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.

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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.

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