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.

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, etc. 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 this 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 sorta 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. 

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

MAJOR Spoiler Warning for Season 9, Episode 4 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.

“Long as you’re still breathing, it’s not nothing.”

This is it. The penultimate episode of Rick Grimes has arrived. The story that began with a sheriff waking up from a coma in a hospital is about to end…but the show must go on. This chapter serves to provide emotional closure and sets up what will surely be the most emotional hour of “The Walking Dead” to date.

What will life in Alexandria be like after the departure of Rick? The opening scene to this episode might just be a tease to that as Michonne takes the reigns as juggles multiple different responsibilities. Paralleling the start of Rick’s day that was shown in “Warning Signs,” Michonne goes about her daily activities, such as feeding Judith breakfast, looking at construction plans, managing conflict between Alexandrians, tending to sick residents, studying history and politics books, and so much more. As her work during the day is shown, there is some truly remarkable and uplifting rhythmic musical score that plays. Intermixed in the daily life scenes, are snippets of Michonne going out at night to kill walkers. She has go outside and do this to remind herself that the world outside of the walls is not as peaceful as inside. Many characters have worried that living at Alexandria would make them weak, but this is another case of a character going out and keeping themselves in fight mode. While out fighting walkers at night, Michonne finds a walker hanging from a tree; while it’s not clear if this man died via suicide or execution, this seems to be a deeply unsettling reference to the lynchings of black people that took place throughout American history. Michonne is attacked by a walker, and uses a baseball bat she finds to kill it; this serves as a chilling bit of parallelism between her and Negan that this episode explores. There is something so unsettling about Michonne holding a bloodied bat, especially considering she was one of the eleven characters in Negan’s lineup.

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

Michonne is holding things down at Alexandria as the conflict over the bridge balloons. While spending time with Judith, two major issues are brought to Michonne’s attention by a new character named Nora (Tamara Austin), who appears to be fulfilling parts of Olivia’s comic arc in the absence of the television counterpart. Nora tells Michonne that many of Alexandria’s crops are being lost to crows, similarly to what is happening at the Sanctuary. There’s also the issue of Negan beginning what seems to be a hunger strike. While Negan had a brief role in “The Bridge,” he is utilized far more here. Michonne brings him a plate of food, but he still refuses to eat and states that he is happy to see her care about him. This episode has Michonne respond to Negan with perfect comebacks, including her telling him that they aren’t keeping him alive because they care about him, but rather as a representation that they are moving forward with civilization. Negan wants Michonne to stay and talk, offering to eat after they have had a human conversation. She accepts his offer and the two have a surprising heart-to-heart. Negan compares the jail cell that he is trapped in to the walls that surround Alexandria; where Negan is a literal prisoner to his cell, Michonne is a prisoner to her role as the leader, according to Negan. Michonne throws this sentiment back into his face by stating that she and the others are out building the world back, while he rots underground. It’s important to note that while Negan is still conniving and playing the game of politics, he is far more toned down than ever before. He almost seems defeated and broken by the year and a half he has spent in this hole in the ground. The bravado is pretty much absent, and he feels more like an actual human being that the over-the-top persona he used to front.

This episode does an excellent job at calling upon Michonne and Negan’s individual pasts and using them to compare the two and guide their future. Negan talks about his late wife Lucille, and tells Michonne that she died from cancer after the apocalypse; this is the first time he has talked about his wife since he opened up to Father Gabriel when they were trapped together in “The Big Scary U.” Negan tells Michonne that he wishes he and Lucille could have had a child together like Carl; this seems to strike a cord with Michonne as she tells Negan that she thinks about him every day. Michonne sees Carl everywhere, in everything that they are building; she even sees him in the cell, noting that he is basically responsible for Rick sparing Negan’s life rather than killing him. A sore subject is brought up by Negan in the form of Michonne’s deceased son Andre, who is mentioned for the first time since Season 4. Negan points out that if Lucille and Andre were still alive, he and Michonne would be weak; this is a harsh take and it really seems to hit Michonne hard…because perhaps there is some truth to it. This sends Michonne storming out of the cell, but she returns later and explains the very clear differences between her and Negan; she takes no joy in doing the difficult things it takes to survive in this world, but he does and he also pits people together. “I do get strength from the dead, but I live for the living,” Michonne retorts as she states that her sons may be gone, but that she is building a better world for her daughter. Negan has a favor to ask of Michonne: he wants to see his beloved bat Lucille. There’s one small issue with this request in that Lucille was never retrieved and is likely still under the tree where Negan dropped her during the Season 8 Finale. Negan has transferred his full range of emotions toward his wife and has personified the baseball bat, which causes him to have a full breakdown and slam his head into the wall when Michonne denies his request. Will Negan get out and find his way back to Lucille? Imagine the just how epic that scene will be if it ever happens.

Pollyanna McIntosh as Jadis/Anne. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

This episode isn’t perfect. The inclusion of the Jadis/Anne subplot with Gabriel feels somewhat random and detached as the story ramps up to Rick’s final episode. That being said, if the helicopter does factor into Rick’s exit, these scenes will be far more worthwhile. Much like what she did to Negan in “Still Gotta Mean Something,” Jadis straps Father Gabriel to a gurney and prepares to feed him to a walker that she has weaponized. Gabriel tearfully expresses the fact that he knows that she is better than this and that Anne is still in her; she states that he opened his heart and let people in, but that she isn’t capable of doing the same. He turns to acceptance in that he is willing to die here. He speaks to Jadis in a way that makes it feel as though they have been together for years; weird flex, but okay. He also speaks to God and seems content in the fact that he might be about to meet him. Jadis ultimately can’t go through with killing Gabriel, but decides to knock him unconscious, and leave him in one of the shipping containers. Gabriel wakes up and finds himself alone in the Junkyard with Jadis no where to be seen. He does find a note in his jacket pocket that reads “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. I need to go fast.” Father Gabriel falls to his knees and breaks down in tears, realizing that he may never see his one-day girlfriend again. Where exactly did Jadis go? Is the helicopter involved? The issue with this story arc is that it feels so disconnected from the rest of the episode. Having Gabriel be away from the events taking place with Rick does a disservice to his character. Hopefully, this arc ties into the rest of the narrative in some way. If Rick is taken away by the helicopter and this is build up to it, most of these criticisms can be wiped away.

A major driving force of the events of this episode revolves around Maggie. At the Hilltop, she embraces baby Hershel as the two look out at the community. There is an excellent shot of Maggie standing on the Barrington House balcony with all that she has built rising in front of her. Later, she packs her bags and prepares to head out with Dianne on horseback. Jesus finds her and tells her that another letter from Georgie has arrived, but she doesn’t read it just yet. Maggie places the Hilltop in Jesus’ care until she returns, but he knows exactly what she is doing and calls her out on it. He questions the fact that she is about to take justice into her own hands, like what she did with Gregory. Jesus explains that he believes that it wasn’t Rick’s call to spare Negan, but it was done; it’s great to hear that Jesus is able to voice his own thoughts to Maggie, and that he isn’t just her “yes-man.” Maggie ultimately rides off with Dianne to Alexandria, but Jesus sends word of this to the bridge camp as a warning to Rick. Once again, the writing here is so well done as it allows the viewer to totally see all sides of the debate. Maggie’s views are expressed in a way that makes sense for her character, and the viewer understands exactly where she is coming from; the same is true for Jesus as he has never been one to be the vigilante and break rank.

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

Things are going from bad to worse at the construction camp as Rick notices that the river under the bridge has risen and is flowing extremely fast. He speaks with Eugene, who doesn’t have much in the way good news and expresses his lack of hope that the project can continue at all. The only real good news that he has to report is that the two herds haven’t merged like they anticipated. Eugene is sorry that he isn’t knowledgeable enough to come up with a solution to the problem, but Rick interrupts him and instead thanks him for all that he has done. He takes this thanks one step further and conveys his appreciation for the fact that Eugene got them here to Virginia in the first place. This is likely the final conversation between Rick and Eugene, two people who have been through a lot together and have even been on opposite sides of a war. It is here that Rick actually validates all of the good that Eugene has done, and the look on Eugene’s face says it all: he truly appreciates it. There is also a conversation that takes place between Rick and Carol, who is preparing the lead the residents of the Kingdom home. She tells Rick that the Saviors need to take care of things on their own and that Alden will be overseeing things at the Sanctuary. Emotions are HEAVY here as this is also very likely the final time Rick and Carol will have a one-on-one. Rick states that he knows things will work out, because Carol has evolved into a whole new person during their time together. Even though he is devastated to see everyone, including Carol, leave the construction project behind, he understands and knows that there is no ill will with her. This episode really does a great job at wrapping up some of the important relationships in Rick’s life before he heads out on his final journey.

When word from the Hilltop about Maggie’s departure to Alexandria arrives via Jesus and Jerry, the tone drastically shifts. Rick tries to get word to Alexandria via the relay and demands that Maggie not be let into the community without an escort; Rachel is in charge of the relay…and she does not continue the message. Rick prepares the head out to Alexandria on horseback, but Daryl enthusiastically offers to take him on the motorcycle. While driving, Daryl speeds past the turn off for Alexandria and Rick notices and calls him out for this; the camera spends a moment focusing on location that contains several pieces of rebar, a chilling beat of foreshadowing for later in the episode. Daryl brings the motorcycle to a stop and a standoff emerges as Rick questions what the hell is happening. A physical altercation is prompted by Daryl when Rick tries to radio the relay, ending in the two rolling down a hill and into a massive hole in the ground.

What follows is the best scene between Rick and Daryl in years. Daryl lambastes Rick for not allowing Maggie to just kill Negan, but Rick explains that keeping him alive is bigger than any one of them. In a low blow, Daryl tells Rick that he wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for Glenn, which means he never would have found Lori and Carl. Rick responds by stating that he thinks about that fact every single day. Attempting to point out a flaw in Daryl’s argument, Rick brings up the fact that he kept Dwight alive even after what happened with Denise. There is a major point of contention about what keeping Negan alive means; Rick believes that it serves as a sign that they are better than the harsh world they live in, but Daryl worries that keeping him alive keeps the Saviors hopeful that things will return to normal one day. Daryl reveals to Rick that Oceanside is responsible for the killings of the Saviors, and admits that he approves of what they did. Rick gets emotional when he tells Daryl that if Maggie kills Negan, the war and everyone who died during it, will have been for nothing; this includes Carl. Daryl questions if Rick even has any faith in his own people anymore. “I’d die for you…and I would have died for Carl,” Daryl emotionally tells Rick in quite possibly the most powerful line of dialogue all season. “You just gotta let him go…let him go,” Daryl urges Rick, signaling that what Carl wanted just may not be attainable with Negan alive. Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus are nothing short of phenomenal in this scene, and in the episode as a whole. This conversation is precisely what their relationship is built upon; they can be real with one another, more so than anyone else.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

There is a showdown of sorts at the bridge camp as Carol, Jerry and others quickly load up their weapons and supplies, preparing to depart for the Kingdom. A collection of Saviors emerges from the woods, including Jed and DJ, with a gun pulled; they ambushed Alden while headed back to the Sanctuary. Carol and Jed stand face-to-face with guns pulled on one another, and Jed explains that they figured out that Oceanside is responsible for their dead comrades. He calls her a weak woman, leading her to lower her gun, but the wrath of Carol comes out as she knocks him to the ground. Carol tries to stop further bloodshed, but gunshots ring out and it seems as though Oceanside and the others have just killed more Saviors. Rick and Daryl hear the commotion and fear that the noise will bring the herds; this prompts them to begin climbing out of the hole, using roots to pull themselves up. Walkers begin falling into the pit, complicating their escape further. It’s a tense showdown as nearly a dozen walkers slide down and grab for the duo. Rick ultimately makes it up to the ground, and a stunning scene of parallelism is shown. Rick reaches for Daryl’s hand, calling for his brother to grab on, which he ultimately does. This directly mirrors the scene in Season 2’s “Chupacabra” when Daryl hallucinates Merle whilst climbing up the ravine; Merle taunts Daryl and tells him that no one will ever care for him like his brother does, but all these years later, here Rick is…saving his life and proving Merle wrong. If that doesn’t pull at your heartstrings, have you even been emotionally invested in these characters at all?

The final act of the episode is where shit really hits the fan. After escaping from the pit, Rick and Daryl make their way back to the motorcycle. A white horse from the bridge camp escaped in all of the chaos and made it to their location. One of the herds has also arrived, and Rick realizes that it is headed toward the bridge. It is time for Rick to be the hero. He isn’t giving up the bridge. He isn’t losing everything he fought so hard to build. Before going their separate ways, Daryl tells Rick, “be safe.” Maggie and Dianne come across the carnage of walkers that Michonne killed in the opening sequence. Rick leads the herd of walkers down a path, and right to the sight of grim foreshadowing from earlier in the episode. It is here at a crossroads that the other herd of walkers prepares to cut Rick off. The horse becomes spooked and paces around before rearing into the air and throwing Rick onto a piece of rebar that punctures his abdomen. Rick screams out in pain, but there is no one around to help him. He is alone. He slowly slips out of consciousness as the massive herds of walkers surround him. This is how Rick’s penultimate episode comes to an end. Is this how the famous Rick Grimes will die? Will he find some way to get out of this. Without any doubt, this is one of the most agonizing cliffhangers in the history of the series. This may have gone unnoticed to some viewers, but the rearing of the white horse mirrors Rick’s being thrown from his horse in the Pilot. In this case, there is no tank for him to scurry under…and Glenn won’t help him out of this situation (at least not in the literal sense).

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

Here we are on the precipice of Rick’s exit from “The Walking Dead.” After eight full seasons, the story of our heroic protagonist is coming to an end. This episode does an excellent job at beginning to wrap up his arc, while providing emotional conclusion to his relationships with other characters. Nothing can ever prepare us for his end, but it is still not known if he will actually die. Will that helicopter play a factor? Will Georgie? Whatever the case may be, this penultimate episode accomplished what it needed to. Rick’s conversation with Daryl is the standout scene and deserves absolute praise. The cinematography, direction by Rosemary Rodriguez, and writing of Geraldine Inoa all contribute to make this one of the strongest episodes of the season. There’s high stakes, emotion, and perfect character dynamics. What else could you ask for in an episodes of “The Walking Dead”? Special praise should also be given to the performances by Danai Gurira, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Melissa McBride, who hit all of the emotional cues and continue to show additional layers to their characters. Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus are the hearts of this episode and that’s really all that needs to be said here as their chemistry says it all. Next week is going to be rough, but the show must go on. Rick Grimes is about to take his final bow eight years after taking the stage. Nothing can ever prepare us for that.

