The second half of The Walking Dead’s ninth season still struggles to find its feet in “Guardians”, another relatively uneventful episode.
This recap of The Walking Dead Season 9, Episode 12, Guardians”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Since The Walking Dead returned for the back half of its ninth season, the show has struggled a little to recapture the same energy and enthusiasm it departed with. In a way this is to be expected; you can’t follow up an awesome villain introduction and a major character death without doing some groundwork first, and that’s very much the feeling I got from “Guardians”. We’re killing time. We’re moving pieces into place. And that might very well lead to something quite brilliant. But what about the meantime?
The show hasn’t reverted to the rampant badness of prior seasons. It’s still wholly competent, and still littered with small details and character developments that feel a cut above what we’ve had to endure for the last couple of years. The best one this week was that Dog returns Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) arrows for him. It’s a tiny, inconsequential wrinkle in the show’s six-years-later fabric, but it’s also the kind of texture that such a busy and overstuffed show needs – the kind that, only recently, it wouldn’t have thought to include at all.
But the sense of wheel-spinning in “Guardians” is never quite overcome, despite some gory deaths, a cool rescue, and some grim outfitting. With Lydia (Cassady McClincy) having been returned to the Whisperers and Henry (Matt Lintz) captured while tracking her, Alpha (Samantha Morton still doing her thickest Red State accent) returns them to the surprisingly bustling Whisperer base camp. It’s a bit clearer how their primitive little community works now, in a hierarchical sense, since Alpha’s leadership was challenged chimpanzee-style. Admittedly her right-hand man, Beta (Ryan Hurst), got involved, but I like the idea that despite the fact all these people devotedly follow a blatant psychopath for no adequate reason, many of them are waiting in the wings to usurp her at any opportunity.
And “Guardians” gives them another reason to do so, as Daryl and Connie (Lauren Ridloff) are able to sneak into the camp using a walker attack as a diversion and their faces as a disguise, springing Henry and Lydia both; the former refuses to leave without the latter, which is obviously in service of a teen romance subplot I’m not entirely sold on yet, but it leaves Alpha in a precarious position – she sacrificed her own people to get Lydia back, and now she has lost Lydia again. What to do?
Speaking of romances I don’t buy, every second “Guardians” devoted to the wacky love square between Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), Siddiq (Avi Nash) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) bored me to tears and continues to be thoroughly ridiculous, contrived character drama that undermines the great improvements made in other areas. And it isn’t just that most of these developments happened off-screen during the time-skip; that kind of status-quo shifting is expected and is not altogether unwelcome. But Rosita and Gabriel? Really? It’s ridiculous, and that’s without Eugene’s pathetic, lapdog involvement; watching that barely sentient mullet try and navigate human emotions is like watching a slot machine trying to ring cherries.
And it’s a shame since I actually really a like a lot of the governance politics at Alexandria, and I’m still intrigued to see what soured relationships between it, the Kingdom and Hilltop, especially with Ezekiel’s (Khary Payton) trade fair right around the corner. I’m a fan of how everyone has allowed Michonne (Danai Gurira) to violate Alexandria’s ostensibly democratic system with her veto powers, on the assumption that she has everyone’s best interests at heart, and it seems like logical enough writing that they’d be getting sick of it now, when a new threat has presented itself and cooperation is in everyone’s best interests. I also like that Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) has clearly recognised this and is using it as an opportunity to offer his “services” to Alexandria; any kind of redemption for Negan is difficult to buy at this point, but the idea he’s playing some kind of elaborate long con and will ultimately betray everyone is compelling to me. Like Michonne says, he’s not an idiot.
But that was the problem with “Guardians”: it was a part of a long-term plan, but it didn’t really offer many short-term thrills, and neither have any of the episodes since the midseason break. Even with a clearly more competent creative team, the 16-episode season order feels too ambitious; too much time to fill and not enough high-quality content to fill it with. There’s still great stuff here and there, but this back half of Season 9 has had its fair share of tedious filler. Let’s just hope that whatever what chaos is wrought by the finale is enough to make up for it.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.