Well, that was fun while it lasted.
Thanks to last week’s big timeskip, The Walking Dead received another soft reboot, just five episodes after the last time. But while the season premiere recalibrated the show to something that felt fresh and energized in a way it hadn’t been for years, “Who Are You Now?” was mostly a return to the dull, heavy-handed, and dour ways of the past.
Let’s just get the new stuff out the way. Carol has big long hair and is married to Ezekiel, and they’ve adopted Henry. Aaron has a big beard. Rosa and Gabriel are in a relationship. Eugene is a bit of badass. Daryl is basically a hermit. Michonne…well, I’ll get to Michonne in a minute.
Alexandria is doing great. The walls are higher, the area bigger, with more room to grow things. There’s a windmill and a large array of solar panels. There’s an actual council in charge of making decisions, although it appears that cooperation between the different colonies has broken just like Rick’s bridge, because metaphors. And it appears that Sanctuary has fallen.
Michonne is Alexandria’s head of security, but her real change is that she’s become as untrusting and unwilling to help others as Rick had been prior to this season. This is because of some event that happened in years of the timeskip, which appears to have involved the colony letting someone in who did something terrible that it changed Michonne completely. The show goes out of its way to make a wide variety of characters mention the event and allude to how awful it was without ever giving any detail about it, which gets more ham-fisted and annoying every time it happens.
So when Judith brings those five new strangers into Alexandria, Michonne is not having it, even when Aaron tells her they very happily surrendered and handed over their weapons. So the council very briefly interviews them until an angry Michonne reveals that Magna, the surliest of the new characters, not only is hiding a prison tattoo—gasp!—but also a secret knife as part of her belt buckle. As Rosa later points out, having been in prison means absolutely nothing in the zombie apocalypse, and Michonne knows it, but she just wants to get people riled out so they’d vote to make the strangers leave, which they do. They can stay the night while Yumiko, the one who got the head injury last week, recovers from a concussion, but then they’re gone.
We don’t really learn anything about Yumiko, since she’s unconscious for the vast majority of the episode, but here’s a quick breakdown on the other four: Luke is a music teacher who readily admits he’s been lucky to survive all these years, and is soft-hearted enough that he gets choked up when he mentions their most recently deceased comrade. Connie is deaf, and Kelly is her younger sister and translator. Connie wants to be a positive agent for change, as befits her past as a journalist exposing corrupt politicians, while Kelly’s main goal is to keep her sister safe. And then there’s Magna, who’s angry and dumb enough to believe that the four of them should literally fight all of Alexandria in order to take it for themselves. The others, who are not dumb, vote not to do that.
Then Magna gets stupider. She creeps to Michonne’s house with another hidden weapon and literally starts to break in, apparently with the intention of killing her, as if that’s a viable solution—like it’s going to make all the other people in Alexandria suddenly say, “Oh, you murdered one of the pillars of our community? Maybe we should let you stay!” But then a small child runs into Michonne’s arms, and it’s not Judith. It seems that Rick and Michonne did indeed make a baby on that fateful day—I think his name is R.J.?—and seeing Michonne hug a child is enough to is soften Magna’s dumb, sullen heart. Instead, she knocks on Michonne’s door, hands her the second hidden weapon, and says, “I wouldn’t trust me either.”
Between that and a little guilt trip Judith gives Michonne about how she thinks her dad would be proud of her saving those people and bringing them in, Michonne decides instead of completely sending these people out to die, she’ll lead them to Hilltop, where they’ll be taken in…probably? Everyone, including the new guys and Judith, treats this decision like it’s this magnanimous act of compassion, but Michonne is simply passing the buck.
And while we’re talking about compassion, King Ezekiel and Queen Carol are very hokey parents to Prince Henry. Though the Kingdom is falling apart and Henry wants to go train with Earl and Hilltop so he can learn to actually fix things, Ezekiel wants to keep him safe at home. Carol eventually talks him into letting her accompany Henry there, and the two leave by wagon. Eventually, they hear a woman scream, and Henry jets off to help, Carol chasing after him.
It is, of course, a trap, from a group of ex-Saviors who have become essentially highway robbers, led by the jerk who held Carol at knifepoint a few episodes ago. Since she let him live then, this dude only steals the provisions on the wagon—not the wagon or the horses, and he’s going to leave them unhurt, too. That is, of course, until the dude also asks for Carol’s wedding ring, and Henry very very stupidly attacks him as if he’s going to defeat about a dozen people, many of them armed, with his stick. But they don’t even need the guns to knock the boy to the ground and give him a very mild pummeling.