Be sure to tune into Rick Grimes’ final episode of “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC. 

TV REVIEW- ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘Warning Signs’

Spoiler Warning for Season 9, Episode 3 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 us or the dead…and every life counts now.”

Damn. Season 9 of “The Walking Dead” is really just on a whole other level. The series is finally back on track, and these first three episodes really prove it. That being said, this is the first episode that does have a few pressing drawbacks…but it is still a thrilling and mysterious continuation of the story. While not perfect, this chapter of A New Beginning is still far better than those of the past two seasons.

The story of Rick Grimes is wrapping up. We all know it. We all feel it. Thankfully, he is given some time to enjoy these final days at his home with his family. Rick wakes up to start his day at Alexandria, giving Michonne a kiss on the shoulder and checking in on sleeping Judith before heading out to the now expanding garden. On the wall of the Grimes household is the planks of wood that Carl and Judith put their hand prints on; while walking out the door, Rick holds his hand up to Carl’s, showing that he carries his son with him as he goes about his days. At the garden, Rick finds a ripe tomato, which he places at Carl’s grave, signifying that life is sprouting from death and that Carl sacrificed his life for the good of the community. Later, Rick finds Michonne in bed working on her charter for the communities. He is proud of Michonne for leading Alexandria while he is away assisting in the construction of the bridge. Rick thanks her for everything she has done, and is doing…and for just being her. The future is teased more as Rick wants to assure his legacy by making a baby with Michonne. With his time on the show coming to a close, is it possible that an heir is on the horizon? Rick and Michonne have sex in this episode, but will a baby come out of it? If that is the case, the Grimes bloodline may just live on, because let’s be real…from a biological standpoint, Judith is totally Shane’s.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Chloe and Sophia Garcia-Frizzi as Judith Grimes, and Danai Gurira as Michonne. (Photo credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

It’s family fun day in Alexandria. Much like in Season 7’s “Say Yes,” where Rick wanted to hold off on returning to the real world shit to spend time with Michonne on a supply run, he organizes a wonderful day for his daughter. The first stop is a trip to the infirmary for Judith’s cough to be checked out by Siddiq, who takes part in the fun and does his best to keep Judith happy. A musical montage plays as the Grimes family play hide and seek, skip down the streets, have a crawling race, and duel with sticks. That last activity holds some darker weight to it seeing as how one day Judith will have to be out in the world actually fighting for her survival; these family fun days, while absolutely beautiful to watch, are a rarity in this post-apocalyptic world. The final activity of the day involves the trio sitting outside of their home, reading “The Wizard of Oz,” which may be a bit of foreshadowing to how Rick makes his exit from the series; we don’t know if he will die, so could it be possible that he get’s whisked away to some far away strange land like Dorothy? Sadly, the day of enjoyment reaches its end when reality strikes. Scott arrives and tells Michonne and Rick that Justin has been found as a walker, presumably killed by someone. The Saviors at the bridge camp are becoming restless and Rick is needed there to calm things. And just like that, the Sheriff is pulled back into duty.

One of the major cliffhangers of the previous episode came as Justin was attacked by an unknown source while walking home to the Sanctuary. This episode opens up with a series of nighttime shots as walkers feast on a body at an abandoned school. There’s a fascinating bit of insight given into the walker lore as the feasting walkers stop eating the body as it begins to reanimate, showing that they know to move on and not eat their own. The walker is revealed to be Justin and a chilling sign is written on the wall behind him: “FINAL WARNING.” The next day, Maggie and Kal are traveling on wagon from the Hilltop to the bridge camp with food supplies for the Saviors. Jed, DJ, Arat, Laura and Regina step out in front of the wagon and a standoff of sorts erupts as Maggie questions what they are doing away from the bridge. They explain that they are in search of Justin, and Jed defiantly takes a tomato from the back of the wagon. Laura tries to calm the situation by telling Maggie that she can mark Jed down for the tomato and apologizes for the ethanol going missing. After the Saviors depart in search of their missing friend, Justin stumbles out of the woods as a walker, complicating matters even further. The tension between the survivors and the Saviors is understandable, but the discovery of Justin’s body takes things to a whole new level as it becomes clear that someone or multiple someones are picking them off.

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Callan McAuliffe as Alden, Sydney Park as Cyndie, Cooper Andrews as Jerry, Nadine Marissa as Nabila, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

Chaos erupts at the bridge camp as Justin’s body is revealed to the groups. The Saviors are both furious and terrified and the survivors on the other side stand ready to battle if the second coming of All Out War breaks out here. Alden steps up to the plate and stands in the middle of it all, but Jed calls him out for betraying the Saviors, and punches him in the face. Carol stops Jed before he takes things further, and even threatens to pull her gun on him. Jed calls Carol out for being a weak leader to the Saviors, prompting her to actually pull out her gun, which inspires the rest of the survivors to arm themselves. Laura shows herself to have changed immensely by stepping forward and ordering the Saviors to stand down, not wanting things to escalate. The Saviors wonder who killed Justin, and begin collecting nearby melee weapons to defend themselves. Arat demands that the Saviors stop what they are doing, showing that she has also undergone change. Fortunately, Rick shows up on horseback to settle things before they turn ugly, and to also order everyone to get back to work in redirecting nearby herds. The mystery of who is killing Saviors is explored further as Rick questions Gabriel about whether or not Anne might be responsible. Gabriel ultimately vouches for Anne, but later finds her acting rather strange and wonders if she is keeping something a secret. Anne is disheartened by the fact that even Rick considers her to be a suspect. This plays further into the redemptive arcs of this season. Enemies have become friends in many capacities, but the question of whether they can be trusted still remains.

A split between Rick/Michonne and Maggie/Daryl opened up in the Season 8 Finale, but this episode really sees it reach a critical point. Alden asks Rick if a few of the Saviors can be granted permission to carry guns to make them feel safer, but Maggie is vehemently against it. There’s a really interesting point that Alden makes about himself going from a Savior on the enemy side to a trusted ally and member of the group. Rick tells Alden he is willing to budge a little, but only after Justin’s killer has been found; Maggie is not thrilled about this, but she seems to understand when Rick explains that the Saviors need to be protected in order to ensure the completion of the bridge. Later, Rick meets with Daryl and explains that Justin seems to have died from a small puncture wound through his chest; it is far too small and clear to come from a knife or bullet, and Rick hints that it could be from an arrow or bolt. Daryl is frankly stunned to hear that Rick even thinks it might be a possibility that he killed Justin, and asks if this type of conversation is what he used to do, referring to Rick’s days as a police officer. Daryl isn’t worried about the disappearing Saviors and wonders why they get to continue on surviving when so many good people died at their hands; “Why do they get this future? And Glenn don’t? Or Abraham? Or Sasha? All the people the Kingdom lost…Hilltop…Oceanside?” Daryl makes an exceptionally strong point, but Rick pleads for him to at least try and makes things work. In a moving and emotional callback, Rick states that sparing the Saviors might be the right decision, just like when Daryl spared the man who locked his brother on a rooftop. Rick and Daryl are brothers, and this is hopefully just a bump in the road of their relationship. Things didn’t start off great between these two, but the built a special bond that has lasted all these years.

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

This episode yet again furthers Season 9’s excellent character dynamics by putting several of the survivors together for some meaningful dialogue. Cyndie has the weight of the world on her shoulders being the youngest leader of the united communities. She pairs off with Maggie, seemingly to learn from her as a leader as they search the grids for straggling walkers. The two spot a small cluster of walkers heading into the woods, clearly drawn by some sort of noise. There’s a bit of backstory given about the history of the Oceanside residents as Cyndie explains that they used to live nearby before relocating to their current home. They come across a dilapidated cabin with a shaky metallic roof that is drawing the walkers. They split off so that Maggie can take down the walkers while Cyndie pulls down the noise-maker. While walking on the porch, Cyndie falls down due to the rotting wood and a squad of walkers break through the boarded up front door ready to attack; this door is a clear homage to the famed “Don’t Open, Dead Inside” signage from the pilot, down to the walker hands sticking through. Maggie takes down almost a dozen walkers as Cyndie finds herself with her hand stuck in the throat of one stubborn and gnarly biter that tries to take a chunk out of her throat. Thankfully, Daryl saves the day with a crossbow bolt to the undead’s head as he, Rick and Rosita arrive from their grid searches. While heading back to camp, they come across Beatrice, who has been knocked unconscious and reports that Arat seems to have been taken. This creates a crisis of sorts as Rick, Maggie, Carol, Cyndie and Jerry hold a meeting and discuss the fact that if they don’t find her soon, the Saviors will riot again. Jerry wonders what will happen if they find who took Arat: do they take the Gregory route? Or the Negan route? Without the help of the Saviors, everything they have been working toward will be washed away by the rising waters.

For far too long, Carol has been kept separate from the rest of her family. Thankfully, that has been corrected for Season 9 and she is being given scenes with her fellow OGs once again. While searching for Arat, Carol and Rick discuss the delicate relations with the Saviors that currently exist. Carol notes that she came very close to ending the conflict before it had the chance to really begin as the Savior mob formed. Rick really opens up to Carol and tells her that he has a moment every morning where he feels as though he should just march down to the prison cell and kill Negan. What keeps him from doing this is that he remembers the long list of people that have been lost to this world, during and also before the Saviors showed up; every single loss that Rick has felt has been felt by Carol also. It really seems as though Rick has taken a page out of Morgan’s “all life is precious” book and wants to honor those that have fallen. We’ve seen shades of this Rick throughout the series, but never quite like this. As night falls, Carol walks into a trap set by Jed and DJ, allowing them to hold her at knifepoint as Rick arrives with his colt python pulled up. Jed and DJ are not responsible for the missing Saviors, but instead demand that they be given guns to protect themselves. Carol being the undeniable badass that she is manages to overpower Jed and stab him in the shoulder. Rick and Carol spare Jed and DJ’s life, realizing that it wouldn’t look good for two more Saviors to disappear in the dead of night. Carol echoes Rick’s sentiment, showing that both he and Morgan have had an effect on her; there’s also the fact that Carol is now the leader of the Saviors, and killing her own people wouldn’t exactly be the best course of action.

Pollyanna McIntosh as Jadis/Anne, Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel Stokes. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

The real head-scratcher and also the weakest part of the episode revolves around Anne who makes her return to the Junkyard for what seems to be the first time since she moved to Alexandria. She walks through with her gun and flashlight under the cover of darkness, opening up a compartment that contains a radio. She turns it on and attempts to speak to the mysterious person(s) on the helicopter, questioning if they are responsible for the missing Saviors. The voice asks her if she has an “A” or a “B,” but no clarification as to what these letters mean is given. Anne, now Jadis once again, clearly knows and has some relationship with this person though; she promises to get the voice an “A” tomorrow. Gabriel emerges from the shadows and confusedly wonders who the hell she is talking to. Gabriel is pissed, because he stood up for Anne, but now she has reverted back to Jadis and he deduces that she used to trade human beings…and she seems to be doing it again. Jadis explains that she did it to get supplies for her people, but where are they now? She asks Gabriel to leave everything behind and come with her to a new community via the helicopter to escape the constant shame and suspicions she apparently has to live under. He is having NONE of it, because Father Gabriel is loyal to Rick and his people. Jadis tells Gabriel that she thought he was a “B” all this time…but that is apparently not the case…whatever that even means. In a stunning turn of events, Jadis knocks Gabriel out with the butt of her gun. It appears that the helicopter is part of a massive human trafficking operation that is seemingly linked up to some large community. This aspect of Jadis’ character was hinted at several times, but most prominently last season in “Still Gotta Mean Something” when she nearly managed to trade Negan to the helicopter people; although, it definitely wasn’t clear that that is what she was doing at that point.

Maggie and Daryl are really at an impasse as they wonder if Rick’s vision is really worth it in the end. Maggie wants to see Rick’s viewpoint, and she acknowledges that it is the right path forward for Hershel. That being said, she notes that when she looks at Hershel, she thinks about what could have been; Glenn should be here raising his son, but Negan ended that. They come across a killed walker with a spear in its body and Daryl voices his realization of who took Arat. They make their way to the building that Justin reanimated at and discover the missing ethanol that was due at the Hilltop days ago. It is here that Maggie and Daryl find Cyndie holding Arat at gunpoint, forcing her to beg as the Oceansiders watch on. The mystery now has its answer: the Oceansiders have been picking off the Saviors. Beatrice killed Justin as payback for him killing her husband. Arat is the last surviving Savior that took part in the slaughter of the Oceansiders, helmed by Simon. Cyndie explains that this building was once their home and was found by her mother and grandmother. The group fled to Oceanside after the slaughter and tried to stay hidden, but Rick’s group reeled them back into the war. They remained peaceful after the war, until Maggie showed them that there was another option available when she hanged Gregory. Arat pleads for her life to Maggie and Daryl, stating that she is one of them now and that Simon would have killed her if she didn’t partake in the slaughter. Cyndie passionately tells Arat that she begged for her eleven-year old brother’s life to be spared, but Arat just laughed in her face before shooting him in the exact spot they stand now; they force Arat to repeat what she said to Cyndie before killing the brother: “no exceptions.” Realizing that Arat is cut from the same cloth as Negan, Daryl and Maggie turn their backs and walk away as Arat tearfully begs for them to help her. Cyndie takes a spear and shoves it into the back of Arat’s head. And just like that…justice has been served. Or has it? Arat has a dark past and did some downright terrible things, but she seemed to be on the path to redemption. She sure won’t get the chance to prove herself now.

