There were a lot of dark scenarios viewers might have imagined to be behind the X-scars on the backsides of Daryl and Michonne on The Walking Dead, but child soldiers and Tara from True Blood probably never entered anyone’s mind. This week’s episode of the series finally revealed the answer to the season-long mystery about those scars, and it was disturbing as hell, although it adequately explained why Michonne has spent the last several years distancing herself and Alexandria from the other communities and the people they love.
The episode intercuts between two different timelines, both of which share similar storyline trajectories. In the past storyline — set during the time jump — a heavily pregnant Michonne is greeted in Alexandria by an old pre-outbreak friend, Jocelyn (Rutina Wesley of True Blood). Michonne is obviously thrilled to see her and immediately invites her into Alexandria for medical treatment. Soon thereafter, Daryl and Michonne help Jocelyn retrieve a number of children in Jocelyn’s care.
Things go well initially. Jocelyn and Michonne catch up on old times, and Jocelyn’s kids are welcomed into Alexandria. Jocelyn even convinces Michonne to continue looking for Rick and offers to take care of Judith in the meantime. When Michonne returns from a Rick-searching expedition, however, she finds that Judith is missing along with all the other Alexandrian children, as well as the contents of the food pantry. Panicking, Michonne recruits Daryl to help her go in search of Judith. When they find her, Daryl and Michonne discover that the children under Jocelyn’s care are evil child soldiers, instructed by Jocelyn to do whatever it takes to survive. “Only the strong survive,” the kids are taught, and in furtherance of that lesson, one of the children brands both Daryl and Michonne with the X-scars. Jocelyn teaches the children basically to attack and kill anyone with the X-scars.
Eventually, both Daryl and Michonne escape, only to be confronted by a number of children with weapons, standing in between Michonne and her daughter. As each child comes at her, Michonne is left with no other choice other than to kill them. Judith is rescued, but Michonne leaves a pile of dead children behind her.
Meanwhile, in the present timeline, Michonne is confronted with another outsider, Lydia, who joins Henry, Daryl, and Connie in asking for entrance into Alexandria, once again for medical care (for Henry). While Henry is otherwise occupied, Michonne not-so-subtly suggests to Lydia that she should distance herself from Henry in order to save his life. After Henry is patched up, Daryl takes Lydia and Henry and leaves, much to the dismay of Judith.
Judith disappears again, but this time, she’s not abducted. She goes off on her own volition in an effort to help Daryl. Panicked again, Michonne goes to Negan for advice, and he tells her that, like her mother, Judith “isn’t the type to take sh*t sitting down.” Michonne realizes she must have gone after Daryl, but when she goes to find her, Michonne discovers Judith surrounded by a small herd of walkers. Michonne successfully dispatches them and saves Judith’s life. In fact, director Millicent Shelton — working off a script from Corey Reed and Vivian Tse — smartly intercuts footage of Michonne slashing off the heads of zombies with her massacre of the children, so that viewers only witness the zombie slayings (The Walking Dead is not afraid to kill off children, but it has sense enough to keep that violence offscreen).
“Why the hell are we here now?” Michonne asks Judith, after saving her from the zombie herd in the present timeline. “Our friends need our help,” Judith tells her. “Loving someone means doing whatever it takes to keep someone safe right? But when did we stop loving Daryl and Maggie and Carol and The King?” Judith’s words have the desired effect on Michonne, who decides that it’s not OK to go on living like she has. “That’s not what Carl or your Dad gave their lives to create,” Michonne tells Judith. “We have to protect the people we love. All the people we love.”
The episode thus ends with Michonne and Judith, in a horse-pulled car, picking up Daryl and Company to take them to The Kingdom for the fair. Alas, however, two Whisperers spot them entering. “We must tell Alpha,” one says to the other, setting up what is sure to be a bloody final two episodes of the season.
— As expected, viewers were treated to flashbacks to the time during the time jump, where we see Michonne pregnant with Rick’s child and still grieving over his death. Sadly, the flashbacks don’t give us any more glimpses into Aaron’s time with Jesus, or with what was going on with Maggie over on The Hilltop. At least we do know that Maggie will be back.
— It’ll be interesting to see how fans react to the deaths of numerous children in the episode (and we will have fan reactions to that later). The violence was offscreen, but it was still disturbing. Then again, Carol shot Lizzie in the back of the head, which — while disturbing — didn’t incur much backlash.
— We see in the opening montage Michonne devoting much of her time searching for Rick’s body with no luck (although, she did manage to find his gun buried in the dirt, which she gave to Judith). Daryl, likewise, says that he followed the river to the ocean and back in search of Rick. “Ain’t gonna stop looking. Not ever,” Daryl says.
— We got to see Scott, the MVP of The Walking Dead, for the first time since the time jump. I wonder if something happened to Scott in the time jump, in between Jocelyn and the present day, because he’s not been around, just as the series seems to be highlighting a few red shirts ahead of what’s expected to be a sizable purge of them during the fair.
— Can we just take a second to marvel at how Michonne and Rick’s baby survived a pregnancy in which Michonne was branded, beaten with a large board, and slashed in the belly with a knife?