[Editor’s note: Spoilers follow for “The Walking Dead” Season 9, Episode 8, “Evolution.”]
We finally learn what’s going on with the talking zombies (as expected, it’s the least interesting answer) but are still in the dark on why everyone has been mad at Michonne for years on end, although it’s a little less vague now. Plus it turns out that Henry is the new Carl, which should really rev the ol’ storytelling engines. The mid-season cliffhanger isn’t much of one, and the new conflict on the horizon seems like yet another “our side versus a pack of psychopaths” story that the show has so thoroughly covered before. It’s another dispiriting sign that the show will continue to rely on old habits.
A large chunk of the episode is given over to Daryl, Jesus, and Aaron searching for Eugene and encountering the talking zombies. While the audience has known that something’s amiss with the walkers for several episodes, it’s all news to the hunting party, who get to very slowly realize that there’s definitely something weird about this group of walkers.
So we get the herd doubling back, the herd increasing in size, the herd ignoring usual zombie bait like loud noises, and on and on. When Eugene is finally found, he theorizes that the zombies have evolved. The only way to kill them is to destroy the brain, so that means the brain is still working, right? So maybe the zombies are starting to remember things from when they were alive, like how to talk? To our heroes’ credit, they do entertain this possibility, since once the dead have risen, anything’s possible.
But no, it’s just crazy guys playing dress up. As the team escapes with Eugene, Jesus volunteers to hold off the herd and – after doing some cool kung fu to various walkers – is startled when one of them unexpectedly dodges his blow and stabs him from behind, whispering “You are where you do not belong.” The others (reinforced by Michonne, Magda, and Yumiko) easily dispatch Jesus’s killer and the other human walkers, and Daryl pulls the zombie mask off one of them like it’s an episode of “Scooby Doo.” It’s underwhelming, to say the least.
So here we go again with another group of evil humans set on causing our heroes harm. It’s so dispiriting for the show to go to this well again so soon, after such a strong start to the season. Since “The Walking Dead” takes place in the post-apocalypse, it’s pretty limited in its storytelling scope, and Season 9 seemed like it was finally going to be more about rebuilding society than facing off with yet another Big Bad. But the big time jump wiped all the good work of the beginning of the season away, and we’re left with the same old story.
As for Jesus dying, it’s hard to feel much. Jesus always felt like a character the show was about to do something with and never did (something that applies to people that have been on the show even longer – Rosita, we’re looking in your direction). The burst of character development Jesus was given the last few episodes, as he refused to take his leadership responsibilities seriously, just seemed to be an effort to drum up sympathy for him so his loss would be felt, much like when Sasha suddenly had a key arc when Sonequa Martin-Green was on her way out the door.
Meanwhile, Henry settles in at Hilltop and meets a few other teens. They get drunk in the woods and show off a trapped zombie to Henry, who kills it, prompting the other teens to ditch him. If this all feels a lot like when Carl first met the teens of Alexandria, well, it is. (Granted it was Aiden who had the pet zombie, but still.) There’s a pretty nice scene where Earl chastises Henry and Henry admits that he hadn’t been taking his transfer seriously, but otherwise it’s hard to shake the feeling that Henry is just Discount Carl.
Michonne and Carol also have a moment, as Michonne admits she doesn’t want Alexandria to participate in the Kingdom’s upcoming fair. Michonne’s argument is that the communities all have problems and they all need to deal with them on their own. Carol points out that they’ve both lost so much — children, for pete’s sake — and Michonne needs to get over Rick’s passing. You know you’re in the wrong when Carol’s telling you to lighten up. Have we considered the possibility that in the explosion, a piece of Rick’s soul from Season 5 (the “We must save Alexandria from itself” Rick) possessed Michonne? It would at least explain why Michonne has outright rejected Carl’s final wishes, instead of the one step forward, two steps back philosophy that has come to define this season.