Briana Venskus as Beatrice, Sydney Park as Cyndie, Elizabeth Ludlow as Arat, Nicole Barre as Kathy, Mimi Kirkland as Rachel. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

“Warning Signs” isn’t as strong as the first two episodes of the season. While still miles better than most of the episodes of Seasons 7 and 8, this episode does suffer a bit from some clunky dialogue and the regression of Anne/Jadis. Hopefully, there is some major story arc planned for her character, because otherwise it might start to feel as though the wheels are spinning with her story. There’s also the issue in that Gabriel acts less-like the trained survivor that we know today as he follows Anne/Jadis and is captured by her, something that he probably should have been able to evade at this point. The vigilante mission that Maggie and Daryl are headed down could also be problematic, especially if it ends in the escape of Negan or someone getting hurt/dying. That being said, this episode still has many strong moments and highlights, specifically the action, the character interactions, the callbacks, the musical score and song choice, and the progression of the story. As usual, the performances are stellar and Andrew Lincoln, Danai Gurira, Norman Reedus, Pollyanna McIntosh and Chloe/Sophia Garcia-Frizzi really shine here. The standouts of the episode are definitely Sydney Park and Elizabeth Ludlow in the haunting final showdown of their characters; Sydney pours her heart out, and Elizabeth’s saddening pleas make their scene together the best moment of the episode. This season really seems to be about the communities working together, and trying to involve the Saviors, but that obviously isn’t going well. The ending of the episode appears to show that the Saviors are abandoning the construction site and returning home, so will the bridge be washed away? Is Rick’s vision unattainable? Will his exit be a direct result of this collapse of the new society? As AMC has hammered into the viewer’s brains, Rick Grimes’ final two episodes are upon us and some of those questions are about to be answered.

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

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

Spoiler Warning for Season 9, Episode 2 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 not the end of the world anymore. It’s the start of a whole new one.”

Two episodes in and Season 9 of “The Walking Dead” is exceptional so far. The series has returned to it’s classic feel of blending excellent character development with outright crazy walker action. By allowing the characters to speak to one another more and build those relationships that this series is built on, the show returns to it’s character-driven roots. The plot twists are plenty here as construction on the bridge to link the communities reaches a critical point.

It’s Day 35 of the reconstruction of the destroyed bridge. Rick narrates as viewers get their first look at the joint effort to link the communities back up together once and for all. A little over a month has passed since the events of the Season Premiere and things are looking good. Rick walks through a temporary campsite that houses members from the communities that are working on the bridge. Tara and Anne walk together, Beatrice and Kathy check out guns from Rosita, Arat and Laura give Rick a smile as he walks by; Jerry and Nabila have formed a relationship and embrace in a loving kiss before heading off to work. Rick walks to the “future” and looks at the bridge from a perch as an epic musical score plays. “We’re not just fighting to survive anymore. We’re making a new beginning.” The weight of Rick’s impending exit from the series can definitely be felt, especially in moments like this. We are witnessing the hero’s journey reach it’s end and Rick is looking out at what he has built for all of these people. Had he not woken up in that hospital all those years ago, none of this would be happening today.

Like its predecessor, this episode focuses heavily on the characters and their relationships AKA the backbone of this series. As the new day begins, King Ezekiel passes along an important message to Henry about the importance of the bridge in uniting the communities; he states that Henry will tell his grandchildren about his role in constructing the bridge one day. Carol and Ezekiel send Henry off to work and joke about how fast he is growing up, showcasing the fact that they have formed their own little family unit. Ezekiel is planning on heading back to the Kingdom to lead those that stayed behind and so Henry can continue with school. Ezekiel wants to build a real fairytale with Carol, but she still has plans to return to the Sanctuary to keep the unruly Saviors in line. Carol slowly seems to be coming around to taking her relationship with Ezekiel further, but she’s not quite there yet and he respects that.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

Much of Season 7 and 8 saw Eugene on the side of Team Negan, but Season 9 shows him back with his family and working to help create that new world. He updates Rick on the support structure of the bridge, and also the runaway Saviors, which is a growing issue that is hinted throughout the episode. There’s also the issue of the food supplies dwindling at the communities and at the temporary camp, but Rick assures Eugene that Michonne is taking care of that issue. There’s a missable moment as Eugene glances down at the hand of a Savior missing fingers, a direct reference to Eugene’s exploding bullets in the Season 8 Finale. Rosita also checks in with Rick to let him know that the nearby herds are being dealt with and that explosives are being uses to redirect them. Rick stops by the infirmary to find Enid stitching up a wound on Cyndie’s hand. There’s a touching moment as Rick expresses his full faith and support in Enid as the bridge camp’s sole medic; Siddiq is being sent back to Alexandria to manage a “bug” that is spreading. This likely bears no effect on the story, but it could possibly be a callback to the flu outbreak at the Prison in Season 4. Enid being the chief medic at this camp is crucial to the events of the episode and serves to parallel the start of Season 6 when Denise was thrown into the action when the Wolves attacked Alexandria.

One of the best aspects of the second half of Season 5 was the friendship built between Daryl and Aaron. Unfortunately, this was thrown by the wayside after and they really only interacted one time after Season 5. This episode breaks that and has them actually having meaningful dialogue with one another as they build the bridge. Aaron tells Daryl about one of the gross yet hilarious moments he has had in raising baby Gracie; he also states that Daryl would make a great father, something he scoffs off, but Aaron is totally right. Henry distributes water to the Saviors working on the bridge, but Justin gets greedy and tries to steal from the supply and even knocks Henry to the ground. This sets off a tense altercation as Henry knocks Justin to the ground, and Daryl gets involved to protect the child from the rude Savior. The two men fight, prompting Rick to step in and cool down the situation before it turns ugly, demanding that everyone get back to work. Rick, Daryl and Carol have a meeting in their tent to discuss what just happened, and Daryl is PISSED. He simply doesn’t see any way that the survivors can coexist with the Saviors and wonders if they are all actually on the same side. Daryl storms away and Rick explains to Carol that things have been difficult between these brothers for quite some time. Carol heavily encourages Rick to talk to Daryl and to take a different approach; she states that his idea is right, but that the execution might not be working. It’s difficult seeing Rick and Daryl at odds, but this has sorta been a long time coming, tracing back to when Daryl had his very first interaction with the Saviors in “Always Accountable.” Daryl is DONE with the Saviors.

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, and Zach McGowan as Justin. (Photo credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

This episode really dives deep into a handful of character’s backstories, providing much-needed insight into who they are. One great case of this comes as Father Gabriel and Anne share a meal together and make a few final touches on a drawing that Anne has made. Eagle-eyed viewers might recognize who the subject of this drawing is, but that isn’t explained until later in the episode. Conversation turns to the fact that Anne still feels like an outsider among the group even though Gabriel, Rick and Morgan all welcomed her into the fold. There’s some excellent parallels that are drawn between Gabriel and Anne as they touch upon their pasts. Gabriel mentions that the group didn’t trust him initially, between him locking his parishioners out of his church and then later betraying the group upon their arrival in Alexandria. Anne worries that they will never accept her after all of the harm she caused during her time leading the Scavengers. The two touch hands, hinting that a romantic relationship is blooming…and quite frankly, it makes sense. Speaking of tricky pasts, there is a wonderful moment between Rosita and Arat as they prep explosives to redirect the herd. Clearly, they have come a long way, but there is still some shaky trust between them with Rosita bringing up Arat “slicing her face up with a knife” during the events of “Hearts Still Beating” when Rosita shot at Negan after he killed Spencer. It remains to be seen if the Saviors such as Arat have really turned a new leaf or if this is all an act.

Redirecting a herd is never an easy task and can go wrong by just a simple mistake as seen in the Season 6 Premiere. Thankfully for the group, Tara is the eye in the sky and she’s keeping things lighthearted. Sporting her cool orange sunglasses that she found in “Swear,” Tara alerts “Mother Goose” AKA Rick that a herd is approaching the construction site, but that there are plans in place to redirect them. There’s some subtle humor between Rick and Tara that is always enjoyable to watch. Tara orders Jerry to sound a siren, successfully turning the herd away from the site. Meanwhile, Alden arrives at the base of the bridge to update Rick on the disappearing Saviors, explaining that they never showed back up to the Sanctuary. Rick theorizes that they probably just ran off and notes that the even though the Saviors have been disarmed, they will be protected. This prompts Alden to make a chilling comparison to a certain tyrant who used to run things; “so they work for you, and you protect them? Who’s that sound like to you?” Something is very wrong. Tara frantically tries to radio Justin, who is in charge of sounding the next siren, but he’s not responding. This causes the herd to keep their current path and head directly toward a lumberyard where members of the communities are collecting trees for the bridge. Shit is about to hit the fan…because of one simple mistake.

Rhys Coiro as Jed, Ross Marquand as Aaron. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

At the lumber area, Daryl, Aaron, Jed and others work to saw and move wood that will be used on the bridge. Something is very off, however, as some of the horses are spooked by what is coming. A few straggler walkers stumble onto the scene, but are quickly dispatched by Daryl. It is revealed that the entire herd has actually arrived and Daryl orders everyone to fall back. Jed’s utter carelessness causes him to drop one of the logs directly on Aaron’s arm. Daryl quickly realizes what has happened and screams at Jed and the other Saviors to help free Aaron. Being the absolute hero and good guy that he is, Aaron tells Daryl to leave him behind as the walkers begin to swarm them. Daryl being Daryl would NEVER do that and manages to get Aaron free, rushing him to safety. In perfect timing, members of the communities arrive in squad formation to help clear away the walkers and allow Daryl to get Aaron away from the scene. Rick, Carol, Gabriel, Anne, Alden, Cyndie and many others rush forward and clear the walkers away with their melee of weapons. It is truly a badass scene that has some shades of “No Way Out” to it. Rick is crazy resourceful and sees the opportunity to take down all of the walkers by shooting at the rope holding together the stacked lumber, effectively creating a deluge of rolling logs that crush and splatter tons of walkers in brutal and gory fashion. This just goes to prove that even nine seasons in, “The Walking Dead” still manages to find wickedly creative ways to kill walkers.

The next few moments of the episode are HUGE for our two OG Alexandrian characters as their resolve is put to the ultimate test. Daryl rushes Aaron to the infirmary at the bridge camp for an emergency operation to treat his now mangled arm…but Siddiq already went back home. It is up to Enid to treat Aaron, and Daryl seems to have full faith in her. Enid looks at Aaron’s arm and realizes that there is only one option: the arm must be amputated. This is downright shocking to Aaron, who can’t even begin to process what is happening. Enid gathers the supplies she will need as Daryl prepares the arm with a tourniquet. Enid switches into battle mode and grabs her knife, ready to make the cut that will change everything; “you can do it,” Aaron says to Enid while grabbing onto Daryl’s hand for support. Thankfully, the scene cuts away before things get too gory and Daryl rushes to the HQ tent, covered in Aaron’s blood, to find Carol lambasting Justin for not fulfilling his role in setting off the siren. Daryl SNAPS and throws several punches at Justin, knocking him out of the tent and onto the ground, even slamming his head with a pot. Carol manages to pull Daryl back and notes that they will find a different way to deal with what happened, noticing Henry watching the scene unfold. This new way of life isn’t easy for anyone and Daryl is having an especially difficult time, but Carol wants to make sure that Henry steers clear of the dark path that both he and Daryl have already been down.

Ross Marquand as Aaron, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, and Katelyn Nacon as Enid. (Photo credit: Richard Lee Jackson/AMC)

The entire episode isn’t set at this bridge camp and much of the story takes place at the Hilltop in the weeks after Gregory’s execution. In a scene that feels as though it was ripped straight out of the comics, Maggie rides a bucking horse at the Hilltop corral all the while downing a new outfit. Michonne arrives on horseback from the Sanctuary to discuss the growing food shortage taking place. Jesus acts as a sort of intermediary as the two leaders debate on whether or not the Hilltop can spare to keep handing food over to the Saviors, especially considering they aren’t keeping up their end of the deal; ethanol from the Sanctuary was sent to the Hilltop, but never arrived, leaving the characters wondering if the Saviors in charge of transporting it ditched town. The Hilltop is facing its own crisis of sorts as the tractor has run out of fuel and the broken plow that was retrieved from the museum can’t be recreated due to the fact that blacksmith Earl is currently locked in jail. Michonne questions how long he will be kept prisoner, but Maggie isn’t quite sure seeing as how the communities has never had to deal with something like this. Michonne expresses her sorrow and anger for what Earl did to Maggie and Enid, but explains that all of the survivors will suffer if they can’t get the crops planted. Maggie is stone cold and she has every reason to be. She has plenty of issues to deal with at the Hilltop, but Michonne wants her to expand her viewpoint and think more about the united communities.

The weeks since the execution of Gregory haven’t been easy for anyone at the Hilltop. Tammy is having an especially difficult time seeing as how Earl was locked up immediately after the execution. She pleads with Jesus to be let into the jail, underneath Barrington House, to see her husband, stating that he is all she has left in the world after the death of Ken. Jesus is caught in a tricky place as Michonne questions whether he thinks Maggie is making the right decisions as leader; it’s great to see Michonne really press Jesus to voice his own opinion even if it may contradict that of Maggie. There’s a truly excellent scene set in Maggie’s office as she plays with baby Hershel; on the wall are paintings done by Anne of Glenn, Hershel, Beth, Josephine (Maggie’s mother), Annette (Maggie’s stepmother) and Shawn (Maggie’s stepbrother). Jesus picks up a letter from Georgie and it is revealed via dialogue that Maggie is still in contact with the mysterious leader via deliveries from Hilda and Midge, the two twin guards. Georgie has apparently been asking Maggie to join her…wherever she is, and this just might be setting up the apparent “opened ended exit” of Maggie that is reportedly just episodes away. Georgie had a major impact on the story when she was introduced in last season’s “The Key” and fans have speculated about her being the leader of the Commonwealth, a gigantic community that is introduced in the comics and plays a large role in the story. Jesus really stands out in this scene as he serves as an advisor to Maggie, making it clear that while he thinks she is a great person with the right intentions, he doesn’t always agree with her decisions. Thank God Jesus is finally receiving a solid role in the story after two seasons of being left by the wayside. Tom Payne really does great work with the character and it is great to see him finally being rewarded with worthwhile story.

