been surviving together for so long, but have different takes on their relationship.
  • Lydia and Alpha’s introductions are top-notch.
  • The musical score is consistently amazing throughout the episode.

The iffy in “Adaptation”

  • Judith being a badass all over town is entertaining, but where are the other residents of Alexandria? Why does a ten year old child have to hunt down and capture the ONLY prisoner in the community? Where is Father Gabriel in all of this?
  • Why is the Kingdom not even being mentioned? Wouldn’t it be wise for them to somehow be informed of the current crisis so they are at least prepared to defend themselves?

The bad in “Adaptation”

  • Henry’s interruptions of Lydia’s interrogations are a clear sign that they are setting him up to take on a version of Carl’s comic arc, which isn’t the best material in the graphic novels. The whole situation feels pretty forced and already makes Henry look dumber than he should be at this point.
Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler, Brett Butler as Tammy Rose – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 9 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

Top performances in “Adaptation”

  • Cassady McClincy as Lydia
  • Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon
  • Danai Gurira as Michonne
  • Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan
  • Cailey Fleming as Judith Grimes

Lingering thoughts and predictions

  • Will Judith advocate for Negan to be given more freedom upon their return to Alexandria? This may be a point of disagreement between her and Michonne.
  • Negan handled several new weapons, but will he ever get Lucille back? Michonne did mention they never retrieved her, so it’s likely that she is still resting under that tree in the field.
  • The dogs attacking Negan is reminiscent to Season 5’s “Them,” when the group was stunned by a pack of wild dogs only to be saved by sharpshooting Sasha. It’s also worth pointing out that these dogs are likely the offspring of canines that lived before the apocalypse. Even though the world has ended, the rules of nature still apply. h
  • What happened to the surviving residents of the Sanctuary, including Negan’s wives? Did they die when the community fell apart or did they disperse and join other communities? We know Laura and DJ joined Alexandria and became active members among the residents.
  • Daryl and Tara co-leading the Hilltop could make for some really great material between the two. Hopefully Tara isn’t just thrown to the side so Daryl can shine. She deserves to be in the spotlight also.
  • Magna comforting Enid while Alden and Luke are missing really says a lot about her character. Perhaps this is the start of a new friendship. They would certainly make for a powerful duo.
  • When exactly did Alden learn spear-throwing? This is likely something he picked up from living at the Hilltop all these years.
  • Rosita being pregnant is concerning, especially because her comic counterpart undergoes a similar arc…and it doesn’t end well. That being said, this love “square” could really create an interesting dynamic with her and her lovers.
  • When exactly did Daryl/Michonne stop looking for Rick’s body? Do they truly 100% believe he is dead? Maybe this is already setting up Danai Gurira’s confirmed exit from the series in Season 10, which may serve to transition her to the upcoming Rick Grimes film trilogy.
  • What are Alpha’s plans for Luke and Alden? Perhaps she will use them in an attempt to get Lydia out of the Hilltop.

“Adaptation” is a thoroughly entertaining return to “The Walking Dead” that really hammers in the threat of the Whisperers and opens up all kinds of story potential. One survivor has fallen and more are sure to follow him as the next big conflict is officially underway. The world we know is changing, and it is downright scary to watch.

Be sure to tune into “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC. 

The Fyre Festival Phenomenon

Some people just like to watch the world burn. In April of 2017, that’s exactly what happened as the eyes of the Internet were on a small island in the Bahamas. The Fyre Festival drew the attention of everyone because it was an absolute disaster. Nearly two years later, attention has been turned back to the failed festival in two documentaries that give insider information into just how everything fell apart. Scratch that; nothing was ever together with this event.

In what seemed like an expert marketing power move, Hulu surprisingly released it’s documentary titled “Fyre Fraud” four days before Netflix’s “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” released. With two detailed accounts of the breakdown dropping in such close proximity, there has been a renewed interest in the joke of a festival. The question remains: which film is superior? Honestly, that doesn’t really matter, because they both do a fantastic job at recounting the hellacious events before, during and after Fyre.

In the weeks leading up to the festival, there was a major social media push that included models, actors and other influencers using their influence to promote the luxurious and exclusive image of Fyre. Months later, social media exploded as live updates, photos and videos from those on the ground in the Bahamas trended and became the meme of the week. To watch it all unfold in real time was truly a remarkable experience that is hard to fully put into words. In all aspects, this meltdown is an example of millennial culture in its most raw form.

What the duo of documentaries reveal is something much more serious and difficult about one of the greatest days of the Internet. People were hurt because of Fyre Festival and the fraud committed by Billy McFarland and his team. Organizing and putting together a large-scale festival like this is no small feat. On site, many residents of Grand Exhuma in the Bahamas worked day and night, yet received no pay. Within the Fyre company itself, many lower-level employees were also scammed. These bits of information went largely unnoticed as the live disaster captivated those watching at home.

Thanks to these documentaries, people are finally taking notice. As such, the Internet has banded together in some respects to make right for some of those that Fyre wronged. A GoFundMe was set up to raise money for a restaurant owner who catered the event yet was never paid by festival organizers. At the time of this article’s publishing, the fundraising goal has been surpassed. Had it not been for these documentaries and the kindness of people on the Internet, this gross scam would have probably been overlooked entirely.

What both films do excellently is dive into the intricacies of why this particular event drew so much attention. What compelled people to spend thousands of dollars to attend a festival without any real knowledge of what it would actually be? Why were we all fascinated with seeing photos of concertgoers hunkered in hurricane relief tents? As entertaining as it all was to see unfold in realtime, these documentaries do shine a light on some crucial facts that transform what was originally a meme into an actual act of criminality. That being said, some of the twists in the films just contribute to the hilarity of the meme-side of things. You have to watch them. If you think you know how wild things got…you’ve got a big storm coming.

What these two documentaries on the festival show is that people love to see things devolve into a mess. People also love to help put things back together. There is no harm in having fun with the insane meltdown that was Fyre Festival. The memes and hilarity of it all brought the Internet together for a weekend, and to be perfectly honest…that’s a good thing. Two years later, we see the behind-the-scenes fiasco of it all and realize that actual people were left in shambles because of this mess. Hopefully through these documentaries, people will also take note of the hardships that have resulted from this large-scale fraud. No one could have ever predicted that a music festival such as this would become a worldwide phenomenon that is still being talked about to this day. This is one meme that will stand the test of time.

“Fyre Fraud” is available to stream on Hulu. “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” is available to steam on Netflix.

The Best Performances on Television in 2018

If it weren’t for the remarkable performances on this list, television just wouldn’t be as good as it is. We laugh, we cry and we cheer because of the raw emotions and comedic timing that these actors and those not on this list work so hard to perfect. A note, the performers on the list are just from shows that I watched this year.

And now, here are the 35 best performances on television in 2018:

Alex Lawther as James (“The End of the F***ing World”)

If you’ve seen the chilling “Black Mirror” episode titled “Shut Up and Dance,” then you will know just how good Alex Lawther is at playing a creep. In the case of this character, however, he has some charm to him. Self diagnosed psychopath James goes on a coming-of-age journey to figure himself out alongside Alyssa (Jessica Barden). Lawther excellently mixes charm and humor with a sense of discomfort in these eight episodes.

Alexa Nisenson as Charlie (“Fear the Walking Dead”)

One of the best episodes of the fourth season of “Fear the Walking Dead” finds Charlie in a rather awkward place. “Close Your Eyes” is dark and disturbing, with a huge reason being Alexa Nisenson’s emotional portrayal of grief and hopelessness. Thanks to her charisma, Nisenson manages to evolve her character from public enemy number one after killing one of the most beloved characters to a place where viewers actually feel compassion for her.

 

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark (“Fear the Walking Dead”)

Alycia Debnam-Carey is one of the best performers not just in “Fear the Walking Dead,” but in the entire “TWD” franchise. Her character Alicia has had several episodes focused on her difficult time in the apocalypse, but 2018 was her most devastating year yet. Pure grief and mental exhaustion are recurring aspects of Alicia in Season 4 as her entire family is lost to the harsh post-apocalyptic world. She can be badass when she needs to be, but she also has an emotional side to her that really allows Debnam-Carey to shine. Her performance in “Close Your Eyes,” opposite Nisenson, is too good to put into words. Other notable demonstrations of her immense talent include “Good Out Here” and “No One’s Gone.” If there was any kind of logic to television awards, Alycia would be nominated for everything.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes (“The Walking Dead”)

The end of an era. After eight full seasons and over 100 episodes, Andrew Lincoln exited “The Walking Dead” and began his journey in a film trilogy that is expected to begin production in 2019. Without any doubt, Lincoln is the best performer on the show and he never fails to deliver emotional and impactful beats as Rick Grimes. In his final episode “What Comes After,” Lincoln lays it all out on the table as he bids farewell to his family, those fallen and alive. There’s also the undeniably heartbreaking episode “Honor,” which saw the powerful bond between Rick and Carl come to an end.

Antoinette Robinson as Coco Conners (“Dear White People”)

Staring on a highly underrated series, Antoinette Robinson really put herself out there in the sophomore season. A chapter based entirely around her character Coco’s difficult decision regarding abortion made for some truly heartbreaking and thought-provoking material. This particular episode really allows Robinson to show the full weight of said decision, making it one of the most realistic depictions of what a woman goes through whilst weighing her options. There is still humor, but Antoinette really shines in a dramatic light here.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill (“Better Call Saul”)

The “Breaking Bad” franchise is chock full of acting powerhouses and Bob Odenkirk’s talent has been on full display since he entered the world in the original series’ second season. However, his own show has really allowed Odenkirk to take Jimmy McGill to some truly emotional places and gives so much more depth to the character. The evolution from a sleazy lawyer to the crime organizer that we all know and love is fascinating to watch, mostly because of Odenkirk’s ability to demonstrate every single emotion; he sometimes shuffles through every emotion in a matter of minutes…and it is glorious.

Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred Miles. (Photo credit: Guy D’Alema/FX)

Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred ‘Paper Boi’ Miles (“Atlanta”)

The entire main cast of “Atlanta” is on this list, because it is one of the most talented ensembles on television today. Brian Tyree Henry’s “Paper Boi” shines most clearly in “Robbin’ Season,” particularly the episode “Barbershop.” This whirlwind bit of television captures the genius absurdity of the show, but also the ability of this performer to demonstrate raw irritation and mental exhaustion in a way that few are able to do. You can feel the frustration that Alfred feels and the situations he finds himself in become more and more ridiculous, not just in this episode, but in the entire season.

Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes (“The Walking Dead”)

Ask any fan of “The Walking Dead” and they will probably tell you that the loss of Carl at the start of 2018 was one of the most emotional moments in the show’s history. After being severely underused throughout Season 8, the series bid farewell to the child soldier in a devastating episode that paid tribute to his character and the sacrifice he made. Chandler Riggs delivered his best performance to date in the episode, really showcasing all that he and his character had learned over the past eight years. While the highly controversial exit may have hurt the image of the show in some ways, this will go down as one of the most memorable performances in the series run.

Cody Fern as Michael Langdon (“American Horror Story: Apocalypse”)

2018 was a HUGE year for Cody Fern as he gave award-worthy performances on three different shows. While his work on “American Crime Story” and “House of Cards” certainly deserve praise, it is his portrayal of the literal Antichrist that stands out the most. While the eighth season of “American Horror Story” may have been a mess overall, the inclusion of Fern really saves it from being a total lost cause. There’s an unexpected sense of moodiness to the character that mixes with his frightening persona. At some points, you uncomfortably feel bad for him and at other times, you just want the badass coven of witches to take him down.

D’Arcy Carden as Janet. (Photo credit: NBC)

D’Arcy Carden as Janet (“The Good Place”)

Season 3 of the best show on television in 2018 wouldn’t be nearly as incredible as it is without D’Arcy Carden. She is seriously so talented and it is solidified in this year’s winter finale, titled “Janet(s),” as she somehow manages to perfectly portray the entire main cast in yet another wacky expansion of the show’s universe. She’s a comedic powerhouse that really shatters all expectations when it comes to playing a character.

Danielle Brooks as Tasha ‘Taystee’ Jefferson (“Orange is the New Black”)

While the 6th season of the veteran Netflix series may have been the worst of the show yet, one thing remains totally consistent. In the more recent seasons, Danielle Brooks’ portrayal of Taystee has shifted from being mostly comedic to primarily dramatic. With that, Brooks is able to deliver the best acting on the show. Her emotions pour out, specifically in this season’s dramatic conclusion to her character’s criminal trial.

Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”)

To say that this is a “good” performance would be a gross understatement. This is certainly in the top five out of this list. Darren Criss steps into the role of one of history’s notorious serial killers, showing a wide range of emotions in the process. This portrayal really did an excellent job at presenting this killer as more than just a generic villain, and tried to understand the methods behind his madness. While he may have previously been known for his role on “Glee,” it seems as though Criss has set himself up to be an acting juggernaut across genres.

Donald Glover as Earnest Marks. (Photo credit: FX Networks/20th Television)

Donald Glover as Earnest Marks (“Atlanta”)

If you’re not a fan of Donald Glover at this point…what are you doing? He is incredible. The entire cast of “Atlanta” is incredible, and Glover manages to present his character as a relatable and loving, standing out from the pack. Perhaps the most stunning performance of the year, comes from him in Season 2’s “Teddy Perkins.” Glover plays the titular character and it is TERRIFYING, yet there is an uncomfortable comedic element that really adds a whole other layer of complexity.

Frank Dillane as Nick Clark (“Fear the Walking Dead”)

In a year that was especially difficult for fans of the “TWD” shows, this was one of the biggest losses. Frank Dillane’s Nick struck a cord with viewers immediately in the Pilot episode that aired back in 2015. Over the years, his character came to be the heart and soul of the series with the fourth season proving this even more. His darkened path really allowed Dillane to show the ruthlessness to his character. The real emotional punch came in “Good Out Here,” wherein Nick’s arc comes to an end and Dillane really sells the devastation, fear and confusion of the moment.

