Taking a Bite Out of Season 9 of ‘The Walking Dead’…

Well, well, well- look where we are again!

Good Morning, everyone! I had originally planned this post for Thursday- thinking I’d need a couple of days to process the finale to the most recent season of “The Walking Dead”, but considering how much I loved Sunday night’s episode and this season overall- I sat down to start writing and the words just flowed and flowed! Before I knew it, I had a full recap ready to go.

I’ve always been vocal about my grievances with past seasons of what is undoubtedly one of my favorite, “never miss an episode” shows since the TWD’s writing seemed to get lazier as the years wore on. Stories became repetitive, sluggish, and drawn out. The moments that were surprising and meant to catch people off guard felt like cheap ploys for ratings and “shock value” reactions on social media. More and more characters were brought in and then nothing of interest or value was ever done with them until they sort of faded into the background and out of people’s collective memory.

A lot of this downfall I blamed on Scott M. Gimple- the showrunner through seasons 4-8 (which were hands down the weakest)– and I didn’t have the highest hopes for season nine since he was still at the helm and rumors were flying very early on that many of the series’ main cast were in the process of parting ways due to personal reasons, salary disputes, etc.

… But then Angela Kang took over, and although she was essentially left with a years’ worth of messes to sort through and clean up- she rose to the challenge, took what could have been a total disaster- and gave us a string of some of the greatest episodes of ‘The Walking Dead’ since seasons 2 and 3. For the first time in a long time- it felt like someone actually cared about the show, the characters, and the fans who had been watching this entire time.

And yes, while a huge chunk of the main cast jumped ship by the time Season 9 premiered last October- Kang had been careful and creative- and had made it work where the show still functioned just as strongly, maybe even better- without key players to the series’ core.

I’m going to go more in depth after the cut- but this is the part where I warn people that AHEAD BE SPOILERS. If you haven’t caught up, are still binge-watching, or otherwise don’t want to know what happens- DO NOT PROCEED.

Otherwise, let a moment where Negan was actually sweet and heroic WELCOME YOU IN…

Time jumps between seasons are pretty much mandatory in “The Walking Dead” world. Child actors grow like weeds, everyone’s changing physically, sets are being overtaken by the elements (especially in the hot as Hell Southern states…) so returning to a season where a significant amount of time has passed between then and the events of the previous season’s finale isn’t really surprising.

In Season 9, however- we were gifted with two significant time jumps. The first, a year and a half move forward since Rick Grimes had slashed Negan’s throat- only to save him at the last possible minute and subsequently inspire Maggie, Jesus and Daryl to stage a mutiny in retaliation after they had presumably thought Negan would be killed and actually left to die/turn as payback for his past injustices and brutality against them.

After this time jump, most of the communities are thriving- and those that aren’t (namely, The Sanctuary) are receiving aid from Alexandria and Hilltop- which doesn’t exactly thrill everyone who are still reluctant to warm up to Negan’s former men. The tension between the Saviors and, well, everyone else- is palpable- especially since there seems to be a few who are still loyal to Negan and continually cause trouble and chaos amid every plan or plot Rick Grimes & Co. come up with in an attempt to better the communities’ situations and circumstances.

This tension isn’t just between the Saviors and everyone else- but between Daryl and Rick, as well as Rick and Maggie. They want Negan dead and the Saviors who won’t comply dead right along with him- and not locked away in a cell in Alexandria where he gets three meals a day and an occasional lecture from Rick.

Things reach a breaking point after the Saviors discover some of them are being purposefully picked off by a rogue assassin (spoiler: it’s the girls from Oceanside getting revenge for the death of their men)– and they stop assisting with building a bridge across a rising river that will connect the communities and aid with prompter/safer travel and trading. Tempers flare and violence erupts- and a herd that isn’t being monitored begins making it’s way towards the respective camps.

In Andrew Lincoln’s final episode- Rick, who is gravely wounded and has flashbacks of long since dead characters like Shane, Hershel and Sasha (SO MANY GREAT CAMEOS) as he fades in and out of consciousness- leads the herd to the remnants of the unfinished bridge and blows it to bits while he’s still on it and while his friends watch helplessly from nearby. It’s assumed he’s dead- but in actuality Jadis/Anne- who was on the path to redemption but still has some secrets- locates him and enlists the aid of strangers she communicates with via walkie talkie to pick her and a still breathing Rick up in their helicopter and carries them off to an unknown destination.

Following this mid-season finale, it was announced that Andrew Lincoln would appear in a series of “The Walking Dead” movies to explain where Rick ended up and what he was doing- especially since the next time jump following his “death” is a SIX YEAR ONE.

Now, even farther into TWD future- and not *all* of the communities are thriving- let alone communicating regularly anymore. The Kingdom is struggling, and a married Ezekiel and Carol are holding onto hope for a trade fair in order to generate supplies and re-establish connections. Maggie has up and left with Baby Hershel to assist with the rebuilding of other communities in need- and Michonne has all but cut off newcomers from staying in Alexandria.

We later learn her reasoning for banning outsiders in a pretty amazing episode where it’s revealed an old, pre-apocalypse friend arrived at Alexandria feigning injury/exhaustion- only to kidnap the children (including a still itty bitty Judith) and brand/beat a very pregnant-with-Rick’s-son-Michonne and Daryl after they’d come looking for her and the kids.

Speaking of Judith- she’s AWESOME. Now 8/9, maybe 10- she’s just as badass as Carl, just as empathetic as Rick, and just as sassy and smart as Michonne. She’s also developed a pretty funny friendship with Negan- who helps her with her homework from his cell and tells her stories about her family. And, as sarcastic as he is- she dishes it right back and the same mutual respect Negan had with Carl is pretty evident with him and Judith, too.

