The Walking Dead
The Whisperer War is over and — stop me if you’ve heard this before — the survivors are dealing with the aftermath of defeating a bunch of psychos. Peacetime is never really peaceful, though, is it? Almost like zombies have become more of a pest-control issue than an existential threat. What’s more troubling than the undead is a rise in extremist groups. Back in the day, maybe you’d find one band of lunatics per season that would deserve their own nickname. Now, the ink is barely dry on the Whisperers’ obituary and we’ve already got a new band of baddies to deal with: the Reapers. With Rick long gone, Jesus dead, and Michonne walking the earth like Kane in Kung Fu, who will lead our ragged band of heroes against yet … another … human … threat?
Well, duh — Maggie, of course. She returned just in time for the official season finale, but didn’t get much screen time (and when she did, let’s be honest, Mags was upstaged by the appearance of Hoodie Ninja in all his blade-swingin’ and Gabe-savin’ glory). But even with some new pals and the long awaited appearance of little Hershel, this first bonus episode is Maggie’s show from start to finish. It’s also a reminder that the leadership scales have tipped firmly toward the women in this world, which may be the only sliver of hope left to hold onto. (Save for Carol, of course, whose record on child protection is a real weak spot in her platform. She does deserve props for laying all of her Negan cards on the table with Maggie right away, though.)
There’s a nice bookend of moments in this episode as Maggie mentors two potential leaders of tomorrow. To start, she’s in the woods with Judith, bonding as survivors of familial loss and also as kick-ass ladies with cool hats. (Later on, she’ll do the same with Kelly, minus the chapeaus.) But those good vibes are shattered when Mags lays her eyes on Negan for the first time. Better than her if-looks-could-kill stare is Negan’s realization that his plans to rehab his image and perhaps live a normal, uncaged life is now in jeopardy.
Maggie’s rude homecoming continues at Hilltop, which is in shambles. Seems like Oceanside should be her backup plan — her kid loved her family’s place at the shore, plus no one there murdered her husband — but A-town it is, a move that even Maggie’s new ponytailed pal, Cole, questions. Hoodie Ninja also has an actual name, and that name is Elijah. (Let’s discuss for a moment: I don’t care how impractical it may be to wear lumberjack layers and a full face mask while roaming through the backwoods of Virginia. It’s just fun to be intrigued by a new character, much like when we first met Michonne and her pets way back when. I was also enjoying the big “Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe” energy he was giving off. Seeing he’s a very non-threatening guy with a very non-threatening name ruined that a bit, though I’m still mighty curious as to why he won’t — or can’t — speak and where he took that Big-Ass-Knife Wielding 101 course. Still, I was hoping there was at least a horrible zombie scar or some Post Malone tats under that mask.)
Before Maggie brings her new crew to A-town, she fills Daryl in on what the hell she’s been up to in the roughly seven years since she split with Georgie (remember her?) and the twins (remember those two??). Long story semi-short: their efforts to help others “would always go sideways,” whatever that means; they made it to Knoxville; Georgie and the Twins left for an unidentified city out west; their camp fell, so she hit up the family beach house with Hershel, found a new group, and that scene also went to shit. Maggie’s not ready to talk about those bad endings, which makes you wonder if she made some choices she now regrets. (Those years with Georgie are definitely not on her LinkedIn profile.) There’s a new hardness about Maggie, as if what she’s telling Daryl is only the tip of a nasty iceberg she’s trying to fully submerge. That includes the Reapers, who are responsible for chasing her people from their last home.
After a brief stay at the Six Flags of zombie shipping container storage lots — and c’mon, you knew that walker head would squeeze like a grape from the second they slammed it in the door — Mags and company find two charred bodies where the rest of her new crew and Hershel were supposed to be. (Sure sounded like she dropped an F-bomb while frantically surveying the scene, but my hearing is suspect — we’ll get to that soon). It’s the Reapers again, or apparently one lone Reaper with a knack for mayhem. In response, as usual, they decide to split the party because hey, safety in numbers is overrated as both a survival tool and a plot device. Kelly is also rather chill about going with Ponytail and the Mask, whom she met like five minutes ago.
Two more survivors from Maggie’s group are shot by the ghillie-suit-wearing Reaper sniper, who tosses Daryl aside like a rag doll and catches Mags in a snare. Just as it looks like this killing machine has the upper hand, Kelly’s crew saves the day with a well-placed arrow to his chest. Kudos to this guy for his dramatic flair when cornered: The Reaper drops his knife like a mic, grins, and mutters what sounded to me like a Native American chant but I’m told by the internets was actually the words “Pope marked you” in a British accent — all before pulling the pin on a grenade.
This leaves us with major questions. Who is this Pope? Why did he mark Maggie? How did they all survive that blast given how close they were to the Reaper? And forget this new threat and the ever-present danger of zombies — how will anyone survive the overwhelming cuteness that is Hershel with his little Glenn baseball cap? There’s also the matter of how Negan will survive Hurricane Maggie, which blows into A-town with force. Earlier, Carol says odds are against Maggie ever coming around on Negan. That’s a bet I wouldn’t take.