This week’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Guardians,” is what we might charitably call uneventful. Saddled in the back half of the season with six episodes of material and eight episodes to fill, The Walking Dead slipped into neutral this week as it continues to move pieces into place. There’s a major event coming soon with the Fair, but The Walking Dead operates in eight-episode increments and Angela Kang obviously wants to hold it until the season finale and push the all-out Whisperers war into next season. She’s had to invent a storyline to fill one episode (“Scars,” the 14th episode of the season, is expected to cover the X-scars on Daryl and Michonne in flashbacks), but that continues to leave considerable filler.
The A-plot this week feels very typical of the way The Walking Dead often draws out a story. Three episodes ago, Daryl and Michonne captured and imprisoned Lydia. Two episodes ago, Daryl and Henry got to know Lydia and began to care about her. In last week’s episode, they had to give Lydia up to Alpha, while in this week’s episode, Daryl, Henry, and Connie retrieve Lydia, moving the story back to where it was two episodes ago, with Lydia living inside The Hilltop. Two steps forward, one step back. Or as the old U2 song goes, “Running to Stand Still.”
It’s not that the excursion was a complete waste. Alpha’s actions in the episode reiterated what a terrible mother she is, highlighted by a story she tells about watching her daughter playing with plastic bags. When Lydia — as a child — began to suffocate on the bag, Alpha waited until she was near death to save her, and then beat the hell out of her for playing with the bag (most parents would limit themselves to a few stern words and a time out, but Alpha goes that extra mile!). The episode also spent the series first extended period with Alpha’s right-hand, Beta, played by Sons of Anarchy’s Ryan Hurst, whose voice here is more Clay Morrow than Opie. I found it curious that The Walking Dead would waste a familiar face with a character who exclusively operates under his mask, but I get it now. Hurst does great work with his voice here, and he’s legit terrifying and a great complement to Alpha. She’s got the creepy Mom thing down pat, while Beta is her muscle, a man who is not squeamish about casually removing a face from a zombie’s head.
The two capture Henry this week, because Henry is simply too dumb not to get captured. He goes at the gigantic Beta with a … stick. What did he think was going to happen? Did he think he was going to take down an entire army of literal skin heads with a stick? Bless his heart.
Back in The Whisperer camp, Alpha gives Lydia a knife and asks her to kill Henry, because they need to know if Lydia has feelings for the boy with the stick. Henry is spared at the last second, however, by Daryl and Connie who don their own skin masks, direct a horde of zombies to The Whisperer gathering, and retrieve both Henry and Lydia, because — again — Henry is too dumb to leave without the girl he met a couple of days ago and barely knows, and whose recapture will undoubtedly lead to more bloodshed. The whole storyline, however, is basically a reset, moving us back two episodes, the only difference being that Alpha is probably going to be a lot more pissed with The Hilltop, which means that numerous lives will be lost because Henry got a crush.
Though the storyline didn’t advance the plot, it was still far more interesting than Michonne’s supblot in Alexandria. There, she continues to put her foot down about Alexandria not participating in the trade fair. However, after spending some time with Negan — who unsuccessfully attempts to convince Michonne to allow him to help her lead Alexandria — Michonne has a change of heart, after realizing that she’s beginning to turn into a Negan-like leader. She’s not thrilled about Alexandria participating in the the trade fair, but — as she tells Aaron — she’ll allow it. “I think it’s a terrible idea, but the people can weigh the risks and choose.” Negan, however, is left remaining in his cell, but now he’s had his open window shut by an angry and resentful Michonne, who does not appreciate the mirror that Negan holds to her face.
Finally, the C-plot is extraordinarily bad. Gabriel is having second thoughts about continuing to see Rosita romantically because she’s pregnant with Siddiq’s baby. However, Eugene — who is so madly in love with Rosita that he only wants what is best for her, even if that is not him — uses a pro and con chart to convince Gabriel to continue seeing Rosita and help her raise her baby (for reasons discussed here, it’s probably a moot point). Gabriel relents, which leads to a scene on a stairwell in Alexandria seemingly designed to generate some more affection for Rosita so that the show can eventually break our hearts.
— There’s an extraordinary amount of whisper talking in this episode, be it from Alpha, Lydia, Michonne, the two people that Alpha kills, or even Gabriel.
— What has happened to Rosita? Did the pregnancy rob her of her bad-ass edge?
— I do love this new “voice of reason” iteration of Negan. Minus all the affectations, Negan’s evolved into a really great character, someone I can actually envision helping to lead this show in the absence of Rick, Michonne, and Maggie.
— Norman Reedus got a big raise before the season started, and he’s earning it, appearing in every single episode this season, while both Melissa McBride and Danai Gurira have already had two “credit only” episodes in the back half. The only character with as much screentime this season as Daryl has been … Henry. I never thought I’d miss Carl, but I miss Carl.