The Walking Dead, Season 9, Episode 4 Review: The Sword, the Bat, and the After to Protect

Once more, the episode opens with scenes of idyllic life in Alexandria. Except, this time they are broken. They are broken by Michonne’s secret night life, when she answer to the irresistible call of her sword. Even though we don’t yet know at this point, it just makes you feel uncomfortable. It is not all peaceful anymore. Something is wrong.

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The weapons’ call

The sword. The bat. The rod. Drops of blood. Weapons are significant in this episode. They are more than objects. They are part of a character’s identity, and they speak to them. Iconic weapons is one the ways violence is compelling in popular culture. Not all characters have an iconic weapon in The Walking Dead, but this is something Michonne and Negan have in common, and in this episode, it marks a connection between them. Michonne even gets to kill a walker with a bat. For Negan, Lucille has been for long the symbol of his ruthlessness and terror. But it is also memory of his wife, which he again refers to as his weak side. Is it perhaps his good side that is emerging?

Negan and Michonne’s dialogue suggests that their weapons connects them to the dead. Hence, in Michonne’s case, the sword is her dark side. The Michonne who is now busy in her new role of mother and civilian leader, seems so different from the Michonne who used to roam the forest with no other companion than the walkers and her sword. Also, weapons are associated with strength. Despite the rhetoric of peace in this season, we kept getting hints that violence may still be necessary. Hence, while peace is in crisis, we are shown that deep inside, our heroes are still ‘warriors’.

Just as he did with Rick in episode two, Negan is giving voice to Michonne’s inner dark emotions. But this time, he is defeated. Michonne admits that she does have a dark side – demonstrating that she knows herself and is in control – but she does not enjoy violence: she lives for the living.

The tomatoes and the bridge

The two symbols of the new civilisation, the bridge and tomatoes, are threatened by natural calamities. Rick and Eugene discuss whether the bridge – symbol of peace between communities – will hold, and Michonne at Alexandria learns that the tomato crop – symbol of prosperity – is at risk. In the first 15 minutes of the show nothing major has happened, yet the feeling of helplessness is gripping. The question is, will peace last? Will it survive Rick?

Rick and Michonne seem to be the last ones still fighting for the civilisation dream. Peace and war are no longer about ideals, they are about memory. They are personal matters. If in the last episode we were reminded of everyone’s losses, here there are just two that matter. Glenn and Carl. Others are talked about, including Negan’s wife and Michonne’s son. But Glenn and Carl are the reasons for action. The reasons for revenge and forgiveness, for war and peace.

Fight and forgiveness

The sequences of dead killing delivers the two main messages in this episode. First, as we have seen, we know that the peace is fragile, and or heroes are alert, and still warriors within. Through Michonne’s sequences, we are simultaneously told that something is not right, and reassured that someone is in control. On the contrary, when Rick and Daryl are in the pit fighting, the dead indicate a dangerous threat, and this leads the two to patch up. It brings them to cooperate, work together, and look after each other. In a meaningful moment, Rick helps Daryl out and calls him ‘brother’. ‘Be safe’, they tell each other. It all brings back of the opening of episode one in the season, which emphasised cohesiveness and cooperation in the new world. At the same time, forgiveness is the key word that saves Gabriel. Is there going to be an after to the peace dream with Rick gone? It seems like we are getting some hints here. Rick and Daryl join forces to save the bridge. Daryl just reminded Rick that he was ready to die for him, but it is now Rick’s turn to sacrifice for his life for the bridge, for Carl’s vision of peace.

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This analysis is part of a research project on the representation of violence in popular culture.
Monica Carrer, PhD

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