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Tom Payne as Paul ‘Jesus’ Rovia, Danai Gurira as Michonne. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

Maggie is a hard woman, but she is not heartless. She allows Tammy to pay a visit to Earl in his cell, albeit supervised. The two reconnect and Tammy expresses her forgiveness for what Earl did. Maggie watches on, clearly taking note of how much they love one another, something that is rare these days. Later, Maggie pays a visit to Earl and asks to hear the story of his alcoholism. Earl has a dark past and his drinking clouded what should have been happy memories of Ken. There was even a point where he risked Ken’s life to drive drunk, something that could have ended things with Tammy, but she stuck beside him and helped him on the path to recovery…only for it to end because of sniveling Gregory. This conversation is crucial for Maggie’s next decision and she really relies upon her history and more specifically, her family. While speaking with Michonne, Maggie reveals that she has decided to provide the Saviors with the food that was requested and to also free Earl so that he may work under supervision. Maggie also states that she plans to form a council to assist in the decision making process, something that worked greatly in Season 4 at the Prison. Things get really emotional as Maggie explains that her father had a drinking problem (as seen in Season 2), but that he was given a second chance and many people benefitted from it; Michonne states that she herself is better off from knowing Hershel. Maggie doesn’t regret hanging Gregory, and she still plans on holding onto the Hilltop’s independence, but she accepts Michonne’s proposition to form a charter with the other communities. And just like that, we see that the farmer’s daughter is still working to honor her father and all those that got her to where she is.

As night falls at the bridge camp, Rick pays a visit to the infirmary to check in on Aaron. Enid tells Rick that Aaron should be fine, but he has a long road of recovery ahead of him. Daryl has been sitting by Aaron’s side for hours now, showing that while the friendship between these two may have been forgotten by the show for a while, Daryl still cares for Aaron greatly. Rick sits beside Aaron and apologizes for pushing everyone so hard and contributing to the dangerous work environment that may have caused the accident. Aaron puts a stop to this and states that Rick is not responsible for what happened, and that he is eternally grateful for his role in building this new world, something that Rick himself started. When Rick and Aaron first met in Season 5′ “The Distance,” their relationship was rocky and unstable with Rick even threatening to kill Aaron, but look how far they have come; they are family now, the love each other. Speaking of love, Gabriel and Anne have their own little thing going on outside of the camp as they listen to the sounds of frogs mating. Anne asks Gabriel about the woman he had her draw, revealing a mystery that was never addressed; a walker in Gabriel’s second episode seemed to be a source of sadness and guilt for him, and all these years later, her identity is revealed to be an organist at his church, whom he cared very much for. Much like the frogs around them, Gabriel and Anne take their relationship to the next level and have sex. What an unusual pairing that sorta came out of nowhere…but it works. Their similarly dark pasts makes for a shared understanding of what it means to come back from the things they’ve done.

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier and Khary Payton as King Ezekiel. (Photo credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

In an episode chock full of parallelism, there’s one instance of it that is slightly subtle. Rick takes a moment to reflect on the day by looking out at the group of survivors that surround campfires as they relax and unwind together; everyone is happy and relaxed. Rick has a smile on his face that mirrors that of Bob in Season 5 as he looked at his fellow survivors inside the church just moments before being captured by Gareth and the Terminians, and later dying that night. Rick’s exit is coming, and this moment allows Rick to look out at his people; it’s not easy to say this, but they’ll be okay when he’s gone. Carol and Ezekiel embrace in each other’s warmth and Carol decides to hold onto the ring that Ezekiel proposed with, but this isn’t a formal acceptance; Ezekiel hilariously gets down onto one knee, but Carol doesn’t want a proposal…but he prepared a speech…of course he did. From atop the lookout post, Anne holds a sculpture of a frog she made after her love session with Gabriel. A mysterious sound can be heard from above, and it is revealed to be a helicopter…presumably THE helicopter that Anne has some sort of connection with and almost picked her up back in “Still Gotta Mean Something.” The mystery of the helicopter continues and that’s not the only mystery the episode wraps up with as Justin is seemingly attacked by someone he appears to know while walking home to the Sanctuary at night. The scene is shot in POV in the style of a classic slasher film, but it is unclear what exactly happened to Justin; is this another case of a missing Savior? Is someone hunting them down?

“The Bridge” is actually framed as a recapping of events, told by Rick to Negan in his cell at Alexandria. This is our first look at Prisoner Negan and it is jarring as he hoarsely tries to tell Rick that he is still in charge. The new world that Rick and his fellow survivors have created is not perfect, but it is thriving without Negan. This adaptation of Negan’s post-war comic arc is just one case of Angela Kang paying close attention to the source material while remixing her own unique elements into play. This second episode of the season is really quite excellent and serves as another example of the vastly improved dialogue and character dynamics. The characters are actually talking to each other, and like human beings again; that’s exactly what fans have been asking for. Across the board, the performances are superior, but the standouts include Lauren Cohan, Ross Marquand, Katelyn Nacon, Norman Reedus, Melissa McBride, Brett Butler and John Finn in their respective roles. There is a lot happening in the story right now, and the added element of mystery really helps to give the show a refreshing feel to it as the arcs unfold. Season 9 is already shaping up to be an thrilling and meaningful expansion of the show, and these final episodes of Rick Grimes are an absolute return to form as the series prepares to bid farewell to its lead. Construction on the bridge is still underway, but the communities are already united in their quest to build something greater than themselves. Will it all come crumbling down though? This still is “The Walking Dead,” so it probably will.

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

TV REVIEW: ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘A New Beginning’

Spoiler Warning for the Season 9 Premiere (Season 9, Episode 1) 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’re looking to the past to help us with the future.”

It is back. “The Walking Dead” is back. That sentence has more than one meaning as not only has the show made it’s return to television for a ninth season…but the show that fans fell in love with all those years ago is back. The past two seasons are notorious for being far lower in quality than the usually high standard of the show; with a new showrunner and tone that blends a classic feel with a hopeful future, this zombie story is far from dead. It’s alive…and it is BACK.

A year and a half has passed since the conclusion of All Out War when the forces of Alexandria, the Hilltop, the Kingdom and Oceanside successfully defeated Negan and the Saviors. This is the largest time jump the series has done to date, and a lot has changed since we last left our characters. The episode opens up with a tour of Alexandria, now rebuilt following its destruction last season; a new sign at the main gate welcomes visitors, the church is being reconstructed, gardens flourish with greenery, solar panels sit in front of each house. It’s quite the sight to see. Rick Grimes makes his way onto the porch of the Monroe family apartment, now claimed by his own family. Judith paints on an easel as Michonne watches and giggles as the young child pokes fun at her father for having a “big belly.” Judith has grown a lot and she is now speaking full sentences for the first time in the series. One of Judith’s paintings is of her late brother Carl, showing that while he may be gone, Judith still remembers him and misses him dearly. The Grimes family take a trip out of their community to a field where they watch as a flock of crows fly in formation. It’s stunning to watch, and there is absolutely some symbolism and foreshadowing hidden in there, possibly in regards to Rick’s impending exit. For the first time in quite a while, there is peace here. There’s not an immediate threat. We are just seeing Rick spending time with his family…and that feels good.

Zach McGowan as Justin, Elizabeth Ludlow as Arat. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

There’s an excellent transition between the shots of crows flying over the field to crows wrecking havoc at the Sanctuary gardens, where life is extremely different now that Negan is no longer running things. Eugene, Rosita, Regina and others are in the process of making fuel out of the dead corn that failed to grow properly. Daryl has taken on the role of leader at the Savior community and he is running a tight ship. Arat and new character Justin (Zach McGowan) make a scarecrow of sorts by stringing up a walker, but Daryl is having none of it, clearly still bitter about the fact that the Saviors are being allowed to live freely after all of the bloodshed they caused. It’s established in this opening scene that the communities are more linked up than ever before with established routes and radio channels connecting everyone. Eugene, Tara, Aaron and Jesus pass along vital information about their forthcoming scavenging mission via the radio channels. It is here that we get one of many great character bonding scenes as Aaron asks Jesus to be trained in the art of his badass walker-slaying martial arts. During the time jump, Jesus established a class for the children of the Hilltop, similarly to what Carol did back at the Prison. This is just one of many tidbits of information that is provided to fill in the missing time and also show that elements of civilization are slowly making a return.

Over the past few years, both “The Walking Dead” and “Fear the Walking Dead” have explored the post-apocalyptic world and showcased countless new locations. In this Season Premiere, the series does just that as the characters venture into Washington D.C. on a scavenging mission. Nature has overtaken the streets and is reclaiming the land; the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument, along with the National Mall are all shown to be decaying after years without maintenance. Walkers stumble up and down the streets in several shots the mirror those from the Pilot episode when Rick entered Atlanta. Survivors from each of the communities have joined this massive supply run into the city, each riding on the back of a horse or in a wagon; this is showcasing the transition from cars to more medieval forms of transportation as the modern luxuries of life slip away and become less feasible. As such, the characters decide to pay a visit to one of the Smithsonian museums to collect artifacts that they can use in their communities. The museum is awe-inspiring, but it holds a darkness to it as the remnants of what appear to be a survivor camp are strung throughout. It’s worth noting that the filming location for this museum is actually the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta. Yes…”The Walking Dead” actually got the approval to trash up a government building for filming. How many shows get to do that?

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Sydney Park as Cyndie, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Khary Payton as Ezekiel. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

The horror roots of the series can totally be felt as the characters explore the museum. A small subgroup enters a claustrophobic room that is decked out in spiderwebs and is pitch black dark aside from the flashlights. Siddiq becomes a witness to one of the most horrifying walkers to be featured in the series as he is grabbed and pulled to the ground; this walker is almost completely decomposed, and is now the home to a family of spiders, which pour out of the eyes and mouth and all onto the floor as Siddiq puts down the walker. We learn here that Siddiq is afraid of spiders, seemingly more so than the monster he just faced. Father Gabriel, now partially blind after falling ill last season, kills a walker in a way that makes its corpse part of an evolution display; this is a unique way at highlighting the full “devolution of man” from primates to walkers. Anne (formerly Jadis) is shown to be fully committing to the efforts of the group as she assists in finding seeds that the museum stowed away for their gardens prior to the apocalypse; she’s also given some backstory as it is revealed that Anne was a teacher before the outbreak and led school field trips to the museum. These seeds could be an absolute game-changer for the future of the communities, specifically the Sanctuary, which is having an especially difficult time growing crops.

This episode features the welcome return of realistic dialogue between characters, something that has been sporadic for the past few seasons; to clarify, this means that the characters are no longer speaking in long-winded poetic monologues, but rather sound more like actual human beings. One case of this can be seen as Daryl and Cyndie work together to move a canoe and end up talking about their brothers. This is an unlikely pairing, but Daryl is able to pass along some wisdom to the young Oceanside leader as he cites his tumultuous relationship with Merle that ended tragically; he relied on the people around him to move forward after his brother’s death, and that’s exactly what Cyndie should do. There’s also a fantastic conversation between Carol, Maggie and Michonne, who haven’t really interacted together as a trio. They discuss an election between Maggie and Gregory that took place at the Hilltop during the time jump. They point out how ironic it is that the Hilltop had a democratically elected leader, while the Kingdom is operating as a monarchy. Michonne expresses her joy that Maggie won the election, and Maggie points out how glad she is that she grew up on a farm, a touching callback. Michonne notices a poster displaying the “conflicts that shaped our nation,” putting a flurry of ideas into her head about the future of the communities. These scenes are so simple, yet hold so much depth and character development. It’s these human scenes that the show has been missing…but now they’re back.

Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel Stokes. (Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC)

There is some serious teamwork on display this episode as the museum scavenging team links back up at the main staircase to pull a wagon down. The survivors work slowly seeing as there is a glass floor with a collection of walkers below that they must pull the wagon over to get it out of the building. It’s a tough effort, but everyone is pulling their weight. After successfully moving the wagon out of the way, Rick and the others transport the various artifacts they have looted, but the glass is beginning to crack and they realize that they are running out of time. While carrying a plow across the glass, King Ezekiel falls through and dangles just inches above the grabby walkers as his friends switch into emergency mode to get him out. This scene really resembles Glenn’s daring venture into the well on the Greene family farm back in the Season 2 episode “Cherokee Rose.” Fortunately, Ezekiel is rescued and he is embraced with a kiss by a relieved Carol. The two have formed a romantic relationship during the time jump, something that had been building since their first meeting in Season 7’s “The Well.” This was a close call, and everyone feels it. They load their supplies into the wagons outside and march onward and out of the city, leaving the dilapidation behind them. It’s a shame that Abraham never got to explore Washington D.C. seeing as how he made it his mission to get Eugene there. Still, this feels like a minor homage to him.

“The Walking Dead” has always had as western vibe to it, tracing all the way back to the Pilot and this episode sees a return to that. While on the journey back, there are more of those human conversations between characters. Alden speaks with new characters Marco (Gustavo Gomez) and Ken (AJ Achinger) about Ken’s father who is the blacksmith of the Hilltop. There’s a superb moment with Carol and Ezekiel as the future of their romance comes into question; Ezekiel proposes to Carol, clearly as a reaction to his near death experience. She is having none of it, playing hard to get as usual. Come on, Ezekiel. You’re going to have to do better than a horseback proposal for our Carol. Ezekiel is clearly smitten with Carol, even flat out saying that he loves her, but it seems that the feeling may not be 100% at least right now. Rosita arrives on an ATV and links up with the crew to show everyone that one of the bridges linking the communities has been destroyed by a herd. Michonne proposes that they take an alternate route and stay at Alexandria for the night, but Maggie doesn’t want to and the characters split up here. The groups headed to the Hilltop and the Sanctuary encounter a problem when the horses are unable to pull the wagon through mud. Walkers show up and complicate matters further as the survivors scramble to escape, but Ken stays behind to free the horses and ends up being bitten by a walker and kicked by a horse. Siddiq and Enid try to save him after amputating his arm, but he slips away in Maggie’s arms before she puts him down. And just like that, a supply run for the future takes a deadly turn.

Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel Stokes, Pollyanna McIntosh as Anne, Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Avi Nash as Siddiq, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Danai Gurira as Michonne, and Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler. (Photo credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

The mood dramatically shifts following the death of Ken as Maggie returns to the Hilltop and must break the news to his parents, Tammy (Brett Butler) and Earl (John Finn). They’re understandably devastated to learn that their son has died, but Tammy is furious that he died to retrieve tools for the Saviors. Maggie offers to help with Ken’s funeral arrangements, but Tammy is having none of it and questions whether or not the right person won the election seeing as how Maggie has been lenient on the Saviors. Times have changed at the Hilltop. Before the arrival of our group, the bodies of their fallen residents would be burned, but they are now buried and Ken is given a full funeral complete with drinks, speeches and a moving musical number by Alden (is he Beth reincarnate?). Gregory gives a rousing toast that even Jesus acknowledges as being heartfelt, especially coming from him. Following the funeral, Gregory offers the mourning parents alcohol; Earl passes seeing as how he is sober, but Tammy accepts and gets WASTED. Always the conniving and scheming son-of-a-bitch, Gregory takes advantage of Earl’s grief and gets him drunk also before spewing ridiculous anti-Maggie rhetoric at him even though Gregory was the one to align with the Saviors the past two seasons. Fans of the comic can see that he is fulfilling his counterpart’s arc to a tee…and it won’t end well.

