‘The Walking Dead’ Review: Andrew Lincoln’s Penultimate Episode Juggles a Lot but Fails to Satisfy

"The Obliged," Season 9 Episode 4, offers plenty of cliffhangers but not much else.
Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 4 - 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 4, “The Obliged.”]

This Week on “The Walking Dead”

“The Obliged” is an odd episode. Serialized TV doesn’t really do two-parters anymore, but this installment really feels like it would benefit from a “Part 1” at the end of its title. What starts as a Michonne-centric episode spirals into all the various plots the show’s been juggling, teasing major developments in all of them but waiting until next week to pay them off. It doesn’t make for a particularly satisfying viewing experience, but it does build anticipation for Andrew Lincoln’s final episode next week.

Meanwhile, In Michonne Land…

We’ll tackle the Michonne story first since it’s most divorced from the other proceedings. The episode opens with a nifty montage of Michonne going about her day: offering care, settling disputes, and generally being a team player. Then at night she sneaks out to kill zombies with her rad katana. Eventually she’s informed that Negan has started refusing his meals, so she goes to talk to him.

What follows is some tedious “we’re not so different, you and I” stuff from Negan, as he goes on about how they’re both warriors and how they shouldn’t be confined. It turns out the entire conversation is just Negan’s attempt to see Lucille again, and Michonne relishes telling him that they just left his bat out in the world somewhere. Negan is despondent, and while any effort to portray Negan as the overcompensating loser he is is appreciated, this seemed like an awful long way to get there. “The Walking Dead” has a great talent in Danai Gurira, and hopefully the show will start giving her better material soon.

Community Tension Assessment

Off the charts. In a welcome display of intelligence, Jed realizes it was Oceanside committing the murders, so he leads a band of Saviors against a small group of Kingdom residents led by Carol. Shots are eventually fired, but we won’t know exactly what happened until next week.

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 4 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
“The Walking Dead.”Gene Page/AMC

Man Is The True Monster

The true heart of the episode is the conflict between Rick and Daryl, and how each of them see the new world Rick’s trying to build. Maggie heads off to Alexandria in a manner that screams “I’m going to assassinate Negan,” so Jesus radios Rick out of concern. Daryl offers to give Rick a lift to Alexandria but deliberately misses the turn, leading the two to come to blows. They both wind up falling in a random pit, which is an extremely labored way of allowing the two to talk out their issues.

It’s one of the better scenes of the season, because both characters have defensible positions. Rick sees keeping Negan alive as the only way forward, but Daryl believes killing him will shut the door on their bloody past for good. Daryl also admits that he believes Rick’s new pacifist outlook is just his overblown reaction to Carl’s death, explaining, “You’re chasing something for him that ain’t meant to be.” Is humanity worth saving, or are we all just fighting for ourselves? It’s a philosophical disagreement with no clear resolution, and it’s a rich storytelling vein that’s been paying dividends this season.

Sadly their discussion is cut short by the gunshots coming from the Savior/Kingdom battle and they work together to get out of the hole. Rick spots a zombie herd heading for the campsite and decides to lure it away, since he can’t bear the thought of the bridge being destroyed (it being a symbol for Rick’s new society and all). Unfortunately, he winds up running into yet another zombie herd, and his spooked horse winds up impaling him on some inconveniently-placed rebar. The episode concludes with Rick, trapped and alone, surrounded by the dead. The situation is so ridiculously dire that it can’t possibly be how Rick actually goes out, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Pollyanna McIntosh as Jadis/Anne - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 4 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
“The Walking Dead.”Gene Page/AMC

A Shred of Humanity

Anne is all set to feed Gabriel to one of her patented trolley zombies but he’s able to talk her down by saying that he failed her and that he forgives her. She knocks him out and makes a run for it, leaving him to sob over her goodbye letter. The story sadly just doesn’t land because we’ve had so little time with Anne (at least as herself), and her relationship with Gabriel only started a few episodes ago. The performers try their best, but there’s just not enough to it. Hopefully we’ll see more of Anne down the line, once the new Big Bad takes shape.

The Remains

  • A manageable amount of zombies falling into Daryl and Rick’s hole to spice up their escape a little is textbook Obligatory Zombie Action.
  • Michonne getting spooked by various baseball bats she encounters throughout the episode is a pretty silly runner. Using one to kill a zombie is one thing, but taking a meaningful pause when reading Judith a story about a baseball team? Come on.
  • If Rick doesn’t make it back, at least he said some nice things to Eugene and Carol before he went.

Grade: B-

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