The Walking Dead is in a precarious position at the moment, having lost a number of popular characters this season and introduced several more who look to be a huge part of the future of this show. The series, however, needs to strike the right balance between maintaining focus on the popular characters we know and love like Daryl, Carol, and Michonne, and giving enough screentime to others to give viewers an opportunity to know and love them, too. The Walking Dead, for instance, has had a potential fan favorite in Jerry in their back pocket for a couple of seasons now and hadn’t really given him a big opportunity to capitalize on that until this week.
Likewise, the series has to be careful about slowly introducing Magna, Yumiko, Luke, Connie, and Kelly, because I expect at least a couple of them will be major characters on the series over the next few seasons. It’s important to get them screentime, but not at the expense of the established characters, and Angela Kang has been smart — especially in this episode with Connie — about pairing them with well-known characters, so that we can get to know them without forcing them to carry their own subplots.
In any respect, this episode does what the best episodes of The Walking Dead do: Mix a triumphant storyline with fantastic zombie kills with a more bittersweet storyline that furthers the season-long arc. In the case of the latter, we spend more time with Alpha this week, and we begin to understand what a terrifying threat she poses.
She negotiates the return of Lydia without breaking a sweat. She asks nicely, and when that doesn’t work, Alpha brings in her army. When Daryl refuses to be intimidated by the swelling number of Whisperers, she brings out her leverage — Luke and Alden wearing skin masks. That would’ve been enough by itself to get Daryl and Company to acquiesce to her demands, but she applies even more pressure by leaving a baby in a field as potential zombie food, as if to say, “Death means nothing to us, so your threats of violence are empty.” I can already sense that, unlike with The Saviors, battling back and forth until someone screams Uncle won’t be enough. The Alliance is going to have to wipe The Whisperers completely off the map in order to win. At no point will Alpha be redeemed.
After a successfully terrifying sequence between Connie — who is deaf — and a herd of walkers lurching among the corn stalks that echoed a similar sequence in A Quiet Place, Alpha gets her way. Enid convinces Henry to give up Lydia, who seems willing to return to her mother to save the lives of Luke and Alden. However, Lydia doesn’t escape without a brutal slap from Alpha — not for getting captured or spilling secrets, but for referring to her by “mom” instead of Alpha. Alpha is clearly not someone with whom to toy.
Meanwhile, The Kingdom continues its preparations for The Fair, and in doing so, goes on a side mission to wrest free a projector lightbulb from a movie theater full of zombies. Credit to the writers and Khary Payton’s Ezekiel for convincing the audience that risking several lives for a projector light bulb is worth it. “We’re giving the gift of joy and lifelong friendship. If that’s not worth fighting for, I don’t know what the hell is.” In fact, Ezekiel is so convincing that even Carol eventually spearheads a plan to wipe out 40 zombies in close quarters for the sake of one lightbulb. Had someone been killed along the way, there would have been a lot of second guessing, but after a spectacular zombie-killing sequence set to a funky beat, Carol and Co. go home victorious. Movie night in The Kingdom is back on.
It’s a great subplot. It stresses the importance of the Fair, it features a number of spectacular zombie kills, it allows the audience to see more of Ezekiel and Carol’s adorable romantic relationship, and it gives Jerry a much-needed featured role. Side note: If the rumors of Ezekiel’s exit are true (and I have my doubts), I’m going to be crushed, not necessarily because of Ezekiel’s absence, but for what it means to Carol, who is happy again for the first time in years. The alternative, however, may be the death of Jerry, which may have been why the writers decided to flesh out his character (and give him a family) this week, thus making his eventual death more heartbreaking.
That triumph in The Kingdom, however, is leavened by the events at The Hilltop. Yes, the Blacksmith and his wife get a baby out of the deal; Magna’s group is happily reunited over drinks; and Alden and Enid are happily reunited in the sack, but giving Lydia up to Alpha is not a decision that Henry can live with. He decides to leave The Hilltop in an effort to rescue Lydia from Alpha. Daryl and Connie ultimately decide to follow him, setting up another potential showdown between The Hilltop and Alpha. I suspect a lot of blood will be shed over Lydia, and a lot of lives will be lost. Last week’s episode notwithstanding, the show, unfortunately, hasn’t yet given us a particularly compelling reason to suggest that she’s worth it.
— The very first shot of the episode was of a wristwatch. The time: 9:11. Those numbers have never foreshadowed anything good.
— It was fun to see Jesus again in the flashback, although it’s not exactly the flashback we were hoping for. However, it does reveal why the Fair is so important: Ezekiel wants all of the communities to sign the charter at the Fair and agree to align with one another and share supplies. The Hilltop, Oceanside, and The Kingdom are all willing, but Michonne and Alexandria are still clearly holdouts.
— Speaking of the flashback we were hoping for, rumor is that answers about the X-scar will be revealed in episode 14, “Scars.” In the meantime, Henry alluded to Daryl’s X-scar in this episode, suggesting to Daryl that he knows better than anyone why they shouldn’t have sent Lydia back to Alpha. Based on that conversation, a theory may be beginning to emerge about those X-scars.
— All the action in The Hilltop has been great, but I’d really like to know what’s going on back in Alexandria with the return of both Michonne and Negan. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Negan.