Everyone on The Walking Dead Is Breaking the Rules

Lydia (Cassady McClincy) gets a talking-to from Alpha (Samantha Morton).
Image: All images: Gene Page (AMC)

The Walking Dead veers so wildly between good and bad, it’s actually sort of refreshing when an episode is simply fine. Tonight’s episode was exactly that: We got intriguing new info on the show’s very interesting new villains, we saw Michonne take all episode to make an important choice, we got a subplot that couldn’t matter less, someone is an imbecile, and there’s a couple of graphic murders. It’s quintessential Walking Dead.

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The theme of “Guardians” is, well, about guardians—specifically Michonne and Alpha, and how they’re protecting their people. Michonne, of course, is a total hard-ass who has essentially taken dictatorial control of Alexandria and locked the settlement down in an attempt to forcibly ensure everyone’s safety. Meanwhile, Alpha has endangered herself and very possibly the Whisperers in her surprising, uncharacteristic attempt to rescue—sort of—her daughter Lydia. They’ve both broken the rules they themselves made, and it doesn’t seem to be working out for either of them.

Let’s start with Alpha, because the Whisperers are still pretty fascinating. After catching young imbecile Henry in mere seconds—of course—Alpha brings her new captive to the Whisperers camp, where it turns out she’s managed to convince a truly shocking number of people to wear masks made out of the faces of rotting corpses. (Even for The Walking Dead, in which some people turned to cannibalism about 10 minutes after the zombie apocalypse happened.)

Turns out not everyone is happy that Alpha has broken her core rule of abandoning the weak in order to rescue her own daughter, or that she’s endangered her “pack” by exposing them to strangers. A maskless man calls her out about it, and challenges her for the Alpha position, as one does in fiction that personifies wolves and dogs and such. However, Alpha susses out that it’s really the dude’s girlfriend who is behind the challenge and tells her to step up. Except instead of an actual challenge, Alpha does a sneak attack and garrotes the woman’s head clean off, forces her boyfriend to hold it, then stabs him in the gut.

It makes no sense, but honestly, almost nothing about the Whisperers makes any sort of sense. Alpha talks about how great it is they’ve caught Henry, as it provides an advantage—that somehow they didn’t have when they had Alden and Luke?—but then that night decides to tells Lydia she has to kill Henry in order to prove she hasn’t gone soft. Lydia, who very much has gone soft, is clearly going to get both herself and Henry killed by Beta for failing to do it, when a zombie herd enters the Whisperer camp and starts munching on people. But…isn’t the whole point of the Whisperers that they can just hang out with zombies? Was it only the people who weren’t wearing masks who were being eaten?

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I’m actually fine with the Whisperers making no sense, mainly because they’re the whimsical horror that makes The Walking Dead both fun and special. Alpha is a unique villain in how earnestly and passionately she believes in inhumanity and seeing her talk/threaten her maskless, clean-clothed daughter while wearing a zombie’s face never stopped being unnerving. Honestly, in a sense, I’m a little disappointed that Daryl and Connie were able to rescue both Henry and Lydia so quickly during the confusion and panic of the herd attack. It was fun seeing the Whisperers through their eyes.

Michonne (Danai Gurira) makes this face a lot this episode.
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Michonne, meanwhile, is finally back in Alexandria and pissed. She’s pissed that Eugene and Rosita broke her rule to stay put and left to put up that relay, starting the whole fiasco that ended with Jesus’ death. She’s pissed that some people, like Gabriel, still want to go to the Kingdom’s fair. She’s pissed at Negan for both escaping and coming back, and for telling her that she’s losing her people, and for offering to help. She’s pissed at Judith when she finds out the kid’s been hanging out with Negan. And she’s pissed when both Gabriel and Judith call her out on her bullshit.

Gabriel is the one to point out that Michonne has made the council that rules Alexandria a joke, since she has veto power over anything that might be a security risk, and she sees practically everything they do as a security risk, including going to the Kingdom’s fair. She’s effectively broken the rule of law she helped create, and now the council is irrelevant. Judith, who continues to be insanely adorable while being wise beyond her years, forcibly reminds Michonne that whatever Negan did, he is still, in fact, a human being. When Michonne tells her that people don’t change, Judith’s cry that “You did!” rocks Michonne to her core. It’s a great moment, and extremely well-acted by both. In the end, Michonne relents and allows the council to have a real vote on whether to go to the fair, and I’m giving Judith the win for that.

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Honestly, if weren’t forced to watch the love quadrangle of Rosita, Gabriel, baby daddy Siddiq, and hapless Eugene, this episode would be pretty damn good. Watching Gabriel trying to decide if he wants to continue his relationship with Rosita once he learns she’s having Siddiq’s baby is pointless because of course he will. However, watching Eugene bring multiple graphs detailing net relationship happiness potential was fun, and I liked the shot of Rosita, Gabriel, and Siddiq all entering the house together to hash it out. But as conflict goes, it was spurious at best.

Still, if I want more conflict, it’s coming. Daryl and Hilltop have poked the corpse-face-wearing bear that is Alpha by rescuing Lydia, and it’s time for war again. Also, the Kingdom’s fair is very obviously 100 percent going to be a shit-show that ends in many deaths, because people on The Walking Dead can’t have nice things. Or, rather, they can, they just have to have eight awful things immediately afterward.

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Eugene (Josh McDermitt) does not make this face a lot this episode, but I wish he had.

Assorted Musings:

  • Hey! If you’re one of the five individuals who were somehow invested in me doing The Walking Dead recaps, my apologies, and my apologies to Germain for having to cover the last three episodes. My terrible eyes got monumentally worse in December, to the point where I had emergency surgery and was not allowed to read or write for the last 2.5 months. I just got cleared this past week. [Editor’s Note: We’re glad to have Rob back! - Jill P.]
  • Here’s how bad my eyes have been in general this last year—I had no idea Aaron had a robot arm until this week.
  • Also confusing: When Daryl shows up to rescue Henry, he says Lydia has to stay there. I would say the last episode leaned pretty hard on the implication that Daryl went to rescue them both, and even if he didn’t, Connie came expressly to help rescue Lydia. Also, in that confusion, there was absolutely zero risk at helping her escape, too.
  • I really like that Alpha, and presumably the rest of the Whisperers, call zombies “the hungry ones.” Way better than “walkers.”
  • I am not really up on my knowledge of garrote damage, but can a human being literally tear off someone’s head with one? It seems…unlikely.
  • Oh, if you look during the “challenge” scene, you can see Lydia standing in the background, and she could not be less surprised, scared, or impressed that her mother just beheaded someone. This is shit she clearly sees all the time.
  • Good: Daryl training his dog to fetch his arrows. Better: The arrow breaking because it is a stick and the dog does not want to let it go. Best: Daryl quietly muttering “bad dog” after it’s already left.
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About the author

Rob Bricken

Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, and currently writes the column "Nerd Processor" on Medium. It, like everything else he's ever written, is about nerd stuff. https://bit.ly/2OiCVGL