Jessica Barden as Alyssa (“The End of the F***ing World”)

The other half to Lawther’s James, Jessica Barden’s Alyssa is just as compelling and oddly hilarious. There’s this badass element to the character that beautifully mixes with an untapped vulnerability. Her humor and savagery masks the trauma that she experiences, making her an extremely layered character that feels so unique. Barden presents her character as a young woman trying to find her place in the world whilst struggling to express herself and open up.

Judith Light as Marilyn Miglin. (Photo credit: Matt Dinerstein/FX)

Judith Light as Marilyn Miglin (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”)

When discussing this series, many might overlook this particular performance…and that’s a shame. Judith Light’s portrayal of a grieving wife in the spotlight following her husband’s murder is heavy. While the character isn’t at the center of the entire story, she does play a major role in showcasing the emotional toll that Andrew Cunanan’s killing spree had on those left behind.

Justina Machado as Penelope Alvarez (“One Day at a Time”)

Justina Machado brings so much to yet another underrated show on this list. Her character is a hardworking mother, daughter and a veteran. Very rarely are depression and anxiety represented in a realistic way on television, but Machado’s Penelope does just that. There’s also the humor that she really makes a central part of her character, which is wholly important and serves to showcase her as being multi-faceted.

Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings (“The Americans”)

For six seasons, Keri Russell gave some of the most consistent and epic performances on television as Elizabeth Jennings. Her stoic nature and ruthlessness makes her the definition of “badass.” Combined with Matthew Rhys, the series really has such a remarkable dynamic between the two. In the final episode of the series, Russell hammers in the emotional gravity of the tricky balance between her role as a mother and of a Soviet spy.

Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop — (Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC)

Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop (“The Good Place”)

Everyone knows that Kristen Bell is funny, but she really shows off her dramatic chops in Season 3 of her incredible series. The episode, “A Fractured Inheritance” is where she really shines this year as her character Eleanor comes face-to-face with her mother after believing her to be dead. This particular episode and the season as a whole allows Bell to demonstrate her character’s growth and development.

Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones (“Marvel’s Jessica Jones”)

2018 saw the Netflix-Marvel Cinematic Universe collapse as most of the show were cancelled, leaving just “Jessica Jones” and “The Punisher” surviving into 2019. While the second season of the former may not be as strong as it’s first, the performance from Krysten Ritter is better than ever. Jessica is truly a tortured soul, and Ritter captures this by putting the emotional trauma out for the world to see. She still has the toughness that we love about her, but she is far more vulnerable and emotional as her family tears apart at the seams.

Lakeith Stanfield as Darius Epps (“Atlanta”)

This performer is left off of many of the nominations list and isn’t always included with his fellow “Atlanta” cast members. There is no reason for that, because Lakeith Stanfield continually gives performances that make Darius one of the most lovable and entertaining characters to watch on the show. His genuine fear and confusion is a main focal point in the aforementioned “Teddy Perkins,” but he always brings this level of acting, regardless of tone or the situation within the episode.

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Kerry Cahill as Dianne. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee (“The Walking Dead”)

Andrew Lincoln wasn’t the only high level departure from the zombie drama in 2018. After being a staple in the series since 2011, Cohan made an apparently temporary exit, but not before showing her character’s growth and determination as a leader. Season 9 showed her character to be far more ruthless and vengeful, allowing for her character to pour her heart out about the losses she has suffered. Particular praise should be given for her performances in “Wrath” and “What Comes After” as Maggie faces a future in which her husband’s killer is allowed to remain alive.

Mandy Moore as Rebecca Pearson (“This Is Us”)

Super Bowl Sunday this year was quite traumatic for fans of this series. In part, this was because of Rebecca’s gut-wrenching reaction to the death of her beloved husband in the episode which aired following the championship game. This particular moment in the series is one of the most brutal and honest portrayals of genuine shock that has been seen on screen. You can feel the pain, sorrow and confusion that Mandy Moore pours out as her world comes crumbling down. Without any doubt, Moore should have at least been nominated for an Emmy, because she is pretty much perfect.

Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings. (Photo credit: Eric Liebowitz/FX)

Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings (“The Americans”)

The end of the spy-drama in 2018 marked the end of years of brilliant performances from Matthew Rhys as Philip. Everything that needs to be said about this inclusion on the list can be seen clearly in the series finale as his character’s secrets come out and he is confronted by his best friend, Stan. The final season of the series shows the character to be in a different mindset than when his spy persona was the central focus, allowing for the conclusion of the story to really be grueling for him and his character. His Emmy win for this role is overdue and shows that the voters know what they’re doing sometimes.

Maya Rudolph as Connie, the Hormone Monstress (“Big Mouth”)

No one…and I mean no one will EVER be able to say “bubble bath” as perfectly as Maya Rudolph. “Big Mouth” has captivated viewers and the Hormone Monstress is a huge reason why. Her charm and sassy sayings make the character so damn fascinating to watch. She’s downright hilarious in this role, but there is also a ton of wisdom to be had here. Here’s hoping for years and years of more iconic sayings from Rudolph in this role.

Melvin Gregg as DeMarcus Tillman (“American Vandal”)

The stakes were raised and the crime was intensified in the second season of the Netflix mockumentary. In this iteration, a major focus was on Melvin Gregg’s star basketball player, accused of poisoning the school. While he might not yet be a household name, Gregg’s charisma and talent certainly might make that a possibility. His character is presented as a total millennial with all of the privilege that comes with being a student athlete.

Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson — (Photo credit: NBC/20th Television)

Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson (“This Is Us”)

Jack Pearson is an incredible father, husband and human being. Milo Ventimiglia captures this in his portrayal of the Pearson patriarch. Season 3 really allows for more backstory of the character as viewers see the tumultuous home life of Jack that serves as a catalyst to his time serving in Vietnam. This particular story arc packs a lot of emotional punches and viewers get to see a whole other side to Ventimiglia’s performance of the character. Matched with Mandy Moore, this is an absolute dynamic duo.

Noah Emmerich as Stan Beeman (“The Americans”)

Since the very start of the series, there was a comforting aura present with this character. Over the years, he had to harden as the weight of his job as an FBI agent pulled him down. At the end, Noah Emmerich gives his finest performance in the role as he confronts what he thought were his best friends in the Jennings. The look of betrayal on Stan’s face in that final standoff in the parking garage is exactly why Emmerich is on this list.

Penélope Cruz as Donatella Versace (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”)

Picking individuals from this limited series is difficult because the entire cast is fantastic. Along with the others on this list, Penélope Cruz really stands out. Unfortunately, she isn’t always the focus on the series, but she still steals every scene she is in. Stepping into the role of a living figure is no easy task, but Cruz captures the very public grief that Donatella Versace experienced over 20 years ago. This portrayal shows the importance of persevering in the face of complete and utter tragedy.

Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler. (Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler (“Better Call Saul”)

One of the absolute best parts of the “Breaking Bad” prequel series is none other than Rhea Seehorn’s Kim. She’s pretty much the perfect television character in every sense of the word. In the second episode of Season 4, Kim lashes out at Patrick Fabian’s Howard Hamlin in quite possibly Seehorn’s greatest moment in the series. She’s such a likable and down-to-earth person who begins to develop a sharper edge in the latest episodes as Jimmy McGill’s transformation into Saul Goodman begins to rub off on her.

Rita Moreno as Lydia Riera (“One Day at a Time”)

This list just would not be complete without LIVING LEGEND Rita Moreno. Her role on one of the top shows of 2018 is a testament to her talent in both drama and comedy. She can be downright hilarious as her character Lydia pokes fun at her family members. In other scenes, Lydia provides comfort and sometimes chaos to her daughter and grandchildren. Particular praise should be given to her scenes with her Justina Machado, because those two together is simply television gold.

Susan Kelechi Watson as Beth Pearson (“This Is Us”)

Something that “This Is Us” really manages to excel at is allowing each member of the cast to have their moment to shine. In 2018, the character of Beth is given more time in the spotlight than ever before. Viewers really get to see things from her perspective, including her being laid off from her job and struggling with being unemployed. Susan’s work in Season 3 is the best part of the odd Randall campaign arc that is especially prevalent.

Thandie Newton as Maeve Millay. (Photo courtesy of HBO)

Thandie Newton as Maeve Millay (“Westworld”)

“Westworld” is a difficult show to watch sometimes and the characters aren’t exactly easy to connect with. That being said, Thandie Newton’s Maeve is the standout. Her quest to find her daughter in the malfunctioning park is a compelling journey. Even though she is one of the “hosts,” there is so much human emotion that Newton brings to the character as she becomes more and more cognizant. If there were more characters like this, “Westworld” might be more of an enjoyable show.

Zahn McClarnon as Akecheta (“Westworld”)

Speaking of strong characters in “Westworld,” Zahn McClarnon’s Akecheta has to be mentioned. Funnily enough, this is another “host” who is ironically more human than the actual human characters on the show. In the second season’s “Kiksuya,” Akecheta’s story is told as he searches for the love of his life. McClarnon really knows how to act with his eyes, not even needing to speak a line of dialogue to bring forth all of the emotions he is feeling.

Zazie Beetz as Van Keefer (“Atlanta”)

This rounds out the entire main cast of “Atlanta” being on this list. Zazie Beetz is yet another crucial player in the story and her standalone episode in the second season proves just how compelling her portrayal is. “Champagne Papi” is one of the most entertaining episodes of the season, partly because of Beetz’ hilarious performance whilst celebrating New Year’s Eve at Drake’s mansion with her drugged friends.

What are your picks for the best television performances of 2018? Share them with us in the comment section! 

The Best Television Shows of 2018

There is so much to watch on television. Even if you were to try, it is simply impossible to keep up with all of the comedies, dramas, documentaries, etcetera that are airing across the dozens of networks and streaming platforms. How does one choose what to watch, and more importantly, stick with? The Golden Age of Television that we currently live in allows us the amazing opportunity to travel to distant lands, relive important historical events, and to just laugh hysterically.

The following is my personal list of the best shows that aired during the year 2018. To best capture a wide range of shows, these selections are based on the combination of two key factors: entertainment value and quality. This distinction is made because I believe that a show may not necessarily be the highest quality but can still be enjoyable and worthy of praise. Obviously, I could not possibly watch every show that aired, so several highly praised series (such as “Killing Eve,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Pose,” etc.) are not included. Still, this list contains a wide variety of shows that span genres and networks.

And now, here are the top shows of 2018:

Honorable Mentions

Esther Povitsky and Benji Aflalo in “Alone Together”
(Photo credit: Disney–ABC Domestic Television)

Alone Together (Freeform)

Two years after ABC Family re-branded into Freeform, they launched a sleeper comedy series helmed by the The Lonely Island. Comedians Esther Povitsky and Benji Aflalo star as best friends in Los Angeles trying to get their lives on track. Airing two full seasons in 2018 before being cancelled, this show never really took off, even though it really seemed to understand millennial humor and culture. Mixing a variety of ridiculous scenarios with some truly hilarious pop culture references, this comedy knows exactly what it is and runs with it. Each episode feels totally different, but the dynamic and conflicting personalities of Esther and Benji some how manage to maintain the charm and heart of the series. Even though it is short-lived, all episodes are currently streaming on Hulu and should absolutely be watched.

Alex Lawther and Jessica Barden in “The End of the F***ing World” (Photo credit: Netflix)

The End of the F***ing World (Netflix)

Do you ever just feel like dropping everything and leaving your life behind? That exactly what James and Alyssa do in this whirlwind British dramedy. Technically, the episodes aired in the United Kingdom back in Oct. 2017, but the series released on Netflix internationally at the beginning of this year and is therefore included on this list. The best way to describe this series is that it is two characters trying to survive an apocalypse that isn’t actually happening. This an excellent coming of age story that really blends humor and drama perfectly. Alex Lawther and Jessica Barden are downright incredible in their roles as their characters forge a fascinating relationship. These eight episodes are a surprise joy ride from start to finish, and more (possibly unnecessary story) is on the way with a second season confirmed.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa, Cooper Andrews as Jerry, Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter, Khary Payton as Ezekiel, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler, Tom Payne as Paul ‘Jesus’ Rovia. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

This show appearing on this list may come as a surprise to many. This is my personal favorite series and I will defend it forever. The past two seasons were notoriously weaker than the first six years, but with a new showrunner and a refreshing direction, the series that many fell in love with has returned. Blending the feel of the classic seasons while forging ahead into the future has given this aging zombie drama a lot of much-needed life. Building up to the exits of Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes and Lauren Cohan’s Maggie Rhee allowed for some remarkable character interactions while also paying tribute to the years of story that fans have invested themselves in. The implementation of a six year time jump and the focus on key characters at the heart and soul of the show has allowed for the story to continue on in intriguing ways without two of its main players. If you previously gave up on “The Walking Dead,” it is time to catch up, because the future is bright.

Kristin Chenoweth in “Trial & Error” — (Photo credit: NBC/Warner Bros. Television)

Trial & Error (NBC)

Much like other shows on this list, this comedy flew under the radar of many…and that’s a shame. The second season of this hilarious mockumentary catches up with the residents of East Peck, South Carolina as one of their most famous and beloved residents is charged with murder. Kristin Chenoweth fills the absence left by John Lithgow, the suspect in Season 1. Taking inspiration from fellow NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” this take on the criminal justice system really showcases the absurdity of small town politics. The sexual tension between Josh Segal (Nicholas D’Agosto) and Carol Anne Keane (Jayma Mays), the ridiculous antics of Dwayne Reed (Steven Boyer), and the hysterical symptoms of Anne Flatch (Sherri Shepherd) make this a campy and clever story with a narrative that is actually engrossing. Sadly, this is yet another series that won’t continue into 2019, but the second season is absolutely a treat.

Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden in “Westworld” — (Photo credit: HBO/Warner Bros. Television)

Westworld (HBO)

This might be the most pretentious show on television at the moment. Sometimes that can be detrimental when the narrative is so convoluted that it is nearly impossible to follow. Other times, the grand scale and ambition of the series is downright hard not to become entranced by. The first season wasn’t perfect and neither is the second, but there is a lot of improvement in these ten episodes that really make way for some wonderful moments. While much of the story is weaving through multiple timelines with plenty of not-so-gripping characters, the payoff and performances are where “Westworld” really shines. Thandie Newton’s Maeve is the strongest aspect of Season 2, along with the expansion of the world. Even with some of its faults, this is truly an awe-inspiring show that is very much unique and doesn’t play to expectations.

