There was a palpable sense of things coming to a head this week, despite Rick’s attempts to keep the peace. We didn’t have to wait long to find out what became of outcast former-Savior, Justin, as “Warning Signs” opened with his body being fed upon by the undead before he too reanimated and joined the hungry, shuffling horde. But his greeting of his assailants last week made it clear he wasn’t caught off-guard by walkers, and sure enough, when he was dispatched for a second time it became obvious that he’d been deliberately killed by someone very much living.
Let’s spare a thought for poor Judith, who was having some fun family time with her dad and Michonne, blissfully unaware of trouble brewing beyond the Alexandria gates and the fact that she’s likely going to be an orphan pretty soon, until Rick was called to deal with the investigation of Justin’s death. The finger of suspicion pointed first at Daryl, who said – quite reasonably – that he would have killed gobby Justin in broad daylight in front of witnesses, and then at Anne, who took the accusation quite badly. Her skulking off to radio some mysterious benefactors who, it transpired, had given the Heapsters supplies in return for people, meant the end of her burgeoning relationship with Gabe, who followed her and discovered her nefarious secret. Poor old Father Gabriel was unceremoniously dumped by way of a rock to the face when he refused to runaway with Anne to wherever it is that the elusive helicopter comes from.
But the main focus of this episode was the breakdown of the fragile truce between the Saviors, who felt unsafe and like second rate citizens of Rick’s new society, and those who were finding it hard to forgive and forget. A divide opened up between Rick, Michonne, and Carol, who decided that every life was now precious, and Maggie and Daryl, who were finding it impossible to get past all the bloodshed. While Daryl toed the line when it came to cracking skulls, and Maggie made good on her promise to deliver food to The Sanctuary, despite provocation from next-in-a-long-line-of-Savior-assholes, Jed, the revelation that Cyndie and her friends were behind the disappearances of Justin and the other Saviors proved to be a turning point.
It’s hard to believe that this Rick is the same Rick who literally stabbed Saviors in the back after giving his word he wouldn’t hurt them last season, and vowed to wipe them out, but it’s kind of understandable that his actions this year are driven by grief and a desire to honour Carl’s last wishes. His placement of the fruit on his son’s grave underscored this nicely. Michonne working on a charter and them spending an idyllic day with Judith only served to heighten the sense of impending doom, but for a brief moment, it seemed that maybe Rick’s original band of survivors would pull together and make his dream a reality. Both Laura and Alden did their bit to curtail rebellion from their former Savior pals, and while Maggie was initially horrified that Cyndie cited the decision to hang Gregory as her inspiration for picking off those responsible for the slaughter of the Oceanside men, everything changed when she explained that Arat had taken out Cyndie’s eleven-year-old brother in front of his traumatised family. Arat’s pleas that she was just following orders and had changed fell on deaf ears, and Maggie and Daryl’s decision to turn a blind eye and take out Negan will undoubtedly have catastrophic repercussions.
So this episode had a little of everything – some intrigue, a whodunnit, a bit of gross zombie action, and nuanced conflict. While it’s hardly treading new ground with its moral dilemmas and age-old questions about who gets to judge the transgressions of others, this season feels much closer to the good old days. There is some way to go in terms of fleshing out some of the characters, and the ensemble still feels too big, but I’m more invested this year than I have been for a long time.
Final Grade: C+
+ The wonderful use of a classic Bauhaus track was a real return to the days when this show used music to devastating effect!
+ I really approve of the way this season keeps dropping in callbacks to earlier seasons. It is important to be reminded that Rick left Daryl’s brother to die, for example, because it illustrates how fluid relationships are in this brutal world.
+ The set piece with the zombies in the shack was nice and creepy, but the characters and relationships were front and centre again this week, which makes for much more compelling TV.
– While I appreciated the fact that the reveal of the Oceansiders as the murderers wasn’t too drawn out, it seemed strange that they would use a weapon as easily identifiable as a fishing spear to kill someone they then left to turn into a zombie, thus making no attempts to cover their tracks!
– Anne/Jadis was back to talking in Junkyard riddles.
– This episode did highlight how pivotal Maggie and Rick are to this show, and how much I fear it will suffer for their departure.
Extra Thought: Do ‘A’ and ‘B’ stand for alpha and beta? And what happens to them once they’ve been handed over to the mysterious people with the chopper?
What did you think? Are you excited for the new era of the show, or is it on its final warning? Sound off in the comments, or over on Twitter!