The Walking Dead has seen a return to form in season nine, and “Guardians” is no different. The well-rounded episode moves us quickly between Alexandria, Daryl and Connie’s hunt for Henry, and—at last—the Whisperer camp, preparing us for the inevitable drama ahead. Warning: spoilers follow!
We return to Alexandria for the first time since the mid-season finale in this episode, where we discover tension has been brewing between Michonne and the council. The leaders are split—Michonne leads the ranks who believe Alexandria needs to be insular, especially now more than ever considering an enemy who dresses like the dead is roaming the land nearby, while Gabriel and Saddiq worry about the risks of shutting themselves off when their friends need help. Saddiq questions what it means for all of the communities if Alexandria rises while the Kingdom falls, only for Michonne to coldly reply that Alexandria survives.
Throughout the episode, we discover that the council has devolved and Michonne has inserted herself into a forceful leadership position, making decisions without consulting the council based on her own fears. We also witness her gradual realisation that she has done this as she listens to the gripes of her council, Judith, and even Negan. Confronting him about his escape and return, Negan reveals that he can hear their council meetings and could help her run Alexandria efficiently before pointing out the irony of the women who wrote a charter to give power to all the people is now the one who holds all the power. So desperate to cling onto the world Rick built, she’s turned into the worst version of him—a Ricktatorship with a new leader. Her concern for keeping people safe is grounded on her own fears of loss, and it’s disheartening to see a character who once focused on bringing everyone together set her sights inward and look to divide simply because something bad might happen.
Eventually, Michonne decides she will allow the council to re-vote on whether or not they should attend the Kingdom’s trade fair. She acknowledges it could be a mistake, but it’s a mistake people should be able to choose to make—one she hopes they don’t regret making. Oh dear…
2. Love Quadrangle
Breaking up Michonne’s leadership crisis in Alexandra, we learn that Rosita has told Gabriel about the baby. She wants to be with Gabriel and raise the child with him. Staying with Rosita to raise the baby even though he isn’t the father is clearly a tough choice for Gabriel—and an opening for Eugene to insert himself into the already complicated love triangle. In a light-hearted scene, a neatly groomed Eugene (thank goodness the mullet is gone!) presents Gabriel with a lengthy pros and cons list of having a child with Rosita, urging him to stay with her.
With a few exceptions, romances have always felt a little bit out of place in The Walking Dead, perhaps because they tend to feel shoehorned in for added drama. While I’m still unsure about Rosita and Gabriel’s relationship, this offered a nice break between all of the heightened tension that surrounded the rest of the episode and will no doubt develop as the season continues. Whether Eugene will manage to persist his way into Rosita’s life remains to be seen.
3. Connie, Daryl, and Dog
Picking up from last week’s episode, we get a glimpse into Daryl, Connie, and Dog’s journey as they track Henry and the Whisperers. The scenes are brief but slotted nicely into the rest of the episode as they gradually caught up with their runaway. Norman Reedus is getting the chance to reconnect with his character in a great way this season, and it’s so refreshing to see him do more than sulk and skulk. The three make a great team, with the budding friendship between Daryl and Connie feeling entirely natural, and I would have gladly watched more of their tracking exploits.
It’s also worth noting that Dog provided one of the best comedic moments of the episode, using his arrow-retrieval skills to great comedy effect. What a good boy!
4. The Whisperer Camp
The Walking Dead is really excelling whenever we see Whisperers on screen. It’s evident that everybody is in their element exploring these new villains who have learned to adapt to this new world in such a twisted way. Bear McCreary’s score is particularly fitting for the Whisperers, eerie and dissonant, adding to the discomfort whenever they’re on screen. We’re given a deeper insight into the way this new group lives. Despite moving in a large herd, they are solitary, quiet, still. And wow, is their camp big!Continued below
Samantha Morton is a real highlight, embracing the role of Alpha with menacing zeal. She’s captivating. Although she speaks in whispers, she’s never meek or soft-spoken—her words always purposeful and confident. And although she’s smaller in stature, she’s not one to be messed with. Like any group in the animal kingdom, leaders can be challenged by anyone in the pack, and so, Alpha is challenged by one of her followers who believe she has failed the group. Alpha slinks around quietly only to strike with sudden and brutal violence; it’s an unsettling contrast. After speaking to her challenger, she swiftly and shockingly beheads her before stabbing her co-conspirator for being weak and shedding tears. It can’t be easy to portray such a terrifying character through eye expressions and whispers, but Morton is a stellar addition to the cast, making Alpha truly frightening with every word, step, and blink.
We’re also introduced to Beta this episode. Ryan Hurst is huge and imposing as Alpha’s second in command. Finding and capturing Henry, he’s evidently an excellent tracker (although I can’t imagine Henry was too skilled or subtle about his pursuit) and will no doubt be a fearsome foe for Daryl in the upcoming episodes. Seeing him unflinchingly skin a walker was horrifying, reinforcing the animalistic nature the Whisperers have returned to—taking what they need from life and the land, and leaving the rest to rot.
To no-one’s surprise, Henry was caught and captured by the Whisperers and taken to their camp. Despite Lydia’s efforts to lie about all she had learned and who the boy was, Alpha knows she needs to toughen her daughter up. In the dead of night, Henry and Lydia are pulled to a clearing, with Alpha instructing her daughter to kill the boy. Lydia might not have been missing for long, but she was gone long enough for Alpha to worry that she might not be on their side anymore—Lydia has to prove herself if she wants to stay.
As Lydia is faced with an impossible choice, the Whisperer camp is overrun by their own means of security—walkers tear through, falling on humans out of their walker guise. It turns out the ambush was planned by Connie and Daryl, who are there to rescue Henry. The Walking Dead has really surprised me with breaking tropes this season, and it was great to see another plan be put into action rather than our heroes blindly storming into an enemy camp. Henry, of course, won’t leave without Lydia, despite the fact he’d almost certainly be killed if he stays. Daryl grabs the boy—who grabs Lydia—and the four make a run for it, leaving the Whisperer camp in chaos.
“Guardians” is another winner of an episode for a season which continues to surprise and entertain. Character arcs and plot are well-balanced, with Angela Kang and her team doing an excellent job of juggling all the essential information while tossing in great action, comedy, and horror. The Whisperers appear to have brought a new lease of life to the show—we just need to wait and see if the show can survive what comes next.