NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Walking Dead” are present in this review
Last year’s midseason finale for The Walking Dead ended on quite the intense note. After a terrifying walker confrontation within a graveyard, Jesus ends up being stabbed and killed by a person wearing a walker skin, one of the undead-disguised survivors known as ‘The Whisperers’. This leaves the midseason premiere to pick up immediately after the cliffhanger conclusion of the midseason finale, with Michonne, Eugene, Magna, Daryl, Aaron and Yumiko fending off the walkers that are coming for them, not knowing which are undead, and which are living people in disguise.
Things may kick off on this exciting note, with Michonne’s group managing to escape the walkers and Whisperers, and taking Jesus’ body with them, but from here, this week’s midseason premiere for The Walking Dead actually ends up slowing down considerably, prioritizing establishing the major new threat of the Whisperers, while also exploring what Negan does with his first day of freedom from Alexandria. Judith almost shoots Negan dead when she catches him escaping prison in the early morning, but eventually relents, and allows Negan to discover whether anything else is truly out there for him. Naturally, it’s not long before Negan wanders back to the ruins of Sanctuary, in an effort to explore the nostalgia of his now-ruined Saviors operation.
The extended Negan subplot finally gave the character something else to do outside of prison, now that he’s no longer just a smiling, bravado-fueled thug. Seeing Negan explore around, try to feed and hydrate himself, procure a new leather jacket, and smack around some walkers, provides a nice hint as to who Negan was during the early days of the walker apocalypse, before he became the leader of the Saviors. Negan returning to Sanctuary to find nothing there but a few walkers, some of which were loyalists, was also both heartfelt and heartbreaking in equal measure, especially since this is the point where Negan truly realizes that Judith is right; There’s nothing for Negan outside of Alexandria anymore. Even with such a quiet scenario, Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s performance was especially awesome this week, and seeing Negan’s cute interactions with Judith often made for the highlight moments of this episode.
Outside of the business with Negan, most of this midseason premiere was spent in and around Hilltop, who are bereaved at the knowledge of their leader’s death, and quickly start turning to Tara to try and carry on leadership of the community. This seems to be the expected route that the show was inevitably going to take, but Michonne also suggests that Daryl assist in leadership duties at Hilltop, since Tara can’t do the job alone. This could suggest that the show may be shifting focus to Hilltop over Alexandria for the rest of the season, especially if rumours of Norman Reedus taking over the show’s central character role from Andrew Lincoln are to be believed. With Danai Gurira now leaving The Walking Dead next season to boot, it will also be interesting to see who ends up stepping up at Alexandria in place of Michonne. It really does seem like a lot the show’s most competent survivors and leaders are at Hilltop now. Who’s really left at Alexandria? Gabriel? I guess? Even then, I don’t know if Gabriel is leader material. Personally, I think Aaron would be a smarter vote. We’ll have to see though.
As much as there are some interesting questions surrounding the future at Hilltop, this episode did have several undercooked subplots that didn’t quite land with the expected impact, at least not at this point. Eugene professing his love to Rosita led to the extremely clunky reveal that Rosita has apparently been fooling around with Siddiq, yet did so before Gabriel, yet she’s also pregnant with Siddiq’s baby? Want to run that by me one more time? I’m not sure how sudden relationship drama is supposed to benefit Rosita’s character, and there’s been so many children and pregnancies lately that I just have to wonder if Rosita’s pregnancy simply means that she’s going to be killed off soon. The other disappointing subplot was shared between Luke and Alden, who are inexplicably sent out less than a day after Michonne and co. go missing, in an unnecessary second party, simply so they can goof about the upcoming fair, and get captured by the Whisperers at the end of the episode. I guess we needed some excuse to get Alpha and her skin-wearing friends knocking on Hilltop’s door, but was this really the best idea that the show could come up with? The party searching for Eugene is literally comprised of all of the best survivors that Hilltop and Alexandria have to offer, barring Rosita! They don’t need Luke and Alden of all people to find them!
Compounding the confusion about why the show is bothering to have Luke and Alden be captured is the fact that Daryl and Michonne happen to capture a young Whisperer on the way back, a terrified young girl named Lydia. Yes, fans of the Walking Dead comics would obviously know that this is Alpha’s daughter, which you’d think would create enough of an excuse to have the Whisperers sniffing after Hilltop. Daryl and Michonne both debate about whether or not Lydia should just be executed, since she’s not exactly helpful with giving up intel about the Whisperers to Hilltop, but Henry manages to prevent Daryl from dragging Lydia out to be hanged. Interestingly, Lydia eventually ends up in a relationship with Carl in the source comics, but since Carl is dead in the TV canon, it seems like this relationship idea is instead being transplanted onto Henry, who is more or less being treated like a surrogate Carl for Hilltop at this point. I suppose that’s a fair enough idea, and this connection between Henry and Lydia may end up coming in handy for the impending battle against the Whisperers.
The sluggish pace and mess of uneven subplots aren’t always ideal, but, “Adaptation” manages to be a competent midseason premiere for The Walking Dead, even if the strong first impression by the Whisperers in the graveyard isn’t exactly maintained here. The capture of Lydia at Hilltop seems like it has a lot more promise than Alpha and the Whisperers just randomly grabbing Luke and Alden because they were sent out as a redundant tracking party, but either way, the real star of this episode was, surprisingly enough, Negan. Seeing Negan quietly and emotionally come to terms with the fact that the foundation of the Saviors is truly dead and gone made for a strong. dramatic subplot. This could be poised to re-interpret Negan’s future at Alexandria, since I still seriously doubt that he’s going to remain in prison for the rest of the show, even if he’s currently returning voluntarily. It definitely seems apparent that Alexandria needs a bit of a character boost, which begs the question of why the show bothered to force Magna’s party over to Hilltop, when Hilltop already has a lot of the best current characters to itself (outside of a few standout personalities currently in The Kingdom), but maybe Judith and Negan can somehow rustle up a bit more excitement over there, even if it seems like not even the Whisperers can be bothered to menace Alexandria at this point.
- The story focus shifting to Hilltop is working well
- Nicely dramatic and lonely Negan subplot
- Henry's brush with trouble bringing him closer to Lydia
- Rosita's pregnancy and relationship drama feel contrived
- Luke and Alden blatantly only got sent out to be captured