Ever since the seven-or-so-year time jump earlier this season, viewers of the venerable zombie series have wondered what the hell happened between Rick’s departure and the present that led to the breakdown between the various communities and turned Michonne from someone trying to honor Carl’s vision of hope into a hardass willing to let anyone suffer as long as her own people are safe. Now we have the answer, and oh man. Oh man.
Last week I worried whether the makers of The Walking Dead were aware that what they were putting on screen was, in fact, kind of hilarious (it was in regards to the zombie apocalypse’s premiere country-western band The Highwaymen). I have that exact same question after tonight’s episode, because as dark as the answer to the mystery was, it was also ridiculous in that way that only The Walking Dead can pull off…or even dares to try to pull off.
“Scars” is mostly a flashback episode, juxtaposed with the present, with varying degrees of finesse. Daryl, Connie, and Lydia bring the wounded Henry to Alexandria for medical attention and then it’s more of the same we’ve been seeing. Michonne is not at all happy anyone’s come to Hilltop, and she’s even less enthused to be bringing Lydia in specifically. She lets everyone know she’s okay with being completely distrustful and refusing to show kindness to others. In fact, she already regrets letting those few people decide to attend the Kingdom’s fair (sorry, fledgling republic of Alexandria). Shortly, Daryl leaves with his gang to go to the Kingdom and let Carol know what’s up.
We’ll return to the present momentarily, but for now let’s journey into the past, not long after Rick’s disappearance. It’s certainly less than nine months since Rick went AWOL, exactly, and we know this because Michonne is hella pregnant and still looking for her child’s father, just like Daryl has been. She does find Rick’s gun on the banks of the river, so at least we know how it returned to the Grimes family after the bridge went kablooey.
Then, a new survivor is brought into Alexandria. Why, it’s Jocelyn! And it turns out that Jocelyn is Michonne’s BFF from Jr. High School! What a reunion! As delighted as Michonne is to see an old friend, Jocelyn quickly implores the Alexandrians to help rescue her fellow survivors, which turn out to be all kids. Hmm.
There seem to be at least a few weeks of harmony, in which Michonne confides to her pal about her search for Rick, and people smiling at an Alexandria so full of laughing children and hope. And then it goes to shit, of course. Michonne comes to see Jocelyn only to discover her and all her wards gone. All the food stores and medical supplies are gone, too. Someone has been killed. And several Alexandrian kids are also missing, including Judith.
Daryl and the extremely pregnant Michonne search for the Kidz Club themselves, more out of narrative convenience than smart decision-making, and track them down to a school, of course. Michonne spots the kid named Lucas first, who instantly draws his knife when he spots Michonne. Honestly, kid or not, this is a perfectly natural reaction to someone coming up behind you in the world of The Walking Dead, but there’s still something off about it. Then Daryl arrives and other kids shoot him with an arrow and brain Michonne and they both wake tied up and dangling.
And that’s when the branding begins.
Daryl (Norman Reedus) is late for class. Extremely late for class.
So it turns out that Jocelyn is the Lord of her own Lord of the Flies gang of kids and has been teaching them to be cold, merciless killers in an attempt to instil the necessary survival skills in them from their youngest, most malleable age. To mix literary metaphors, she’s like Fagin, except she directs her charges to steal and murder and brand people, because the first thing Jocelyn does is tell Lucas and another young kid, Winnie, to take a red-hot, X-shaped brand and place it on Michonne and Daryl’s flesh, which they do with aplomb. (Thus solving the “Hey, why do Michonne and Daryl have giant X-scars on them now” mystery.)
Jocelyn, of course, is ostensibly doing what she feels is necessary to help these kids survive, but she really just seems like another lunatic, given that branding people is totally an extra-curricular activity in the zombie apocalypse. It also doesn’t help that she’s taught her kids to chant “Mark to kill, kill our mark” like Jim Henson’s The Greyjoy Babies or some shit. After Michonne escapes, is forced to kill Jocelyn, and begins hunting for Judith, these kids are infinitely more interested in trying to kill the angry adult with the katana than ensuring their survival. How do we know this?
Because they keep attacking Michonne until she is forced to kill all of them.
The oldest kid tells little Winnie to go murder Judith and the other Alexandrian kids, basically just to be jerks, and the adorable tyke pulls her knife and heads toward the camper they’re locked in. Then the rest of the kids attack Michonne, meaning Michonne is both trying to save her daughter and her own life in this moment. She very clearly does not want to have to kill these children, but they leave her no choice.
Still, seeing Michonne in the middle of a pile of dead kids, with one kindergartener looking on with a knife in her hand while trying to decide whether to murder her fellow kids or run, is cuckoo bonkers banana pants, and it is deeply absurd that is the level the show has reached in order to pull out more genuinely traumatising moments for these characters after all the nightmares they’ve been through. I don’t know if I’m in a really good headspace or a horrible one, but I grinned my way through this lunacy. In a sense, it’s perfect Walking Dead – a woman totally committed to teaching children to survive in this harsh world who has somehow completely forgotten that survival does not mean “kill other people even at cost to your own life.” And thus Jocelyn joins that great pantheon of TWD characters who had always been looking for a chance to go completely insane and just happened to luck out when the zombie apocalypse hit.
