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‘The Walking Dead’ Review: Negan Learns You Can’t Go Home Again In ‘Adaptation’

Jeffrey Dean Morgan gets the focus as "The Walking Dead" returns from hiatus.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

“The Walking Dead.”

Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “The Walking Dead” Season 9 Episode 9, “Adaptation.”]

This Week On “The Walking Dead”

Remember the beginning of this season, when the conflicts were primarily interpersonal and character-driven, and didn’t come from a bunch of psychos coming out of the woods to kill our heroes? Now the communities are at odds because Michonne became a weirdo isolationist after Rick disappeared, and maybe she did something to someone else, sometime, but we don’t know more because no one has time to talk about the six-year time gap because a bunch of psychos have come out of the woods to kill our heroes. Anyway, here’s a decent Negan episode.

Negan’s Odyssey

You’ll recall that last year Negan managed to escape his prison because Father “Bad at Doors” Gabriel left the cell door open. We pick up moments later, as Negan makes the mistake of entering Judith’s room and stealing a compass, which is enough to rouse her so she can catch him attempting to climb over Alexandria’s wall. Judith hasn’t had a lot of screen time post-time-jump, but that’s probably for the best, considering how irritatingly precocious she is. After a little back and forth, Judith opts to let Negan go, since he promises he won’t hurt anyone out there, even if they try to hurt him. This is what happens when you leave a tween in charge of security.

It’s easy to see where Negan’s story this episode is going from about the second vignette, but it’s still effective. At first he’s delighted to be outside in the fresh air, but what little food he has is quickly smushed by an impressively charbroiled zombie, and the water he finds makes him throw up. He manages to scrounge up a new leather jacket but, in the process, almost gets eaten by feral dogs. Even returning to Sanctuary offers no solace, since it’s an empty husk of Negan’s former empire.

Honestly one of “Adaptation’s” larger pleasures is just watching Negan be silent and vulnerable for a little while. He spent so much time being a braggadocious king that it’s refreshing to see him shut up and do the work of surviving. The one connection he makes on his journey is with the zombified corpse of one of his old Savior underlings, Big Richie. In the episode’s most inspired bit of business, Negan kills a small group of zombies passing by Sanctuary when it looks like Richie will wander off to join them.

Cailey Fleming as Judith - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

“The Walking Dead.”

Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

Ultimately Negan realizes he can’t make it on his own and heads back to Alexandria, but meets Judith on the road there, because God forbid we get a single other character’s reaction to Negan’s escape. After some more painfully cutesy Judith dialogue (“Language! I’m a kid, asshole.”), Negan agrees to return to his cell. It’s possible that this episode is planting the seeds for a long-term Negan rehabilitation, which could prove interesting if the show is truly willing to reckon with it (i.e., if one of Negan’s “wives” should reappear to weigh in). It’s hard to imagine the show letting an actor like Jeffrey Dean Morgan sit in a box for the rest of its run.

Man Is The True Monster

There is also incremental progress on the Zombie Cosplayer front, who haven’t been named on the show yet, but referred to as Whisperers by all the press, so we’ll go with that. Michonne’s team manages to capture one, a young girl named Lydia, whose scared babe-in-the-woods shtick is probably all an act, if literally every previous sinister group on this show is any indication.

When asked why the Cosplayers attacked them, she answers, “That’s just what people do now. Everybody who’s still alive’s a threat. It’s us or them,” which is the most “Walking Dead” answer in the universe. Daryl should have asked how they make their costumes. Is it actual rotting zombie flesh or do they have a tannery hidden out there somewhere? Meanwhile, Alden and Luke fall into a Whisperer trap because they don’t have walkie talkies for some reason.

All of this action is pretty sedate and pokey, as the show clearly doesn’t want us to learn too much about the Whisperers too quickly, but it’s not exactly a satisfying viewing experience. The genuine bright spot happens right at the end, when Daryl weaponizes Henry’s inherent doofy guilelessness to wring some genuine info from their prisoner. Henry’s been such a drip so far, it’s good to know that he can be good for something, even if he’s not aware of it. Plus it’s a genuinely cunning move from Daryl. Our hero’s outsmarting the bad guys! Imagine that!

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

“The Walking Dead.”

Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

The Remains

  • The news that Danai Gurira is exiting next season only makes the murkiness of what went down during the time jump even more frustrating. Guys, you have to squash this hazily-defined beef before Michonne leaves forever!
  • We can probably assume that Lydia’s much-discussed mom is a Whisperer higher-up, if not their outright leader.
  • Aaron decides he now agrees with Michonne’s isolationist policy because he think Jesus died because of their little get-togethers. Aaron has now joined the proud “Walking Dead” tradition of characters learning the exact opposite lessons from a loved one’s death.
  • Eugene’s continued insistence of telling Rosita he’s in love with her is 1) creepy and 2) probably a guarantee that one of them is dying this season. Dude, she has a boyfriend! And, it turns out, a baby daddy.
  • Yup, Rosita’s pregnant with Siddiq’s kid because she spent the time jump playing the field. Good for her.
  • Okay, Luke and Alden’s banter about starting a band is pretty cute. Any moments of levity on this show are like getting drops of water while you’re stuck in a desert.

Grade: B-

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