This episode did not really have much action, at least not until the last five minutes. Yet, it was tensed and scary. The tension did not start when the whisperers came close to our group, but it was slowly built through a constant feeling of uncertainty throughout the episode. There were more questions raised than answered, and fear grows when we are not sure of what it is going on and what is going to happen.
Cold reunion at the Hilltop
Though we would expect the Hilltop to be the safe sanctuary for our group, the climate here is tense, too. When the people outside the gate are warned that ‘raiders’ are coming we get alarmed for a moment. When Michonne and her group are approaching, they are all concerned about safety. The welcome, then, is rather cold, particularly between Tara and Michonne. Michonne and Carol are visibly happy to see each other, but again the exchange remains formal. No hugs or kisses. Motherhood is highlighted in their dialogue as something that the two share, more than all their past together. They talk about the children they are raising and the ones they have lost. Motherhood is portrayed as a key factor for their choices as leaders.
We get some more hints of what might have happened between the communities. It appears that Michonne turned down a request for help from the King. She still feels that now each community is on its own, because they are far apart and there is much unsafe ‘world’ between them. Therefore, for Michonne’s perspective the insecurity of traveling between communities seems one of the reasons why she decided to turn her back to former allies and friends. After all, the bridge that was supposed to bring all together ended with Rick’s death. Others might have died afterwards. We heard from Carol in episode 6 that some people left and never came back. Also, Michonne tells Siddiq that now the Hilltop people can be angry at her because they alive. Therefore, she feels that the same decisions that made her unpopular kept safe the people of all the communities.
We have been getting more and more hints that Negan has a heart and he is now changed. Nonetheless, his behavior is still ambiguous. He still teases and irritates people for no obvious reason – though he says sorry and refers to himself as ‘crap’. In the absence of his baseball bat, he now has a baseball ball, and he talks like his old self. When he finds the gate open, his smile says ‘Negan is back’. While we wait to know what his intentions are, that one smile feels intimidating. Negan might help the group later, but for now, his escape adds to the sense of uncertainty and insecurity of the episode.
Henry is going through the typical teenage-away-from-home test. He meets a corrupting group that invites him to have fun with them. The group is male dominated, and girls are talked about as objects of desire, something that luckily does not happen frequently on twd. The group gets him drunk in the evening, and, for the boys, the fun night includes pissing on a trapped walker. The girl walks away at this point. This sequence is tense not so much because there is real danger, but rather as we feel that the group’s actions are not all that wise, and by following them Henry might make bad decisions. When he sees the walker, however, Henry kills him as an act of compassion, showing that he is more mature than the rest and he can make independent choices. The whole incident is then a chance to talk about how being there is a big deal to him. He is basically representing the Hilltop, and does not want to disappoint his parents… the typical discourse of a future leader.
The new threat
The biggest uncertainty in the episode is obviously the new threat. We saw in the past two episodes something strange, scary, and unexplained: talking walkers chasing Rosita and Eugene. In this episode, the rescue group observes the unusual behavior of the horde, noticing that it’s not normal. Then we see Rosita terrified when she talks about the situation in which she left Eugene, commenting the the rescue group does not know what they are dealing with. The uncertainty and fear escalates when a frightened Eugene reveals to the group that the walkers talked and have been searching for him. They are not just talking, they are clever, which means dangerous. His deduction is that they are evolving. And of course, just while he reveals this, we see that the horde is close by. It is dark and foggy, and if you cannot see them, they could be everywhere.
At the end there is a fight. Michonne come to the rescue, and members of the new group are also here. Jesus plays a dominant role in the fight. He goes solo in a spectacularly choreographed fighting scene, with stunts in slow motion. Jesus’ fighting skills have been highlighted since episode one in this season (see episode seven as well), always while he was paired with Aaron. This mentorship might become meaningful in future developments after Jesus is gone. In fact, the latter is suddenly stabbed by a walker who turns out not to be walker. The tragic moment is amplified by Aaron’s desperate cry. The group rushes to Aaron and, among other walkers, they kill the one who killed Jesus. Then the revelation: it was not a walker, but a person wearing walker skin.
This short sequence was thus and intense one, with a lot of elements, surprises, emotions, mixed with ‘sexy’ action. One of the good guys is killed, and at least one of the bad guys is killed too. Viewers are likely to feel very differently about the two deaths. Shock for one, relief for the other. The death of whisperer goes almost unnoticed in a way, just like the many walkers that fall all the time, except for the revelation. The main emotion and concern now, even bigger than grief, is threat.
This review is part of a research project on the representation of violence in popular culture.
Monica Carrer, PhD