[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “The Walking Dead” Season 9 Episode 3, “Warning Signs.”]
Last week, we saw that Maggie was capable of handling the burdens of leadership; while she may have had a knee-jerk reaction in jailing Earl and denying Sanctuary food, she ultimately did the right thing in freeing Earl and sharing Hilltop’s stores. But her deeply-held anger for the Saviors in general and Negan in particular have not gone away, as the chilling climax of “Warning Signs” makes clear.
The mystery of the missing Saviors is definitively answered this episode, as it’s revealed that Cyndie and the other Oceansiders are the culprits. Their targets haven’t been random — they’ve been disappearing the survivors of Simon’s crew, the ones who executed the men of Oceanside. It’s nice that the revelation isn’t drawn out (most TV shows these days could use more brevity in their storytelling), but it does require the Oceansiders to make dumb mistakes like killing Justin with a distinctive weapon (a fishing spear gun) and then leaving him to turn so that everyone realizes the disappearances are murders, not desertions.
When Arat, another Savior, goes missing, Daryl and Maggie are able to use their combined knowledge of the Oceansiders to find them before they’ve gone through with the murder. Cyndie tearfully explains that Arat is the one who killed her 11-year-old brother, and she’s the last of Simon’s old crew, so this will be the end of the disappearances. Maggie is skeptical, but Cyndie reveals that Maggie’s execution of Gregory is what inspired the Oceansiders to pursue their own justice. Maggie and Daryl turn away to let the Oceansiders finish what the started, and as the sun rises, Maggie tells Daryl that she’s inspired now, too. It’s time for them to see Negan.
This is all exceptionally grim stuff, especially involving two beloved leads, but it’s all grounded in solid character building. Negan was exhausting because his sadism was so one-note. Maggie and Daryl’s decision here is understandable, and all the more devastating for it. As Maggie notes to Daryl, she truly wishes she could believe in Rick’s vision, because that’s a world she wants to raise her child in, but she ultimately can’t let go of the pain and rage caused by Glenn’s murder. The grim-dark stuff is so much easier to take when it’s driven by believable characters.
Threat level midnight. The Saviors were already on edge but the discovery of Justin’s body nearly causes a full-blown riot to erupt. The only thing that prevents it is Rick charging in on a horse (sadly not a white one), so we’re once again reminded about how much the fragile peace between the communities relies on the imminently-departing Rick Grimes.
It’s a tad weird that the Saviors seem less interested in finding out who is committing the murders than being armed, but once you’ve been in a fascist cult of personality for several years, you tend to lose perspective. Still, their complaints are valid (someone really is out to get them!) as is Rick’s reasoning for keeping them unarmed. There are some jerks among the Saviors, but no outright psychopaths like the guy who used to torment the Kingdom delivery team, so while our loyalties are with Rick, the other side has a point.
During all this darkness, we also get a very impassioned argument from Rick about why his way is the best path to take. In discussions with both Daryl and Carol, he lays out how he sees the world now. He and the others have lost so much over the years that he’s decided to dedicate himself to building life instead of taking it. As he succinctly puts it, “It’s us or the dead. And every life counts now.” What’s interesting is how Daryl and Carol each take his speech. Daryl throws in with Maggie because he still can’t forgive the Saviors for his capture and torture. Carol, meanwhile, is more amenable to Rick’s words. When some deserting Saviors get the drop on Rick and Carol, she manages to subdue her attacker without killing him. When he wonders why she didn’t, it’s Rick’s words she spits: “Because every life counts now.” She has her own conflicting feelings about it, but she’s on Team Rick.
Gabriel tails Anne, thinking she’s hiding something about the missing Saviors, but accidentally stumbles on her communicating with the mysterious helicopter people. She tells Gabriel that she used to trade people for supplies, which explains why all those art school weirdos could survive in that dump for so long. Anne asks Gabriel to come with her, since he was the only one who stood up for her when the accusations about the Saviors started flying. Gabriel refuses, finally showing some backbone, but Anne knocks him out, saying, “All this time, I thought you were a B.” So much for Anne integrating into Rick’s new society. Looks like there’s a new Big Bad on the horizon, which does not engender confidence going forward. It’s way too soon to once again go to the “Here’s another group of humans, but they’re pure evil” well, but we’ll try to reserve judgment for now.