After Negan briefly escapes and returns to see the remnants of the former and fallen Sanctuary- he willingly returns to Alexandria with Judith without a fight or even a protest to be locked back up in his cell- seeming to know he’s better off there than anywhere else.

Of course, there’s always a threat looming- and as Michonne begins to warm up to newcomers at the behest of Judith (and to give her and Rick’s son, R.J., a chance to interact with their extended family/friends)– including the more than capable Yumiko, Magna, Luke, and sisters Kelly and Connie (deaf/hard of hearing characters who speak in sign language and are actually portrayed by deaf/hard of hearing actresses! YES REPRESENTATION!)- the communities are discovered and preyed upon by my newest favorite villains- The Whisperers.

Wearing the skins of walkers to blend in among herds and in turn- steer them wherever they want to go and towards whomever they want to attack- The Whisperers are led by Alpha (cast brilliantly by Samantha Morton)– an unhinged and ruthless killer. The Whisperers strike first, killing Jesus in the mid-season finale- only to have Daryl and Co. snatch up Alpha’s abused teenage daughter, Lydia- to get more information out of her.

The group eventually warm up to Lydia- who is traumatized after years of beatings and having to wear dead people’s skin over her own. Daryl in particular- who has his own abused background- takes on the role of her protector. Carol and Ezekiel’s adopted teenage son, Henry- also develops a crush on her and a little romance begins to blossom between the two until Alpha comes back to the communities to retrieve her kid and kill as many more people as she can.

The final episodes of the season bubbled over with Lydia refusing to return to her mom after getting a taste of happiness and a potential normal childhood. Heartbroken and humiliated, Alpha and The Whisperers (who are now controlling a massive herd not far from the communities)– snatches, kills, and marks a border with the heads of some of the show’s MVPs- including Enid, Tara, and sadly- Henry- to send a message that their claimed land is not to be crossed into again.

The border *is* crossed in the finale however- when survivors from the depleted Kingdom are being shuffled to Hilltop for an indefinite relocation during a blizzard and need a quick route to avoid freezing to death. It’s tense, since no one can tell who is a walker and who is a Whisperer in low visibility- but the group make it.

Carol, reeling from Henry’s death and seeing a bit of her former self in a heartbroken Lydia- ends her relationship with Ezekiel to return to Alexandria with her and Daryl- and Negan, being shuffled with others in Alexandria to one safe location to another- risks his neck to save Judith who had taken off in the blizzard, and Daryl’s dog- who the little girl had been chasing after to try and rescue.

It’s the first genuinely heartwarming and potentially redeeming move Negan has had since we were introduced to him years ago- and even Michonne thanks him upon her return after learning what he’s done to protect her adopted daughter. Is he rehabilitated? Can he be left to his own devices? We’ll find out, I’m sure…

And although Season 9 closed with a post-blizzard snowball fight- something fun and lighthearted for a MUCH NEEDED CHANGE- it’s implied that Alpha and The Whisperers are potentially planning another strike- and that there is a group of other survivors out there trying to make contact with anyone that will listen/locate them.

Overall, Season 9 of “The Walking Dead” was one of my favorites since Season 2- perfectly paced with incredible character development, losses that didn’t feel empty or cheap and were genuinely gut-wrenching- and the perfect balance of some humor/lightness to not make everyone horribly, horribly depressed week after week. The power of a woman storyteller who actually cares about the job- am I right?!

Season 10- if Angela Kang remains at the helm- will deliver more of the same, I’m sure- and I’m really excited to see what she has planned for the remaining survivors and if she’ll be able to coerce some of the current MIA cast/crew to return now that she’s essentially saved the show from a horrible, cancellation-level death.

Also, just a couple of things:

1. GREGORY GOT HIS: After years of being the insufferable, cowardly, unlikable leader of Hilltop- Gregory was voted out by his own community as leader and replaced by Maggie- a change he doesn’t take well. After a failed assassination plot against her- Maggie finally does what we all wanted her to do from day 1 and has Gregory hanged in front of everyone at Hilltop. It’s brutal and oh-so-satisfying. MAGGIE – COME BACK!

2. A love triangle that doesn’t end in murder?: ‘The Walking Dead’ have a knack for repeating the whole love triangle/jilted lovers angle- but this season saw something entirely new and refreshing- people acting like adults about a complicated relationship. Rosita, who is now dating Father Gabriel- is pregnant by Saddiq (prior to her getting involved with Gabriel, by the way.) This could potentially spell disaster and mayhem- but Eugene- who is also in love with Rosita- sets the men straight. Her and the baby and whatever she chooses is what’s important- and at the end of the season- everyone is getting along and being respectful.

If only that level of understanding existed during the whole Lori/Rick/Shane thing.

3. Seriously- thank you for the representation: I had mentioned earlier that TWD now has two deaf/hard of hearing characters that are played by actual deaf/hard of hearing actresses- and that is a huge deal. Not only because it’s representation we’ve never had on the show before- but because the characters are in no way weakened or “held back” by their disability. They’re both strong, badass, capable women who can hold their own and defend themselves without needing to be rescued all the time- and that is AMAZING.

I think that does it for me, everyone. If you’ve got some speculations/predictions for Season 10- or just want to relive your favorite moments from this past season- definitely drop me a line or hit me up!

I’m off to work on non-zombie related stuff now. Enjoy your day, everyone!

xx

– Ashley –

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