The Walking Dead
TWD has been especially Halloween-y these past two weeks — first with Carol’s spooky visions, and now this episode and its theme of masks. That’s a bit on the nose, given the Whisperers’ penchant for wearing the dead-flesh variety. But they’re not the only ones in costumes of sorts: Michonne and Zeke have a heart-to-heart about the weight of their emotional disguises, and Lydia suggests the do-gooders at A-Town are less than authentic. More important than the strained mask metaphors, though, is a familiar theme — any attempts to coexist with violent lunatics are doomed to fail.
Speaking of the obvious, the episode begins with the song “Heaven I Know” by Gordi, an aching, melancholy ballad about two friends who drift apart. Cue the montage of people drifting apart. When Daryl tries to bring Carol some food, she won’t open her bedroom door. A sweaty Siddiq sees Rosita with Gabe; Lydia sees Siddiq see Rosita with Gabe; Siddiq runs away and Lydia looks super teen-angsty. Magna and Yumiko get busy, but afterward, Magna seems distant, for reasons we’ll learn later.
Then there’s Zeke, who is so emotionally frozen that when a huge tree crushes the Hilltop fence and a barn full of people, he barely reacts. Even ol’ Earl knows damn well this isn’t an accident — it’s a message from the Whisperers. The tree collapse divides the survivors into two factions: The hawks who are ready to take down Alpha and her army, and the doves who think taking on the Whisperers and their horde as a suicide mission. Judith asks her mom if they could live alongside “the Skins,” as she calls them. “Never take your enemy at their word,” Michonne says. “Measure them by their actions.” Master tactician that she is, Judith surmises that the Whisperers are treating them like Michonne handles little RJ when he won’t sleep — make them run around until they don’t have any energy left to put up a fight. Seems like the kid is right.
So while Hilltop scrambles to repair the fence, some folks at A-Town are low-key preparing for war. The tension lands squarely on Lydia, thanks to that douchnozzle Gage, who’s picked on her from day one, and Margo, the enraged Highwaywoman who lashed out at the town meeting. Lydia’s response to their bullying: Spraying them with the blood of a dead varmint at the lunch table and doing the Whisperer “shhhh.” Teens will be teens, I suppose, but even for one raised in the wilderness by a psychopath, that was a colossally stupid move.
You know you’re in trouble when Negan is your mentor, but it makes sense that Lydia is drawn to him — he’s both a strong father figure she never had and an outcast. Daryl fits that description, too. Ironically, while Negan preaches “kill them with kindness,” it’s Daryl’s fighting spirit that Lydia idolizes; it’s also what gets her in trouble. You knew someone was going to save her from the wicked beating Gage and Margo dished out, but a) I thought Daryl would come to the rescue and b) I did not think that Negan flung Margo into the wall so hard that he killed her.
That’s when the cracks in A-Town turn into chasms, as the townsfolk are split on yet another important issue: whether Negan deserves to die for (yet another) murder. Daryl visits him in lockup and as usual, Neegs reads his mind and knows he’s conflicted about what to do. Negan also says it’s messed up that just as he was starting to fall in line with A-Town’s way of life, he’s now on the chopping block for doing the right thing.
Kudos to Carol, who wisely assesses that all this Negan drama is simply a distraction from a much bigger existential problem. Not only are they living with the threat that an unstable murder-mom might send tens of thousands of zombies their way at any time, they’re all still coping with the aftermath of those beheadings. Saddiq can barely keep his shit together without getting feverish and screaming into a bowl of ice water—give yourself a script for Xanax and find a moisture-wicking tee, bro.
Then there’s Zeke, who is so depressed that he nearly hurls himself into a ravine. Luckily, Michonne arrives in time to vanquish his suicidal thoughts with a hug, and they bond over losing a partner and struggling to wear a “mask” of strength. (Out here, most ride-or-die relationships end in the latter.) Zeke also kisses her in a moment of weakness, and while Michonne doesn’t exactly resist, she does look disturbed. I’m feeling confident that a Michonne-Zeke-Carol love triangle will thankfully not happen.
On a more entertaining note, there’s a sweet cinematic standoff outside the gates of Hilltop in the moonlight — a cool panning shot of the scene as Magna’s trio and the sisters arrow, slingshot, and hack the undead back to death. The scene-stealer is Judith, as usual, who comes flying in with a sword and takes out two walkers with a few very deliberate strokes. Mom can’t help but smile, and really, isn’t this what family is all about? Michonne and J-Murder kill a few more zombies, then back up into a synchronized battle position, and in this moment I realized I’d be happy watching these two slay for a full hour. Magna eventually reveals why she was sulked like a baby after Yumiko took charge during the zombie siege: Miko was apparently her lawyer before the world fell apart, and Magna apparently doesn’t like feeling powerless, especially with someone who once charged her by the hour.
Two critical scenes set the stage for next week and beyond. Over ham radio or some such thing, Michonne tells Daryl that they need Lydia alive — not because it’s the right thing to do, but for leverage with Alpha. Something is certain to go wrong with this strategy. Then the People’s Court is convened with Judge Gabe presiding, and with Daryl voting to spare Negan’s life, the panel is deadlocked. So Gabe does what any inspirational leader would — he sleeps on it. Thanks for the anticlimax, G-man.
Somehow, Negan manages to escape his cell, and, plot twist, it wasn’t Lydia who set him free. The kid gives Daryl a speech about how everyone at A-town acts all righteous, but they’re all wearing masks, too, looking for people to blame and not practicing the kindness they espouse. (Maybe if she saw what Negan did to Glenn’s head, Lydia wouldn’t be such a fangirl.) With Negan on the loose, Michonne is off to Oceanside because it seems that the Whisperers are watching them, too. Luke joins her, but let’s face it, he’s just hoping to get laid.
As it all winds down, that damn song plays again. (I’m a sucker for soundtrack moments, but when music does most of the emotional heavy lifting, the heartstring tug feels a bit unearned.) Carol looks to the horizon pensively as Daryl scrubs “Silence the Whisperers” off of his front door. But now there’s graffiti all over A-Town, and like Alpha herself, it will take more than a little scrubbing to clean away those stains.