[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “The Walking Dead” Season 9 Episode 14, “Scars.”]
The good news is that we finally get the long-delayed answer to why Michonne cut off Alexandria from the other communities. The bad news is everything about that answer. Does the story involve Sanctuary or the Saviors or any of the underlying tensions between the various communities that dominated the first half of Season 9? Or maybe something to with Rick’s disappearance? Nope! But it does involve a never-before-mentioned character from Michonne’s past showing up as a total psychopath who trains children to hunt adults for sport, or some such nonsense. After a relatively solid string of episodes, “Scars” is Season 9’s first big stinker, a nasty piece of work that doesn’t even have the courage of its own convictions.
When Jocelyn shows up in flashbacks with her army of children, we know it’s not going to end well, because how could it? We’ve seen the future, and these characters aren’t in it. Initially, Jocelyn seems perfectly normal, even offering some solid, friendly advice to a heavily-pregnant Michonne, who’s still reeling from Rick’s disappearance. But it’s all a sinisterly-convincing act, and Jocelyn absconds with Alexandria’s supplies and children. Now it might have been fun if Jocelyn were some sort of modern-day Fagin leading a pack of child thieves, but that’s not hardcore enough to justify Michonne’s heel turn, so in comes the contrived “only the strong survive” shtick with a hunting flair.
Michonne and Daryl (just the two of them, for reasons never made clear) track the kids to their hideout, but are overwhelmed, trussed up, and branded, a contrived bit of sadism that the episode does nothing to remotely justify, other than to reverse-engineer a trauma dire enough to explain Michonne’s attitude. Jocelyn then leaves Michonne and Daryl alone with one guard, Bond-villain style, and they easily escape. They split up so Daryl can be conveniently absent from the climax, and Michonne manages to kill Jocelyn but gets surrounded by her pint-sized acolytes. Michonne pleads with the kids but gets slashed in her pregnant belly, so Michonne has no choice but to kill them all with her samurai sword.
But as Michonne kills the children, the show cuts to the present-day Michonne cutting down walkers, to avoid actually showing the kids’ deaths to the audience. Which is strange, because this is a show that has, in the past, depicted a fan-favorite character’s eyeball hanging out of his half-collapsed skull — or if you’d like a more recent example, shown a pregnant woman get branded by a pack of feral children — but then doesn’t have the guts to depict those same children’s deaths. Now I don’t personally need to see a bunch of kids get killed with a sword, but this is a show that has positively reveled in its depiction of violence in the past, so it’s very interesting to see what lines it’s unwilling to cross. This particular case seems very much like the show trying to have its cake and eat it, too.
Michonne seemed to have a change of heart a few weeks ago, after getting yelled at by literally everyone in “Guardians,” but for some reason we have to go through the whole rigamarole again now that the tragic backstory is revealed. Michonne lets Daryl in to Alexandria even though he’s got Lydia with him, which she certainly wouldn’t have done a month ago, but Judith is still a brat about it because Michonne’s still not doing enough in her eyes.
Michonne spends the present-day portions of “Scars” struggling with whether to explain to Judith that she no longer trusts her closest friends because a random school chum kidnapped Judith once. But that’s all rendered moot when Judith reveals she remembers the whole thing, because of course she does. She was what, four or five? The sight of your mom covered in blood and standing on a pile of child corpses is one that’s going to stick with you.
But Judith understands what Michonne did; what she doesn’t get is why Michonne has to be such a jerk to everyone else because of it. If she’s so focused on protecting those she loves, why she would abandon her loved ones at the Hilltop and the Kingdom? It’s a rock-solid argument, and it’s wild that Judith hasn’t made it before now, beyond wanting to keep the audience in the dark about Jocelyn. So Michonne is dunked on by her child once again and vows to change her ways, now with more honesty. Progress?
Michonne and Daryl have scars from when they were branded, a trauma they endured. Henry says his leg wound will leave a nasty scar, but Lydia likes it because he got it defending her. Judith wonders if her injury will leave a scar, but Michonne says that it probably won’t, but even if it does, that’s okay. In conclusion, scars are a land of contrasts.