So we have two very clear lessons here: Carol showed mercy to the ex-Savior in the past, and as a result, the dude spared her life later. By attacking, Henry only got himself beat up, and honestly endangered Carol’s life, too, since the dude might have easily changed his mind. Violence begets violence.
Then Carol sneaks out at night and burns the entire group of ex-Saviors alive—for hurting Henry, even though they were going to leave Henry alone until he attacked them. Sigh. Looks like Carol is back to her “no mercy only murder” philosophy, but whether that’s because of something that’s happened over the years or just because The Walking Dead thinks its protagonists murdering people who are not active threats in cold blood is cool again remains to be seen. Since this episode felt to depressingly like a throwback to the mire of seasons seven and eight anyway, I suspect it’s the latter, and that really blows.
It’s like The Walking Dead just couldn’t wait to indulge all its bad habits again. The plot requires the characters of Magda and Henry to be extremely stupid to move the story forward. Michonne pulls the Maggie special of treating someone shitty all episode then changing her mind and being kind in the final few minutes. That stupid Rick/sheriff toy made the bridge metaphor look subtle. And I highly suspect, because this is The Walking Dead, that at least one of these new characters is secretly evil, because the characters who are most paranoid and least trustful always have to be proven right eventually.
There’s only one truly new thing, and even that was a little bit of a bummer because it was spoiled on the “coming next” video that aired last week, hoping to keep viewers watching after Rick’s ascension into helicopter heaven. After putting a radio relay on top of a water tower to expand Gabriel’s audio quest for the unknown, Eugene hurts his knee getting down right as a herd arrives. He and Rosa bury themselves in dirt to hide, and are very, very surprised to hear the zombies talking to each other. This would have been an absolutely killer surprise, but seeing it last week made it lose all of its impact. I totally understand why the show did it that way, but it would still have made a world of difference to everyone who doesn’t read the comics and know what’s coming.
I’m not completely dispirited, though. The previous five episodes were good enough that “Who Are You Now?” might just be an anomaly, or a temporary problem that will be fixed as the new TWD world settles in. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried that the first chunk of season nine was the anomaly, and now the show’s back to business as usual. Its terrible, terrible business.
- So Judith does her homework next to Negan’s cell so her can help her out. This would be interesting if it were something Michonne was okay with, that she’d accepted Negan has some small value, although I bet she doesn’t know and will freak out when she finds out. Although it seems to be something Judith and Negan have been doing for a while, out in the open, so it would be dumb for Judith to have never been caught.
- It does provide the best line of the night, though. Negan tells a story/heavy-handed metaphor about how he used to collect stray dogs as a kid until he found one that seemed fine but killed all the other dogs. So he stopped collecting dogs: “I wised up.” Judith replies to the man stuck in a cell for the last six-plus years: “And look how great everything turned out for you.”
- To be fair, Judith telling Michonne “I’m starting to forget their voices” was a real punch in the gut.
- Speaking of fairs, the Kingdom is having one?! Who the hell knows how this is going to play out—I assume there’ll be jousting, because it’s the Kingdom—but it seems like people from all the colonies will attend, and Ezekiel hopes it will help unite them again. Not sure if funnel cake and a ring toss game will solve everyone’s problems, but I’m crossing my fingers.
- I did enjoy that the ex-Savior gang had a wagon pulled by zombies
- Hey, where did Michonne get a second katana? Because both she and Judith are carrying them and using them for practice. I thought that maybe Michonne had a wakizashi, the shorter sword sometimes paired with a full katana, and I’d just forgotten this. But the blades looked like they might be the same size? Again, my eyes are terrible, so I could be wrong about any or all of this.
- Hey, guys? Putting bags over strangers’ heads when you bring them to Alexandria so they don’t know the way would probably be more effective if you didn’t have a sign on the front gate saying “ALEXANDRIA” on it.
- Judith, I hate to break it to you, but there’s only a 50/50 chance at best your dad would be happy you decided to save a bunch of strangers. Seasons 1-3 and 9 Rick would be proud of you; seasons 4-8 would simply murder them in front of you and then send you to your room.