Top Ten

Photo credit: Netflix

10. Big Mouth (Netflix)

It is controversial. It is unsettling. It is hilarious. The second season of Netflix’s coming of age animated series really builds upon the wild foundation that was established when it arrived in 2017. Pretty much anything can happen in this series. Talking pillows that crave sex? Check. A singing Shame Wizard causing regret among the youth? Check. A middle school coach teaching sex ed even though he himself is a virgin? Check. Through these wacky scenarios, “Big Mouth” captures the awkwardness of puberty and manages to teach some important lessons. Not only is the humor fantastic, but there is some unexpectedly amazing character development and story progression that is usually absent from a show such as this. Plus, there’s the cast, which is too perfect to put into words. Give Maya Rudolph all of the awards simply for her pronunciation of “bubble bath.”

Edgar Ramírez and Penélope Cruz in “American Crime Story” — (Photo credit: FX/20th Television)

9. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)

On July 15, 1997, the world was shocked when famed fashion designer, Gianni Versace, was murdered outside of his Miami mansion. Nearly 21 years after the killing, FX’s biopic takes viewers on a retroactive journey to show the events leading up to that fateful morning. Rather than having Versace be the central focus, the series follows the life and murders of Andrew Cunanan, played by Darren Criss. While some of the structure of the miniseries may cause some head-scratching, and the second season isn’t on the same level of “The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” the quality put into this series captures the drama of this true American crime story. The nine episodes perfectly place the viewer in the time period and tackle a plethora of issues that still persist today, including the prevalence of homophobia in society. Criss is simply spectacular in the role, and is complimented by excellent performances by Penélope Cruz, Édgar Ramírez and Judith Light, among others.

Jonathan Banks and Bob Odenkirk in “Better Call Saul” — (Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

8. Better Call Saul (AMC)

Who would have ever guessed that a prequel series to “Breaking Bad” would somehow be anywhere on the same level as the show that is widely considered to be one of the all time greats? While 2017’s third season may still be the best run of the show yet, this fourth season still maintains the superb storytelling and character development. Watching this series is a unique experience as the viewer is well aware how things will end up, but it is utterly fascinating to see the characters slowly devolve into their “Breaking Bad” counterparts. There’s also the amazing characters that never show up in the original series, such as Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler, who is one of the best aspects of the show. With a perfect pace and a darker tone, “Better Call Saul” Season 4 is an absolute treat that brings Jimmy McGill several steps closer to going full blown Saul Goodman.

“The Haunting of Hill House” cast — (Photo credit: Steve Dietl/Netflix)

7. The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)

This was possibly one of the biggest surprises on television in 2018. The series sort of just appeared and generated a massive amount of attention as viewers shared on social media how terrified they were by the show. It is absolutely scary and might just make you have a difficult time falling asleep. The real draw here is the characters and their impossibly difficult relationships with one another. Showing a large family through multiple different time periods as they experience loss and the ghosts that follow may seem complicated. Instead, the timelines are threaded together with some stunning transitions and parallels that really tie everything together beautifully. The all-star cast, along with the powerful cinematography and writing, really make this a series worth binging through.

The cast of “One Day at a Time” — (Photo credit: Adam Rose/Netflix)

6. “One Day at a Time” (Netflix)

There are only a handful of comedies that dare to touch upon heavy issues. Most sitcoms prefer to stick to the jokes and let the humor be the central focus, but “One Day at the Time” is different. The Alvarez family captures what real people actually go through. Season 2 expands upon what the first season established by showcasing struggles with sexuality, mental health, racism, religion and so much more. By showing real and visceral portrayals of these struggles, the show works to remove stigmas and have open dialogue. Living-legend Rita Moreno brings a ton of heart and laughs as Lydia. The shining star of this season is Justina Machado who depicts one of the most stunning and emotional portrayals of PTSD, depression and anxiety that I’ve seen. “One Day at a Time” paints an accurate picture of a typical family in America 2018 with all their quirks, problems and love. We need more shows like this. We need more positive representation like this.

Matthews Rhys, Holly Taylor, and Keri Russell as “The Americans” — (Photo credit: FX/20th Television)

5. “The Americans” (FX)

For five years, viewers were transported to the 1980s during an especially eventful period of the Cold War. “The Americans” wrapped after 6 incredible seasons and managed to maintain it’s remarkably high quality until the very end. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys deliver two of the greatest performances of the year in this final season as their Elizabeth and Philip desperately try to maintain their cover while keeping their family together. There’s such a sense of finality in these last ten episodes that serve to bring some closure to viewers while allowing for some self-interpretation. There’s nothing quite like this show’s ability to tell such a grand story in such a quiet and low-key way. Keeping in line with the series as a whole, this last season is a slow-burn, but is totally compelling and gripping throughout. Even though it was never a ratings hit, this show will go down as one of the smartest and most engrossing series to air.

Karamo Brown, Jonathan Van Ness, Tan France, Antoni Porowski and Bobby Berk — (Photo credit: Netflix)

4. Queer Eye (Netflix)

The Fab Five are changing lives. Karamo Brown, Jonathan Van Ness, Tan France, Antoni Porowski and Bobby Berk are five gay men that are on a mission to bring out the best in people. A revival of Bravo’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” this reality series spends each episode with an individual as they discover their true self with the help of the Fab Five. This isn’t your average makeover show and instead focuses on enhancing oneself rather than completely altering everything. Each with their own area of expertise, these five men take their time and get to know their client to best create a plan to help them. With the series being set in Georgia in the current political climate, one might expect there to be tension and hatred. Instead, this series focuses on love and attempts to show that we are more alike than different. The two seasons that released in 2018 are brilliant and have made the Fab 5 social media icons. “Queer Eye” is inspiring and encourages the viewer to be the best version of yourself you can be. Hopefully, this series continues on for years to come, because this is precisely the kind of positivity the world needs right now.

Tyler Alvarez and Griffin Gluck in “American Vandal” — (Photo credit: Netflix)

3. American Vandal (Netflix)

The Turd Burgler is bringing chaos to a Washington high school and is causing students to literally shit their pants. Much like the first season, the plot of the second and final season of “American Vandal” is absurd, but is also one of the most clever things to air on television lately. Following their success with the “#WhoDrewTheDicks” mystery, Peter and Sam continue their investigative documentary series and the twists continue. To say that this show is wild would be an understatement. Sure, there are plenty of laughs to be had, but where this show really succeeds is the excellent commentary on the youth of today. This show is not a typical portrayal of young people. It understands this generation in a way that no other show really does. Rather than simply vilifying millennials for their obsession with social media and being constantly attached to screens, “American Vandal” tries to understand why and actually provides solid answers. Season 2 is more than just poop jokes just as Season 1 is more than just dick jokes. This show is golden and it is a crime than Netflix cancelled it. Do yourself a favor and watch both seasons of this gem of a show. You will not regret it.

Donald Glover in “Atlanta” (Photo credit: FX/20th Television)

2. Atlanta (FX)

It’s “Robbin’ Season” and there are no rules. It didn’t seem possible, but “Atlanta” outdid itself with a spectacular sophomore season to one of the most fascinating and riveting shows currently on the air. With each episode following a unique plot, there is literally no telling what will happen at any point while watching this show. Season 2 has so much popular culture references and important social issues packed into it. The beauty in this series is that nothing ever feels forced and even though the characters find themselves in insane situations, it always seems to fit and work. “Teddy Perkins” just might be the best and most immersive episode of any show to air this year, showing that the series really doesn’t fit any single genre and can be downright terrifying when it wants to be. Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield and Zazie Beetz are simply too incredible of a cast to adequately put into words. If you aren’t watching “Atlanta,” then you are missing out. In a time when everything seems to be a reboot or a revival, this show is truly one of a kind.

Jameela Jamil, Kristen Bell, Manny Jacinto and William Jackson Harper in “The Good Place” — (Photo credit: NBC)

1. The Good Place (NBC)

When this series first premiered, no one could have ever predicted that it would be where it is today. Just when you think you have the show figured out, the show takes a dramatic turn and changes literally everything. As Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, Jason, Michael and Janet travel through the mortal world, the afterlife and everywhere in between in search of the actual “Good Place,” they are put through more tests than ever before. This show really seems like it shouldn’t work and should have run its course, but it somehow has only gotten better and Season 3 is proof of this. The characters are the heart and soul of this story and the individual personalities make them so enjoyable to watch and interact with one another. The surprisingly layered world-building is another reason why this show takes the top spot on this list. Just when you think the writers have run out of ideas, they throw more crazy scenarios and elements of the universe at you. Kristen Bell is spectacular as Eleanor and she really goes beyond her usual joker personality and shows a more vulnerable side. D’Arcy Carden knocks it out of the park in the final episode of 2018 as she plays nearly every character in the game-changer Mid-Season Finale. “The Good Place” is clever, hilarious, heartwarming, and is the best show of 2018.

What are your picks for the best shows of 2018? Share them with us in the comment section! 

A Sponge’s Impact: Reflecting on ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’

Millennial humor is a strange thing; just take a look at the most recent memes and you will quickly see how absurd, chaotic and seemingly random our sense of humor is. Why is that? The Nickelodeon animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants” has to play some role in the formation of who we are as a generation. A cartoon based around a talking sea sponge who lives in a pineapple and works as a fry cook is a wild concept for a television series, but the jokes that come from the individual episodes shine a light on where our humor comes from. Even as adults, the millennial generation just can’t seem to move past this iconic series as reaction images and memes from the show seem to pop up constantly on our social media timelines. There are also plenty of quotes that find themselves in conversation and in social media bios.

Following the death of “SpongeBob” creator Stephen Hillenburg on Nov. 26, the Internet created countless tributes and many shared how they were personally impacted by the series and its band of lovable characters. To pay tribute to Hillenburg and the wonderful world he created and its timeless legacy, four Niner Times editors have selected their favorite episodes to share just what this sea sponge means to them.

Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon/Viacom Media Networks.

“Pizza Delivery”

Adulthood is finally realizing that not only is Squidward justified in his anger, but that you may also be Squidward yourself. There’s nothing more relaxing to me than going home after a long day of school and work, but it isn’t always that simple. In this classic episode, SpongeBob and Squidward are tasked with delivering a pizza, which Mr. Krabs has suddenly decided to start selling as a means to make more money. Being that this is “SpongeBob SquarePants,” Squidward is relentlessly tortured throughout the episode during what should have been a simple delivery by the two losing their boat and ending up in an undersea tornado. Between the “Krusty Krab Pizza” song that SpongeBob sings and Squidward’s desperation to eat said pizza after becoming lost, there are so many hilarious moments and jokes packed into this episode. The standout line and my personal favorite quote comes as they finally reach the customer’s house and realize they have forgotten one important part of his order: “How am I supposed to eat this pizza without my drink?!” This just adds to the absurdity of the episode and the series as a whole. And who could forget the “big, beautiful, old rock” that the “pioneers used to ride for miles?”

Jeffrey Kopp, Editor-in-Chief

Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon/Viacom Media Networks.

“Rock Bottom”

The greatest SpongeBob episodes are nonsensical, clever, and, yes, social commentaries. The astutely named “Rock Bottom” from the first season meets all of these requirements in the weirdest way. It starts when Patrick and SpongeBob take the wrong bus on the way home and end up in Rock Bottom, the abyssal zone of the ocean. They are coming from Glove World…yep, a glove-themed amusement park. Patrick immediately catches the next bus home, leaving SpongeBob to fend for himself in the dark, strange area. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to get on the bus, SpongeBob goes to the bus station where he waits for hours, only to be told the next bus won’t arrive until the morning. He goes back outside and meets a frightening anglerfish who appears to only communicate through spitting noises. SpongeBob tries to speak with him, but the anglerfish can’t understand his “accent” — speaking without spitting. SpongeBob grows increasingly frustrated and wary of the fish, but in the end, he is the one to retrieve SpongeBob’s balloon from Glove World, which ultimately helps him float home.

The best part of this episode is the concept of Glove World, made even funnier because it takes no real role in the plot. Patrick and Spongebob could have been coming from anywhere — the store, a friend’s house, etcetera. Why include this random aspect of the episode? Perhaps the obsession with anything glove-shaped is a commentary on consumerism, just as the bus station could be a criticism of bureaucracy or the interaction with the spitting anglerfish an analogy to xenophobia. Or perhaps it is just SpongeBob, and we need not take the talking sea sponge and starfish that wear clothes and go to a beach in the ocean at anything other than face value.

-Megan Bird, News Editor

Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon/Viacom Media Networks.

“Club SpongeBob”

Almost every episode from the first three seasons of SpongeBob are iconic, classic pieces of cinematic history. And while I believe they, as a whole, form one of the many foundational chains in the block of what established our generation’s sense of humor, a personal favorite episode of mine would have to be the “Club SpongeBob.” This episode is among one of my top ranks because it is utterly ridiculous. It also features some of the most iconic jokes of the entire series. The flawed, absurd and ludicrous logic presented in it makes absolutely no sense and it sets the stage for a downright comical experience. Why do SpongeBob and Patrick spend an entirety of three days stuck in “Club SpongeBob” without asking for help? Why do they listen to a “Magic Conch Shell” toy, and why do they literally nothing to get out of the forest, just because it told them to? How does that plan even work? How does there just so happen to be a plane overhead that releases food magically into a perfect picnic around them? Just when you think the episode has finally reached its climax with a park ranger coming in to save them and no more idiocy can be had, said ranger also ends up being a follower of the Magic Conch and has brought along his own. Squidward seems to be the only sane voice of reason in this episode, and watching him get driven to the brink of insanity by SpongeBob and Patrick’s shrewd logic actually working for their benefit is what really cranks up the humor in this episode.

I felt like I spiritually related to Squidward throughout this entire episode, from the start when he gets offended by SpongeBob and Patrick not letting him into their club to the end when he gets riled up trying to understand how everyone except for him is getting good favors from this “all-knowing shell.” The script is incredible; the jokes are incredible; everything about this episode is just incredible. Sometimes I too find myself wanting to ask the Magic Conch for advice on my life.

