Life after Rick continued this week, and we got some more tantalising hints at what caused the fracture in relations between Alexandria and Hilltop as Michonne reluctantly led the newcomers to Maggie’s old community, and Carol paid a visit to Daryl’s camp in the woods.
Much of this episode was concerned with seeding the new characters and fleshing them out. It was implied that Magna and Yumiko are a couple. We learnt that one of their group with a proclivity for loud shirts – Bernie – had been turned, and that their camp had been destroyed. Luke proved himself to be something of a saint when Michonne split his priceless, titular violin in half with her katana after mistaking it for a weapon, and his belief that music and art would yet be the savior of humanity made him extremely sympathetic.
Given the loss of two stalwarts, we need to invest in those left, and currently Michonne is problematic for a number of reasons which are not yet clear. This episode revealed that she’d fallen out with Maggie to the extent that she wasn’t even aware Maggie had left Hilltop to stay with Georgie, but not exactly why. Presumably it has something to do with Maggie’s plot to kill Negan putting Rick at risk, and I’m guessing this is also why Daryl was in self-imposed exile. It’s easy to forget that Michonne was introduced as a silent, mistrustful loner, such is the transformation she’s undergone since being with Rick and becoming a mother to his children. But while Michonne was fiercely independent and solitary, she was never actively hostile. Whatever happened in the interim since losing Rick might be enough to justify her current behaviour, but I hope it isn’t teased out for too long as she’s rapidly becoming unlikeable.
More successful was Carol’s gentle manipulation of Daryl, and the spotlighting of their friendship. Back in the early days of The Walking Dead, Daryl was interesting for his duality and moral ambiguity. He was essentially a decent man but loyal to a brother who was anything but. After Merle’s departure, Daryl became much more upright, a great friend to Rick, Beth, Maggie, Glen, and most of all, Carol. There’s a reason so many fans put emotional stock into this dynamic, and it was lovely to see the chemistry between Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride in full flow here, as Carol deployed young Henry to tempt Daryl back to some sort of civilisation. It was a stroke of genius to give Littlest Hobo Daryl a pet, although I can’t help but think the dog is automatically going to be more popular than most of the cast at this point, and also that something terrible is going to happen to the poor beast before long. The scene with Dog trapped while an encroaching mob of hungry walkers surrounded him was suitably tense, and gave Henry a chance to not suck for once. Reedus did a nice job of conveying Daryl’s self recrimination and perhaps just a touch of jealousy that Carol has settled with Ezekiel, and the scene in which Carol cut his hair was tender and sweet, a great counterpoint to the violent, sociopathic tendencies we saw come to the surface last week! These characters continue to hold our attention precisely because they are complex and contradictory, and we need that going forward.
I also really enjoyed Jesus this week. Like Daryl, he has been sidelined recently, and his return as the new apathetic leader of Hilltop was welcome. While Tara tried her best to rally him to take charge and deal with the daily issues arising at Hilltop, Jesus was happier sneaking out to practice martial arts with Aaron. The two men seem to be pivotal in keeping communication going between the two camps at the moment, and like many, I wondered whether there might be a touch of romance blossoming between them. While there was no clear indication of this, there was a definite vibe, and that’s a ship I can definitely get aboard.
Having discovered Rosita in a bad way in the woods, Jesus and Aaron set out to find Eugene, with Daryl and Dog tagging along for back-up. With Michonne and the newbies arriving at Hilltop, the whispering threat in the trees, and intrigue abound, the upcoming mid-season finale looks set to be an eventful one. We’ve been promised some honest-to-goodness horror, which I am really looking forward to. This show used to creep me out on a regular basis – even the opening title sequence was enough to inspire shudders – and I hope to be peeping through my fingers again soon!
Final Grade: C+
+ I had a good laugh to myself imagining Daryl arriving at Hilltop, only to be immediately driven back into the woods by a kid playing the kazoo. Even Luke would struggle to find the artistic value in a kazoo, surely.
+ Michonne quietly dispatching Bernie and her willingness to engage with Luke redeemed her a bit this week.
+ The torn foot VFX were brilliantly gross.
– I am never going for dinner at Daryl’s. Boiled snake anyone?
– This may be over-cynical of me, and, for the most part, The Walking Dead is okay at representation, but the Magna/Yumiko relationship seems a little geared toward the male gaze…
– If anything happens to Dog next time, I swear…
Extra Thought: I’m torn about Maggie’s story. On the one hand, I feel that such an instrumental cast member should have been afforded more fanfare. On the other hand, I am enjoying the mystery surrounding the circumstances of her departure, and I hope the writers use Lauren Cohan‘s sudden exit to their advantage when filling in the blanks.
What did you think? Was “Stradivarius” finely tuned, or did it strike a bum note? Sound off in the comments or over on Twitter.