Needless to say, November 4th’s “What Comes After” promised a bold new direction for “The Walking Dead,“ not only because it was the show’s final hour for Rick Grimes but also because its final moments jumped six years into the future. But with the series’ main character gone and a whole lot of time in the rear view, how different is the show truly going to be?
If last night’s “Who Are You Now?” was any indication, the reinvention we’ve been waiting for has arrived. And for the first time in a while, “The Walking Dead” feels new again.
There was a great little moment in the opening sequence of “Who Are You Now?” wherein Daryl came upon a zombie that was fused into a tree. At first, Daryl planned on putting the zombie out of its misery, but then something oddly beautiful happened. Screen-capped above, a bird flew onto the hideous zombie and removed a worm from its rotten flesh, bringing it back to a nest and feeding it to its young. Out of death, quite literally, comes a new source of life, and I can’t help but think that the image is one that reflects episode 9.6 as a whole.
“The Walking Dead,” even this 8-years-loyal viewer can admit, has grown incredibly stale in recent years, so much so that it has felt, well, dead. But “What Comes After,” with its sendoff for Rick and subsequent time jump, offered up the promise of new life for the series, and “Who Are You Now?” embraced that the show is no longer beholden to its familiar old ways.
The episode’s biggest water cooler moment perfectly drove home the show’s new direction. After some remaining Saviors popped back up and stole Carol’s wedding ring, she got her revenge by sneaking into their camp site under the cover of night and literally setting fire to the whole damn place, burning the whole crew alive. It was almost as if the show, along with Carol, was burning down its own past, reviving a tired story for the sole purpose of erasing it altogether. The Saviors are finally gone. And the years damn sure haven’t softened Carol.
(Can we take a moment to appreciate the evolution of Carol these past 8 years? From an abused wife to the show’s biggest badass, and now a literal Queen. All hail Queen Carol.)
Speaking of badass, Danai Gurira’s Michonne has now officially begun her tenure as the leading character on “The Walking Dead,” taking over from Rick Grimes as the new horse-riding leader and protector of Alexandria and its citizens. Michonne, in the past six years, has also become a mother, not only to Judith Grimes but also to her own child. As revealed last night, Rick and Michonne’s attempt to get pregnant was successful, and Michonne gave birth to Rick’s child in the time between “What Comes After” and “Who Are You Now?”.
Yes, there are now two Grimes children running around, and Judith sure is living up to her “little ass kicker” moniker. Carrying a mini katana on her back and wearing Rick’s sheriff’s hat, Judith is a pint-sized mix of Rick, Michonne and Carl, calling her own shots and making both daddy and brother proud. Of course, while we know that Rick is very much still alive, both Judith and Michonne are convinced he’s dead, and the episode’s most emotional moments were beautifully played by the veteran Gurira and young newcomer Cailey Fleming.
Rick’s absence played heavily into the proceedings, gone but certainly not forgotten. Early on, Michonne gifted Judith with a small figurine of a sheriff that looked a whole lot like her dad, found while on a scavenging mission, and there probably weren’t too many dry eyes watching when Judith told Michonne that she’s beginning to forget what Carl and her dad’s voices sounded like. Meanwhile, Judith has struck up an unlikely friendship with Negan, with the still imprisoned Negan now serving as something of a father figure to Rick’s daughter.
How far we’ve come, eh?
The episode’s main storyline centered on that brand new group of characters Judith saved at the very end of the previous week’s episode, including comic book character Magna, played by Nadia Hilker. A former truck stop waitress with a troubling past, Magna put her group’s chances of sanctuary in danger when she smuggled a knife into Alexandria, leading Michonne to question whether or not the group was worth taking in. Magna, meanwhile, contemplated taking out Michonne in an attempt to take over Alexandria, but she ultimately decided against the plan when she realized that Michonne was a mother. In the end, Michonne banished the group from Alexandria but offered them a potential home inside the walls of Hilltop.
Nadia Hilker’s Magna is sure to become a new favorite character going forward, and her pals Yumiko, Luke, Connie and Kelly all proved to be interesting new blood for a show that has unquestionably needed strong new characters. Connie and Kelly, in particular, have a compelling dynamic, with Kelly serving as the deaf Connie’s translator and protector.
What else has happened in the past six years of unseen storylines? Well, it’s interesting to note, Gabriel and Rosita are now a couple, which is a nothing if not unlikely pairing. Eugene isn’t too happy about the relationship, as he’s long been in love with Rosita, but she and the one-eyed Father seem quite in love. Personally speaking, I’ve never much cared for Gabriel as a character, but there’s something about the evolution he’s undergone that now makes him perfect for the show’s world. Especially within the walls of the almost Western-like town that Alexandria has become, Father Gabriel’s Lee Van Cleef hat and milky white eyeball have made him one of the most visually cool characters on the show. Again, how far we’ve come, eh?
What does a post-Rick “Walking Dead” look like? It looks like a brand new show, set in a new world and filled with both new characters as well as new paths for old ones. Life after Rick, perhaps, was precisely the story “The Walking Dead” needed to tell in order to feel fresh again. For the first time in a while, I feel like I’m watching a show I haven’t seen before. And with the arrival of those creepy ass Whisperers on the horizon, I’m thinking it’s only gonna get better.
If you had given up on the show, maybe it’s time to give it one more chance.