NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Walking Dead” are present in this review
After Hilltop hands Lydia back to Alpha, and the show’s protagonists just can’t help but keep getting involved with the Whisperers, The Walking Dead spent an episode further developing where the show’s latest heroes and villains now stand. “Guardians” is slow-paced and devoid of action, though Alpha and the Whisperers continue to steal the show, as Lydia attempts to re-integrate with them, while Henry, Daryl and Connie follow in hot pursuit. The heroes, sadly, don’t manage to narratively keep up in this case, with their own story arcs not really measuring up to those of the Whisperers, but they still manage a few decent moments, even if their story arcs seem intentionally sluggish and drawn-out for now.
The big problem with the two major story arcs at Alexandria (Hilltop and The Kingdom are completely absent in this episode), is that they both end up feeling like a waste of time, despite setting up initially interesting stakes. After Rosita learns that she’s pregnant for example, she has to decide how to carry on with both Siddiq and Gabriel alike, while Eugene must also try and cope with having feelings for a pregnant woman that is nonetheless with another man. This may have been promising in a prior season, but the show has dealt with so many pregnancies and so much baby drama lately that Rosita’s new baby just isn’t that interesting or novel by this stage. Making matters worse is that The Walking Dead really doesn’t thrive as a soap opera, despite the fact that it’s weirdly trying to be one with this random love square of sorts currently being shared between Rosita, Gabriel, Eugene and Siddiq. I get that Rosita is an attractive woman, but holy shit! Even for her, this is a lot of attention from Alexandria’s men!
Similarly, Michonne is saddled with simultaneously trying to deal with the Alexandrian Council growing weary of her constant veto power, while also trying to address Negan sneaking out, and coming back to prison. Alexandria has become a bit of a weak link on the show after the post-Rick time jump, and that frustratingly came into painful focus in this episode. Michonne is left to do nothing in this case but be difficult, and have characters complain about her being difficult, before Michonne ultimately relents after a pep talk, in this case from Judith. The thing is, there’s an interesting idea brought up here, namely when Negan proposes working with the council to help make Alexandria better, which Michonne quickly rejects, despite at least bending on allowing a re-vote regarding the fast-approaching trade fair with The Kingdom. Disappointingly though, the episode just seems to drop the Negan idea almost as quickly as it’s brought up, and that sucks, because it’s a lot more intriguing than Michonne being resistant to bring Alexandrian representatives to The Kingdom’s fair.
Fortunately, all of the material with the Whisperers excelled in this episode, particularly since it continues to nicely develop Alpha as a lead antagonist, while also finally introducing us to the show’s version of Alpha’s right-hand enforcer from the source comics, Beta. Beta is a hulking, imposing brute of a man who quickly captures Henry, after he inevitably gets himself caught by trying to go after Lydia alone, something so incredibly stupid (albeit true to character) that Lydia is definitely right to smack the hell out of him for it! Strangely, Alpha doesn’t immediately order Henry to be killed however, instead forcing Henry along with the Whisperers, so that they have another bargaining chip when the people of Hilltop inevitably come looking for him. Beta also suggests that Henry could be a useful way of determining whether Lydia is still fully loyal to the Whisperers, and obviously, you can see where that’s going.
The real reason to force Henry along with the Whisperers from a narrative standpoint however is to provide a convenient look at the Whisperers’ current camp, along with more of their brutal, animal-like living rituals. Henry more or less serves as the eyes of the audience here, as an inspired story device that gives us an easy means to see what happens when you challenge Alpha. Apparently, two of the Whisperers, Sean and Helen, are dissatisfied with Alpha’s decision to not exact vengeance on Hilltop, with Sean challenging Alpha’s leadership role as a result. After a very nicely imposing speech, Alpha responds by brutally decapitating Helen with wire, and handing her severed head to Sean before stabbing him to death! Alpha just keeps becoming more twisted and terrifying as a villain, and this is perhaps her most memorably horrifying display of brutality yet!
The brutality doesn’t end there either, with Alpha telling a story to Beta about when Lydia was three, and nearly suffocated in dry cleaning plastic, with Alpha refusing to help, and later beating Lydia after she managed to save herself. This twisted relationship between Alpha and her daughter remains fascinatingly uncomfortable and vile, and it continues to present a nicely challenging character arc for Lydia. After it’s implied that Lydia may be developing feelings for Henry as well, Alpha and Beta drag Henry out, and force Lydia to pick up a knife and kill him, or else Beta will kill them both! This obviously doesn’t come to pass however, since Daryl and Connie lead a herd of walkers into the Whisperers’ camp, grabbing Henry during the chaos, before Henry also successfully convinces Lydia to run off with him. The episode then ends with Daryl, Connie and Henry taking off with Alpha’s daughter, leaving their own walker disguises behind, something that I’m sure Alpha is not going to take lying down!
It’s a good thing that Alpha, Beta and the Whisperers are shaping up to be such fantastic villains for The Walking Dead, because it seems like the protagonists’ current character arcs are a lot less consistent, especially in the case of this episode. The show flirting with the idea of Negan taking on a more useful role at Alexandria is good, as is Michonne finally discovering that Judith has been secretly interacting with Negan (imagine how she’d react if she knew that Judith allowed Negan to leave Alexandria in the first place!), but Rosita’s baby drama is still aggressively uninteresting, and Michonne’s squabbles with the council similarly feel like a waste of time. Still, the show putting action on the back burner to continue exploring the disturbing psychology and rituals of the Whisperers feels like the right move at this point, with Alpha nicely shouldering the violence and brutality quota, despite walkers barely showing up during much of this episode. Now that Lydia appears to have officially defected from her mother’s skin-wearing tribe, that violence and brutality is bound to just keep growing from here!
- Alpha's exceptionally twisted brutality throughout
- Negan's interesting council proposal
- Daryl's and Connie's badass rescue plan
- Rosita's baby drama continues to be tedious
- Michonne's council struggles end up being pointless
- No real payoff to Negan's storyline