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Sunday, October 21, 2018

[RECAP] Season 9, Episode 2 of The Walking Dead, "The Bridge"

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By Carolina Gallardo (@carolgallardo)

The second episode of Season 9 of The Walking Dead is all about bridges...literally, figuratively, in every which way.  Hence the title "The Bridge" which continues to ask the question: Can people truly come together?  Or will there always be conflict?  At least between Saviors & Non-Saviors?  Can a bridge between these once warring parties ever truly be created?  

We start off the episode with a voice over from Rick discussing how they are evolving, building and growing.  We see the fruits of his labor in terms of various members of the community going about their day to day tasks and responsibilities, romantic relationships, all illustrating a sense of normalcy in this dangerous world.  We even see young Henry kiss Carol before running off to his own errands, as she and Ezekiel look on proudly (awww).  We come to realize eventually that this Rick voice over is because this is all being explained to Negan (yes, he's still very much alive, lest you forget) by Rick, as he visits his jail cell.  Rick greatly advocates on how it is in people's nature to come together while it is obvious that Negan greatly disagrees and believes that it is in people's nature to DISAGREE and to engage in conflict.  Rick's annoyance with Negan's disapproval almost gives off the impression that he WANTS to convince Negan of his way, that he CARES what he thinks.  These jail cell conversations will likely continue in the episodes to come (especially you're at all familiar with the comics *ahem*).

In any case, we see in the episode that Michonne ventures to visit Maggie at The Hilltop, as she is trying to tame and redeem a wild horse (metaphorical, no?), in an attempt to appeal to her kinder inner self and convince her to supply the Saviors with food.  Maggie is quick to point out that she has not received the requested ethanol fuel from their camp but Michonne says that the convoy that was to bring over the supplies has gone missing.  

This point comes up again in a conversation between Alden and Rick regarding worker Saviors, therefore we can quickly infer that SOMETHING is going on that these Saviors are being picked off (particularly in light of how the episode ends).  But we'll revisit this topic at the end.

Maggie continues to stand her ground and Michonne begins to question her on what is going on with Earl, the blacksmith.  Turns out that Maggie has him locked up in one of her cells, but because this is a new experience for her, she is not at all sure how long would he be jailed for, what the terms are etc.  Maggie does not want to simply just let Earl go, considering he conspired to kill her, but it is clear Jesus has reservations on her decision.  This is particularly since Earl's wife Tammi implored Jesus to convince Maggie to let her see her husband.  She is incredibly compelling in her distraught in not only losing her son, but now losing her husband in a way, to being jailed.  This interaction certainly seemed to make an impression on Jesus who does try to bring it up to Maggie (in the most gentle way possible of course, considering she did hang a guy, let's not forget).  Maggie is doubtful but it's clear that she values Jesus' opinion and is giving it some thought.

Also, it is worth noting that apparently Georgie (the woman who gave Maggie the handbook "The Key to the Future") has been in regular contact with Maggie on the progress at the communities and has tried to convince Maggie to come and JOIN her.  But, join her...where?  Well, if you're a comic book fan, you likely have an idea where Georgie's from but only time will tell if that's accurate.

Eventually, we see that Maggie ends relents and allows Tammi to have a tender moment with Earl down in the jail cells (which ironically he helped build).  From their heartfelt conversation, Maggie and the audience learns that Earl had a drinking problem.  Maggie ends up having a one on one conversation with Earl regarding his past and ultimately, this allows her to come to the point to decide to set him free to live and work in the community as he once did...but under supervision (a sort of post apocalyptic probation, if you will).  She also decides to have food sent to the Saviors.  An incredibly grateful Michonne asks why the change of heart and Maggie says that it was primarily because her father (the late, great Hershel) also had a drinking problem but HE was redeemable and contributed to the good of so many.  She still stands by her decision to execute Gregory though because to Maggie, he had plenty of opportunities to change and he squandered them all.  Essentially, he was past any redemption.  