-Pooja Pasupula, Photo Coordinator

Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon/Viacom Media Networks.

“Band Geeks”

Long before I even started marching band in high school, “Band Geeks” stood as my favorite episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants.” It has humor all throughout, with standout moments like Patrick’s inquiry on whether mayonnaise was classified as an instrument, which alone may be the series’ most iconic line. I think what pushes it to the top, though, is the spotlight on Squidward, and not just that, but the fact that the main gang of characters rally behind him, resulting in the episode ending in his favor (which I think is the only time that ever happens for him in the entire series). The episode also makes use of pretty much all of the major characters as well as side ones like Plankton, Mrs. Puff, Pearl and even Larry the Lobster. Watching the group fail miserably at trying to be musicians is hilarious throughout, though when they come together at the end, it results in one of the greatest moments in television history. The performance of “Sweet Victory” (David Glen Eisley) is just so out of left field and amazing that it remains just as iconic to this day. Overall, this episode excels at incorporating the whole cast, solid band humor, the greatest halftime performance of all-time, and the sweet satisfaction of Squidward’s rare success being rubbed in Squilliam Fancyson’s face.

-Noah Howell, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

TV REVIEW: ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘Evolution’

Spoiler Warning for the Mid-Season Finale (Season 9, Episode 8) of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed. Minor spoilers from “Fear the Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

“We used to be explorers. The whole world was ours to rediscover.”

The world of “The Walking Dead” has just become more complicated. For years, our characters have fought walkers…but now they’re fighting back. The Whisperers have been introduced with deadly consequences as the series bids farewell to yet another major character. Without any doubt, this is quite possibly the creepiest episode yet, but issues do persist. Whispers have turned into screams

As seen in the previous episode, Eugene is missing and a search party consisting of Daryl, Aaron, Jesus and Dog departs the Hilltop to track him down. The opening scene of the episode shows a herd of walkers that moves rather unusually. From afar, the aforementioned party observes and notes the strange movements as the walkers mill about in a singular location. “There’s a storm coming,” Daryl states as the team leaves their location to circumnavigate the herd. Something is up though. The camera focuses in on one particular “walker” that looks especially strange. Later, the foursome wander through a field and there’s an excellent scene between Aaron and Jesus as they discuss Daryl’s visits to the Hilltop becoming less and less frequent. Both Aaron and Jesus were recruiters for their respective communities, and it was Jesus who linked up Alexandria and the Hilltop all those years back. Aaron has so much confidence in Jesus as a leader, and he connects it to how Daryl spent much time pushing people away until he finally decided to be part of society. Even though Daryl has moved away and lives on his own, he is still someone who finds people; this is exactly what Aaron saw in Daryl when he arrived at Alexandria, leading to him offer Daryl the job as recruiter. These three men are outsiders, each for different reasons, but have had to learn to let people in and become part of something bigger.

Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel Stokes, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

While most of the episode focuses on the drama at and surrounding the Hilltop, there is a MAJOR development that takes place at Alexandria. Negan receives a visit from Father Gabriel, who has been meditating with him on a weekly basis. This is likely to help calm the former tyrant down and give him some peace of mind whilst locked in his cell. Negan doesn’t seem to see any benefit to their sessions, but Gabriel claims to see that he wants help. Time has changed and Negan has been given some basic freedoms and luxuries, including the window being opened, which has allowed the prisoner to overhear some of the conversations taking place outside. He points out to Gabriel that he overheard Rosita talking one day…but she was apparently talking about someone other than Gabriel; this may be just Negan trolling Gabriel, but is it possible that Rosita is cheating? Having heard enough, Gabriel leaves the jail and spots the messengers from the Hilltop arriving. Barbara updates him on the situation with Rosita, and the look on his face is one of shock and panic. Back to his normal antics in bringing bathroom humor to the forefront, Negan throws his shit in Gabriel’s face (literally), prompting the priest to SNAP and demand that Negan shut up for once in his life. Weirdly enough, Negan seems to show some concern when Gabriel explains that Rosita is injured at the Hilltop; this is especially upsetting to Gabriel because he is unable to be with his girlfriend due to the fact that he is responsible for watching Negan. Hours later, as night has fallen and a storm has swept in, Negan bounces his tennis ball against the wall. When the ball rolls out of the cell, he notices a surprising error that has taken place: his cell door is unlocked. It seems that when Gabriel stormed out, he didn’t close it properly, allowing the prisoner to exit the jail with a grin on his face. After years of being locked away, Negan is back and he is free.

The Hilltop is really a fully functioning machine. When Michonne’s group nears the community, guards ride up the main road yelling at the workers to drop what they are doing and seek safety inside the walls; with so much danger, it is comforting to know the community has a warning system in place to keep their residents safe. Michonne and the crew arrive at the gate and those on the inside seem ready for battle. Magna’s group communicate via sign language and also prepare themselves to fight and flee if need be. Dianne stands guard at the gate and silently orders Michonne and the others to disarm before they are to be allowed inside. This just goes to show the complete lack of trust that has developed. Tara sternly greets the arrivals at the gate and updates them on the situation regarding Eugene. Michonne is stunned to learn that so many of her people left without her knowledge, specifically Rosita, Eugene and Aaron. “It’s like the old gang’s back together,” Tara sarcastically tells Michonne, showing a sad look at how broken this family has become. There’s a sense of confidence that Tara has in Daryl’s ability to return with the crew, and she notes that they are likely already on their way back. Siddiq checks in with his former apprentice Enid and learns that Rosita will be fine, but is still unconscious. In another heartbreaking peek at the fractured state of the group, Michonne spots Carol in the distance and smiles, but there is no warm reunion to be had here and the feeling is definitely not mutual. We also see here that Tara is really doing an excellent job as the defacto leader of the Hilltop in Jesus’ absence; this is huge considering events later in the episode. It is important to point out that Tara was a resident of Alexandria during All Out War, so whatever happened during the time jump seems to have really affected her and pushed her to move to the Hilltop.

Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

While settling in, Magna and Yumiko discuss the fact that the Hilltop is run by a man who calls himself Jesus and they wonder if they just stumbled into a cult, but Connie assures them that it is likely just a nickname. Carol prepares her wagon to return to the Kingdom, and Siddiq and Michonne decide to speak with her; she warmly reunites with Siddiq, but her interactions with Michonne are awkward to say the least. Carol is introduced to Magna, Yumiko and Connie, which allows her to show off the fact that she can sign her name in ASL. After being left alone, Carol asks Michonne how Judith and RJ are doing and Michonne asks about Ezekiel and Henry in return. Their catch up turns to discussion about the dire state of the Kingdom, and Carol pleads for Alexandria to help out and send a delegation to the upcoming fair. This is something Michonne simply isn’t willing to do, stating that Alexandria has been through some tough things and must now look out for itself. This saddens Carol as she points out that everyone has been through bad things, including herself and Michonne in losing their children; they got each other through the bad times because they are a family. In this scene, these two women are not feuding, but are simply in disagreement; they still care for one another even if they may not be on the best of terms right now. Before departing, Carol reconnects with Dianne who asks to tag along to return home to the Kingdom after being given approval by Tara. We also see a touching scene as Carol bids farewell to Henry and he really shows a sense of maturity when he reveals that he asked Earl for an advance on his pay so that he could send his mother home with some tools and supplies. Alden really seems to be taking on a big brother type role for Henry and assures Carol that they will take good care of him. Much like a mother dropping her child off a college, Carol is proud but sad to see her son leave the nest and she is brought to tears. He assures her that he will return home in time for the fair, which probably means that something will prevent that from actually happening. After losing so many children to this world, it is absolutely refreshing to see that Carol has been able to raise up Henry and be a mother to him for several years. She lost Sophia, and Henry lost his family, but they found one another and became family, and that is exactly what this story is about.

Henry is really a major focal point of the episode as his apprenticeship officially begins. Enid pays a visit to the blacksmith station and pokes fun at Alden for not being as skilled as Henry clearly is. Last episode showed that Henry has a crush on Enid, but that goes straight out the window as it is revealed that Alden and Enid are now dating. This is yet another strange romantic pairing, but this might just be the result of the time jump and our lack of knowing what happened during those six years. Later, Henry is shown to be eating alone while the rest of the community shares in a communal dinner. He is invited to hang out by a group of teenagers who have noticed that something seems to be bothering the new arrival. The characters introduce themselves as Gage (Jackson Pace), Adeline (Kelley Mack) and Rodney (Joe Ando Hirsh); while they have just been introduced this season, these characters state that they have lived at the Hilltop for half of their lives and would have been young children when the apocalypse began. The teens make reference to Henry being at the Hilltop long ago during the War and remember him as “the kid with the stick.” There’s a minor reference that Rodney makes to Oceanside in regards to his fascination with the fact that it is a community of all women, but this isn’t clear confirmation that Cyndie and her people are still around. There is essentially a culture shock that Henry undergoes that is pretty similar to what Carl went through upon arriving in Alexandria and meeting Enid, Mikey and Ron in Season 5’s “Remember.” The teens invite Henry for a night of fun out in the woods and they end up getting him drunk on moonshine and showing him their captured walker, which they urinate on and throw things at…for some reason. This angers Henry and a split divides between him and these teens as they leave him behind. Later, Henry returns and is placed in jail by the guards and Tara for drunk and disorderly conduct. Tara allows Earl to see him and there is a great moment where Henry apologizes and vows to stay on track with his work. We see Earl show forgiveness and see himself in the teenager as he mentions his own time in this same jail years before in “The Bridge.” Henry has had to grow up fast in this world, and this episode shows that he still has a lot to learn, but that he is aware of how important his work at the Hilltop will be for securing the future of the Kingdom.

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Matt Lintz as Henry. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

The creepiness factor is upped exponentially as night falls and a heavy fog sets in. Daryl has managed to stay on the Rosita’s tracks and has found the barn that she left Eugene in. Much like what he did in last season’s “Worth,” Eugene buries himself under hay and floorboards to wait out the storm and the herd. He warns Daryl and the others that the herd is looking for him and has been through this area multiple times…and that they were also whispering. Aaron looks at him with fear, and takes this as further evidence to corroborate the strange behavior they witnessed earlier. Dog barks to alert the team to the fact that the herd has arrived, which is confusing considering that Daryl used a baking timer to redirect the walkers. They rush out of the barn and try to get away, taking a moment to stop and collect themselves, and to also theorize about what the hell is happening. Eugene explains that he believes the walkers are evolving, but Daryl thinks this is stupid. Jesus states that it would make sense for some memories to come back and for them to relearn how to talk and strategize. No one believed that the dead could reanimate and walk, but here we are. Eugene volunteers to be left behind, but Jesus shoots this down immediately and tells him that this isn’t his call to make. Instead, Jesus offers to redirect the herd so that his friends can get away. In typical Daryl fashion, this is not happening and he runs off with Dog to do the deed instead. Using Dog’s barking and a handful of firecrackers as a distraction, Daryl tries to draw the herd in his direction and it works…for a minute before the walkers unnaturally turn and continue in the path of Aaron, Jesus and Eugene. Daryl is completely and utterly stunned. Imagine surviving with these creatures for eleven years, adapting to life with them and becoming accustomed to managing them, only to have all of the rules suddenly go out the window. As terrifying as that is, it only gets more horrific in the following minutes.

What’s creepier than a dark night, walkers and fog? All of those things in a cemetery. The trio manage to gain a slight lead on the walkers and believe that they will lose them in a hard-to-navigate a gated graveyard. They are DEAD wrong. The walkers pile in as the team find a potential exit, which is obstructed by “topsoil.” There’s a final stand of sorts as Jesus, Aaron and Eugene are forced to fight off several walkers, using their melee weapons in a badass showdown. In particular, both Aaron and Jesus are able to show off their ninja skills and the years of training that have gotten them to this point. When a lull hits, whispers can be heard from every direction, hinting that they are now surrounded. Fortunately, Michonne arrives and to her surprise Magna and Yumiko have followed to prove their worth. It’s a frantic scramble as everyone struggles to open the gate as more walkers approach. Jesus tells Aaron to help Eugene get out as he steps forward to face the herd by himself. In what is his most epic display of fighting strength and heroism, Jesus singlehandedly takes down multiple walkers using a variety of slow-motion kicks and punches. When he’s finished he turns to return to his group at the gate, attempting to kill one final walker in the process. In a dramatic turn of events, the walker ducks and avoids the blade of his knife before stabbing Jesus through the chest with a weapon of his own. The look on Jesus’ face is one of utter fear and confusion as the “walker” whispers “you are where you do not belong” in his ear. Aaron screams out in terror and heartbreak as the lifeless body of Jesus falls to the ground. Multiple “walkers” come rushing out of the fog and engage in a battle with their weapons drawn as Daryl arrives and takes out Jesus’ assassin with a bolt. The attackers are killed by our survivors and the gravity of what just happened sets in. Aaron tearfully looks down at the corpse of Jesus on the ground, and Daryl examines the first soldier. He finds that it is an actual human being wearing a intricately fashioned walker mask. Everyone is disturbed and confused, and rightfully so. These aren’t walkers…they’re the Whisperers. The episode ends on a chilling cliffhanger as the sounds of more whispers can be heard as the group stands ready for another attack. This is a whole new world we a living in and it is terrifying.

Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter, Tom Payne as Paul ‘Jesus’ Rovia, Ross Marquand as Aaron. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

The good in “Evolution”

  • The horror. Michael Satrazemis really returned the series to its horror roots by crafting what is likely the most terrifying episode of “The Walking Dead” to date.
  • Father Gabriel putting Negan in his place, but also Negan getting the upper hand and escaping from jail after years. This opens up so much story potential for him, especially with the new villains just arriving.
  • Tara stepping up to the plate and being a leader in the absence of Jesus. She hasn’t abandoned her quirky nature entirely, but there is a hardened edge to her and she isn’t putting up with bullshit.
  • The scene between Carol and Michonne as they discuss their shared losses and have a disagreement about working together. They’ve been through a lot together and even though their division is worrying, it is comforting to see that they still love one another.
  • Carol and Henry’s dynamic is beautiful, and it is rewarding to see Carol happier than she has been in a LONG time.
  • Magna’s group continue to be great, and their dialogue really serves to develop their characters nicely.
  • The mystery surrounding the strange behavior leading up to the chilling and terrifying introduction of the Whisperers. This is one of the most unique threats we have faced and the show is already doing an excellent job at showing just how dangerous they are.
  • The cliffhanger. That is how you do a cliffhanger.