At some point during the time jump, Maggie gave birth to a beautiful son, whom she named Hershel after her late father. After first revealing that she was pregnant in Season 6’s “Now,” this baby has been a long time coming. Taking an evening stroll with Hershel in a stroller, Maggie stops to speak with Gregory about the difficult day they had. Gregory butters up Maggie about her election win before dropping a chilling bit of information on her: apparently someone has defaced Glenn’s grave. This sends Maggie into a saddened fit of panic and she rushes over to the Hilltop cemetery with Hershel only to be attacked by a hooded figure. The two fight one another as Hershel is knocked from his stroller onto the ground. Enid rushes to the scene to assist Maggie, but she is pushed away and hits her head on a bench, knocking her unconscious. Alden and Cyndie arrive and hold the hooded figure back, and Maggie finally gets a clear look at him: it’s Earl. Maggie is PISSED and rightfully so, but she knows who is responsible. She barges into Gregory’s trailer and yells at him for being a weak leader and an even weaker murderer. There’s some more excellent dialogue as Gregory accuses Maggie of being “Rick’s lackey” and of being too scared to face Negan that she can’t even visit Alexandria. He pulls a knife on her for one final assassination attempt, but this is Maggie we are talking about. She can take care of herself and she does. There is no way that Gregory of all people would be the one to take Maggie down.

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee and Xander Berkeley as Gregory. (Photo credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

A significant chunk of the episodes takes place at the Sanctuary following the arrival of Rick, Michonne, Daryl and the others. To say that Rick has become somewhat of a legend here is an understatement. The workers who suffered under Negan’s tyrannical rule adore Rick…and they let him know it. Eugene and Laura update Daryl on the supplies and encourage him to give a speech to the Saviors…but he isn’t Negan. Michonne is concerned when she spots writing on the wall stating “Saviors Save Us! We are still Negan!” Not everyone is happy with this new way of life after Negan and one of those might just be Justin, whom Daryl orders to clean up the note on the wall. There’s yet another one of those fantastic character interactions as Rick and Daryl have a meaningful conversation about the future of the Sanctuary. Daryl doesn’t want to lead the Saviors anymore, and he doesn’t see why they should care if the Sanctuary fails. Rick is trying to build a better life for everyone in honor of Carl, but Daryl doesn’t know if its realistic to include their former foes. Daryl expresses his disdain for the group being so split, and he misses the tighter knit team of the earlier days. This seems to a spilling over of the conflict that was teased at the end of last season, but Daryl’s ends up accepting Rick’s viewpoint. They’re brothers through and through, even if they aren’t always on the exact same page.

One of the most important dynamics of the story is that of Carol and Daryl. The two meet up outside and have an amazing heart-to-heart that once again allows both characters to demonstrate the tremendously improved dialogue. Carol expresses the fact that neither of them are able to sleep anymore, but that Ezekiel can…and he snores. Daryl calls him corny, bringing back some of that genuine humor his character has been missing. Carol states that after what she went through with Ed, having a corny lover is welcomed. Daryl is happy for his long-time friend. He misses her though, but she proposes a solution to his problem and decides to stay as the leader of the Sanctuary in his absence. This conversation features some rewarding callbacks to their relationship, including Carol calling Daryl “Pookie,” and Carol’s disdain for smoking. As if seeing these two together wasn’t enough, we also get some Richonne loving as they prepare for bed and discuss the day they had. Michonne teases her boyfriend for being “the famous Rick Grimes” and also questions whether they made the right decision in sparing Negan’s life. Rick still believes they made the right decision, likely because it’s what Carl would have wanted. Michonne is so determined for building this future that she explains her plans for drafting a charter that establishes laws among the communities and also consequences for breaking the rules. Richonne is just what the new world needs, and they both acknowledge how lucky they are to have found one another. We’re pretty glad they did too.

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

When morning rolls around, it is time for the characters to get back to their somewhat normal life. Carol and Ezekiel embrace in a final kiss as the King prepares to head back home to the Kingdom along with Jerry. Rick, Michonne and Daryl arrive at the Hilltop and are stunned to find Maggie battered and bruised. In a scene that feels totally like Season 2 on the Farm, Rick and Maggie sit on Barrington House’s patio and discuss how perfect Hershel is. Rick states that he would love for Maggie to visit Alexandria, citing the fact that Judith is always talking about “Aunt Maggie at Hilltop.” Rick also wants Maggie and the Hilltop to assist with repairing the destroyed bridge, including offering more resources to the Sanctuary. Maggie comes up with a deal that has the Saviors trade their labor and fuel for food. This is where Rick and Maggie differ as Maggie doesn’t feel any obligation to solving all of the Savior’s problems when there are clearly problems at her own community. There’s a callback to the Season 8 Premiere when Maggie notes that Rick fell through on his promise to follow her, because “she wasn’t someone to follow…but that changes now.” Maggie has really come into her role as leader during the time skip. She still respects Rick and they are still family, be she isn’t in total agreement with him.

“It’s time to put the children to bed,” Maggie eerily declares as night begins to fall. This has a double meaning to it as the children are literally put to bed and the community gathers at the gallows. Everyone is present, including Enid, who is now bound to a wheelchair after being injured by Earl. Speaking of him, Earl is now a prisoner and a witness of what’s about to happen. “At Hilltop, the punishment fits the crime,” Maggie announces before turning to Gregory, who is sitting on a horse with a noose around his neck. He gives his final words, calling Maggie ashamed…but he’s wrong. She gives Daryl the order to carry out the execution and Gregory cowardly pleads for his life as the horse rushes forward. Two children have come out to see the proceedings, prompting Michonne to attempt to stop the execution…but it’s done. Gregory hangs and slowly chokes to death as the residents of the Hilltop look on. His body swings across the screen as the faces of several characters, including Jesus, Alden and Enid, are highlighted. Justice has been served. Maggie doesn’t want this to become the new norm at the Hilltop and she uses this as a stern warning for everyone to honor the rule of law. The episode cuts to black as Maggie orders for Gregory to be cut down and his body drops to the ground. After two and a half seasons of causing problems at the Hilltop, Gregory’s reign has ended. His iconic comic end has been adapted to the screen…and it is perfect.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

“A New Beginning” is exactly the episode that “The Walking Dead” needed to get things back on track. Obviously, there is the looming shadow of both Rick and Maggie’s forthcoming exits this season, but it seems as though incoming showrunner Angela Kang really understands this story and its characters. She has crafted an excellent premiere that pays homage to the past while charting the course for the future. There are vast improvements to the writing, dialogue and tone, adding more realism, humanity and hope that gives the show its classic feel back. The performances across the board are stellar with Andrew Lincoln, Danai Gurira, Norman Reedus, Melissa McBride and Khary Payton really doing wonderful work that highlights their character’s ticks and personalities. The standouts of this episode are Lauren Cohan, Xander Berkeley in his final performance on the show, and newcommer Brett Butler, all of which deliver a brilliant remix of the Hilltop arc. Things are changing with this series…and it’s about damn time. The slum of Season 7 and 8 is finally over, and a new beginning is here. There’s still a lot to be seen this season, particularly Negan and those mysterious Whisperers, but this is a great jumping point for everything to come. Cheers to Season 9!

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

TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘…I Lose Myself’

Spoiler Warning for the Season 4 Finale (Season 4, Episode 16) of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

Lennie James as Morgan Jones. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

The Season 4 Finale of “Fear the Walking Dead” is weak. Sorry to be blunt, but it just is not good. As a whole, Season 4 is really disappointing. One year ago, the series was at it’s prime…but now we’re here. There’s very little coherent direction and the story doesn’t have much focus at all. The season comes to an end in quite possibly the most lackluster way possible. What happened to this show?

That introduction may suggest that there’s nothing good here, but there are some positive takeaways. The character of Althea is left to her own devices in downtown Austin as the walkers close in on her. There’s major “The Walking Dead” Season 1 vibes as Al is nearly trapped in alleyways whilst trying to find an escape, later finding a car and breaking it’s window in a shot that mirrors one of Glenn doing the same. She makes her way into a parking garage where she radios her crew and explains where she is. In the first of many convenient moments, Althea is stunned to find a news van that immediately excites her, especially considering the fact that there is also a working video camera. She equips herself with her shotgun and puts on a bullet proof vest to head back out into the city only to stumble upon the spot where Jim landed after leaping from the roof last episode. She is horrified when she turns around and is caught by Martha with walker Jim. Martha admires Al for being a hardened survivor and for being hesitant to directly help others. Rather than taking out the threat like so many should before her should have done, Al lets down her guard for a second and is knocked out by Martha. The way this severely injured woman is able to get around these characters is baffling. She is such a small threat that could easily be taken out…but her plot armor is THICK.

Maggie Grace as Althea. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

As previously mentioned, this episode is full of plot conveniences that really weigh this finale down. Al being trapped in downtown Austin seemed as though it would be a major aspect of the finale, but after being knocked out by Martha, she is immediately found by the rest of the survivors. It is explained that Althea was left by Martha as a means of delivering a message via one of the tapes to the rest of the group; the tape is basically Martha rambling about how disappointed she is in Morgan and whatnot. Quite possibly the best moment of the episode comes as the group gathers around a fire at their makeshift campsite for the night to hear Morgan’s explanation of where they are going. He tells them that they are headed to Alexandria and that there are several communities in the surrounding area that he is also part of. Althea once again mentions the King and the tiger, clearly fascinated by them and wanting to get their story; Morgan doesn’t flat out say it, but a look on his face suggests that he knows Al will be upset when she realizes that she won’t get to meet Shiva. Strand calls Alexandria by name, making a fascinating shift in the world of the shows as they have become even more linked than ever before. Morgan states that their best course of action is to stop by the Flip Flop Truck Stop in Mississippi to stock up on supplies before heading to Virginia so they can leave help boxes all the way on their journey. For fans of this Universe, hearing these plans is truly exciting as it makes it feel as though the shows are that much closer to merging. However, as the episode progresses, it becomes more clear that this is all just a bait and switch.

Late at night, John comes across Morgan watching the tape and immediately knows what he is up to. Morgan still wants to help Martha. Since they first met in the Season Premiere, John and Morgan have developed a beautiful friendship and have become exceptionally well at reading each other. Morgan is planning on heading out to find Martha and to try and bring her back from the place in which she is “stuck.” The reasoning for this absolutely makes sense, specifically because Morgan has been exactly where she is now. That being said, there is too much at risk and Morgan doesn’t seem to have learned from his past mistakes of helping people that cannot be helped. Morgan hands John a map to Alexandria and urges him and the rest of the group to make the journey without him, stating that he will meet them there eventually…with Martha. John recites one of his poignant fish metaphors to Morgan about Martha being a fish that wants and needs to be left alone, but he also ties it to Morgan; John knows that this is just something that Morgan has to take care of, and he can’t get in the way of that. In a series of shots that parallel those from the Season Premiere, Morgan heads out in search of Martha, radioing to her and eventually getting through to her. She weakly reveals to him that she is at mile mark 54, the site of her crash with her husband, when everything started to go down hill for her.

Lennie James as Morgan Jones and Tonya Pinkins as Martha. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Mile marker 54 is an important place in the story of Martha. It’s where her life changed forever, so it makes perfect sense that she would return to it to make her final transition to her “stronger” version. When Morgan arrives, he finds walker Jim in a police car and puts a merciful end to his undead life. Morgan spots Martha nearby laying on her husband Hank’s grave, weaker that ever before. Morgan puts her in the back of the police car, much to her objection, and offers her painkillers before beginning the drive to Mississippi where the others have planned to wait a few days before making their trip to Virginia. Much like Eastman did for him in “Here’s Not Here,” Morgan forces Martha to face her past and questions how she ended up the way she is now. She tells the story of what happened to her and the viewer must listen to it even though her story was told during the opening scene of “MM 54.” Still, it is rather interesting to hear and see the emotions of Martha as she narrates the most tragic day of her life. Tonya Pinkins really delivers here as she pours her heart out to Morgan. This story and emotions seem to make Morgan think that Martha can immediately be trusted, because he opens up the barrier between the front and back of the car, allowing her to grab his arm and cause the car to spin out and crash. So many of the moments within this episode could have easily been avoided if it weren’t for stupid mistakes such as this. Morgan is way smarter than this, yet he is being written in a way that is totally out-of-character for the sake of allowing certain plot points to come to fruition.

The portions of the episode spent with the rest of the survivors really don’t contain much meat to them. Upon arriving at the Flip Flop Truck Stop, the characters are blown away by the amount of supplies, the electricity and the running water; this is almost a cruel tease for the viewer as they will have these luxuries should they arrive at Alexandria. Sarah makes and serves fresh coffee for everyone, Althea reloads her machine guns with ammo, Charlie brushes her teeth, and Alicia plots out the options for her, Luciana and Strand; it seems as though they are somewhat hesitant to make the long journey, but they also realize that there is nothing left for them in Texas. June and John have a heart-warming moment together in the aisles as they discuss their love for one another with June expressing that she figured out who she is because of John; their scene together is highly reminiscent to “Laura,” with their time shopping at the general store even being referenced. There’s a haunting bit of foreshadowing as Althea refills the SWAT van with antifreeze as two walkers stumble up to the gas station. Al claims that she can take down the walkers, but she collapses to the ground, showing signs of a mysterious sickness. Thankfully, Alicia steps in and is able to save Althea by killing the two walkers; this is really one of the few scenes in the entire finale where Alicia is given significant material to work with, a sad sign that her character is being disregarded.