The question then becomes, who has the RIGHT to make that call?  On who is redeemable and who isn't?  That's still left to be determined.

On another note, we see a romantic/lustful relationship blossom between Anne/Jadis and Father Gabriel.  Anne seems to have a closer friendship with him than with anyone else and even works on a portrait sketch, based on Gabriel's recollection.  Turns out that this was a sketch of his church organist who he happened to have strong feelings for.  Finally during his night watch, while sitting on a bench, Anne finally makes a sexual move on Gabriel (damn, pretty aggressive Anne), who FULLY reciprocates after he explains that he's Episcopalian, meaning no celibacy for him (damn Gabriel with the smooth words).

What is the MOST interesting however, is what happens AFTER their little stolen moment: As Anne now stands in now as apparently the Watch (holding one of her little wire creatures, I may add), she looks up...and notices the black helicopter flying overhead, causing her eyes to widen as large as saucers.  

Clearly this helicopter is always hovering nearby in some sort of regular observation.  But who is manning it?  Georgie's group?  Someone else altogether?  I have a feeling that we'll finally get a firm answer to these questions this season.

But the focal aspect of this episode all revolves around the bridge, and the repairs needed to be completed in order to unify the areas and also be ready for when a potential roaming hoard eventually comes there way.  We see that both Saviors and Non-Saviors are working on the bridge but the tensions are very high between both sides.  Things come to a head when Justin (one of the Saviors) decides to push young Henry aside in order to gulp up more water than he should, since one cup is being rationed to each person.  Henry decides to take it upon himself to knock Justin down with his stick, something that he does not take lightly.  As he goes to attack Henry, Daryl stops him which becomes an all out brawl between the two men, only to be broken up by Rick.  In a tent scene very reminiscent of a scene out of M*A*S*H (actually, all of the tent episodes felt like scenes from M*A*S*H), Daryl very clearly expresses how he feels that The Saviors are all past redemption.  

This ends up coming up again when The Saviors go AWOL during a log endeavor that ends up being ambushed by a hoard of walkers.  Justin, the Savior that was supposed to be on call and let the workers know that they were coming, wasn't able to for reasons that he said were beyond him.  The result of this is a horrific accident where a log falls on Aaron's arm and essentially crushes it, only be saved by Daryl who rushes him to the infirmary while the rest of the camp fights off the walkers and diffuses the situation.  Aaron's arm unfortunately is beyond repair though and Enid, the new defacto nurse, has to end up making the executive decision that in order to save Aaron's arm, his arm will need to be amputated...and in a gruesome and cringe worthy scene, that is exactly what happens.  

A delirious with anger Daryl enters the tent to confront a non-remorseful Justin who's excuses fall on deaf ears.  Daryl attacks Justin with all the pent up anger in his being, only pulling back because he's forced to.  Eventually we see in the evening time, after dark, that when Justin once again mouths off at this time Rick, he pushes his luck to the point of no return and Rick banishes him back to The Sanctuary.  Justin doesn't bother to wait until morning and opts to head back right then and there...only he never makes it since he apparently sees someone he recognizes and we as the viewer then see that he appears to be knocked out by this said person.

So who this person that is apparently picking off Saviors left and right?  And who's way is right and who's way is wrong?  How can a "more perfect union" be achieved after a war?  And how do we govern moving forward?  It seems that this will continue to be a focus at least in the front half of the season.  The war's what?  That was the easy part but what comes next?  Well, that's decidedly more complicated.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

[RECAP] Season 9, Episode 1 of The Walking Dead, "A New Beginning" - SEASON PREMIERE

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By Carolina Gallardo (@carolgallardo)

By the end of the season nine premiere of The Walking Dead, Maggie Greene made a statement to the people of Hilltop and Alexandria and, in turn, new showrunner Angela Kang made her own definitive statement to the audience at large: This was going to be a very different kind of Walking Dead and it's never felt more exciting and reinvigorated.  Not only was this a fun episode to watch that called back to the good old days of the show, but it was also an episode with very little filler and a lot of substance, something we've been sourly needing for some time.

