‘The Walking Dead’ Review: ‘Guardians’ Hits The Brakes on the Season

Michonne has a change of heart, but everything else is overly familiar.
Danai Gurira as Michonne - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
"The Walking Dead."
Gene Page/AMC

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “The Walking Dead” Season 9 Episode 12, “Guardians.”]

This Week On “The Walking Dead”

After two relatively strong episodes, “Guardians” settles directly into the typical “Walking Dead” mid-season slowdown period, where the plot moves ever-so-slightly forward and some characters are given attempts at development. We spend a considerable amount of time with the Whisperers while learning virtually nothing new about them, but on the bright side Michonne finally realizes what a jerk she’s been and finally lightens up, probably just in time for something truly terrible to happen before the season finale to completely vindicate her previous stance.

Man Is The True Monster

We spend a good chunk of “Guardians” following the Whisperers as they lurch their way back to camp. Since the new group has mostly been defined by the mother-daughter relationship between Alpha and Lydia, the group could stand some more specifics about what sets them apart from previous “Walking Dead” villains beyond their affinity for cosplay, but if this hour is any indication their primary tenant is just by-the-numbers “only the strong survive” rhetoric.

Alpha gets challenged by some Whisperers who take umbrage with Alpha’s retrieval of Lydia – a direct violation of Alpha’s own rules to leave the weak behind. Alpha duly decapitates the woman and then stabs her boyfriend for crying about it, and it’s all stuff you’ve seen in a hundred movies to prove a villain’s bonafides. It’s also unfortunate that the Whisperers’ modus operandi reduces all their verbal sparring to hisses and murmurs that are more giggle-inducing than creepy. It’s still too early to declare the Whisperers a bust, but there’s not enough so far to inspire optimism.

Cassady McClincy as Lydia, Samantha Morton as Alpha - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
“The Walking Dead.”Gene Page/AMC

A Shred of Humanity

Henry tracks the Whisperers but is immediately noticed and captured, because he’s Henry. Alpha’s prepared to make Lydia kill Henry to prove her loyalty, but fortunately, Daryl and Connie are able to pull off a last-minute rescue with an assist from a convenient herd of walkers. They wind up bringing Lydia along as they escape in the chaos, which is a nice gesture, but pretty up there on the “war provocation” scale. There’s no way something awful isn’t going to happen at the fair, right?

Speaking of which, Michonne spends the entire episode getting dressed down by everybody, starting with Gabriel and Siddiq, who correctly point out that the council has no real power since Michonne just vetoes anything she disagrees with. Michonne stomps off only to get owned by flipping Negan of all people, who offers to lend his dictatorship expertise in order to keep the Alexandrians under Michonne’s thumb. If that wasn’t enough of a red flag, Michonne finally gets a talking to from Judith, who argues that Negan has changed. When Michonne says that people don’t change, Judith retorts with a chilly, “You did.”

"The Walking Dead."
“The Walking Dead.”Gene Page/AMC

After getting absolutely roasted, Michonne decides that if the council wants to have another vote about participating in the fair, she won’t stand in the way. Aaron thinks it could be a mistake, but Michonne finally believes that it’s the council’s right to accept the danger if they so choose. You see, Michonne is does believe in freedom deep down, unlike Alpha, who chooses everything for her people. This would all be well and good if the fair didn’t feel like the sword of Damocles. “The Walking Dead” has so conditioned us to expect the worst (especially when characters start displaying empathy), that it taints what should be a nice redemptive moment for Michonne. The most radical storytelling decision “The Walking Dead” could make is if everyone just goes to the fair and has a nice time without anyone being eviscerated.

The Remains

  • The less said about Father Gabriel’s subplot wrestling with whether or not to leave Rosita, the better. Eugene correctly points out that it’s really Rosita’s decision, and Gabriel shouldn’t be a doofus about it. In the end, he decides not to be a doofus. Good one, Gabe.
  • Lydia has no skinsuit and zombies will always notice she’s a human, so why does Alpha’s group still do the undead shuffle back to camp? If you run across real zombies you can always start acting, so why not traverse the wilderness as quickly as you can? Sure, they live their gimmick, but Alpha already broke the rules getting Lydia back; seems silly to risk her during the trip home.
  • Lydia doesn’t divulge the Kingdom’s existence to Alpha and really doesn’t want to kill Henry, so at least her conversion is genuine. Take the nice things when you can!
  • Placing Alexandria’s one prisoner right where he could eavesdrop on all their community meetings seems like a flaw in city planning.
  • Continuing last week’s trend of ominous lines: “I hope we don’t regret this.” Stop saying stuff like that!

Grade: C+

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