Garret Dillahunt as John Dorie and Jenna Elfman as June. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

As Morgan and Martha head toward Mississippi, June radios him to alert him to the fact that everyone at the truck stop has fallen ill. Everyone is experiencing serious symptoms, but no one can quite figure out what is happening and why they suddenly became sick. June starts to pass out water bottles to everyone, but realizes that the seals have been broken and that someone put something in the water; why no one noticed this when they first drank the water is one of many instances of just bad writing for the sake of plot convenience. The characters are left to accept their fate as they all lay around, slowly succumbing to whatever has poisoned them. Althea watches back her tapes and sees previous interviews, overcome with emotion as she sees all of the faces of people she has crossed paths with. Morgan and Martha are badly banged up after crashing the car, but Martha somehow manages to pull him from the wreckage and write his famous “I lose people…I lose myself” quote on his forehead. Morgan is placed in a difficult position when Martha reveals a bite wound on her shoulder, with her stating that she wanted to make sure he couldn’t stop her from becoming the strongest version of herself. They’re at a standstill as either Morgan will have to kill her or she will kill him. When June tells Morgan that the situation at the truck stop is getting worse, Morgan snaps and begins to choke Martha while demanding that she say what she did to the water. She ultimately tells him that the poison is antifreeze. Things aren’t as easy as Morgan simply radioing the rest of the group to let them know about this development, so instead he must hobble his way to Mississippi on a severely injured leg. He handcuffs Martha to the car, a final blow to her that will prevent her from attacking people as a walker, her one true wish.

The season began with Morgan running away from his family in Virginia. Rick told Morgan that he would end up with people again, because he is part of the world. This season ends with Morgan running to get back to a new family he is part of. He reaches a certain point and is finally able to contact Althea over the radio, relaying the fact that they have been poisoned by antifreeze. This is where June snaps into nurse mode and shares with the group that ethanol can be used as a cure for antifreeze poisoning. Sarah flat out calls this an unbelievable stroke of luck that there is an ethanol truck parked just outside. The only problem is that dozens of infected are now pounding on the windows and doors, preventing the weakened group from getting outside. They decide to make a stand and take out as many as they can seeing as how they have no real other option. The burst out of the front doors and take out several walkers while June and Charlie try to distract them from the inside. Strand and Luciana make a run for the ethanol truck while Althea positions herself in the SWAT truck and fires multiple rounds at the walkers. Unfortunately, several of the bullets pierce the ethanol truck, causing it to leak. For an unexplained reason, the characters return to the inside and mope about the fact that the ethanol is now gone even though they had plenty of time to soak some up or capture some in buckets or bottles. If they weren’t even going to use the ethanol from the truck, then what was the point of this entire action sequence? It’s dumb moments such as this that weight the episode down even more and prevent the finale from have any real quality to it.

Colman Domingo as Victor Strand and Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Due to the power of fast travel and plot convenience, Morgan manages to make it all the way from Texas to Mississippi just in the knick of time as the group seems to have lost all hope. He even made a stop along the way to collect a truck full of Augie’s Ale, also known as Jimbo’s Beerbos, since ethanol and alcohol are the same thing. Problem solved! How easy was that? The group chugs down bottles of beer to flush the antifreeze out of their system and there are a few excellent character moments sprinkled throughout. Luciana has a moment to herself where she cheers to Clayton. Strand and Alicia have a heart-to-heart about Madison with Alicia stepping into the role of Strand’s drinking buddy in the Clark matriarch’s absence; this is a moment that was first teased in the San Diego Comic Con trailer and it is totally rewarding to see it finally come to life. There’s a hilarious moment as Charlie drinks a bottle of beer and John tells not her to be poisoned again until she’s 21. Jim has saved the group once again; it’s crazy that a relatively minor character has gone on to have such a huge impact on the story. Morgan decides to head ALL THE WAY BACK to Texas to the spot where he left Martha behind. He finds that she has detached herself from her arm and is now wandering around as a walker. He very honorably puts her down and buries her, bringing an end to the madness that is Martha. She’s finally at peace, and hopefully that gives Morgan some semblance of peace also. Even though he couldn’t bring her back from the place that she was stuck, he did prevent her from slipping down to an even darker place. He also saved countless others from being caught in her sick games. For that, maybe his efforts were worth all of this.

The second half of Season 4 has been heavily focused on Morgan making his return to Virginia, possibly with the characters of “Fear the Walking Dead” beside him. Those plans are thrown right out the window as Morgan establishes a new idea for the group. Similarly to what Madison did upon finding the Stadium in the flashbacks featured in “No One’s Gone,” Morgan shows the group an abandoned denim factory that was used by Polar Bear to distribute supplies in the help boxes. He explains that Martha became so far gone and went on a killing spree because she needed help and wasn’t given it. The new plan for the group is that they will help people. The world may be in rough shape and there may not be many people left, but they are going to help whomever they can. Alicia really seems to like this idea, because it is something her mother would have done. Al proposes that they try to find some of the people on her tapes to help also. The season wraps up with Morgan and the others continuing what Polar Bear started and creating a network to distribute supplies. There’s hope in the air. That being said, this is a pretty weak ending especially considering how heavily the trip to Virginia was teased. It appears that Morgan’s return to “The Walking Dead” will not be happening, as least not for a LONG time as the original series is about to undergo a massive time jump, effectively closing the window for any more crossovers. Sure, this might be the right call to preserve “Fear the Walking Dead” as it’s own show and to keep the characters in a positive place headed into Season 5, but where is the tease for the future? What will entice viewers to keep watching? It’s easy to see the intent of this ending, but it doesn’t really hit its emotional point like it should have.

Danay Garcia as Luciana, Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Garret Dillahunt as John Dorie, Jenna Elfman as June, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell as Wendelll, Mo Collins as Sarah. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Season 4 of “Fear the Walking Dead” had a lot going for it. The crossover of Morgan had the opportunity to breathe new life into the series and connect the worlds forever. That did happen, but the potential was ultimately squashed in the second half when the wheels of the story began spinning and very little ended up happening. The season killed off two major players and altered what the series started off as. This is basically now Morgan’s show, and while that is not inherently a bad thing, it is definitely unfair to the foundation of this series, including Alicia Clark, who is swept under the rug. This episode is the amalgamation of how choppy and flat this season has been. Sure, there are plenty of great episodes sprinkled throughout and the new characters have done wonders for the story, but the heart is really missing. This episode is one of the weakest of Season 4 and of the entire run, and quite frankly, the fans and the characters deserve better. If “Fear the Walking Dead” wants to retain it’s audience, it will have to do better with Season 5. The previous two episode, plus the fantastic “Close Your Eyes,” show that there is still so much talent and potential with this series, but it may not be in the best hands. Still, the performances across the board and the great character moments of this episode are worthy of praise. “Fear the Walking Dead” has had a bumpy road, but there is still hope that things can improve. Season 5 can be yet another blank slate and hopefully the showrunners will take the time to come up with a story that these characters deserve. The focus needs to be on balance. Without balance, we end up with Season 4B…and that just isn’t something that needs to be repeated.

“Fear the Walking Dead” will return for Season 5 in 2019. Until then, be sure to stay tuned to Niner Times for continuing coverage of the “TWD” franchise, including the return of “The Walking Dead” on Sunday, Oct. 7 at 9 p.m. on AMC. Weekly reviews of the main series will continue all throughout Season 9. 

TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘I Lose People…’

Spoiler Warning for Season 4, Episode 15 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

Jenna Elfman as June, Danay Garcia as Luciana, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell as Wendell, Mo Collins as Sarah, Lennie James as Morgan Jones. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

He loses people…and then he loses himself. Morgan’s first season on “Fear the Walking Dead” is about to wrap up, and he has just lost another person in his life, adding further evidence to his apparent curse. The element of horror is amped up as the characters try to escape an overrun hospital in downtown Austin. Teamwork really makes the dream work…but not everyone makes it out alive.

While it may have been extremely unlikely and unrealistic for Alicia and Charlie to find the exact spot in all of Texas where Strand and John are marooned, it does allow for an excellent reunion. The musings of John seem to have had an effect on Strand, who is now far more hopeful upon seeing one of his OG friends coming to his rescue. Due to another stroke of unbelievable luck, June manages to radio Alicia, setting up another series of reunions. Alicia is able to bring June the relief that John is in fact alive. Morgan is also relieved to hear Alicia’s voice and takes a moment to explain the precarious situation that his group is currently in without revealing their location due to the fact that Martha may be listening. Alicia declares that she is going to rescue Strand and John, and then come to save Morgan’s crew. Realizing that they still need a way to get through across the floodwaters, Alicia and Charlie head out in search of a boat. Meanwhile, John expresses to Strand his pessimism toward the situation, worried that they won’t be able to find a way to get off the damn island. The two characters have essentially swapped places with John even touching base on his story prior to the events of “Laura” when he stranded himself on a metaphorical island. Strand points out that anything is possible, especially considering Alicia and Charlie are now working together even after their tumultuous past. “If that doesn’t make you think that anything is possible, I don’t know what else will,” hopeful Strand is a welcome surprise; he’s living just how Madison would have wanted him to.

Garret Dillahunt as John Dorie, Colman Domingo as Victor Strand. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Alicia is one of the smartest and most resourceful characters on the show, and her hunt for an object or boat that can float over the floodwaters shows this. Charlie points out a bathtub that they could potentially use, but Alicia knows that if they are going to cross the alligator-infested waters, they need something sturdy. They ultimately come across a canoe tied to the roof of a car, but before they can retrieve it, a gunshot sends them into battle mode. Martha enters the scene and fires off several shots at Charlie and Alicia, angry at them for trying to help John and Strand. Charlie crawls under a car in a shot that is reminiscent to “The Walking Dead’s” Season 2 Premiere “What Lies Ahead,” (which is also unintentionally name-dropped by Strand) when the characters hide under the cars from the walker herd. Alicia offers to help the crazed woman, but this only angers Martha further as she doesn’t want people to help one another. Fortunately, Martha’s exhaustion and the symptoms of her gunshot wound cause her to faint, allowing Alicia and Charlie to assist her. Back on the island, John inspects his wound and Strand pours alcohol on it. They are stunned to hear the sound of a vehicle approaching; the SWAT truck bursts onto the scene with Alicia in the driver’s seat steering through the floodwaters and onto the island. It’s a cheerful reunion as Charlie returns John’s hat to him; he’s thrilled to hear that she is speaking once again after being a mute the last time he saw her, in the Mid-Season Premiere. There’s an excellent bond between Alicia and Strand with them both acknowledging that they are okay. Alicia and Strand have been through so much together and it is unfortunate that their moments together now are far and few between, but this reunion is truly rewarding and touching.

The other prominent storyline of this episode follows the characters trapped on the rooftop of the hospital in Austin. June tries desperately to radio Althea, who went missing after switching on the generators. Jim is annoyingly pessimistic about the whole situation and believes Al to be dead, something that angers everyone. Sarah and Wendell are having none of Jim’s blame game against Morgan and even joke about his bite. June tries her absolute hardest to keep Morgan positive, urging him to help find a way off the roof and out of the building. With his time running out, Jim decides to give the source of his downfall a big “fuck you” by standing on the ledge and pissing on the walkers. Morgan finds Jim and worries that he is about to jump, but Jim claims that he doesn’t want to spend his undead life as one of the walkers that can barely move due to broken bones. It’s rare that you hear characters describe their fears of being a walker in such specific detail as this. Sarah tries her hand at getting Jim to tell her the recipe for his beer, but he isn’t ready to give it up. It’s already been established that Sarah has no patience for Jim’s bullshit and this continues here with her most perfect and accurate description of him: “a class-A asshole, an unpleasant jagoff who fills every room he steps into with a philosophical fart.” The above sentence, as well as all of her previous quotes, is proof that Sarah just may be the second-coming of Abraham Ford. We need characters like Sarah and Abraham to take some of the seriousness out of the apocalypse and to just make us laugh.

Aaron Stanford as Jim. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

With the generators still running, the elevators prove to be the best bet for the characters to flee the roof. Morgan, Luciana, Wendell, Sarah and June head down to a lower level, armed and ready to fight their way through the undead. They find the hallways eerily devoid of the walkers that were previously chasing them, but their guard remains up as they slowly make their way around the corners looking for Al. There is some especially creepy camerawork here as the emptiness of the hallways is emphasized by the camera steadily rolling away from the characters. A collapsed roof answers the question of what happened to some of the jerkymen (a new term for the walkers coined by Sarah), but the group does stumble upon some dispatched dead that Althea presumably took down. They arrive at the generator room and discover a note left behind by Al, which Sarah reads and hilariously censors a bit due to Al going “for the full quesadilla” when referring to Martha as the “c-word.” In the message, Al explains that she evacuated via the freight elevator; if she is found to be dead, she asks that the group protect, copy and spread her tapes to keep them living on in the world. Upon finding the freight elevator, Morgan tells his companions that the building is still surrounded by walkers and that someone will need to distract them. Everyone knows exactly what this means, and they are having none of it. Morgan has become a trusted member of the group and they refuse to allow him to die so that they can escape. Morgan has to do this though…because that’s just what Mo-Mo does. From Lennie James’ performance, it is so clear that Morgan cares about these people and he feels responsible for them. He’s ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for them all.

While making their way in the SWAT truck, John and Strand stare at Martha as she comes to. She angrily declares that she didn’t want to be saved by them, but they really aren’t listening to her. John radios the crew trapped in Austin, and the moment we have all been waiting for finally happens. June is on the other end of the line and the two have a heartfelt moment of relief as the two lovers realize that they are both alive. Since Martha is no longer a threat, June reveals their location and sets a reunion in motion. From atop the roof, Morgan concocts a plot to distract the walkers on the street to allow his friends to escape. He flings a walker corpse down onto a car, setting of its alarm and drawing the walkers away from the ground level exit. Luciana, Sarah, Wendell and June manage to commandeer an ambulance while the walkers are distracted. June stands looking up at Morgan and pleading for him to join them…but Morgan has some things to make up for. It’s here that Morgan and Jim have a bit of a heart-to-heart in which it becomes clear that there is some forgiveness for the fact that Morgan was able to save the other survivors. A slight nitpick that needs to be addressed is the inconsistent walker actions, specifically in their reactions to noise. Obviously, the sound of the car alarm would draw the walkers directly to the source, but the battery dying shouldn’t have caused them to turn around in tandem and continue their hunt for the survivors. Walker inconsistencies are nothing new to this franchise , but they are especially noticeable here. Still, it is great that this episode reminds viewers that walkers are easily manipulated and can be controlled with certain tactics; however, they’re still a threat…and that will never change.

