The Walking Dead, Season 9, Episode 7 Review: Music to Escape, Music to Reconcile, Music to Thrive

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Music still matters in a post-apocalyptic world driven by constant security challenges. We were skeptical when Georgie appeared asking for music, when our gang was busy fighting Negan and surviving. But in this episode, Luke gives us an eloquent lecture on why not only art matters, but it might be a way to overcome future challenges.

Luke tells a story about how first men survived the Neanderthals, which picks up again the theme of civilisation right from its roots. In this story, art is the key to survival and the seed of civilisation:

‘How did we defeat them when they were bigger, and they were smarter, and they were stronger, faster, they had better tools than us? So why are we still here, and they’re not? And then they found a cave, okay. And in that cave, they found a 40,000-year-old flute…And then they realized that maybe ancient humans didn’t defeat Neanderthal. Not in the way we think of the word defeat, okay? They came together as an answer to defeat. They sat around a campfire. They shared their stories with each other and in the form of music and paintings and they created a common identity. And then they built communities, and they grew, and as they grew, Neanderthal retreated. And then after a while, they just died out. So this is the one thing that separates us from the animals. For better or for worse, it brings us together. And if we’re trying to rebuild something, you can’t ignore that.’

This story is not just about civilisation, it is about war, and it implicitly suggests that civilisation will win in the fight against the uncivilized. Hence, the civilisation theme is now used to define a common identity, an ‘us’ versus ‘them’. Who is the uncivilised, the animals in the metaphor? Until now, the theme of civilisation was about Carl’s dream and Rick’s leadership. It was the living against the dead. It could still be that the ‘uncivilized’ represents the dead, but it is likely that the ‘uncivilized’ hint to the new threat introduced in this episode, the Whisperers. Facing a common enemy may require a joint effort from all the communities to defeat them together, and this would help the communities patch up old fractures and differences.

So yes, the civilisation theme is back and it reconnects with what Rick left uncompleted, but there are also differences and added meaning. In this episode, Siddiq questions directly Michonne in regards to her promise to Carl. The fact that it is Saddiq to bring this out makes the memory of Carl’s sacrifice more meaningful. We were also reminded of it in the last episode, when he talked to the new group about how he was taken in. Things are different now from the time Rick and Michonne were busy building the new civilisation. Change has already happened. All the communities are established and have introduced many innovations and structures. It is no longer just survival. What is missing, though, is communication between them: the bridge. The sharing, as Luke says. This is the theme of this episode. All the characters are undertaking a journey to a place -the Hilltop- where they can start sharing again: Michonne and the new group, Jesus and Aaron, and Carol, Henry and Daryl.

Michonne and Magna

Though Michonne and Magna seem hostile to each other, the episode really shows how similar they truly are. They both say the do not trust the other, reason why they need their weapons. They both have lost someone they loved. This episode brings us to the place where Magna lost a member of her group, so that the Michonne can witness and share her grief. The group has to clear walkers in this spot, which makes the loss more tangible. At this point, Michonne still refuses to give them their weapons. However later, after the violin incident and Luke’s story, something changes. Right after that, the group collectively faces a horde and weapons are distributed to all. This walker killing sequence shows the new synergy between the members of the group: it is all a chain of characters rescuing one another. Everyone contributes. At the end, the new people find their dead friend among the horde, making the shared grief even stronger. Loss, music, and walker- killings does the trick and the group is now much closer.

Jesus and Aaron

With Maggie gone, Jesus is the new reluctant leader at the Hilltop. The Hilltop is prosperous, and again, music is relevant to show how the civilisation is flourishing. The theme of leadership is central. It appears that all this needs a leader’s direction to happen, and that one person now is Jesus. It is the first time we see Jesus as a leader, and Tara stresses how everyone is counting on him.

Jesus has been meeting Aaron secretly, and both of them discuss the need to come back together. What happened between the Hilltop and Alexandria to keep them so apart? So far, we only hear about security concerns, and some hints that something went wrong between Michonne and Maggie, but we are yet to learn more.

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In the meantime, Jesus and Aaron’s training is rather entertaining, and links back to a similar sequence in episode one of the season. This time, too, the fight is playful, alternating ‘sexy moves’ and fun comments. This is another example of  how violence is entertaining and attractive in popular culture.

Carol, Daryl and Henry

Carol attempts to bring together two men she loves: Henry and Daryl. In this episode, Carol is more worried and protective towards the second. We see Daryl through Carol’s eyes. She worries about him not fixing the boat, not eating, leaving a dead corpse close to where he lives. More in general, she worries for him living alone in the middle one of the woods. She even gives him a haircut. Carol asks Daryl to come to the Hilltop to look after Henry, but it is clear that it not just about Henry, as the boy himself explains.

Carol is trying to give Henry another male role model to follow, and to Daryl, someone to love. The two check each other out. There is some tension and brief action at night when the dog is stuck between walkers. Daryl rescues Henry and Henry rescues Daryl. The walker-killing is an occasion for the awkward duo to  start bonding and knowing one another.

In the end, Carol’s quest is successful, and she gets Daryl to come with them to the Hilltop. When Daryl, Carol, and Henry reach they are warmly welcomed. Jesus, Aaron and Rosita are here, too. The communities mix up once again, and there is already a rescue mission on its way.

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

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