“Scars” takes a risky approach in a shockingly depressing episode that explains what happened to Michonne during the time-jump, and represents a real turning point for the show and its characters going forward.
This recap of The Walking Dead Season 9, Episode 14, “Scars”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
One of the lingering questions of The Walking Dead‘s ninth season has been exactly what happened during the several years that the show idly skipped over. We know Judith Grimes grew up into Cailey Fleming. We know that Alexandria, Hilltop and the Kingdom have all developed into relatively thriving communities, but we also know that their alliance is now fractured, that they live virtually independently of one another, that Daryl (Norman Reedus) lives out in the woods with his dog, Dog, and that Michonne (Danai Gurira) has adopted an aggressive isolationist stance and has basically been running Alexandria like a low-key dictatorship. In “Scars”, we finally find out why.
Most of the titular wounds are emotional, but some are literal X-shaped brands, shared by Michonne and Daryl, who are both united by their long top-billed tenures and by their grief over Rick’s disappearance, as we learn in The Walking Dead‘s favorite storytelling device: flashbacks. Daryl went out looking and basically never came back. Michonne tried to do the same but was kept in place by her guardianship of Judith and her pregnancy. Is there resentment there, for Rick’s children, even the one she carried and birthed? Or is it anxiety, having been a mother before and, in her mind, failed at the task?
These are complex and interesting emotional questions, and part of why this ninth season works is that it bothers to ask them. There’s a present-day plot in “Scars”, but it’s really just an extension of the anxieties and traumas that belong to the past. Judith keeps skipping the compound and stressing everyone out. It certainly doesn’t help that her closest confidante is Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who has become a kind of snarky Zen master. But he’s right about Judith’s problem; she’s fed up that Alexandria isn’t what Carl and Rick envisioned it to be, and it isn’t a happy-clappy everyone-welcome utopia because of what happened in the intervening period. Hence, more flashbacks!
Back in the days of open borders, Alexandria welcomed one of Michonne’s old college pals, Jocelyn (Rutina Wesley), and a coterie of children who had all survived at the expense of the adults, who apparently “broke”. Kids have unique adaptability to the apocalypse, it seems, and are better able to shrug off the loss of normality and innocence. These kids are especially suited, since it swiftly turns out that Jocelyn has been raising them as maniac killers with the sinister mantra, “mark our kill, kill our mark.”
At this point “Scars” takes an extraordinarily downbeat turn. And the fact the episode works as well as it does speaks to how much the show has improved lately because I scarcely dare to imagine how an idea like this would have been executed last season. Eventually, Michonne is forced into an impossible position by the knife-wielding children, obsessed with slashing and stabbing her pregnant stomach, and is forced to butcher them all. Cleverly, and perhaps vitally, we don’t see it; the scene is instead intercut with present-day Michonne hacking up zombies. But the implication is very clear and very tragic, and you can kind of understand why these days she’s so reluctant to open up either herself or Alexandria. Her greatest fear – that of being unable to protect the children in her care – was made literal and explicit; she was unable to protect them from herself.
This is incredibly heavy stuff. But it’s Judith, as ever, who provides a ray of hope. Michonne’s terrified of her being exposed to more of the same horror, but Judith remembers the event anyway; Michonne’s greatest secret is already out, and it hasn’t changed Judith for the worse, as she feared it would. Instead, it has fostered more determination in the kid, who resolutely believes that the creation of Rick and Carl’s utopian dream requires the kind of openness and risk-taking that Michonne is terrified of. This results in an attitudinal shift, both in Michonne and the show itself; it’s time to make progress and to make it by working together with like-minded people.
But the Whisperers are making progress too, as their spies lurk outside the Kingdom, ready to inform Alpha (Samantha Morton) of the upcoming shenanigans. The party is starting and is about to have some uninvited guests just in time for the inevitably calamitous finale.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.