“Language. I’m a kid, asshole.”
After what this time felt like a very short break, The Walking Dead is back on our screens. It left us back in November at what was seen by many as the show’s highest point in years. Not since season 4 maybe 5 had the show been that consistently excellent or engaging. The 18 month and then 5 year time skip certainly helped as did, and I hate to say it, losing our main character. I’d still personally rather not have lost Rick but it imbued the show with new and fresh energy not seen in a long time. Along with this, we’ve seen the introduction of a new enemy; the super creepy whisperers, humans who wear zombie skin to blend in with the walker hordes. The mid-season finale also saw the very awesome but very sad death of fan favourite character Jesus, which is where the mid-season premiere picks up from. Can the show manage to keep the momentum going for another half season?
So Jesus is dead. We saw that happen back in November. For the rest of the group, the majority of the episode follows their journey back to the Hilltop, Jesus’ corpse in tow. The gang are of course pursued by walkers which, 9 seasons in, rarely gets your pulse racing anymore. But we’re soon reminded that the walkers are not the only threat, in fact, the newly introduced whisperers hiding in the masses of the dead offer more spooks and scares than we’ve seen in a long time. There’s a particularly cool scene where the gang encounters a group of ‘walkers’ on a bridge. How to separate the normal walkers from the freaks wearing zombie skin? Daryl responds by shooting the walkers in the legs. He hits one and there’s no response – must be a walker. He shoots the next and the walker falls to the grounds screaming in pain. A human in disguise. Daryl doesn’t even need to waste any more arrows, the real walkers are attracted to the whisperer’s screams and tear him apart. Cruel and unpleasant? Yeah, possibly. But also pretty awesome, in a morbid sort of way. And it shows the creators have still got some interesting set piece ideas up their sleeves, 9 seasons in. One whisperer is spared, a young girl, who the gang take prisoner (comic readers will already know where this is going).
In other parts of the world, Luke and Alden are out looking for the rest of Luke’s group, unaware that Jesus has been killed and that they are actually on their way back to the Hilltop (I guess the gang took a different route back, as Luke and Alden missed them completely). Luke is fast becoming a favourite character of mine; he’s not the best fighter but he’s kind and his desire to restore the arts to the ruined world is admirable. These sorts of people don’t exist anymore, especially this far into the apocalypse (remember Dale? Or kindly old Reg the architect?) and that worries me. What worries me more is the fact that the two of them are surrounded by whisperers at the end, including head honcho Alpha. Alden and Luke may as be wearing red shirts because I don’t think they’re long for this world.
Though perhaps the episode’s strongest segment was the Negan portion. The mid-season finale saw Father Gabe leave Negan’s cell open and the big man decided to sneak out (unlike the comics where he instead stays in his cell). After raiding Rick’s wardrobe, Negan leaves Alexandria. He’s momentarily stopped however by the youngest of the Grimes clan, Judith, who is sadly perhaps Negan’s only real friend after they struck up a bond over Judith’s maths homework. It’s an interesting dynamic the two have and the friendly banter between the two not only shows Negan has a softer side (maybe he was once a father?) but it also goes a long way to humanising Negan for his hopefully eventual turn to the good side. A lot of fans still won’t accept this and fair enough, the man did pulverise our favourite delivery boy, but hopefully this will start converting a few more people to Team Negan. A nice little detail I spotted was after drinking the creek water and throwing up, Negan was shown on his knees in the same exact spot he brained Glenn and Abe. An interesting parallel to show how far he’s come as a character while also being a neat detail for long time viewers. The end of the episode saw Negan most likely returning to his cell out of his own choice. Hopefully he won’t stay there too long though as a world without Negan in it is a whole lot less interesting.
Next week look to be another interesting episode too, with flashbacks to the very early days of the apocalypse. This is pretty new ground for the show as we’ve only seen the outbreak briefly (unless you also watched FTWD). Even more interesting however is that we’re following new villain Alpha, played by the always awesome Samantha Morton, before we’ve even been properly introduced to her in the present. Is showing us where she’s come from simply a trick to gain sympathy with the new villain? Possibly, but I’m intrigued nonetheless, and the show trying new things can only be good. The Walking Dead is truly back now, let’s see if the winning streak can continue.