Green is the new theme color of The Walking Dead. If earlier in the season green could be associated with the crops of the new civilisation, now it seems more about the wilderness that replaces it. The wilderness growing over old signs of a collapsed modernity reminds of a Sleeping Beauty setting, with time passing and a static, dormant everyday waiting for awakening. As in the fairy tales, Rick’s loss has had a tremendous impact on.. everything. The world is still grieving years after he is gone. Looks like the renaissance dream has long been forgotten, and we are instead stuck in a decadent Middle Ages time. Michonne’s opening portrays the present as a time of darkness, yet with dreams as rays of light. The kids of the new generation are the embodiment those rays of hope.
Carol’s introduction shows a big change in her. Her long hair does not go unnoticed, and she is referred to as Queen. Carol brushes off a title she seems uncomfortable with, but which might sound exciting to her fans. Monarchy, horses, and arrows, all contribute to the fairy tale atmosphere. So does the hairstyle, which might look better suited to the role of queen and mother. In fact, Carol is introduced as wife of the King and mother of the Prince, two key attributes in the narrative that unfolds.
Underneath the smiles and hugs between Queen and King, we feel some tension, something is not right. Time and decay are symbolized by the crack on the wall of the couple. The Kingdom is old and falling apart. Carol, too, looks old. Is she going back to be cookies Carol, monarch version? The sequence with the Saviors once again, shows a Carol readily accepting defeat, giving up something precious, and just begging for her son to be safe. Again, gender roles are a key in these sequences between Jed and Carol, and the power game between them. As he did earlier in the season, Jed humiliates Carol calling her ‘Boss Lady’ and makes remarks about her hair. This scene links back to Jed and Carol’s tense exchanges in episodes three and four, as well as with the clash between Henry and the Saviors in episode two. Henry’s disbelief and desire to stand up for justice also makes us believe for a while that his mother has now gone back to be ‘cookie Carol’.
Carol’s twist: the fire
In the most talked about scene of the episode, Carol goes back and sets Jed and his group on fire. It is a cold and ruthless act of violence that effectively sparks excitement and cheering among viewers and fans. How? First, we see Carol in a hopeless situation being humiliated. Second, the situation is unexpectedly turned upside down: the heroine manages to put the evil guys in a powerless situation. Here, there is a dialogue that affirms Carol’s power. She talks with controlled anger about the ring, and more. Carol seems to suspect that Jed’s group is responsible for the disappearance of some of her people, though Jed denies. Then she points out that he hurt her son. Hence, the group is potential threat, particularly to Henry.
At this point, Jed begs. Begging for life affirms who is now in power. Then the act: As Carol drops the match, she says ‘I know’ in a sudden change of tone. She says it casually, almost smiling. And then, in slow motion, she walks away emotionless, with flames rising at her back. There is no remorse, no looking back at people burning alive. And it feels satisfactory because it is a flip of power.
Does this challenge or reinforce traditional gender roles? In The Walking Dead series, there is clearly an effort to depict women as strong fighters, intelligent and independent characters. Carol is one of the most compelling ones, particularly because of her growth. While the ‘bad guys’ sequences reinforce gender stereotypes, they are followed by scenes like this that reverse the situation and tell you: hey, Carol is a badass!
Nonetheless, this sequence reconnects to a frequent trend in popular culture that associates women’s violence to a desire to protect their children. Madison in Fear is also a good example of this. We have seen Carol using lethal violence on a big spectacular scale before, mostly when she attempted to rescue or defend someone. But this time it was a cold, ruthless act associated with her motherly protective instinct. When she tells Henry that one day he will understand, she refers not so much to her quick surrender, but to the violence she is ready to use to protect him.
Michonne may not have been proclaimed queen, but she seems like one. Her appearance in Alexandria feels odd, too, so different from the Michonne we saw earlier in the season, always advocating for reconciliation. Unlike Carol, Michonne in her new introduction never smiles – not until her own final twist. When she arrives, everyone goes silent. She is rather intimidating, and questions all the Alexandrians present. It is clear that she is in charge, and the residents are expected to obey. Initially, she does not even smile to Judith. There is a Council, but effectively Michonne decides. Michonne is unwelcoming and sharp, stressing security concerns and protocols. Again, the security of her children are a primary concern. Michonne, too, tells Judith that one day she will understand, just like Carol to Henry.
Michonne’s twist, at the end, is when we finally see her loving and smiling and opening up. She is, after all, proud of Judith, and ultimately she changes attitude towards the newcomers.
The abandoned bridge
We see Rick’s bridge right after Michonne’s opening monologue. The bridge that was such an important symbol of the new civilisation Rick was trying to build has not been fixed, and has been left abandoned. It is very significant that Rick’s loss happened here, so that now this broken bridge is a sign of both his loss and, the division between communities, and of the interrupted civilisation project.
The communities, in fact, are pretty much on their own. We are yet to learn more details about how their relationship evolved in the six years gap. So far, we know that the Kingdom and Alexandria are doing fine, but not thriving.
Ezekiel hints that he hopes the communities would come back together. It seems like it would benefit the Kingdom. The Saviors, or at least some of them, turned brigands and increase the insecurity of travel and communication between communities. Though some of the Saviors have joined other communities, the core of them is represented as savage and prone to violence. It is the second time in this season that we see them exploiting the walkers for different uses, which suggests some affinity with them. We do not know if Carol’s action of burning them alive is a first, but it certainly does not help bringing the communities back together, as Ezekiel hoped.
Henry and Judith are both dreamers, eager to change the status quo. They are dynamic forces willing to shake off the inertia. They both resist the protective and conservative attitudes of their guardians and take their own, independent decisions. They are perhaps too naïve and impulsive, but they do lead others to change something and, ultimately, to open the gates of their communities and start traveling towards the Hilltop. In the meantime, we see both of them practising with weapons, indicating that they are very skilled and dedicated. In addition, Henry has a useful talent for fixing things. Judith through her lecture on maths on morality demonstrated compassion, intelligence and leadership qualities. Our new heroes?
To fight or not to fight
The new group entering Alexandria gives us a taste of how conservative the settlement has become, and brings them to question their security protocols. At the same time, the new group, too, has a discussion on whether or not to fight to stay. This discussion brings back to the time when Rick and his group reached here, and decided to stay at all costs. They were ready to fight good, naïve people, in order to protect their own security. It was a time where doing ugly things was justified as necessary to survive ugly times. In the end, Magna’s confession that she did ‘things’ brings her close to Michonne, as the latter too, recognises that they all did ‘things’ to survive. Loss, fight, and survival is something the two leaders share.