I’m as shocked as you are, but “Warning Signs” was another fine episode of The Walking Dead which continued to steadily develop characters and build mysteries in interesting ways.
This recap of The Walking Dead Season 9, Episode 3, “Warning Signs”, contains spoilers. To read our thoughts on the previous episode, click these words.
I think the warning signs of the title are pretty clear in this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, which is partly why it made for such an ominous hour of television. Blimey, what a novelty it feels to be writing those words. You can really never predict what the bizarre TV landscape is going to throw at you next, but if you told me last year, or even earlier this year, that The Walking Dead was suddenly going to become watchable again, I’d have said you were ridiculous. And yet here we are.
The difference, I think – beyond the obvious, like a new showrunner and notably better writing – is that rather than a ludicrous villain leering over proceedings with an eyepatch or a spiky baseball bat or whatever, the ninth season is unfolding like a good, old-fashioned mystery. Each week new details are revealed, new questions asked, and the show has the good sense to answer a couple before presenting more. For instance: Those missing Saviours? Now we know who has been killing them. It was the Oceanside women, as revenge for their friends and families.
But the real secret is how these capsule mysteries tie into the overarching character development. On the one hand, you have the Saviours, who are undeniably guilty of many atrocities. But some of them want to atone, and the rest, even if they aren’t keen on the idea, are willing to work alongside Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his people rather than brave the apocalypse on their own. But should they be allowed to? Is just keeping Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) locked up in a cell penance enough for what these people did?
Rick is willing to believe so – more or less. As he admits in “Warning Signs”, he often wakes up believing he should kill Negan, kill the Saviours, kill whatever remains of the threat so that he, Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Judith can live as a family. There was time spared this week for some lightness and levity as those three played around, took the day off, and discussed possibly expanding their ranks. (Subtlety has never been Rick’s forte, has it?)
This is the utopian ideal as imagined by Carl; but is it realistic? For Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Daryl (Norman Reedus), no. When the Oceanside ladies explain that Maggie hanging Gregory was the catalyst for their revenge, it’s a blow, at first. But when they recount why they’re doing what they’re doing, what exactly the Saviours did to them, and how happily they did it, Maggie and Daryl don’t intervene. They turn around and walk away.
The reason all this works – and it does undeniably work – is that each perspective makes some degree of sense. The Walking Dead is no longer running on sheer contrivance; there are some questionable moments here and there, but for the most part it’s presenting interesting ethical dilemmas with no easy answers. The weak spot of “Warning Signs”, perhaps predictably, was the burgeoning relationship between Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) and Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), which took a turn for the macabre when the former communicated with the helicopter she spotted last week and was told she needed to capture an “A” in exchange for a new life. I have no idea exactly what that means, but if it helps with clarity, she always considered Gabriel to be a “B”. But it seems she was wrong about that. When he stands up to her, she clubs him over the head. He’ll do, I guess.
As much as I don’t buy this relationship, whoever Jadis is communicating with presents an intriguing new threat. What’s smart about this season, at least so far, is that it’s willing to be patient with such things. There’s plenty to be concerning ourselves with in the meantime, and what’s also refreshing is how capably each episode is making use of the unwieldy cast. The central conflict is between Rick, Michonne and Carol (Melissa McBride) on one side, and Daryl and Maggie on the other. Those characters are given plenty of screen time as a result. But supporting players crop up as and when they’re needed, or not at all. There’s no sense of checking boxes or fulfilling minimum requirements. If a character isn’t necessary to progress an episode, they’re left alone to do their own thing off-screen. For the first time in maybe three whole seasons, The Walking Dead has a sense of pace, structure and mystery, and more vitally a sense that it knows what it’s doing and where it’s going. I’m as shocked as anyone.
But the surprise is a pleasant one, and I continue to be impressed with the show’s new direction and sudden competency. There were plenty of “Warning Signs” this week, but what’s surprising is that they all suggest that there is life after death for The Walking Dead.