The very beginning of the episode gives us a brief synopsis of the conflict and eventual war with The Saviors, in the form of Rick recounting what occurred, almost as if he's explaining to a newcomer what happened.  We then join Alexandria, sometime in the near future (based on Maggie's baby and Judith, one can infer that perhaps 1.5 to 2 years has passed).  We see that society, more specifically Alexandria, has been rebuilt, it has been rebuilt with the resources now available, as well as with the guidance of Georgie's "Key to the Future" manuscript (remember that?).  We see that the wooden gates of Alexandria are made of spiked logs, there are solar panels being employed and there's of course, the infamous windmill.  And older Rick, Michonne and Judith seem to be living comfortably as they take in their new society with a relaxed happiness that hasn't been seen in some time.

At the same time, back at The Sanctuary, they do not seem to be fairing as well as at Alexandria.  We see that Eugene seems to have set up his post here, along with Daryl as they work to create fuel from the corn crops in the fields.  This is all in anticipation of a supply run in Washington DC proper that allows us to see various members of the different communities united at one time in order to pull off this ambitious feat.

Something to note in this episode that was a welcome change from previous seasons was that rather than segmenting story lines into episodes about SPECIFIC characters (otherwise known as "bottle" episodes), we get to see almost ALL our main characters in this ONE episode.  Obviously on a show where the cast has become much larger than the original group, this is not always simple to do, but the manner in which it was done in this episode was effective and effortless (at least in how it came off to the viewer).

In any case, we finally get to see our crew leave Alexandria and finally tackle a decaying Washington DC proper, with a decomposing Capitol Building and Washington Monument in the backdrop.  Our crew's goal is to pull some much needed supplies and tools from the Museum of Natural History in order to "Learn from the past to inform our present", a reoccurring theme in this episode.  Before entering the museum, however, we get to live vicariously through Rick and Michonne as they take out some Walker Senators, one still in suit and tie.

Not to get too political or anything, but in today's current political climate, that scene was downright therapeutic.  Am I right?

Eventually, Rick and team enter the building, separating into smaller groups, each group with its marching orders on what to find in the museum.  The main items on their list seem to be seeds, canoes, wagon and a plow.  During their exploration, we find out some curious little tidbits of information such as that Anne/Jadis (now going by Anne) was a teacher before the apocalypse; We hear Daryl have an actual conversation!  I, for one, almost forgot what his voice sounded like!  And finally, we learn that a formal election was held at The Hilltop and Maggie was officially voted as the leader, over Gregory.  It's during this time that we see Michonne gaze at a museum display related to the Civil War labeled, "A More Perfect Union".  Fitting, no? 

There's also a fun scene where Father Gabriel kills a walker by a wall mural that's supposed show the evolution of man.  Anne/Jadis jokingly comments how this is now an art exhibit for the De-Evolution of Man.  Ha.

The tension starts up when our team all work together to try and get all of the items on their list down the stone steps and over a glass trellis floor leading to the exit out of the museum.  If that weren't bad enough, the area underneath the glass floor is full of walkers in an area of the museum fittingly entitled "Manifest Destiny".  Most of these items are clearly incredibly heavy and our team has wrapped rope around each person's waist to keep them connected and to provide some additional girth and strength in pulling each piece across the floor.  As they go back and forth over the floor, we start to see cracks developing on the glass, adding to the tension of the scene.  Just when we think our crew was able to just make it, the floor shatters and King Ezekiel throws up the canoe and falls into the lower area, hanging over the horde of hungry walkers below.  Luckily, the rope pulley system is able to pull him up, over and back into safety...and into an embrace from Carol.  Well, that's one romantic relationship confirmed.

