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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.