The Walking Dead’s shockingly consistent ninth season continues with “Stradivarius”, in which we learn of Daryl’s creative pet-naming habits and how violins can save the world.
This recap of The Walking Dead Season 9, Episode 7, “Stradivarius”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
It’s no longer surprising or interesting to say that The Walking Dead was good again this week – but yeah, The Walking Dead was good again this week. That’s why I (don’t) make the big bucks, folks. But “Stradivarius” was, somewhat ironically, pulling a lot of different strings, and the fact that the tune is so pleasing to the ear continues to be testament to the sheer depth of improvement that The Walking Dead has exhibited across these last seven episodes.
We’re six years in the future, we have lost the two most well-known and long-running cast members, and you can scarcely tell. The apocalypse has been neatly divided into three separate but connected communities that each has their own leaders, members and problems, but we know who everyone is, where they are, and mostly what they want. The show’s writers are deftly interweaving various plots and focusing on a number of characters each week, yet it never feels overwhelming, and what seem like minor instances or developments in one strand turn out to have repercussions in another. For the first time in forever, The Walking Dead feels like one connected dramatic ecosystem, rather than a succession of closed-off production lots where bored actors aimlessly fire blanks at extras in makeup.
A detail I rather like is that everyone is now well-versed in knife-fighting and archery rather than splurging all their available ammunition at every bedraggled passer-by. Carol (Melissa McBride) might be taking her new archery vocation a bit too seriously by dressing up as Legolas, but we get the idea. There was scene in “Stradivarius” in which Michonne (Danai Gurira), DJ (Matt Mangum) and Siddiq (Avi Nash) led the new blood back to their previous camp on the way to Hilltop. The priceless Stradivarius of the title was there, as were their weapons, which included a couple of slingshots. I suppose when the world is Goliath, everyone becomes David.
If you’re wondering why an 18th-Century violin is the episode’s namesake, it’s for symbolic reasons. A major roadblock in Michonne’s continuing character development is that Rick’s death, and her subsequent responsibilities for not just Alexandria but two children who consider her their mother, has led her to lose sight of the idealistic utopian ideals that Rick and Carl imagined for these communities. She’s icy and suspicious and defensive, and when she finds Luke (Dan Fogler) brandishing the violin, she mistakes it for a weapon and slices it in half. But as Luke explains, in a way she was right. A violin is as much a weapon as anything else, but one for change. The human passions for art, music and storytelling are the fundamental lynchpins of civilisation. Those are the simple pleasures she has lost sight of.
And that works as a metaphor for the entire season, too. Cartoonish madcap villains have given way to the rigours of small-scale building and governance, with petty quarrels over leadership, resources, crop shortages and noise complaints being more pressing concerns than the shambling dead, who at this point are no more noteworthy than wild animals. “Stradivarius” makes this idea explicit by having Daryl (Norman Reedus), who ranged so far into the woods looking for Rick’s still-missing corpse than he simply never bothered to leave, set snares and traps to keep zombies away from his camp. He makes a point of explaining that they’re not there for the animals; that dying so slowly and painfully is no way for the local bunnies to find their way into his watery stews. There’s a reason that Carol wants Daryl to mentor Henry (Matt Lintz) so much. He might be off the grid, but he’s also one of the few characters who understand the world the way it is now, and what it takes to make it different.
She also wants Henry to learn the blacksmithing trade at Hilltop, which is now presided over by Jesus (Tom Payne), with Tara (Alanna Masterson) as his busybody lieutenant. Jesus, too, sees the truth of their situation, which I suppose is predictable given his name is Jesus. Rather than settle disputes over noisy kazoo-playing he’s clandestinely meeting with Aaron (Ross Marquand) to train him and maintain a line of communication between the two communities. The implication is that the fracturing occurred mostly between Michonne and the now-absent Maggie, one assumes over blame for Rick’s “death”. But now Maggie is away with Georgie, so the opportunity is once again there to rebuild together. Daryl (and his dog, Dog) being persuaded to return from the wilderness is another step in that direction, even though the second he arrives he ranges back out again on the hunt for Eugene (Josh McDermitt), who is still missing after his encounter with the Whisperers last week.
“Stradivarius” didn’t make much mention of the series’ new big bads, but the midseason finale is next week, and I’m sure they’ll make a proper case for themselves there. And how refreshing it feels to be genuinely dreading that inevitable break; those episodes usually come with major character deaths, and for once The Walking Dead is in a position where almost every character fulfils a useful role, and the loss of any of them would feel like a big deal. Fancy that. That being said, I kind of hope it’s Henry.