The iffy in “Evolution”

  • The hostility among the characters is worrying and unsettling. They are a broken group and we don’t know why. Hopefully, the show explains exactly what caused this tension…and hopefully it is a solid explanation.
  • Enid and Alden is a strange romantic pairing in a season of strange romantic pairings. This can totally be chalked up to the time jump being so jarring. Much like Rosita and Gabriel, this can definitely be evolved into a positive if done right.
  • Henry’s arc takes up a lot of the episode and slows it down a bit, which is rather odd considering this is a Mid-Season Finale. That being said, Angela Kang’s tenure has shown that the premieres and finales aren’t the only BIG episodes, so this can be overlooked.

The bad in “Evolution”

  • Some of the material with Henry and the Hilltop teens is rather cringeworthy. Their behavior comes across as painfully predictable and cliche.
  • The killing of Jesus after being severely underused and sidelined throughout much of Season 7 and 8 feels like a complete slap in the face to fans, specifically those of his comic counterpart. It feels like they literally had no clue what to do with the character most of the time so they just gave him the bare minimum amount of screentime they could to still consider him a main character before ultimately doing away with him. It’s disappointing and the character, as well as Tom Payne, deserved better.
Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Tom Payne as Paul ‘Jesus’ Rovia, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Ross Marquand as Aaron. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

Top performances in “Evolution”

  • Tom Payne as Jesus
  • Ross Marquand as Aaron
  • Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon
  • Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier
  • Danai Gurira as Michonne
  • Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler
  • Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel

Lingering thoughts and predictions

  • Father Gabriel accidentally leaving the prison cell open parallels his carelessness in leaving Alexandria’s gate open in the Season 5 Finale.
  • Gabriel and Negan have a shared history and spent a lot of time together during Season 8, so it is interesting that they are paired together once again.
  • With Jesus now dead, will Tara become the permanent leader of the Hilltop? Perhaps the community will hold an emergency election to decide who should run things now.
  • What exactly did Michonne do to piss everyone off so much? Based on her conversation with Siddiq, she doesn’t regret what she did and she knew it would turn people against her. It seems like Maggie may have been involved, but who else? Just how bad did things get?
  • Will Dianne be welcomed back to the Kingdom? She is one of the few surviving members of King Ezekiel’s army, but is there tension between her and the community?
  • How far off is the fair and will the recent developments change anything about it?
  • Henry’s drinking party with the Hilltop teens directly parallels Alicia hanging out with the Bible study kids at the Broke Jaw Ranch in Season 3 of “Fear the Walking Dead.” In fact, they also kept a walker for their entertainment.
  • Magna and Yumiko must have earned themselves a permanent place in the community after risking their lives to help.
  • The group trapped in the graveyard will have to fight their way home next episode, but will they encounter the named members of the Whisperers?

Honoring the dead

This episode marks the end of Paul Rovia AKA Jesus. When we first met him, he came crashing into Rick and Daryl in Season 6’s hilarious and light-hearted “The Next World.” Right off the bat, he was charming, mysterious, and intriguing. There was an aura to him that made viewers immediately connect with him and many cite this as being one of the best character introductions in the series. He introduced Rick and Alexandria to a larger world of other communities; one could argue that the show would be totally different had he never stolen Rick and Daryl’s truck way back when. When Maggie and Sasha arrived following the tragic killings of Glenn and Abraham, he offered them comfort and showed them what true hospitality is. Throughout Season 7, Jesus became really close to Maggie and that allowed Sasha to see that her best friend would be just fine in her own absence. Jesus was truly a pillar of support for Maggie as she gained power and rose to be the leader of the Hilltop. He trusted her to lead his own people into the future. He may not have agreed with each of her decisions, but he was still loyal to her. In nearly every scene he was in, Jesus’ humanity was his primary quality. He was simply a good guy in a bad world. Even during a full blown war, he still tried to keep himself and the others from turning into their own enemies by working to spare the Savior prisoners. Even here, at the bitter end, Jesus remained a defender of people. That is how he should be remembered. Hopefully, the characters take a page out of his book and carry on his humanity.

“Evolution” is a powerful and intense ride of emotions and fear that almost perfectly transitions the series into it’s next arc. Things are about to get incredibly chaotic and dangerous as the full nature of the Whisperers is shown. These aren’t people to fuck with. Sadly, the death of Jesus (more so his death after lackluster development) shows that the series is not the comics. The two mediums have split and become so different that it is nearly impossible to predict anything anymore. One thing is certain however, horror has returned to “The Walking Dead” and that is a really good thing.

“The Walking Dead” will return for the Mid-Season Premiere on Sunday, February 10, 2019 at 9 p.m on AMC. 

TV REVIEW: ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘Stradivarius’

Spoiler Warning for Season 9, Episode 7 of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed. Minor spoilers from “Fear the Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

“Sharing with each other…that’s part of what makes us stronger.”

“The Walking Dead” has a lot going for it right now, and the latest episodes shows that by balancing multiple storylines and merging them to set up the Mid-Season Finale. Thus far, Season 9 has been incredible, but this episode is a bit of a bump in the road. That isn’t to say this episode is bad, but it has some clunky moments and is simply the weakest episode of the season. Still, the material is absolutely solid and the element of fear here is spectacular as the characters slowly become aware of the newest threat that will change everything.

To best recap the episode, events will be discussed by storyline rather than in chronological order.

A major aspect of this post-time jump narrative is the hardened Michonne and he struggle to trust newcomers. The previous episode wrapped with her announcing that she and Siddiq would escort Magna’s group to the Hilltop to see if they can live there and this episode follows through on that. While traveling, Siddiq shares with Michonne that he is happy she changed her mind about letting Magna’s crew stay, noting that she seems to like them. In back of the wagon, Magna becomes restless and wants to get her knives back, but Connie, Kelly and Luke try to calm her and use sign language as a means of hiding their potential exit strategy. Yumiko takes a more diplomatic approach and apologizes for Magna’s behavior, stating that she has been acting different since the death of their friend Bernie days earlier; she explains that Bernie wore an ugly shirt regularly just to get on Magna’s nerves. There’s an important factoid about the time jump that is revealed when Michonne expresses to Yumiko that she hasn’t been to the Hilltop in quite some time. There’s really a remarkable dynamic that is unspoken here as DJ is present to assist in the escort, which is surprising considering he was a major player within the Saviors during All Out War. This just goes to show that enemies really can become trusted allies and his presence here shows that hopefully Magna’s group can also be trusted one day.

Upon arriving at the former camp that Magna’s crew resided at, they find that a herd has torn through and destroyed nearly everything they left behind. Magna is heartbroken and Yumiko suggests that they take something to remember Bernie. Siddiq finds a recorder and is immediately transported back to his childhood, telling Michonne that he once played this instrument, but was stopped by his mother; there’s some entertaining banter between these two that really bolsters their relationship. There’s a great little moment that shows the humor of Connie as she pokes fun at Luke for wants to collect instruments, teasing to Siddiq that it is his fetish. There’s conflict that arises as Michonne tells DJ to collect the weapons, prompting Magna to lash out. Michonne explains that she won’t be coming along with the rest of the group to the Hilltop, which angers Magna even more. There are two options that Michonne gives to Magna’s group: take the weapons and be cast out, or trust and be taken to the Hilltop. Luke and Yumiko vehemently want a safe place to live and it is here that we see once again that Magna isn’t totally in charge. While she wasn’t really at the forefront of the previous episode, Yumiko is given really solid material and gets to show her leadership skills and also her level-headed nature. This collection of characters really is a mixed bunch that balances one another out, and that is likely why they have survived this long.

Lauren Ridloff as Connie, Angel Theory as Kelly. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

This post-time jump arc for Michonne is really showing her in a far different light from where she was just episodes ago. With everything she has been through since we first met her, Michonne has plenty of reason to not trust outsiders. That being said, the time jump really prevents us from understanding exactly why she is so distrustful when Magna’s group really haven’t done that much to raise suspicion. There is a frightening moment when Michonne hears a noise at night while patrolling the makeshift shelter the group is staying in. Upon investigating, she finds Luke and swings her sword, breaking a violin he was attempting to tune. It is always fascinating to hear characters share what keeps them going in this hellish world they live in. Much like what Jake Otto told Alicia in “Fear the Walking Dead’s” “Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame,” Luke expresses his belief that art is what motivates people to keep going and also serves to separate people from animals; this sentiment is also similar to what Jim preached to the group in Season 4 of “Fear.” Via a long-winded story from Luke, it is revealed that Magna’s crew have been traveling and even visited a destroyed Philadelphia. The optimistic ideal that Luke pitches seems to strike a cord with Siddiq and also Michonne in some senses, but she has a hard time accepting it fully. This sort of idealistic mindset really parallels what Michonne had been preaching up until the point of this six-year time jump. Hopefully, this optimism can inspire Michonne to find her way back to where she was previously. When morning comes, a major piece of information is given to both the viewers and Michonne. Siddiq explains that there is no reason for Michonne to fear going to the Hilltop seeing as how Maggie is no longer there and that Jesus is now in charge. While this is explained further on in the episode, it opens up an interesting mystery as Michonne seems totally fearful to see Maggie. Did something bad happen between them during the time jump? Could this be part of the reason why Maggie decided to leave? It’s sad to think that these two leaders who provided comfort to one another on their darkest days have drifted so far apart.

There’s not really much time for Siddiq to explain what happened to Maggie as a herd of walkers arrive and cause problems. There’s a really important moment for Connie as her enhanced senses allow her to feel the walkers approaching just based on the ground vibrations; this just goes to show that being deaf has allowed Connie to use her other senses to keep herself and her family safe. Michonne initially refuses to let Magna’s crew use their weapons, but ultimately orders DJ to distribute them so that everyone can defend themselves. Each member of the crew rocks a badass weapon and this particular action sequence will surely get comic fans excited. Yumiko uses her bow and arrow to cause a cascade that kills multiple walkers whilst Kelly and Connie use slingshots to slice through walkers with precision, saving Luke in the process. Unfortunately, the group must face a grim reality when Michonne points out that these walkers are the same that passed through the camp earlier. A recently-turned walker wearing a hideous shirt stumbles up, and it is immediately clear that this is Bernie. Magna is brought to tears when she lays eyes on him, and this is pain that both the characters and fans know all too well as many of our core survivors have gone through the full transformation. In an act of mercy, Michonne puts Bernie down to spare Magna or anyone else from having to do the deed. While putting down a loved one is sometimes the right call, it is often best to let someone else handle it as the burden is sometimes too much to bear. While continuing the ride to the Hilltop, Yumiko tells Michonne that she just wants to have a safe home for her people, to which Michonne agrees. Even after hearing what she heard earlier, Michonne states that she won’t go any further and Siddiq apologizes for not telling her about Maggie earlier. It is revealed that Maggie left the Hilltop with Hershel to join Georgie in building a new community far away. Still, Michonne doesn’t want to come, explaining that she kept her promise to Judith; Siddiq responds by questioning if she kept her promise to Carl. The mode dramatically turns as two riders from the Hilltop (one being a cameo appearance by C. Thomas Howell) cross paths with them while en route to Alexandria; they relay that Rosita has been found injured. This stunning development changes Michonne’s mind immediately and she charges forward to check in on her friend. These messengers are further proof of just how broken down communication between the communities is.

Matt Lintz as Henry, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier – The Walking Dead. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

To say that Daryl and Carol really needed to catch up with one another would be an understatement. This is one of the most important character dynamics on the show, so it is great that they are given an episode to spend with each other. Following their reunion last episode, Daryl leads Carol and Henry into his camp, which is surrounded by traps that have been set. It is clear from dialogue that Carol has been visiting Daryl during the time jump, but they don’t see each other all that regularly. This episode introduces viewers to Daryl’s pet dog…whom he has named Dog; that is the most Daryl Dixon thing ever and it is perfect. Similarly to when he was traveling with Beth after the Prison, Daryl shoots a snake and serves that up for dinner. Carol catches him up on what King Ezekiel has been doing, and also explains that she is transporting Henry to the Hilltop for him to apprentice as a blacksmith. Obviously, Carol doesn’t want Daryl to spend the rest of his life living alone in the woods so she asks if he will come to the Hilltop to look after Henry. This doesn’t sit well with Daryl as he believes that Henry needs to learn the rules of the world just like they both did themselves. While waiting for dinner to be ready, Henry questions Carol as to why they stopped by Daryl’s camp and Henry becomes angry upon realizing that his mother believes he needs a chaperone. As night falls, the moment we have been waiting years for finally happens as Carol gives Daryl a much needed haircut; to be fair, he looks like he did before the six-year time jump, but at least he is allowing for some grooming. There is a heartbreaking moment between these two that follows as Daryl confirms to the audience that he spent a long time out looking for Rick’s body, seeing as how they never found anything after the bridge exploded. As time went on, it just became easier for him to stay out away from everything, but it seems as though he might still believe that Rick is alive; Daryl is a tracker and the fact that he never found any body probably stands out to him that something is very strange about that day the bridge blew up. Much like what Daryl told Rick about letting go of Carl, Carol tells Daryl that this is something he needs to move past. Later, when the trio are eating dinner, Henry asks Daryl about a scar he has, prompting the hunter to awkwardly leave to feed Dog, clearly not wanting to talk about it. Daryl is a character that needs to be by himself at times, but visits from friends are also crucial to keep him going.