Anyway, this betrayal (and, again, being forced to murder a schoolbus worth of children) is what led Michonne to shut down contact with the other colonies and barricading her people in Alexandria, telling everyone outside its wall to go screw themselves. I don’t think this tracks nearly as well as the show wants it to – I mean, so Michonne couldn’t trust her friend from 20 or so years ago, it’s not like that should mean she should stop trusting Carol or Maggie after years together or the other colonies that had not made her murder children – but I can live with it. I also don’t think it tracks with what comes later in the episode, either, but I can live with that, too.
Back in the present, after hearing her mom tell Daryl and gang good luck getting to the Kingdom, effectively abandoning them, Judith sneaks out after dinner to go help them. Michonne, of course, panics. After interrogating Negan for clues (where he lays down a few truths, but more about that below), she rushes out after her, eventually finding her in the middle of a tiny horde of zombies, and doing just fine. Michonne of course still helps, and there’s the standard zombie jump scare, but it’s all fine.
Put Judith (Cailey Fleming) in charge of the zombie apocalypse, please and thank you.
When Michonne demands to know what she thinks she was doing, Judith invokes the spirits of…well, I was about to say Rick and Carl, but given how much time they spent murdering people or wanting to murder people, let’s just say she involves the spirits of Rick and Carl on their good days. Judith, who is still phenomenally played by Cailey Fleming as a 10-year-old going on 40, rocks Michonne’s world. Michonne thought that Judith didn’t remember her field trip with the Kidz Club and its horrific aftermath, so that’s why Judith didn’t understand all of the draconic “everyone else can fend for themselves” measures her mom put in place. Michonne didn’t want to explain why she did these things because she didn’t want to remind her daughter of that traumatic event.
But it turns out Judith knows exactly what happened that day, and has always remembered. So when she snuck off to go help the Kingdom, she was doing it with both adorable, doe-like eyes open, knowing what could happen – and chose to do it anyway because it’s the right thing to do. Michonne counters by telling her how the most important thing is to protect the ones you love, and everything she’s done or not done has been to keep the people she cares about, Judith and her half-brother R.J. safe., Judith replies, utterly unfazed: “When did we stop caring about Carol. Maggie, and the King?”
Michonne’s got no answer for that. So by the end of the episode, she and Judith – in a horse-drawn, uh, truck, I guess – catch up with Daryl and the others and offer them a lift to the Kingdom. Have the rifts between these communities begun to heal? Has Maggie turned over a new leaf? Has Judith saved the day? Will the fair bring everyone together, as Ezekiel has longed for?
Nah, because two Whisperers watch the truck roll into the Kingdom, so now they know where the Kingdom is and that Lydia is staying there, and Alpha and Beta are absolutely coming to it as murderous, uninvited guests. But all hope is not lost! Because unlike Henry, unlike Carl for most of his life, and unlike many of the adults on this series, at the tender age of 10 Judith Grimes has turned out to be the youngest person in the zombie apocalypse who has zero naivety to how awful or how dangerous people can be but still wants to give them the benefit of the doubt and help them. Children really are the future.
Unless you’ve had to kill them all, of course.
Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) crams for the big test.
- It feels weird to love Negan already after how agonizing the Savior War was, but this zen asshole thing he has going on in his cell is pretty great. As Michonne interrogates him, we learn not only has Negan been telling Judith tales about her dad and Carl (including Carl’s brave, hilariously dumb solo mission to kill him) but answering all her questions honestly, which means yes, she knows what Negan did to Glenn, Abraham, and the others. That’s pretty hardcore, and Negan indicates he really had no choice because Judith can sniff out bullshit from a mile away.
- That’s nice, but it’s also genuinely a little moving when Negan explains that Judith left because she very much is Michonne’s daughter – someone who won’t take shit she thinks is wrong lying down. It’s both a helpful clue as to what Judith is up to and an actual compliment.
- When Danai Gurira (and thus Michonne) leaves, I don’t know how the show doesn’t put the reformed Negan in charge of Alexandria. That’s some solid drama right there, and you don’t keep Jeffrey Dean Morgan lounging around on the sidelines after you’ve lost your shows’ three biggest leads. Well, you don’t if you’re not an idiot.
- Connie does not apologise to Michonne for bringing Lydia to Alexandria in order to get Henry medical attention, although she does tell her she wishes she had better shoes. Connie’s pretty great.
- That shot of Daryl and Judith on the dock with their knees tucked underneath their chins is just super-adorable. It’s even better that Judith also gives Daryl shit for being utterly unconcerned with the welfare of others. “What would my dad do?” she asks. “Thought so.”
- You think the adults really “broke” and abandoned Jocelyn and their kids, or did Joc have the kids murder them? Given it’s The Walking Dead, I think we can safely guess she had the kids brand and then murder them.
- The transition from the present to the past, cutting from the barred manhole cover to the unbarred one, was excellent. It wasn’t particularly subtle, but it was about as subtle as TWD gets.
- One of the Kidz Club has a small katana, thus answering the mystery of why and how Judith got her own mini-katana. I don’t think it explains why both swords like they’re part of the exact same set, but whatever. Also, grown-up Michonne and her samurai sword facing a kid with a small samurai sword really hit home how utterly outmatched those kids were, making their attacks even more pitiful and deaths more needless.
- Present-day Aaron calls the Whisperers “skin jobs,” which is a very good term but one that seemed really dirty to me when he said it. It took me a while to remember it came from Blade Runner.
- So…a truck, with the cab ripped off, drawn by horses. Thoughts?