Mo Collins as Sarah, and Daryl Mitchell as Wendell. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Teamwork is a powerful and beautiful thing. When the characters come together, it is truly magical. Morgan is stunned and a bit taken aback when June radios him to alert him to the fact that they are mounting a rescue mission to get him off the roof. It isn’t just June on the radio; John, Strand, Alicia, Luciana, Sarah and Wendell have all come back for him. The characters have found and positioned a firetruck with a ladder that they plan on using to bring Morgan down. Sarah operates the ladder while Alicia, Luciana and June stand guard and take down any walkers that threaten their operation. Before making his descent, Morgan sincerely apologizes to Jim for putting him in this situation, and while Jim may not forgive him completely, he does urge him to escape. Unfortunately, the ladder doesn’t reach the roof and Morgan is forced to rappel down to a lower level where he is attacked by a walker in an incredibly tense standoff. Thankfully, John’s expert gunslinger skills come in handy and Morgan is saved by the bullet. He then must jump to the ladder in a frightening moment that almost sees the end of the peaceful warrior. This particular scene really uses silence to its advantage to build up tension and have a moment of genuine uncertainty as Morgan makes his leap. In a world filled with evil people, these good people that we are following are punished..for being good. They find themselves surrounded on and inside the firetruck by dozens of walkers. Morgan was willing to die on that rooftop for these people, but they weren’t ready to lose him. Thankfully, the predictable actions of a downtrodden member of the group change the course of events in their favor.

Death is inevitable for Jim. The infection is overtaking his body and he will die. Morgan tells him earlier in the episode that he does have a say in how he will die, even if it may not seem like it. Morgan offers to make a run and create an opening to allow the characters to access the SWAT truck, but Jim has different plans. He speaks directly to Sarah and tells her his beer recipe, step by step, even whispering a secret ingredient that the audience isn’t even privy to. The poetry of Jim will live on via Sarah and the group. In an utterly haunting beat, Jim closes his eyes and steps off of the ledge, plummeting to his death below. His body slams onto a car, setting off another alarm and drawing the walkers right toward him. Somber music plays as the characters realize that Jim just made the ultimate sacrifice for their survival. They make their way back to the SWAT, but find that Martha has escaped…shocker, right? There’s nothing they can do about it though. They flee the city together and have an excellent moment together where they spitball name ideas for Jim’s beer, finally settling on “Jimbo’s Beerbos.” These lighthearted conversations that sound like actual humans speaking to one another are few and far between, so this is a welcome scene within the episode. The mood takes a hopeful shift as everyone begins discussing their next course of action. They realize that this part of Texas is not habitable, and Morgan proposes that they finally begin the journey to Virginia. For the first time, everyone is actually down to make the trip, especially June who gives Morgan a hearty smile. “So let’s find Al, and then I say we make our way there.” It’s not going to be that easy, is it? Nope. The episode wraps up with a still injured Martha finding the corpse of Jim, writing his beer recipe on his face just seconds before he reanimates and becomes her newest weapon. What is her end game here? Is she about to derail the group’s new path forward?

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark, Jenna Elfman as June, and Danay García as Luciana Galvez. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Season 4, particularly this second half, has been the clunkiest and most unbalanced of “Fear the Walking Dead’s” entire run. That being said, these last few episodes have gotten the story back on track in many ways. It isn’t perfect and there are plenty of issues with the general direction, writing and inconsistencies. Still, this is another worthwhile episode that does an excellent job at displaying the walker horror and using the characters’ strengths to its advantage. Having the story take place in downtown Austin adds an enhanced feeling of danger and fear that really serves to ramp up the intensity. It genuinely feels as though any character, even Morgan, can meet their end here. Having the characters reunite and work together is precisely what this season needed; its just a shame that this is coming in the final episodes, but better late than never. The stuntwork, walker work, cinematography and directing all deserve praise here. The performances across the board are noteworthy, but Aaron Stanford, Lennie James, Jenna Elfman, Garret Dillahunt, Mo Collins and Colman Domingo are really the standouts here. With just one episode remaining, there is a lot to be resolved. Will Martha claim any more victims? Will Althea escape Austin and reunite with her friends? Will Morgan lead the characters to Virginia in time for the Season 9 Premiere of “The Walking Dead” or are we looking at a roadtrip Season 5 for “Fear”? Knowing this universe, not all is what it seems and the Finale may just shake things up forever.

Be sure to tune into the Season 4 Finale of “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘MM 54’

Spoiler Warning for Season 4, Episode 14 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

Tonya Pinkins as Martha. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

As Season 4 of “Fear the Walking Dead” chugs toward the finale, the season really starts to pick up with yet another strong episode that ramps up the fear and intensity. Paying homage to the original series, the episode flings the characters into a terrifying game of tag with walkers. There’s also some excellent development with the current villain, showing the consequences of helping people in this post-apocalyptic world. In possibly the most action-packed episode this season, the characters are pushed to their limits in the name of surviving and keeping each other alive.

Every once in a while, the “TWD” shows will reveal crucial backstory for one of their characters. This episode dives into what made Filthy Woman the ruthless killer that we know now. For starters, this episode reveals that the character’s actual name is Martha, a rather comforting name that is juxtaposed by her bloody ways. Flashing back to what appears to be the onset of the zombie apocalypse, Martha and her husband are involved in a car crash that leaves the husband trapped with a large piece of metal debris jammed into his abdomen, similar to Clayton’s fatal injury in the previous episode. Martha pleads for several of the passing cars to stop and help her, but everyone drives right past her, possibly fleeing for their own safety in the panic of the initial outbreak. Martha sees someone wander from a nearby treeline and she begs for their help…but its an infected, and without hesitation, she bashes its head in with a rake. Even though it looks hopeless, Martha tries to provide comfort to her husband, but he dies and reanimates, leaving her alone in this world. Using her bare hands, Martha drags her husband’s body and buries him nearby; this flips a switch in her and she begins ranting and mumbling to herself.

The next time we see her is when she sneaks up behind a semi truck driver, a member of Polar Bear’s group that is distributing the help boxes. It’s revealed that Martha was an English teacher (just like Travis) as she corrects the trucker’s grammar before stabbing her through the throat and turning her into a walker weapon. This sends her on a path of hunting down each member of Polar Bear’s group and killing them in similar fashion. It has to be said that these people have extremely poor survival skills for allowing a walker to sneak up on them like that; you would think that those that had survived this long would be more aware of their surroundings. It’s also irritating that “Fear” is using the extremely cheap tactic of having “silent walkers” attack. From what we have seen, walkers growl and moan constantly, especially when there is prey right in front of them. “The Walking Dead” does this from time to time, and it really takes away from the pre-established rules that the franchise has set. Still, this opening scene shows that Martha was put on a revenge path against all of those who choose to help others in this world, because she wasn’t helped at the very start of it all. She claims that helping people only makes them weak…and she believes that she is living proof that not helping people makes them strong. The timelines sync up as Martha uses a semi radio to try and speak to Polar Bear, but she actually gets in touch with Morgan at the truck stop in Mississippi that was featured in “The Code.” Say what you will about this franchise, but they know how to do backstory.

Daryl Mitchell as Wendell. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Following the cold open, the episode picks back up after Martha’s shocking shooting on the semi that ended the previous episode. In the back of the semi, Morgan and June wake up and see that the oil barrels have been hit and are now leaking. In the front of the truck, Sarah, Wendell and Jim panic when they see that the SWAT truck is turning around and coming back for them. Morgan orders everyone in the back to hit the ground and stay down, but the SWAT truck stops and doesn’t fire at them. Al realizes that Martha blew all of the ammo and can no longer attack. This is where Wendell springs into action and tries to exit the truck to end the threat. Unfortunately, his wheelchair was destroyed in the shooting…but that doesn’t stop him. The group in the back manage to pry the door open and exit, leaving Al to head straight for the truck to take down Martha. The back of the SWAT truck opens up, launching walker Quinn at June as Martha holds the group at gunpoint. Just as it looks as though June is about to become another victim of the world, Wendell fires a shot at Martha’s chest. There’s more chaos as the semi truck explodes, destroying all of the help boxes and supplies in the back, while walkers come from out of the woods after hearing all of the noise. Martha manages to escape…because her plot armor is THICK and she drives off with the SWAT van. This entire sequence is insanely intense and really shows how things can go from good to bad in a matter of minutes. Never get comfortable with a shelter or a mode of transportation in this world because it can be destroyed in seconds.

This episode has major vibes from the original series sprinkled throughout. After losing their semi truck, the group is left to traverse the Texas landscape on the roads with a herd of walkers behind them. This is reminiscent to Rick’s group struggling to get to Northern Virginia in Season 5’s “Them.” Wendell is being pulled by a makeshift rig and June helps an injured Luciana. The group is in rough shape, and Jim starts bitching about how its all Morgan’s fault and that they shouldn’t be following him anymore. Morgan notices a sign for a hospital and suggests that they head toward it so that June can check everyone’s injuries, but Jim isn’t having any of it. Sarah really stands up for her Momo and demands that Jim shut up and appreciate what Morgan has done for the group. Jim decides to go at it alone, stating that the group should be running away from “the things that are trying to eat them,” as if these people haven’t been doing that for the past two and a half years. Morgan and the others let him make the decision for himself, but he cowards out and rejoins them as the group heads for a city skyline in the distance. It’s important to note that while this season has been filmed around the Austin area, this episode is the first time the characters have ventured into the downtown area…and it goes much like how you would expect.

Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Jenna Elfman as Naomi. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

In the world of “The Walking Dead,” cities are best to be avoided at all costs. Atlanta was an absolute mess, Los Angeles was fire-bombed and Austin isn’t in any better shape. When the characters arrive at the hospital in downtown Austin, they quickly realize that they won’t be able to stay for long. Morgan stands guard at a barricade that has been set up and he’s clearly anxious about the group’s precarious situation when June comes to tend to his hand injury. This episode is a huge turning point for Morgan as he is thrust into a leadership role, something that he wasn’t prepared for, and to be perfectly honest, isn’t fitting of his character; this isn’t to say that this is bad writing or that Morgan doesn’t have leadership qualities, but rather that he has always been more of a lone-wolf and the show is exploring what happens when he is put into a position he doesn’t feel comfortable being in. June is confident in his abilities though, even if no one else is. In an episode filled with backstory, there is a great bit provided for Sarah and Wendell, both of which tried to serve their country in the Marines but had very different paths. Wendell tells Althea that he became handicapped as a kid after trying to save a friend by jumping in front of a car. He later tried to join the Marines, but was rejected due to his disability. Sarah on the other hand was able to join and serve, but ultimately quit after their treatment of Wendell. Even in a dire situation, Al is still doing her job and collecting stories of the final human beings left on earth. Without these backstories, the characters would be lifeless and dull caricatures. That’s not what the “TWD” Universe is. The characters are vibrant, layered and have evolved lives.

Much like Morgan predicted, the walkers break through the barricade, forcing the group to make their way up stairs to another floor. While climbing up the flights of stairs, the group is repeatedly forced to duck and dodge from the infected as they enter the stairwell and engage in a tense pursuit; it would have been a lot more efficient and helpful had the group killed the dead in front of them rather than leaving them to cluster with the others. Upon finding a clear floor, the survivors build up another barricade of random hospital equipment against the stairwell door. Everyone breaks off into teams to find another stairwell as Luciana, Wendell and June hold the barricade steady. When it becomes clear that this barricade also won’t hold for long, and no one is able to find another passable stairwell, Morgan suggests that they head to the roof. Fortunately for everyone, there are elevators that can take them to the roof, but the hospital generators need to be switched on to bring power back to the building. While Al and Sarah volunteer to find and turn on the generators, Morgan and Jim are attacked by a handful of walkers. Jim is forced to fight off a walker by himself while Morgan is preoccupied with two others. Jim has zero experience in dispatching the undead, but he does manage to kill the one attacking him after they slam through a glass door and struggle for a minute. Upon finding the generators, Al forces Sarah to go back and rejoin Wendell and the others due to the enhanced risk their current mission poses. For the first time since we’ve met her, Althea’s main priority isn’t getting a story or protecting her tapes. She is going on a suicide mission to keep her friends safe. That in itself is a story to be told.

Danay Garcia as Luciana, Jenna Elfman as June, Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Mo Collins as Sarah. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

There’s a real element of horror at play in this episode, similar to the tone in the first two episodes of “The Walking Dead’s” first season when Rick and the crew were trapped in the apartment store in downtown Atlanta. There’s an intentional shot of walker hands reaching through a door, a clear tribute to the iconic “Don’t Open, Dead Inside” sign from the “TWD” pilot. Lou Diamond Phillips directed this episode and made sure to use his fan knowledge and appreciation to include moments like these to link the two shows. As the stairwell barricade is overrun, Luciana, June and Wendell rush to the elevator bank and meet up with Morgan, Jim and Sarah. Things look EXTREMELY bleak as walkers rush to the location of the group from each hallway, leading the characters to prepare for their final standoff and death. Thankfully, Al manages to get the generators working in the nick of time and everyone hordes into the elevator as the walkers near. After reaching the roof, the group tries to radio Althea, but they hear no response and begin to fear the worst before Luciana expresses her belief that she made it to safety. Much like the group found themselves trapped on the roof in Atlanta, this group is now stranded on a rooftop in Austin. The mood dramatically shifts from despair to pure sadness as June checks out an injury on Jim’s side and discovers a bite from his fight with the walker. He’s heartbroken…because he still has beer to make. What even is this character? Morgan is clearly gutted, because he believes he is responsible for Jim’s coming death. June tries to comfort him, but he seems to be slipping…possibly to his darker side? How the hell will they get out of this pickle?