A major part of this episode is the forging of a bond between Daryl and Henry. This begins as Henry awakens in the middle of the night to find a trapped walker, only to find Daryl also. The two hear Dog barking loudly and follow the sound to find him caught in a walker trap. Walkers reach and grab for Dog as Daryl tries to free him, but soon also finds himself caught by some of the grabby undead. Daryl being Daryl is able to dispatch most of the dead before freeing Dog. In a gnarly beat, one of the walkers rips itself from its own leg and lunges for Daryl, but is stopped by Henry. In the process, Henry steps into one of the traps and this seems to anger Daryl, seeing as how he already feels protective of the young prince. Carol being Carol was watching the entire scene play out and was ready to interfere if need be, but she saw that her boys could take care of it themselves. Later, the two sit down together and Daryl explains that Dog checks the traps and alerts him if any walkers are getting in, but he has never been stuck like that before. After calming himself down, Daryl decides to thank Henry for saving him and provides more explanation of his camp. The traps that he has set are not for animals, but are rather for walkers; Daryl is a hunter, and believes that an animal dying slowly in a trap is inhumane. At this moment, Henry really begins to understand the rich relationship between Daryl and Carol; he tells Daryl that Carol considers him to be her best friend and that she regularly worries about and misses him. We really get to see that Henry has matured as he convinces Daryl to come along with him and stay at the Hilltop. Obviously, he is a teenager and doesn’t want someone following him around all of the time, but he knows how important it is for Carol that Daryl is safe. The next morning, Carol is absolutely smitten to find out that Daryl has decided to come along with them. Six years is a long time to survive in this world, and Daryl seems to have done fine, but everyone knows that you can’t make it without people; this is a sentiment that even Daryl himself has expressed. Thankfully, this particular arc for Daryl hasn’t been dragged out all season and that his story is able to progress in a timely fashion without his usual stubbornness.

Tom Payne as Paul ‘Jesus’ Rovia, Ross Marquand as Aaron. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

Jumping back a little, the opening scene is probably one of the most terrifying in the history of the show. Following the dramatic reveal of whispers coming from a herd at the end of last episode, Rosita is separated from Eugene and sprints through the forest. She’s bloodied and disoriented, and frantically rushes to get to safety. The chilling sounds of whispers can continually be heard echoing statements such as “don’t let her get away” and “get her” before she ultimately collapses to the ground and the scene immediately cuts to the opening title sequence. This particular part of the story is put on hold for a bit to catch up with the folks at the Hilltop after their absence in the previous episode. There is a rather strange and no-so-well done musical montage that begins with a sweeping aerial shot of the Hilltop, showing off the new gardens and the thriving life at the community. Tara really seems to have taken on an important role here as she visits many of the characters and checks in on them; unfortunately, due to the blaring music, the dialogue is almost impossible to hear and captions are definitely needed. Enid is shown at the infirmary, treating patients and showing a new confidence in herself after six years of practice. Several smaller characters are shown to have survived the time jump, including Dianne, Bertie and Kal. Upstairs at Barrington House, Jesus listens to the loud music via a record player while reading a letter from Maggie that Hilda and Midge dropped off; the music that he is listening to is a gift from Georgie, providing further proof that Maggie and the mysterious leader are still remaining in contact with the Hilltop. In her absence, Jesus is now the leader of the Hilltop and Tara has arrived to tell him that he has just won a reelection, something that is not so surprising considering he is the only one who ran. He is an reluctant leader and really seems in over his head as Tara lists off some of the many things that Hilltop residents need; Tammy wants to expand the crop fields, Enid wants to grow medicinal herbs in the gardens, Alden wants to send out a team to collect scrap metal, and there is a child making noise in one of the trailers. There seems to be a bit of a disagreement between these two in regards to the future; Jesus appears to believe that Maggie will return one day, but Tara doesn’t seem so certain. That perfectly mirrors the precarious nature of Lauren Cohan’s future on the show, seeing as showrunner Angela Kang remains hopeful that Maggie will be able to return in Season 10, but it all boils down to timing and contracts.

It is heavily hinted throughout the episode that there has been a near complete breakdown of communication between the communities, but specifics are not given. Still, there are some exceptions to this as seen with Aaron and Jesus. While out taking a break from the Hilltop on horseback, Jesus is tackled to the ground by Aaron and a fight ensues. At first this seems to be a real fight, but it becomes apparent that they are just sparing. After battling in a field for a bit, the two saunter off and have a chat over food. Aaron asks about Election Day, and Jesus explains that with how busy things are at the Hilltop, it is harder than ever for him to get away like this. Both mention the similar trouble they would be in if Tara and Michonne were to find out they were meeting together, but they do it anyway. The reason for this is because both still acknowledge the need for Alexandria and the Hilltop to be united. According to Aaron, there is absolutely no way that Michonne would allow Alexandria to be involved in the upcoming fair. This event is important for the Kingdom, but also for bringing everyone back together. Suddenly, the sound and visual of a flare shooting into the sky sends Aaron and Jesus into panic mode. They find Rosita badly injured and barely conscious, and question where Eugene is. She explains that he stayed behind in a barn while she left to go get help. When some walkers show up, Jesus realizes that they need to get Rosita back to the Hilltop and then they can come out to look for Eugene. When night falls, Tara checks in with Jesus and explains how odd it is to see Rosita and Aaron after so much time has passed. Once again, Jesus reiterates how he doesn’t feel like he is the right person to lead the Hilltop, but Tara explains that he needs to get over that and stop acting as if Maggie will return; even though she may be gone, Maggie is still counting on Jesus to keep what she built running. When morning comes, Daryl, Carol, Henry and Dog arrive at the Hilltop and reunite with everyone. There’s an odd bit of dialogue that hints at a possible romance between Enid and Henry, with him suggesting that she might not recognize him after not seeing him for so long. Aaron updates Carol and Daryl on Rosita and Eugene, something that immediately springs the tracker into action. He can’t just sit this one out. These are his friends. Jesus also decides to head out, leaving Tara in charge while he’s gone. The episode ends here on a rather cheery note, but there is clearly something bad out there and this is just the calm before the storm.

Ross Marquand as Aaron, Tom Payne as Paul ‘Jesus’ Rovia. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

The good in “Stradivarius”

  • Magna’s group is an excellent addition to the roster of characters. Manga herself really stands out, as do Yumiko and Connie for bringing an element of level-headedness and conflict management.
  • The Michonne and Siddiq dynamic really allows for both characters to express their opinions and receive feedback. There is some noteworthy chemistry here, and while it may be a friendship, a romantic pairing here wouldn’t be the strangest thing.
  • Daryl and Carol’s unspoken bond is always fascinating to watch, and the scene where they discuss Rick without even uttering his name is perfect.
  • The beginning of a friendship between Daryl and Henry is great to watch and might be exactly what they both need right now.
  • Dog is perfect and better not die, otherwise the fans will revolt.
  • The opening scene with the Whisperers is downright terrifying and reignites the horror roots of this show.
  • Aaron and Jesus training in the field is a much needed bit of levity.
  • Tara being an assistant to Jesus at the Hilltop and interjecting her comedy is entertaining and very much in line with her character.
  • The reunions at the Hilltop showcase that even though they might not always see one another, these people still love each other.

The iffy in “Stradivarius”

  • The time jump has created some confusion and makes the actions of some characters jarring. This is especially true with Michonne and her harshness toward Magna’s group, although she is obviously coming around.
  • Luke’s story, while important and deep, is a bit long-winded, just like his character seems to be.
  • Henry’s attraction to Enid is odd, especially considering there is a sizable age difference between the two, as well as the fact that they haven’t actually interacted on screen before.
  • Alden and some of the other characters at the Hilltop probably should have been shown this episode, but we will likely see them brought into the storyline next episode.
Avi Nash as Siddiq, Eleanor Matsuura as Yumiko, Nadia Hilker as Magna. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

The bad in “Stradivarius”

  • Maggie’s exit really was not handled all that well. Obviously, there is a lot not known about the behind-the-scenes aspect of Lauren Cohan’s exit, but would it really have been that hard to at least show Maggie departing the Hilltop? It is almost as if the show gave us the answer and just wants us to forget about her for now.
  • The music montage at the Hilltop was not edited well at all, and made it hard to hear what has being said.
  • The fact that the communities haven’t been in contact with each other much is just sad. The split of the characters really goes against the foundation of what this show is, and is vastly different from the early days when the survivors literally lived feet away from one another.
  • There’s still no explanation of what happened to Oceanside. Were they just written out of the story? Or does this have something to do with the divide between the communities? Still, at least a mention would be nice.

Top performances in “Stradivarius”

  • Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon
  • Danai Gurira as Michonne
  • Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier
  • Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa
  • Nadia Hilker as Magna
  • Lauren Ridloff as Connie

Lingering thoughts and predictions

  • Not only does Michonne have an “X” scar on her back, but Daryl does also…in fact, he has two. What does this mean? Were they both attacked? Does this have to do with Maggie’s exit?
  • Michonne refusing to hand over the weapons to Magna’s crew is eerily similar to the situation she found herself in upon arriving at Woodbury with Andrea and meeting The Governor in Season 3.
  • Connie and Kelly’s slingshots are badass.
  • How long exactly has Daryl been living out in the woods? Does he visit the communities from time to time?
  • Will Aaron and Jesus forge a romantic relationship? There is plenty of chemistry between the two.
  • This is the most significant material Jesus has been given in a WHILE.
  • Tara seems to be the best fit to run the Hilltop, but why hasn’t she run for the office? Why doesn’t Jesus abdicate?
  • Will Daryl, Aaron, Jesus and Dog find Eugene? Is there a reason why his separation from Rosita wasn’t shown?
  • The Mid-Season Finale will likely provide us with the very first look at some actual members of the Whisperers. Get ready, because they are terrifying.

“Stradivarius” is probably the weakest episode of the season, but that doesn’t mean it is actually weak considering Season 9 is exceptional and has yet to have a bad episode. The events taking place here really serve to build up to the Mid-Season Finale and further some of the active mysteries at play. The second post-Rick episode really shows that the series is able to continue on in his absence simply by trusting in the characters and giving them meaningful screentime. With just one episode left until the hiatus, those whispers are about to turn into screams.

TV REVIEW: ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘Who Are You Now?’

Spoiler Warning for Season 9, Episode 6 of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed. Minor spoilers from “Fear the Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

“There are still flashes of light…tiny beacons that shine out, calling to us.”

This is a whole new world. Following the departures of Rick Grimes and Maggie Rhee in the previous episode, “The Walking Dead” ushers in its new era…and things are VERY different. Moving forward with a massive time jump, the series evolves into a futuristic version of the show that began years ago. While not perfect, this episode is a promising new beginning for the series.

Six years have passed since Rick blew up the bridge and was rushed away on a helicopter with Anne. The people Rick left behind believe he’s dead and are still mourning his loss. In a powerful opening monologue, Michonne pays a visit to the bridge, which is still destroyed, to speak with her “fallen” soulmate. Things have been incredibly difficult for Michonne and the others since Rick was lost, but there is still hope. Michonne finds a van with a collection of knicknacks, including a figurine of a sheriff that clearly represents Rick. This time really seems to have been hard on Daryl, who has removed himself from the communities and is living alone in the forests. He lives in a dilapidated tent and fishes in the swamps. He watches as a bird lands on a walker attached to a tree and steals a worm from its mouth before feeding it to its babies; eleven years of the apocalypse have allowed nature to rebound and course correct things. At the Kingdom, Carol, now with long flowing white hair, looks out at the decaying community before going about her daily chores. Michonne ends her monologue by telling Rick, “I haven’t given up…and I never will.” Even after everything she has been through, Michonne still has a lot of people counting on her and she has to keep fighting for them.

Danai Gurira as Michonne, Angel Theory as Kelly, Lauren Ridloff as Connie, Nadia Hilker as Magna – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 6 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

This episode picks up not long after the jaw-dropping end of the previous as ten-year-old Judith brings forth the new group of survivors she has found. Rosita, Aaron, Eugene and Laura are out in the woods looking for Judith, terrified something has happened to her. Judith introduces her new friends to her old friends, but it becomes clear quickly that Alexandria hasn’t been taking in many strangers lately. When a cluster of walkers arrive, Eugene steps up to the plate and shows how much he’s grown by taking down several; this is a huge change, because in the past, he usually let others get their hands dirty. Judith demands that the survivors be brought back to Alexandria, even refusing to return home if they aren’t helped. The group is blindfolded until they arrive at Alexandria, and it seems as though the community is now using multiple gates instead of the main one at the front. Magna and her people get their first look at the wall as Eugene explains that they are breaking security protocol by bringing the strangers here. The newcommers seem a bit hesitant to enter, but Judith takes Magna’s hand and assumes them that it is safe inside. Everyone is absolutely stunned by the magnitude of Alexandria, and the viewers get their first look at the growth that has occurred in the six years; gardens are growing, new buildings have been built, and a massive windmill rises above the town. We also get our first look at an older version of Gracie (Anabelle Holloway), who is now roughly eight years old and seems overjoyed by the return of her father Aaron, who is now rocking an epic bionic arm. Our characters have now been living at Alexandria for multiple years, far longer than any other place they have lived at. At this point, Alexandria is basically a character itself, and it is remarkable to see its own evolution.

Conflict arises pretty much immediately as Siddiq arrives and informs Rosita and the group that Yumiko needs to be taken to the infirmary to treat her head trauma. Magna wants to come to the infirmary, but that is not being permitted and an interesting addition to the community, former-Savior DJ, puts a stop to her. The mood dramatically shifts as Michonne comes riding in on horseback and wonders why new people have been let in, questioning Aaron for overriding her authority. Judith steps forward and tells Michonne that she made the decision to bring the group in. Father Gabriel explains that they should be allowed to stay the night, and that the council can vote in the morning. The next day, the community gathers inside the rebuilt church for an Alexandria Council meeting; the council consists of Nora, Siddiq, Aaron, Father Gabriel, Michonne, Laura and Marc Knobe (Marvin Lee). Magna, Luke, Connie and Kelly are brought before the Council and Father Gabriel begins a line of questioning to get to know them better. Luke explains that they didn’t know each other before and that their group formed over time, but that they have lost a lot of people, including Bernie (a short-term comic character) just yesterday. There are some major parallels between our main group and Magna’s crew that are drawn during this episode. It is explained that much like our group, the people of Magna’s group were complete strangers with nothing in common before the apocalypse, but have since formed a family. This is a reinforcement of the sheer power of the apocalypse in it’s ability to build some truly incredible bonds between people.