Our crew then heads out and back to Alexandria, with their new tools and supplies in tow, with Daryl paving the way and taking out any walkers that cross their path.  During this trip back, we meet some newcomers to our group (most notably the blacksmith's son, Ken) and even witness a proposal from Ezekiel to Carol (which Carol turns down, in typical Carol fashion).  Eventually, they come across Rosita who informs them that the bridge is completely out and they will need to find an alternative route of getting back.  At this point in time, it appears that they have developed a sort of system of passageways that they have labeled Route A, B, C, D, etc.  Regardless, Rick, as per usual, dictates the best course of action, something that Maggie seems to not entirely agree with but goes along with, as per usual.

In the course of this new direction, the group encounters a deep area of mud that causes the wagon to get stuck, to a point that the horses struggle to be able to pull the wagon.  Rick and crew all get out and start to work to push it over and through the mud, not realizing that a horde of walkers have started to meander toward them.  They get the wagon out of the mud just in time, however now they need to fight off the walkers that have descended upon them.  Michonne and Daryl get to work to start taking them down (Daryl now with not only a cross bow but some fun, fancy knife work as well).  Unfortunately, in the midst of all the chaos, the plow falls and breaks and young Ken is bitten by a walker and we are given the impression that his infected arm was cut off, in an attempt to save him.  Alas, it is to no avail, and he passes away, as Maggie tearfully kneels in front of him and finally stabs him in the head.

We see then that a part of group, specifically Rick, Daryl, Carol & Ezekiel enter The Sanctuary to meet with the now subjugated Saviors.  The relationship between Rick and The Saviors is still a very delicate one, as evidenced by those that are vocally appreciative of Rick's willingness to help them with food and supplies...but also by graffiti on the wall stating "Saviors Save Us; We are Still Negan".  At the sight of these words, Daryl immediately orders that the words are painted over and stares disapprovingly as Rick essentially makes nice with The Saviors.  The two longtime friends then have a private moment where Daryl confidentially tells Rick that he is not comfortable being at The Sanctuary at all and feels that he is more useful outside in the woods (Ah Daryl, ever the feral cat).  As much as Rick has high hopes that they can forge "a more perfect union" with The Saviors, Daryl has his doubts, pointing out that this location is a factory and nothing HAS been able to grow there, which is why Negan had people GIVE him things.  After some talking (if you can imagine, Daryl actually having a conversation!), Daryl states that he'll be joining Maggie and the baby at The Hilltop instead (a bit of a slap in the face to Rick).  Afterward, we see that Carol overhead this conversation and she will end up taking up Daryl's post at The Sanctuary, giving her some space from Ezekiel.

Later we learn that Ken was a member of Hilltop, shedding light on why Maggie specifically took his death so much to heart.  As elected leader, this young life was lost on her watch and she takes it upon herself to sit with Ken's parents and explain to them what exactly happened.  As any parents would react after losing their child, they are angry and heartbroken at what they see as the fruitless death of their young son.  A remorseful Maggie offers to hold a funeral service for their son which they tearfully accept, but not without the bitter resentment of what has befallen them.  In a statement that likely speaks for many at The Hilltop, Ken's mother Tammy states "My son is dead, your son has no father and the Saviors eat our food".  Yikes.

A funeral is eventually held in honor of Ken, with Gregory giving what appears to be heartfelt eulogy.  Jesus himself even comments on what he feels is his authenticity.  We end up seeing that it was all a farce and that Gregory was just positioning himself in a sympathetic position to appeal to Ken's parents.  He then proceeds to liquor up his parents and convince specifically Ken's father that his son's death was all the fault of Maggie and that if he was still in control, this all could have potentially been avoided...but there is still a way out of all this.

