Rick Grimes is gone, and yet The Walking Dead limps on. Now that we’ve officially entered the post-Rick era, has anything meaningful actually changed?
In narrative time, about six years have passed since Rick’s disappearance. As we saw in the epilogue last week, Judith is now a sassy little girl carrying her father’s gun, which is comically oversized in her hands. (The kickback from that thing would knock her back about three feet in reality.) In other developments, Carol is married to Ezekiel and has grown her hair long. Michonne likes to stop by the site of the destroyed bridge to talk to Rick (unaware that he’s still alive). Daryl appears to be a loner roaming the woods and swamps. Eugene has grown out his mullet into an even goofier ponytail and is now a zombie-killing badass.
Michonne comes across an old van and rummages through its contents. She finds a cigar box filled with trinkets and mementos. Among them is a tiny figurine of a sheriff that reminds her of Rick. This makes her sad.
Judith brings the group of strangers she saved back to Alexandria. They’re in awe of the place, which is a thriving community with a working windmill and other advancements. Michonne is testy about strangers being allowed inside and inherently distrusts them – especially the tattooed girl named Magna, whose attitude instantly rubs her the wrong way. After frisking them, Michonne allows them in only provisionally and says that a council will vote on what to do with them.
The other newcomers include a deaf girl named Connie and her younger sister Kelly, who translates her sign language. Schlubby Luke (Dan Fogler) claims that he used to be a music teacher and seems mostly to be a waste of space. (Think Eugene, but without the brains to redeem him.) A fifth member named Yumiko is injured and spends most of the episode unconscious.
Gabriel has taken a leadership position in the community and asks most of the questions for the council. The newbies provide mostly satisfactory answers and Aaron moves for a vote, but Michonne interrupts and points out that Magna has a prison tattoo that she conveniently neglected to say anything about. She’s also hiding a knife in her belt. In a drop-the-mic move, Michonne struts out of the building, telling the council to go ahead and vote, knowing exactly how it will go. Ultimately, the group are allowed to stay only a few days until their friend Yumiko is able to travel.
In the episode’s biggest shock, we learn that Rosita and Gabriel are now an item. The girl has really weird taste in men.
Judith goes home and finds Michonne talking to herself in Carl’s room. Later, Judith sits on a stoop outside Negan’s cell and talks to him through the window. Negan, who seems to be in good spirits these days, tutors her on her math homework. That can’t be a good idea.
Tattooed Magna is upset about being kicked out and wants to fight, but her other friends vote her down. They don’t want to make waves. Nevertheless, Magna sneaks out at night with another blade she had hidden in a necklace. She sneaks up on Michonne’s house and spies on her through a window, but upon seeing that Michonne has a young son (Rick’s child!), Magna loses her nerve, knocks on the door, and surrenders the weapon. Michonne is impressed by her honesty.
The next morning, as the newbies prepare for their eviction, Michonne makes an announcement that she’s had a change of heart. Although they still have to leave, she will escort them to the Hilltop and make arrangements for them to stay there. (Why couldn’t they stay at Alexandria? What’s the point of sending them to Hilltop?)
As Ezekiel prepares for an upcoming fair to bring together all the communities, the Kingdom is kind-of falling apart. The plumbing system is barely held together with makeshift fixes, and teenage Henry is the closest thing they have to a plumber. Henry really wants to go to the Hilltop to train with someone, but Ezekiel is hesitant to let his adopted son go until Carol (who seems very sunny and happy most of the time now) convinces him to relent. Henry is excited. Carol offers to ride with him and assures Ezekiel that they’ll be fine.
On the way to the Hilltop, Carol and Henry hear someone screaming for help. Henry dashes off in the voice’s direction, ignoring Carol’s calls to wait. Of course, it’s a trap. Carol and Henry are both ambushed and outnumbered by a large group of former Saviors led by Jed, the a-hole who got shamed by Carol at the bridge work camp. Jed informs them that he’s going to take all their stuff, but he’ll let them live so long as Carol hands over her wedding ring. Stupid Henry gets enraged by this and picks a fight that he quickly loses. Carol willingly hands over the ring.
Henry is disappointed that his mother didn’t even try to fight. However, later that night, Jed wakes up to find Carol standing over him. He and all his Savior friends have been doused with gasoline. Carol scolds Jed for being such a prick and tosses a match into the gas, burning them all alive.
The next morning, as they continue on their way to the Hilltop, Henry notices the ring back on his mother’s finger, but doesn’t ask her about it. Carol takes them on a detour to pick up Daryl.
Rosita and Eugene go on a mission to set up a new radio relay. Eugene has to climb a water tower, and while up there, notices a big herd of Walkers heading their way. He warns Rosita and begins the climb down, but falls and injures his knee. Their horses get spooked and run away when the Walkers come near. Rosita gives Eugene a shovel to use as a crutch and the two run away. Eugene’s hobbling slows them down considerably. He tells Rosita to go on without him and he’ll sacrifice himself to distract the Walkers, but she won’t leave him.
When they get far enough ahead to be a little bit out of the Walkers’ sight, Rosita directs Eugene to follow her down a hill. They cover themselves with mud to hide and wait for the Walkers to pass. As the Walkers lumber past them, Eugene and Rosita are freaked out at what sounds like the Walkers speaking to each other, hissing “Where are they?” and “Don’t let them get away.”
The reveal of the talking zombies might have been more shocking had it not been given away in the preview clip that ran after last week’s episode. Readers of the comic book already know what the Whisperers are. I have not read those issues and have tried to avoid spoilers. As I see it, they must be either intelligent zombies or they’re living people who’ve disguised themselves in zombie gore to walk around among the dead. I’m inclined to assume the latter. I don’t really have an opinion on this one way or the other right now and will reserve judgment until I see how it plays out.
Honestly, that development and Carol going dark again, both of which happen at the end, are pretty much the only parts of interest in this episode. The new characters aren’t particularly compelling (though Lauren Ridloff, who plays Connie and is actually deaf, was quite adorable on The Talking Dead), and Judith is treading awfully close to being annoyingly precocious. Most of the other plotting is just business as usual for The Walking Dead. Even as a teenager, Henry is still a dumbass.
The episode also runs a needlessly long 80 minutes with commercials, right after I praised the new show-runner for not pulling that stunt last week. Nothing in this episode justifies the added length.