Nadia Hilker as Magna. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

This episode does an excellent job at introducing the members of Magna’s group and by providing them with immediate backstory and development. These characters were introduced in similar time and fashion in the comics, but were heavily underutilized until more recently; the show really seems to be correcting this right off the bat. Aaron asks the group who they were before the apocalypse: Luke was a music teacher, Magna waited tables at a truck stop, Kelly was a high school student and Connie was a journalist who exposed corrupt politicians. It is important to point out that Connie is the first deaf character in “The Walking Dead” Universe, and uses American Sign Language to communicate, which is also true of her actress Lauren Ridloff; Kelly is Connie’s sister and assists in vocalizing. The mood shifts pretty dramatically as Michonne decides to further the questioning with some interrogation of Magna. While it has never been confirmed in the television canon, Michonne in the comics is a former lawyer and that persona really comes out in this scene. She sizes Magna up and points out a prison tattoo on her arm, deducing that she served hard time; she also notices a hidden knife in Magna’s belt buckle. This scene feels like something right out of “Law & Order” as the residents of Alexandria are gripped by this series of stunning developments. This scene really demonstrates just how hesitant Michonne is to let new people in, and it’s hard to blame her seeing as how they know very little about Magna’s group.

Alexandria isn’t the only focal point of the episode as Carol’s newest arc also takes center stage. She has really fit into her role as the Queen of the Kingdom, but the community is quickly decaying. Jerry doesn’t seem totally fazed by this and still pledges his utmost loyalty to her. Carol and Jerry are called into one of the buildings when they hear the metallic clanking noises of a burst pipe and find Henry working to repair it; Henry is now a late teenager and is played by Matt Lintz, who is the older brother of Henry’s former actor Macsen, and also the brother of Madison, who played Sophia. King Ezekiel arrives and congratulates Henry on a job well done, but there is clearly some discontent in the royal family. Henry wants to be trained with better tools so he can repair his beloved Kingdom. Later, Henry is shown practicing with his staff, just as Morgan trained him all those years ago. Carol and Ezekiel debate whether or not to allow Henry to travel to the Hilltop to train with Earl Sutton. They ultimately decide to allow Henry to move to the Hilltop on a temporary basis with Carol escorting him. He bids farewell to his father, and promises to return before “the fair,” which will surely have comic fans STRESSED out of their minds…because nothing good comes from that event. Ezekiel’s parting words to Henry come from his own father: “be respectful, be responsible, be kind and be safe.” It’s heavily hinted at that Ezekiel has developed a sharper edge and is no longer that dreamer that he once was, but Carol points out that the world needs more people like that…and Henry is one of them.

Matt Lintz as Henry, Khary Payton as Ezekiel. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

While traveling to the Hilltop on horseback wagon, Carol and Henry hear the voice of a woman screaming for help. Just as Carl did time and time again, Henry goes running to help and ends up in a trap set by a collection of runaway Saviors, including Regina and Jed. Carol arrives and threatens to unleash a can of whoop-ass with her badass new bow and arrow, but she is simply outgunned. Jed raids the supplies from the wagon, and explains that his group of Saviors have been going through a tough time since the Sanctuary failed (this is an important development that is revealed and will hopefully be explored further). Jed decides to spare Carol and Henry, seeing as how Carol defended his life back at the bridge camps years before. He does decide to take Carol’s ring, something that angers Henry and prompts him to lash out with his staff. Carol bows down to them so that they will leave, something that confuses Henry later that night when they talk about what happened. While Carol defends her pacifist ways to Henry, she later sneaks away to the Savior camp and sets Jed, Regina and the others on fire for bringing harm to her son. Even though Jed apologizes and promises to never bother her again, Carol has had enough…and who can blame her? She knows what kind of people they are, and she explained earlier in the episode that they could have moved to one of the communities and would have been welcomed with open arms, but they refused to do so. The next day, Carol and Henry continue their journey and there is a brief moment wherein Henry notices that his mother has her ring back; this may be nothing, but there is potential for conflict here if Henry becomes angry about being lied to. Carol decides to make a detour and they come across Daryl and offer him a ride. Just as he did for her back in Season 7, Carol realizes that Daryl needs to be alone…but she has to check in on her pookie.

There are other major developments that take place at Alexandria. The first being that Judith discovers Michonne speaking to Rick and Carl. This is directly in line with her character, as Michonne revealed to Rick that she used to speak to her dead boyfriend Mike. All these years and losses later, Michonne has essentially reverted to an older version of herself that also parallels Rick in Season 3. At the Alexandria infirmary, Magna and Luke sit with Yumiko and hear updates from Siddiq about her condition. Magna looks out the window and sees Michonne training Judith with the katana, just as they did years before in “Warning Signs.” Luke asks if Siddiq has been at the community since the start, and there is a great unspoken tribute to Carl that he pays. It’s also clear from dialogue that something changed during the time jump to have the community no longer accept newcommers. This episode also gives us our first look at Negan after the six years. He’s still in jail, but he has been cleaned up and has a shaved head. He helps Judith with her homework, but points out that it is rather pointless. She looks to him for advice about Magna’s group and Negan tells a story about him bringing home stray dogs as a child, which had dire consequences when one of the dogs turned out to be wild and killed the others. This is meant to serve as a warning from Negan to Judith, but she throws it back in his face and points out his position compared to hers. Based on this conversation, it seems as though Judith and Negan have become friends in some sense. This appears to be a remixed version of Carl’s comic arc in which he and Negan also have a unique and fascinating friendship.

Danai Gurira as Michonne. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

This episode notably parallels the arrival of Rick’s group at Alexandria in Season 5’s “Remember,” specifically the uneasiness and suspiciousness. However, the tables have turned this time and our group are the ones in the position of power. Magna’s crew are given the same house that Rick’s group resided in when they arrived. Luke, Connie and Kelly criticize Magna for concealing her knife, which has made their future in the community precarious. This also mirrors what Rick, Daryl and Carol did upon arriving in Alexandria when they stole weapons from the armory just to give themselves an option. While visiting Yumiko in the infirmary, Magna took her necklace which also doubles as a knife. Magna simply doesn’t think they can survive if they are kicked out, but Connie responds with a hopeful solution that they can collect Yumiko and slip out if they have to. Luke knows they may have to fight for their lives again, but doesn’t want to do it here where there are innocent children. They hold a vote and force Magna to hand over the necklace, but she ends up stealing it back later and sneaks over to the Grimes house. While planning on breaking in and presumably attacking Michonne, she spots a young child leap into Michonne’s arms. This isn’t Judith…it’s another child. During the time jump, Michonne gave birth to RJ (Rick Jr.), thus continuing Rick’s lineage even after he is gone. Magna knocks on the front door and turns over her knife, which Michonne really seems to appreciate. It’s here that Michonne really starts to see the similarities between herself and Magna and that she might be wrong to kick them out without giving them a chance. There’s a really touching moment that follows as Judith is seen standing guard over Michonne with Rick’s colt python, worried that Magna was about to try something. Judith questions why Michonne won’t allow Magna’s group to stay, and then lets her mother know that she is aware of her talking to Rick and Carl. In a depressing reveal, Judith tells Michonne that she’s beginning to forget what Rick and Carl’s voices sounded like. This conversation seems to change Michonne’s outlook, and she decides to not kick Magna’s group out entirely and instead escort them to the Hilltop, where she states that the leader might accept them. Having Judith be a voice of reason and of morality is an excellent development of her character and serves to show that the next generation of survivors might run things a bit differently.

The other major storyline of the episode is a chilling one that sets up what could possibly be the scariest arc of the entire show. Rosita checks in on Father Gabriel as he fiddles with a collection of radios. He is trying to find some existence of other survivors, and wonders what else could be out in the world. She decides to head out with Eugene to check on a relay box, but first plants a kiss on Gabriel’s lips, confirming a new relationship that has formed during the time jump. While we obviously haven’t seen how they got to this point…it does feel slightly forced right now; although, these are two characters that have had a unique relationship in the past, and Gabriel has expressed his deep care for Rosita, so it has the potential to be a great romance. While heading to the relay box, Eugene questions why Rosita is with Gabriel and states that there are others that are interested in her. They notice a muddied patch that appears to have been where a herd passed through, but Eugene notes that their destination is in the opposite direction. From atop a water tower, Eugene checks the relay box and begins heading down, but notices a herd headed right for their position. He warns Rosita before accidentally dropping his bag, which spooks the horses. While close to the ground, Eugene drops and hurts his leg, prompting Rosita to quickly make a crutch for him. The herd has completely changed direction, which is quite unusual and Eugene has a look of absolute confusion and fear on his face as the two rush away into the forest. Upon realizing that they might not get away, Eugene offers to stay behind and nearly confesses his love for Rosita in the process; this marks a huge change in his character as the days of him being a coward are long over. They ultimately rush down a ravine into a creek bed and cover themselves with mud as the herd of walkers passes by just above them. In one of the creepiest scenes in some time, whispers can be heard saying “where are they,” “they must be close” and “don’t let them get away.” What is going on here? Have the walkers evolved? Are they speaking now? Fans of the comics are likely terrified at this moment as the iconic group of villains called The Whisperers have just made their first appearance. While information about this haunting group won’t be detailed in this review, you can be sure that things are about to get dark and disturbing as we see more from them. Get ready…because whispers turn into screams.

Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter, Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

The good in “Who Are You Now?”

  • Judith Grimes is already one of the top characters of the season and has some wonderful scenes this episode, particularly with Negan, Michonne, Connie and Kelly.
  • The introduction of Magna’s group and the parallels with Rick’s group are handled well, and allow the characters to be immediately developed.
  • The growth of Alexandria, and the changes during the time jump are absolutely fascinating.
  • The introduction of The Whisperers is chilling to watch and returns the series to its horror roots.
  • Matt Lintz stepping into the role of Henry allows for a seamless transition to his older self. There is a ton of room for the character to be developed into a major player.
  • Ruthless Carol is great as always and there is a level of acceptance she now has where the regret isn’t eating her alive.
  • The new and improved Eugene Porter.

The iffy in “Who Are You Now?”

  • The time jump is going to take some getting used to. It feels like so much of the story has been skipped over and we are missing crucial elements of the lives of these characters. The introduction of RJ is especially jarring, because we weren’t able to see him grow up like we did with Judith.
  • Father Gabriel and Rosita are an odd pairing and feels somewhat forced, but this could develop into something special.
  • Carol being away from the majority of the characters is a bit annoying and feels like when she was removed from much of the arcs in Seasons 7 and 8. The reunion with Daryl is a promising development though.
  • Where is Tara? Is she at the Hilltop? Why does no one mention her this episode?
Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa, Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel Stokes. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

The bad in “Who Are You Now?”

  • The absences of Rick, Maggie and Carl are felt MAJORLY. It would have been nice to see and feel more of the mourning for Rick, but the six year time jump sorta limits that. Maggie’s disappearance will likely be explained in future episodes, but there should have been some mention here. Carl should be here, and the fact that he isn’t is simply too irritating to even express.
  • Why was Daryl not given an updated look for this new beginning? How epic would it have been if he was shown with shorter hair, similar to the earlier seasons?

Top performances in “Who Are You Now?”

  • Danai Gurira as Michonne.
  • Cailey Fleming as Judith.
  • Melissa McBride as Carol.
  • Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan.
  • Dan Fogler as Luke.
  • Nadia Hilker as Magna.

Lingering thoughts and predicitons

  • What is that “X” scar on Michonne’s back? This might be a hint about the unexplained incident that seems to have occurred during the time jump to make Alexandria scared to let newcommers in.
  • Will there be any more Savior uprisings now that the Sanctuary seems to have fallen, and the remaining survivors have moved to other communities or were just wiped out by Carol?
  • How is Oceanside after the six years? Are they still around or were they killed off-screen?
  • Now that the Whisperers have been introduced, when might we get our first look at the principal members of the group? Samantha Morton, Ryan Hurst and Cassady McClincy have been announced as playing the roles of Alpha, Beta and Lydia.
  • Why did no one attempt to rebuild the bridge? Did it seem too hopeless after Rick’s “death”?
  • What will come from the radios? Will the survivors connect with other communities? Comic fans might have that answer.

“Who Are You Now?” is a great episode that really pushes things more forward than ever before. This is almost an entirely different show, which is needed in the wake of Rick’s absence. While many elements of this new era of the series will take some getting used to, the future is definitely bright for the story of these characters. That being said, things are about to get very dark…and quiet. Kudos to Angela Kang for crafting a season that doesn’t just have the major events take place in the premieres and finales; big things are happening all the time, and that’s exactly how it should be.

Be sure to tune into “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC. 

TV REVIEW: ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘What Comes After’

MAJOR Spoiler Warning for Season 9, Episode 5 of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed. Minor spoilers from “Fear the Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

“Little things do end, but it’s never the end of everything, because we don’t die.”

The episode has arrived. It has been feared for months. After nine seasons and over 100 episodes, the end of Rick Grimes’ story is here. All of the major plot points have been building to this moment and the story has been catapulted into the future. Rick may be gone from “The Walking Dead,” but his story lives on.

This episode is trippy as hell. Much like Tyreese’s final episode in Season 5, Rick’s wound that he received at the end of last episode sends him down memory lane. The episode opens up with a hallucination dream sequence of present-day Rick standing over his former self in the hospital bed. A murder of crows flies over a city skyline, clear symbolism of Rick’s impending exit; the crows transform into helicopters and fly straight toward the Ricks. Current Rick tells his comatose self to “wake up” and there is the first of many voice over of former characters asking “what is your wound?” This first voice that Rick hears is Morgan, who asked him the same question in the very first episode of the series. Past Rick awakens and also tells his future self to wake up, prompting the narrative to switch back to reality. Rick is still trapped on the piece of rebar as two major herds of walkers close in on him. Fortunately, he is a resourceful man and he uses his belt to agonizingly pull himself up and off the rebar before crawling back to the traitorous horse that bucked him. The horse slowly saunters forward with Rick on its back as the herds merge and begin following the two down a pathway. This begins an intense and time-sensitive chase as Rick fights to stay alive.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

While riding on the back of the horse, Rick slips in and out of consciousness many times. This is an excellent way for the character and the audience to reflect back on his journey through the apocalypse. Flashes of several key locations in his life light up the screen, including the Greene family farm, the crash site from the Pilot and the hospital room where he woke up from his coma. While continuing on the path, Rick spots a mailbox with the name “Cardille” on it and decides to follow the driveway; this name is a direct nod, and also foreshadowing, to the film “Day of the Dead” in which a character played by Lori Cardille is rescued by a helicopter on Nov. 4 (the original airdate of this episode). Rick stumbles into a dilapidated shack, containing two dead bodies and walls blown out by bullets. He takes a moment to bandage his wound, but passes out in a chair and continues on his trip down memory lane. Just like he did at the very start of the story, Rick rides a horse down the abandoned highway into Atlanta, but a herd is following him this time. He makes his way into the empty downtown streets and hears the voice of Lori ask him “what’s your wound?” This episode does an excellent job at paying homage to the show’s history, specifically the Pilot episode; there are several shots that are directly recreated, and remixed to fit Rick’s current predicament.