In what is arguably the most climatic part of the episode, we see Maggie, still heavily burdened with the death of Ken, taking baby Hershel for an evening walk in his stroller.  Gregory runs into her and comments to her that while burying Ken, they noticed that perhaps accidentally, Glenn's grave was defaced.  This of course strikes a chord with Maggie, who proceeds to walk to the grave, stroller in hand.  It's at this point that we see a dark cloaked figure come out of the darkness and tip over the stroller, sending a screaming, wailing baby to the floor, and begin to viciously attack Maggie.  The combination of the baby helpless on the floor screaming and the fighting between Maggie and this assailant raises the level of horror, fear and tension to another level (maybe because I'm a mom?).  Maggie fights back with every inch of her life and at the sound of all the ruckus, Enid comes running only to be thrown to the side and to the floor.  Finally Jesus arrives with Alden in tow and they are able to hold down the figure who is revealed to be Ken's father.

After tending to Hershel, Maggie immediately goes to Gregory's quarters, fully aware that he was the one that orchestrated this assault.  At first he tries to discount her words because of her obvious head injury but as she angrily presses on, he ends up admitting to what he did and what's more, attempts to stab her himself, only to be overpowered by her and having the knife now turned on him.

In the cold light of day, Rick, Michonne and Daryl visit The Hilltop, primarily for Rick to discuss with Maggie the idea of using resources to rebuild the bridge and also borrowing food and supplies to tide over the Saviors for the time being until they can grow viable crops.  They are shocked to see Maggie's black and blue face, but her recent assault seems to be the last thing she wants to discuss.  With that in mind, Rick begins to discuss with her his plans and the things that he needs from her but Maggie has very clear terms: Labor is fine, Food is fine...but supplies will only be granted if the Saviors give up all their fuel and provide most of the labor needed for the bridge.  Rick implores Maggie to be more generous with them but she is firm in her stance that they lost the war and these are the repercussions.  Damn.  She also makes a point that she cannot solve their problems when she has her own problems here that she needs to figure out.  No handouts here from Maggie Rhee, clearly.

She then states what we have been seeing repeatedly in the trailer which is that Rick chose not to listen to her back when they defeated the Saviors but that all changes now.  Maggie then states that it's getting dark and it's time to put the kids to bed.  And we end up seeing for good reason.

It is now nightfall, and we see there is a large ominous gathering outside at the Hilltop (with Rick, Michonne and Daryl present), all with sullen faces and torches.  Maggie makes it clear that she doesn't want to have to do this but at the Hilltop "the punishment fits the crime".  She then turns and asks someone if they have any last words.  We then see that she is referring to Gregory, who has been positioned on a horse, with a noose around his neck, ready to be executed.  Gregory screams that they shouldn't do this and that she's only doing this at night because she's ashamed.  Maggie, unflinchingly, denies being scared and orders Daryl to proceed in pushing the horse, which he does to Michonne's horror because two children happened to run out just at this moment.  But it is far too late.  Gregory is promptly hung, as Maggie states for this to be a lesson to all and orders him to be cut down.  Damn Maggie.

Overall, this episode largely focused on what happens AFTER a war: How do we GOVERN?  How do we UNITE once divided factions into a contributing, functional society?  We have someone like Rick that takes on a benevolent, almost Socialist approach, ensuring that everyone's needs are met.  Then we have someone like Maggie who has a far more Authoritarian approach and believes that she needs to look out for the needs of her people FIRST, before she can solve the problems of others (particularly others that were once the oppressors).  Nowhere is their diverging styles more apparent then in their approach to Crime & Punishment: Negan murdered Glenn, Abraham and various others and was essentially granted life in prison; Gregory attempted first degree murder on Maggie and was immediately publicly executed as an example to all.

This new way of thinking about recreating a governing society in the backdrop of a wasteland is a captivating one, particularly when bearing in mind the natural human conflicts that occur when trying to form a "more perfect union".  The Walking Dead is heading into some uncharted territory for the first time in a long time and it is fascinating and exciting to watch again.  Maggie Rhee and Angela Kang have certainly made their point loud and clear to all.