There is a decent amount of time spent with Alicia and Charlie following their brief conversation with Morgan and Martha on the radio. Sometime after the semi vs. SWAT showdown, Alicia and Charlie discover the aftermath. Alicia is deeply disturbed and almost numb when she finds dozens of walker bodies on the ground and the exploded truck in the road. Alicia calls out for Morgan, but when she realizes that he and the others are no where to be found, she charts a new path. Rather than spending what time they might have left wandering aimlessly, Alicia tells Charlie that she is taking her to Galveston to visit the beach. Charlie has mixed emotions when she hears this because she really does want to meet back up with the rest of the group. Alicia is a broken woman in more ways than one. She’s basically lost all hope that her people are alive — and you can’t really blame her. Charlie, on the other hand, is far more optimistic and still believes that they can and will find the rest of the group. This isn’t to say that Alicia believes them to be dead, she just doesn’t think they will find them. Charlie becomes adamant that they keep up the search, and Alicia explains that she wants to go to the beach because they need something good in their lives after all the shit they’ve been through. They stumble upon floodwaters and Charlie jokes that it is a beach. These floodwaters just so happen to be the same that have marooned Strand and John on the island, and Charlie finds John’s hat floating in the water. The episode wraps up with Alicia being stunned and relieved to see two of her missing friends on the island. Of course, Colman Domingo and Garret Dillahunt aren’t shown on screen because AMC clearly didn’t want to pay them for this episode.

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark, Alexa Nisenson as Charlie. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

“MM 54” is the second strong episode of “Fear” in a row. Hopefully this is a sign that the final two episodes of the season will be solid, also seeing as how the set up hints that things will be wild and deadly as it all wraps up. There are a ton of highlights in this episode, specifically the Austin setting, the “TWD” homages, Morgan and June’s friendship, Morgan’s leadership struggle, Sarah and Wendell’s development, Martha’s backstory and Alicia’s good nature. There are a few minor nitpicks in regards to some of the ridiculous silent walkers and Jim’s irritating presence along with his random role in the story. That being said, the cinematography and directing of Lou Diamond Phillips really serves to make this one of the most stunning episodes this season, specifically in the use of light and shadows to highlight the characters and the walkers. The performances also deserve praise, specifically Tonya Pinkins, Mo Collins, Daryl Mitchell, Lennie James, Maggie Grace, Jenna Elfman and Alycia Debnam-Carey all managing to convey the perfect emotions in their scenes with some truly wonderful and believable charisma. Hopefully, “Fear” can sustain this level of quality and energy in the final two episodes as the characters continue to reunite and come together. How will everyone get off that damn roof? How long does Jim have before he succumbs to the infection? Will Morgan be able to bounce back from this slump? Will Alicia and Strand finally have their anticipated drinking session? Stay tuned!

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

TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘Blackjack’

Spoiler Warning for Season 4, Episode 13 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

Danay Garcia as Luciana. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

The second half of Season 4 of “Fear the Walking Dead” has been far weaker than what came before it. Alicia and Charlie’s “Close Your Eyes” standalone and this episode prove that there is still worthwhile story to be told, however. By featuring the entire cast and blending tension and mystery with humor and hope, this is a strong chapter that pushes the story forward and sets up the final act of the season. Luciana, Strand and John take center stage after being absent for several episodes, helping themselves and each other.

A bulk of the episode follows Strand and John who have been marooned on an island that is surrounded by floodwaters from the hurricane. They were last seen heading out into the storm in search of Charlie, but unfortunately, the show basically skips over their entire struggle during the actual hurricane to once again only show the aftermath. It’s unclear exactly how long the two have been on this island, but it is clear that they have very separate priorities: Strand just wants to spend his time reading in a cabin while John is working hard to build a raft to get back to the mainland. The two aren’t alone on the island as an annoying chirping bird is also present and appears to be drawing walkers to their location with its shrieking noise. John points out that he has never seen this type of bird alone and that it is another sign that the world has gone mad. The makeshift raft that John has built is apparently seaworthy for the both of them, but Strand states that he no longer wants to go out on the water, likely a reference to his days aboard the Abigail in Season 2. John is totally determined to reach the other side of the floods and pleads with Strand to come along, noting that it will take a long time before the floodwaters lower, especially if the levees broke. This episode really shows the differences between John and Strand and provides a clear explanation for why both are they way they are. Where John is hopeful and optimistic, Strand is depressed and broken.

Garret Dillahunt as John Dorie and Colman Domingo as Victor Strand. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

The moment John’s raft hits the water, it becomes clear that he isn’t going to make it across the water…not even close. Strand bursts out laughing, but his mood shifts dramatically as a frightening figure is seen lurking just under the surface while moving quickly in the direction of the raft. It’s an ALLIGATOR. Nature has thrown another curveball at the characters, and they are now trapped in an even worse position. Strand snaps back into his laughing mode as he thinks about the ridiculousness of the whole situation. A walker steps into the water and is pulled under and ripped apart by the alligator. John notes that because the walkers don’t have any sense of fear and wander into whatever is in front of them, the alligator is able to feast on the dead without any worry of being attacked by humans. Still, John is persistent on finding a way to cross, and Strand questions the odds of ever finding June again. John responds by defending his optimistic point of view that the world keeps trying to defeat, “You gotta fight for everyday. I found someone I want to fight alongside.” He also shows off a piece of blackjack candy that he managed to hold onto during the storm and that happens to be June’s favorite; “Little things like this, make you want to keep fighting.” It’s goes without saying that both the world of “The Walking Dead” and our real world need more people like John Dorie.

It would’t be a “TWD” show without someone unnecessarily risking their life to complete a task. The two discover a trapped camper van that is precariously dangling at the top of a hill. The cover of the van would be the perfect raft for them to sail across the water, according to John, who is unable to climb up and retrieve it due to his still recovering gunshot wound. He hilariously manages to guilt Strand into climbing up the van, but a bottle of scotch ultimately distracts the conman. He falls into the van with a grabby walker and the two tumble down the ravine, splashing into the water. Due to luck and plot armor, Strand is miraculously uninjured and unbitten, but John is PISSED that Strand would be so ridiculously careless about the situation. This is where the two men separate again as John uses his skills to create a raft. John is an extremely convincing man and does his best to provide comfort and persuade Strand to join him to sail across the flood. It’s clear that Strand is hurting from the loss of Madison, stating that he lost his drinking buddy and is now drinking to forget. John agrees to drink with him, but only once they’ve reached the mainland. Since Season 1, Strand has always been brutally pessimistic, but there’s a shift in his character as he agrees to tag along with John and set sail in the alligator ridden waters.

Mo Collins as Sarah, Daryl Mitchell as Wendell, Jenna Elfman as June and Lennie James as Morgan Jones. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

John is one of the most resourceful characters on the show currently and he provides further proof of this by rigging the van battery to a horn that he then places away from where they plan to launch the raft. The idea is that this horn will draw walkers into the water, therefore distracting the alligator. They begin rowing out into the floodwaters, but because nothing ever goes as planned, the horn quickly dies out and the walkers turn away from the water, effectively sending the alligator straight to their raft. This all sounds ridiculous — and it is. However, it does make for an especially tense scene as the alligator rams into the raft and breaks a hole in the bottom, causing it to flood. John wants to try and swim for the mainland, but Strand warns that they aren’t close and makes it clear that he only came along to humor John’s idea. They only really have one option: to distract the alligator by making noise and drawing the walkers back into the water, allowing them to swim back to the island. When they return, there is a vastly different tone present. Strand returns to the peace of his cabin, while John sits on the shore, staring at the mainland. He takes out the piece of blackjack candy…and eats it. Quite possibly the most hopeful character on the show is taking a darker turn as he sees that he may not make it off of this damn island. It’s a disturbing sight, mostly because John has been a beacon of light since he was introduced at the start of this season. With his hope ripped away, will John begin to lose himself like so many before him have done? Will he actually ever reunite with June? Things aren’t looking great for these love birds.

Much of this episode also follows Morgan’s crew after the eye-opening events of the previous episode. June, Althea and Morgan leave the semi and head over to the mile marker where Quinn last radioed in, but he is nowhere to be found…because Filthy Woman killed him with Pervis the walker and is now using him as her pet. Speaking of Pervis, he ends up stumbling upon Sarah, Wendell and Jim while they are waiting for the others to return. In one of the coolest kills of the season, Wendell uses spears attached to the back of his wheelchair to kill the walker much to Jim’s annoying worry; if there was any wonder as to how Wendell has survived this long, here is the answer: he can take care of himself with no problem. There’s more great banter involving Sarah and Wendell, specifically in regards to Morgan’s hilarious nickname “Momo” and their point system for killing the undead. When the others arrive, there is plenty of confusion at the deceased walker with writing on it’s face, but Filthy Woman radios in and hauntingly warns them that by placing the help boxes, they are effectively making survivors weak. She also tells Morgan that she knows exactly who he is and what he is capable of, hinting that she watched his interview tape and is aware of some of what he has been through. This causes concern among members of the group that Morgan isn’t being totally truthful about his past, but he states that he has a lot of things to make up for…much like another character who is focused on this episode. We know what Morgan has done, but the “Fear” characters don’t.

Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Jenna Elfman as Naomi, Maggie Grace as Althea. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

While the intent of Morgan’s crossover to “Fear” is still unknown, and some elements of it are rather iffy, it is downright incredible that elements of his character are being honored here. One of the most important points of Morgan’s story is “Here’s Not Here,” when he meets Eastman and is taught the art of aikido, putting him on a path of peace which would save his life. Years later, and on a different show, the impact of Eastman is still being felt. In this episode, Morgan buries Pervis, a clear nod to what Eastman used to do in burying the walkers as a heavy reminder that the dead were once people. This small and simple scene is likely not a major point for many viewers, but it is crucial in understanding Morgan’s character and his history. Eastman is impacting characters that he never met, or was even aware of, hundreds of miles away on a different show via Morgan. If there’s anything to take away from this crossover, it’s that human beings are united in more ways than we think and that there is some real power to the simple act of being kind and helping people.

Sarah drives the crew to the location of where she and Wendell stole the semi from it’s original owner, a man nicknamed “Polar Bear,” who also kept detailed journals. Al reads through the journals that were kept on the truck and states that she really wants to hear more of his story. Sarah and Wendell are questioned as to why they would steal a truck from someone, an act that they vehemently defend due to the fact that he left the keys in the semi. There’s a small and important moment for June and Morgan as they place a new help box at a mile marker, looking at one another as affirmation that, even with the threat of Filthy Woman in the air, they are still doing the right thing. Morgan writes a message on the box, urging anyone in need of help to contact him through the radio channel. This allows for the characters to slowly begin to come back together as a radio signal from a familiar voice comes over the walkie. It’s Charlie, who has found one of the boxes while traveling with Alicia. Alicia is initially concerned due to the fact that she doesn’t know who left the box, but her face shifts to complete relief when she hears Morgan’s voice. Unfortunately, Filthy Woman interrupts the happy reunion to voice even more eerie thoughts about helping people. She basically threatens the characters, but Morgan stands up to her and makes it clear that the members of the group will find one another and that they will continue to help people. Helping others doesn’t make people weak, it makes everyone stronger. Morgan even offers to help Filthy Woman, noting that he was once where she was, going around killing people with no regard for life…until someone helped him. Again, Eastman’s legacy is still being felt.

Danay Garcia as Luciana, Stephen McKinley Henderson as Clayton – (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

It’s extremely annoying and not at all beneficial to go several episodes without showing central characters such as Luciana. This episode shows that she is definitely a character that deserves more screentime and should be featured more heavily as she is truly the standout here. After chasing Charlie into the storm during the Mid-Season Premiere, Luciana decides to search for her and uses the copy of “The Little Prince” to try and track her down. This book leads Luciana to a local library, where Charlie is nowhere to be found. She exits the library and finds an infected pounding on the window of a crashed car nearby; thinking that Charlie might be trapped inside, she kills the walker and opens the door only to find an elderly man named Clayton (Stephen McKinley Henderson) with his leg jammed. The man explains that he has been trapped since the storm hit, and Luciana vows to get him out, claiming that she “has some things to make up for.” That’s really the common theme of this episode, specifically for the characters of Luciana and Morgan, establishing a truly beautiful parallel between the two. Unfortunately, as Luciana tries to free Clayton’s leg from the jam, it becomes clear that he isn’t getting out of this situation. Clayton seems to have accepted his fate. He does have one final request, however, and Luciana promises to honor it. He just wants to enjoy a beer before he slips away from this harsh world. How could you not at least try and get this man what he wants?

While the storm was mostly glossed over, there are some excellent shots of the ravaged landscape. There is debris everywhere, making it even harder to find supplies. Luciana scavenges the area in search of Clayton’s final request. She finds a beer truck, but it was looted long ago. She also finds an case of root beer, but that’s obviously not what she’s looking for. This particular quest has shades of Beth Greene’s story in the “TWD” episode, “Still.” Feeling hopeless, Luciana radios into Clayton and lets him know that she’s sorry she couldn’t help him. In a powerful statement, he lets her know that she will go on to help many people in her life. By the stroke of luck, and the desire of Morgan to help people, Luciana finds one of the help boxes with Jim’s beer and Morgan’s message. She returns to Clayton and surprises him with the beer, explaining that she couldn’t help comfort someone (Nick) in his final moments and that she’s letting history repeat itself in this case. It is revealed that Clayton is actually Polar Bear and is the one responsible for the help boxes; this kind man just wanted to help people, proving that good people CAN survive in this world…until they can’t. Clayton dies offscreen, and Luciana buries him before radioing on the channel and thanking whomever left the box for giving a dying man peace and joy. Morgan responds and there is another gracious moment of reunion as the semi picks up Luciana. Unfortunately, this positivity doesn’t last too long as the SWAT truck comes barreling up behind the semi with the Filthy Woman driving. She echoes Morgan’s line about him “losing people and then losing himself” before unleashing a hellfire of machine gunfire on the semi. Has this maniac just killed more of our crew? Why do happy moments never last long in this franchise?

“Blackjack” is a strong episode, especially following up the previous two episodes, which are notably weaker than the series’ normally high standard. This chapter touches base with each of the characters and serves to show that helping others is a crucial element to one’s own survival in this world. That being said, there is always consequences to doing the right thing as seen in the shocking cliffhanger. There are plenty of tense moments this episode, including the shooting and the game of chicken with the crocodile. There are also plenty of excellent character moments that provide development for characters such as John and Luciana. The standout performances of this episode are definitely Danay García, Garret Dillahunt, Colman Domingo, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Lennie James, each managing to fully showcase a ranger of somber and upbeat emotions during the hour. Special praise should also be given to the cinematography of this episode, particularly during the scenes with John and Strand on the island, creating a feeling of hopelessness and isolation. The next episode looks to provide some answers in the form of Filthy Woman’s backstory, while also dealing with the aftermath of the shooting. Will we finally learn this mysterious killer’s name? Do we even want to know?

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