The Walking Dead, Season 9, Episodes 13-16: From Civilisation to Cold War

As season 9 comes to an end, it is a good time to look at where the core themes and storylines brought us. While viewers might have anticipated a bloody conclusion to the season, the finale ends with a cold war situation – literally. Though the finale might have felt uneventful in terms of action, at the same time it wraps up the themes of the season and brakes away from them in unexpected ways. This cold war feel might make you long even more for a violent confrontation at this point. If so, why?

The Constitution and the Fair

Bringing together the communities for a new prosperous ‘civilised’ beginning is the underlying goal of all the storylines throughout the season. We get the feeling that togetherness is good, even though there are challenges. It is an emotional goal because it is linked to the loss of Carl and Rick. Therefore, throughout the season, there is an effort to bridge the communities. Earlier, the effort was symbolised by the actual bridge that blew away with Rick. After that, the cracks between and within communities became wider in the years that followed. We got many hints that two things – two new symbols replacing the bridge – would have fixed it all: the Constitution, and the fair. Both finally come true in episode 15, yet they do not prevent the cracks to widen to a breaking point.

Antithesis to civilisation

Of course, the reason why the fair does not go as planned, is the Whisperers. The Whisperers are not only an enemy, they represent the antithesis to ‘civilisation’. They are represented as savages, and there is a constant juxtaposition showing the contrast between civilised and uncivilised. (Does this remind you of something?) The Whisperers themselves claim to be animals and live in close affinity with the walkers. This juxtaposition is represented a moral one: civilised means ‘good’, and ‘uncivilised’ means ‘evil’. A very clear statement of this is when Alpha orders a Whisperer mother to abandon her baby to be eaten by walkers, saying that ‘we are animals’. And then, they are able to infiltrate the fair, an idyllic place representing love and prosperity, and they bring it down. This is a very emotional moment. The fact that it happens without anyone noticing a thing, when people are still celebrating, increases the feeling of uncertainty and bitterness. The Whisperers succeed in making walls unsafe, and in breaking apart the Kingdom. The choice of victims reinforces this point. They take away people who are loved either as leaders or by the families or partners. These are the losses we care about, and the ones that are felt as emotional.

The fallen kingdom

The fallen kingdom is a new and unexpected outcome of the civilization storyline. We were given hints through the cracks and requests for help, but we might have thought that with the fair and new cooperation, it would all be okay. Though the finale might have come across as slow and uneventful, this revelation is significant. It changes the whole political scenario and opens up for new developments.

The defence treaty

When the Constitution is finally signed at the fair, symbol of trade and prosperity, it also comes along with a mutual defence pact. In this way, there is a significant shift in the meaning of ‘civilisation’. While so far, in this season, civilisation for linked to an ideal of peace and forgiveness, there defence pact opens the possibility for war. The prosperity dream for the future generations is abruptly cut off through the decapitation of youth, including Henry. The defence pact, however, stands, and it becomes the new ‘bridge’. The federation becomes a coalition against an enemy. Is forgiveness going to give way to revenge?

Guardians

The theme of parenthood is the second major theme of the season. It is related to that of civilization because, after all, the effort to build a new civilization is meant to provide a future for the next generation. Possibly, a future that is more than surviving and fighting. This theme links together multiple storylines:

Michonne and Judith

For Michonne, the need to protect her children is the reason why she ends up isolating Alexandria from the other communities. The tension is between security and cooperation. This is explained especially in the episode ‘Scars’. After revisiting her traumatic memories and opening up with Judith, she decides to take a turn and offer support to the other communities. As a result, they sign the Constitution, and Alexandria becomes an ally for the future challenges that the communities will now face together.

Henry and Carol

Henry represented hope for the Kingdom. When he was introduced after the time jump, we learned that his mission was to learn skills to make things better. He was supposed to fill those cracks. Though we might have forgotten all about the mission and the cracks at the Kingdom when our attention was diverted to the Whisperers, the consequences of his loss are fatal for the Kingdom. Similarly to what happened to Alexandria after Rick’s loss, the loss of a leader (or royalty) has deep repercussions for the whole community. Henry’s story also shows Carol’s attachment and protective instinct. She even burnt alive a group of Saviors without a blink. Remember that? That episode was not discussed anymore afterwards. So far, that only meaning of that action, is to tell us that Carol is ready to do anything for her son. And so does Alpha. A confrontation between the two has not yet happened, but it is much anticipated.

Lydia

Lydia’s story draws a parallel between good and evil parental models. Alpha has an ambiguous relationship with Lydia, and to make things more complicated, Lydia develops a relationship with Daryl. the season finale also introduces to Carol’s mixed feelings towards Lydia.

Lydia’s story is also the most emotional reason for a violent clash with the Whisperers. Despite being depicted as a terrifying villain, the Whisperers have not shown an intention to start an open war. The only thing they asked, so far, is to keep out of their territory. But Lydia’s choice becomes a painful betrayal for Alpha, and Beta seems to care about her too. A dispute about borders could be easily settled. But what happened in episode 15 leaves both sides deeply grieving, and that is probably what sets the stage for more violence. The wish for a violent confrontation is now an emotional one. Are you waiting for Carol to avenge her loss?

Negan and Judith

Negan and Judith have been developing a close relationship. There is no doubt, at this point, that he truly cares. Negan has not played a role in the unfolding of events so far. His story, in this season, was simply a path of redemption through his attachment to Judith.

What comes next?

The season finale opens up many questions. There is now a leadership void that remains open. The Hilltop has lost three leaders in one season, the Kingdom’s leaders are broken by the loss of Henry, and even the future of Alexandria is uncertain. Leading characters have been shifting from one place to another, and Negan is redeemed. Alpha is angry. Let’s see what comes next.

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

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