Under Michonne’s leadership, Alexandria has been a real drag lately. There’s that constitution she wrote, then pretty much ignored as she turned her democracy into a dictatorship. Then there’s Michonne’s aggressive isolationism — not interested in trade, tough on border security, prickly toward pretty much everyone. Tonight’s episode explains why she’s been so cold-hearted, and why she and Daryl are sporting matching X-shaped scars on their backs. (Spoiler alert: They did not get drunk on Spring Break and get branded together.) It also ends with a starter-pistol shot signaling the upcoming sprint to the season finale, which will surely be full of Whisperer-fueled mayhem.
The opening flashback establishes this as Michonne and Daryl’s story. As the melancholic opening strains of “Souvenir” by Boygenius play, we see Michonne alone by the water, slicing walkers and finding Rick’s pistol in the mud. Flash ahead a bit to a pregnant Michonne, who’s still searching when she happens upon Daryl. He can’t let Rick go, either — walked to the ocean and back with no sign of his buddy.
“You okay being alone?” Michonne asks.
Daryl nods yes. “You?”
“I’m not,” Michonne says, rubbing her stomach.
It’s a heartbreaking exchange. Daryl, ever the loner, has lost his best friend and swears he’ll never stop looking for him. Michonne takes comfort in Judith and a baby on the way, but still struggles with the absence of their father (and their brother). It’s vulnerable moments like these — balanced with their all-around kickassery — that keep Michonne and Daryl near the top of the list for characters you’re still rooting for the most.
The flashbacks (and Daryl) suggest that something horrible happened after they met by the river that day, but it’s tough to figure out what that might be, given the circumstances: The stranger at A-town’s gates turns out to be Michonne’s long-lost college pal, Jocelyn. She’s with a band of children because, she says, the rest of the adults in their group “just broke.” The question is, who broke them?
Even with Rick gone, Michonne was in fairly good spirits then, laughing as the kids played “the quiet game” (the Fortnite of the zombie era) and reminiscing with Jocelyn about the good old days, like when civilization was a thing. (The episode’s most shocking moment: When Jocelyn calls Michonne “Meesh.”) But Judith’s sleepover takes a rather grim turn — dead guy outside, pantry and infirmary cleared out, bloody footprints leading to the sewer. (How is it possible that they spent years fortifying A-town but didn’t think to lock down the sewers?)
The ensuing search for Judith parallels a present-day panic as Michonne again finds herself with a child who escapes a heavily guarded compound. But as Daryl observes, Judith ain’t a normal kid. When he ships off for the Kingdom, Judith is so mad that she politely asks to leave the dinner table and go to her room. How perfect is this kid? Perhaps her only flaw is a willingness to grab a loaded gun and run off alone (or with Negan) into the walker-infested wilds at the drop of a sheriff’s hat. Also of note before Daryl’s crew departs is Michonne’s chat with Lydia. At first it seems like a motherly talk about young love, but takes a dark turn as Michonne’s hypothetical sounds more like a strong suggestion: “Might be easier … if I could just walk away and take all the risk with me … think about that.” Don’t be surprised when Lydia sacrifices herself to the Whisperers in order to protect Henry, resulting in further teenage dumbassery and grave consequences.
Speaking of Negan, he’s the first person Michonne visits when Judith turns up missing. He’s still a smartass, but all these years in the clink have given him a certain Zen quality. Michonne is understandably still suspicious of his motives; she absolutely loses her shit when Negan says Judith hates that her mom won’t let new people into A-town, like Carl would have wanted. He also admits that he’s told Judith what he did to Glenn and Abraham —hopefully not in eyeball-popping detail (that’s perhaps the most indelible image of the entire series for me). But Negan deserves credit for sparking Michonne’s realization that Judith probably grabbed her dad’s gun and ran off to help Uncle Daryl. (Daryl also proves Aaron was onto something when he shows tough love for both Henry and Lydia, not to mention the impossibly sweet moment he shares with Judith on the dock. Maybe he really is dad material. Learn sign language and get working on that, dude.)
Both of Judith’s escapes end with serious consequences. We learn there’s a reason Jocelyn’s kids are so good at deer hunting — she’s been training them to kill, like her own mini-Manson family. They’ve got a catchy motto, too: “Mark our kill. Kill our mark.” Thanks to a couple li’l nutjobs named Linus and Winnie, Michonne and Daryl take hot iron to their backs for no good reason aside from Jocelyn’s insanity. That ain’t survival — it’s sadism.
The very-pregnant Michonne looks understandably horrified at the thought of having to fight these kids and does her best to simply disarm them. Even after Linus slices her abdomen, she flies into rage mode by screaming, not slicing. When she’s finally left with no choice — what the hell was up with that kid’s obsession with stabbing her stomach? — the camera cleverly cuts to present-day Michonne chopping up zombies. There’s no doubt what happened, though — in the end, Michonne is covered in blood and small bodies are scattered across the ground. (The only survivor is Winnie, who runs off into the unknown. Wonder if a now-teenage Winnie is one of the Whisperers?)
Finding Judith for a second time leads Michonne to some serious soul searching. It also confirms Negan’s assessment that she’s every bit as badass as Carl — the leg-chop-to-head-stab zombie kill shot would have made her bro and her old man mighty proud. Michonne is shocked to learn Judith actually remembers her mom’s kiddie massacre, and is dumbfounded that as a result, Judith isn’t more suspicious of strangers and life outside the gates. “Loving someone,” Judith says, “means doing whatever it takes to keep them safe.” Judith’s revelation, Carl’s utopian dream, Michonne’s obsessive protection of Judith and RJ, the release of what she felt was her most horrible secret — it all leads to a major policy shift for A-town’s leader and a teary hug with her daughter.
Instead of holing up inside A-town, they grab a horse-drawn car carriage and give Daryl’s group a lift to the Faire. Meanwhile at the gates of the Kingdom, two “skinjobs” (as Aaron calls them) lurk as folks roll in for the festivities. “We must tell Alpha,” drones a dirty woman with bad teeth. Enough buildup — it’s time to get this party started and watch the Whisperers crash it.