One of the most important people in Rick’s life is his former partner, Shane Walsh. After being killed off all the way back in the penultimate episode of Season 2, Jon Bernthal reprises his role as Shane for an incredible scene with Rick. The two officers sit in their police cruiser and snack on hamburgers and fries just like they did in their very first scene together. In front of them is the car crash that resulted from the high speed chase that they ended. Dispatch told Rick and Shane that there were only two people in the car, but there was a third…the one who shot Rick; Shane notes that the third criminal changed everything, and he is exactly right. Rick tells Shane that his looking for his family, and Shane pokes fun at the fact that Judith is most definitely his daughter; “she’s got my eyes, don’t she?” he jokes. The night Rick stabbed Shane in the field was the transfer of power, and Shane explains that he is glad that Rick stepped up and did it. This conversation is a rallying for Rick to get back into that mindset and to keep fighting. Shane tells Rick that he has to get back to the version of himself that ripped a man’s throat out, and slaughtered Gareth with the red machete in a church. Rick has to find the rage that he had in those moments. According to Shane, that rage has always been with Rick and it has always been building up. In a terrifying transition, Shane yells at Rick to wake up before the narrative switches back to reality and a walker lunges for Rick. The herd has arrived at the shack and Rick’s rest is over as he is forced to escape by kicking through a boarded up door and getting back on the horse to continue his journey. The ghosts of Rick’s past are urging him to keep moving forward.

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Kerry Cahill as Dianne. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

This episode isn’t entirely focused on Rick…because another major character exits the series here. Maggie’s time has come to an end…for now. She has some unfinished business to take care of, and she pays a visit to Alexandria to wrap things up. Michonne is continuing her work on the charter and spends time with Judith, who is making a bracelet out of seashells. Scott arrives and alerts Michonne to the fact that Maggie has arrived and has apparently slipped past the guards at the gate; Judith is thrilled to hear that “Aunt Maggie” is here, but Michonne knows what is up. When Maggie arrives at the entrance to the jail cell, Michonne is standing and waiting, and she is not going to let anyone get inside. There is a brilliant conversation between the two leaders as Michonne tries to talk Maggie out of killing Negan, even bringing up the fact that this isn’t something Glenn would want. Their debate hits some heavy nerves as Maggie points out that if Negan had killed Rick instead of Glenn, he would be dead long ago. There is simply no option that Maggie can see where both she and Negan are living, and that is not something she can just get over. Michonne really seems to understand what Maggie is saying and makes a bold move in handing over the keys to the cell.

Stepping into the jail, there is a dramatic tonal shift as Maggie comes face-to-face with her husband’s killer for the first time since that fateful night in the clearing; they’ve obviously seen one another a few times since that night, but this their first time really interacting. Negan taunts Maggie, describing in detail what he did to Glenn, even pretending to forget the name of the man whom he brutally butchered. He states that killing Glenn was what sparked his newfound love of murder. Maggie chillingly tells Negan to get on his knees, turning the table and using his own scare tactic against him. Maggie ultimately backs down from doing the deed after hearing Negan begging for her to kill him. She tells him that she “came to kill Negan, and you’re already worse than dead.” This confrontation has been a long time coming, and it is refreshing to know that Maggie is able to be at peace knowing that the man responsible for her husband’s death is suffering. A year and a half in the jail cell, away from other people and his power, has broken Negan. He’s not the “big swinging dick of the world” anymore. Obviously, it would be understandable for Maggie to just kill Negan right here and be done with it, but that would end his suffering. By him sitting in this cell for all of this time, his is forced to face his worst nightmare: life without his Lucilles. Upon first viewing, this scene felt somewhat out of place in Rick’s final episode. However, the confirmation that this is Maggie’s final episode of the season makes it perfectly fitting for her to have some semblance of closure with the man who has made her life hell for years.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Scott Wilson as Hershel Greene. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

The horseback ride from hell continues as Rick struggles to stay awake whilst the herd follows closely behind. Losing blood, Rick slips out of consciousness once again and appears at one of the most important places in his post-apocalyptic journey: the farm. He hears the voice of Beth asking him “what’s your wound?” before being greeted by his main mentor, Hershel Greene. The farmer stands in his barn, looking out at the fields as the sun sets on the horizon. He calls Rick over to join him and the two share a moment of peace as they are stunned by the beauty of the farm. They embrace in a hug and Rick profusely apologizes for what happened to Hershel, and for what happened to Beth and Glenn. Rick also expresses his sorrow and regret for everything he put Maggie through. This is where Hershel does what he is best at: providing comfort to his people. He tells Rick that Maggie is strong and that his grandson will make her even stronger. It’s been a long and difficult road for Rick, but Hershel states that they will all get to the place of prosperity they have been working so hard to reach. Much like what he said to Carl at the end of Season 2, Rick tells Hershel that he is tired, but this time, he is ready to cross over to the other side. Hershel will not let Rick give up and demands that he wake up. This snaps him back into reality and the fight continues. It is important to note that this is the final performance of Scott Wilson’s career (he passed away on Oct. 6, just hours after his return to the series was announced). It is just so fitting that Wilson’s final portrayal of Hershel is at his beloved farm, helping Rick to make the next step in his journey. The bond that Rick and Hershel share will transcend their time on the show, and will forever remain one of the most fascinating relationships on the show.

Rick’s foray into the dreamworld isn’t over yet. He regains consciousness, only to slip away once again, this time waking up in the hospital from the very start again. The voice of Abraham asks “what’s your wound?” He follows an eerily familiar pathway as he enters a hallway with flickering lights and riddled with bloodstains and bullet holes. He finds the iconic double doors at the end of the hallway, although something is different this time; the doors have the words “don’t open, dead outside” spray-painted on them. Unlike his first encounter with this frightening sign, there are no walkers locked up behind the door. Instead, he is allowed to enter and steps foot into an absolutely breathtaking scene that is ripped straight from the variant issue 100 cover of “The Walking Dead” graphic novel. Rick stands over a massive field of dead bodies. It is his family. Daryl and Carol are there. So are Maggie and Jesus. Beth and Tyreese also lay strung out before him. From behind him, a familiar face rises from the bodies to bring Rick some much needed clarity. It’s Sasha. She essentially tells Rick that he is not lost, because he did his job just like she herself did and just like everyone who came before them did. Each character in this series serves a purpose and has a role in telling the larger story. What started off as a story of a man in search of his wife and son has grown bigger than any one character. The world these character inhabit has grown and is continuing to do so. Sasha conveys that Rick is not the end of this story. “We change each other. We help each other. We make each other better,” is just one impactful line that Sasha has in her speech to Rick; the other heavy hitter is “I think it always crosses over toward the good, toward the brave, toward love.” Just like what Shane and Hershel did, Sasha shakes Rick back to reality. While these three ghosts of his past certainly gave Rick the motivation to keep going, he still needs to see one last person before its all over.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

The cowardly horse thankfully manages to get Rick back to the camp before dumping him and heading for the hills. Rick finds carnage at this joint base of the communities, and several of the survivors have been killed and have since turned. One of those survivors is Kathy from Oceanside, who attacks Rick before he puts her down and is forced to retreat to the bridge as the herd arrives. Rick stumbles and falls to the ground just short of the start of the bridge, but a familiar voice brings hope to the darkness. Daryl calls for Rick and he turns his head, revealing Rick’s entire family running to help him and clear out the herd. Michonne comes to his side and hits him with a moving line “it’s not over, we don’t die.” She lists his his bravery and his unwillingness to give up as the reasons why she fell in love with him. She tells him to fight for himself and the others, pointing to the rest of the group looking on at them. “You’re my family. I found you,” Rick emotionally states before Michonne urges him to wake up, revealing that he was in yet another dream.

He’s alone on the bridge and the herd is still coming. He struggles to cross it and realizes that the weight of the herd isn’t going to bring it down. When a walker lunges for Rick, a crossbow bolt flies into frame and saves the day. His calvary has arrived. Maggie, Michonne, and Carol charge forward to attempt to reach the herd and draw them away from the bridge. Rick looks on and tries to stop them…and Daryl sees this. Triumphant music plays as Rick pulls out his ax and kills a walker whilst Daryl covers him with the crossbow. Rick pulls out his colt python for the final stand. He spots several sticks of dynamite on the bridge and raises his gun slowly as Michonne screams out his name and the music cuts out before Rick utters his final words, “I found them.” He pulls the trigger and the bridge explodes into a fireball of flames and walkers. Those watching are blown back and left stunned by the blast. The reality of it all sets in and the tears start to flow. Daryl is left saddened and Michonne fights to reach her beloved husband, but Maggie and Carol hold her back. The deed is done. Rick Grimes has sacrificed his life to save his family. The screen fades to black as somber music plays.

Danai Gurira as Michonne, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

The episode isn’t over. The story picks up with Jadis/Anne witnessing the explosion from far away. The river beside her is flowing with burned walkers and she notices a familiar figure washed up on the shore. It’s Rick. She radios the helicopter and requests an immediate evacuation, telling them that she has a “B.” In an unexpected turn, Jadis becomes Anne once more as she pleads for the helicopter to land so that she can save a friend, someone who saved her. The helicopter slowly begins to land and the screen cuts to black. A song starts to play and fans are immediately transported to the conclusion of the Pilot episode. Eyes open up and Anne looks directly at the screen telling Rick that he is okay and that she is going to save his life. Rick is going to live. The helicopter and Anne are the unsung saviors of the episode. Just like in the first episode when Rick was saved by Glenn, here he is once again…being saved. The helicopter flies off onto the horizon as Wang Chung’s “Space Junk” plays, just like it did in the Pilot. Where exactly is the helicopter headed? Who are these mysterious people behind the helicopter? That is a story that WILL be told and Rick Grimes WILL be involved. Just after this episode wrapped, AMC confirmed that the story of Rick will continue in a trilogy of AMC original films that will air over the next few years. Andrew Lincoln is signed on for the three films, which will be unique material not attached to the comics and will be set in a different corner of the show’s universe. Pollyanna McIntosh is expected to reprise her role as Anne, and other missing character just might appear, including Corey Hawkins’ Heath, who was confirmed to have been taken by the helicopter crew. Details about these films are scarce at the moment, but this is AMC’s way of expanding the show universe and building the franchise. What will become of Rick Grimes? Will he ever find his way home?

That may be trickier than it sounds. As the helicopter flies off into the unknown, a shot of a field, a treeline and a barn remains on screen. The shot transitions to show that time has passed; trees have fallen, grass has grown, the barn has decayed. A woman charges onto the screen and takes down two walkers with a machete before screaming to her group to run. She joins four others in a field as walkers surround them and they plan to make a stand to fight them off. A woman in the group tackles a walker to the ground and slams her head on a rock. Just when things seem hopeless, gunshots ring out and a young girl yells for them to run towards her voice. They sprint into the forest before stumbling upon a young girl (Cailey Flemming) who asks their names. The leader, Magna (Nadia Hilker), introduces her people one by one as Kelly (Angel Theory), Connie (Lauren Ridloff), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) and Luke (Dan Fogler). Magna asks what the little girl’s name is and she holsters her colt python before picking up a sheriff’s hat and saying “Judith…Judith Grimes.” Lil’ Asskicker has lived up to her name. She downs her father’s gun, her brother’s hat, a katana like her adoptive mother, and a purple plaid shirt just like the woman who birthed her. Six years have passed since Rick blew up the bridge. The world has changed a lot in that time. Judith is now ten years old and out fighting on her own. It’s been nearly eleven years since the dead came back to life and took over the world. All those years later, life perseveres and good triumphs. This is without a doubt the largest time jump in the history of the series. More time has passed in just one episode than in the entire run of the series thus far. This is a new world…and there is a whole lot left to see.

Cailey Fleming as Judith Grimes. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

The year 2018 hasn’t been an easy one for fans of “The Walking Dead.” There has been uncertainty about Maggie’s future (which it has now been confirmed that she will not appear in any remaining episodes of Season 9, but could be back for Season 10) and Rick’s exit was confirmed back in May. The whole series has been building up to this episode. There is still a lot of uncertainty in the air as the franchise enters a whole new era. Rick and Anne are gone from the flagship show, but their story will continue. The main series will also continue and from the looks of it, there is a lot of epic story still to be told. This concluding episode for three of the series regulars is fitting (they could have promoted Maggie’s exit more and given her an epic final moment on screen), although it does feel a bit like commercialized fan service with the exit of Rick. If this film trilogy turns out to be a strong continuation of his story, it will likely be worth all of this emotional trauma. This episode features fantastic musical score by Bear McCreary and excellent directing by Greg Nicotero. The performances are out of this world with Danai Gurira, Norman Reedus, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Pollyanna McIntosh, Jon Bernthal, Scott Wilson and Sonequa Martin-Green bringing their full emotions to the table to create this unforgettable episode. The absolute stars here are Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan as Rick and Maggie. Throughout the years, these two have always brought their A-game, and that is no different here. The series loses their talents, but there is obviously still story to tell for both of their characters. Still, the main narrative marches forward into a whole new direction as the future becomes the present. What awaits our survivors all these years later? Do you hear those whispers?

Be sure to tune into “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.