NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Walking Dead”, including multiple character deaths, are present in this review
The Walking Dead’s fragile, and quite literal, bridge-building effort between the surviving post-apocalyptic communities officially appears to be crumbling. “Warning Signs” more or less presented the straw that broke the camel’s back when it comes to growing tensions between the communities, particularly toward Anne and the Saviors, but in doing so, it provided a pretty strong episode that was carried on a surprisingly riveting murder mystery, and one that doesn’t end in the manner that you would initially anticipate!
After getting snatched by some unknown party during the final seconds of last week’s episode, Justin has indeed turned up dead, with a peculiar set of wounds (on top of some walker munchings), and his body is presented to all of the bridge-builders after his brain is destroyed upon re-animation. The question of who killed Justin officially puts everyone on edge, and has everyone on the verge of turning against one another, with fingers being especially pointed at Anne and Daryl. Rick even has to intervene when a full-scale brawl breaks out between the Saviors and most of the other survivors, trying to maintain authority, even as he must also contend with the sticky issue of not providing more defenses to the construction effort, especially for the Saviors. Well, in fairness, he was kind of asking for trouble with that one, even if I can understand why putting a bunch of guns in the hands of everyone’s former oppressors isn’t really going to go over well with the popular vote.
Nonetheless, these events spread into an interesting chance to have several parties investigate what happened to Justin, as Rick questions and quickly eliminates Daryl as a suspect, though not before another debate about which rights the Saviors actually deserve. Meanwhile, Maggie and Cyndie do some investigating of their own, with Cyndie almost buying the farm after an unexpected walker attack at a cabin, before Daryl saves her, and everyone shows up in the nick of time. This is also around the time that another Savior, Arat, also goes missing, sending tensions with the Saviors even higher. One particular Savior, Jed, even starts openly rebelling, defiantly taking food from Maggie at one point, and later almost killing Carol when Rick refuses to hand over his gun. Fortunately, that situation is defused, but it’s painfully clear that Rick is losing control of the Saviors, which presents a great threat to the time-sensitive construction effort.
Indeed, by the end of the episode, the failure to turn up any solid leads in the investigation into Justin’s death, along with Rick’s rigid refusal to bend his current commands for the construction effort, leads to a full-scale walkout by the Saviors’ construction force, making it pretty much impossible to finish the bridge before the materials are washed away. Gabriel does seemingly appear to placate Anne, on the bright side, but the loss of the Saviors pretty much leaves everyone up a creek, as the communities once again seem to splinter. Seeing Rick’s methods fail so spectacularly was genuinely heartbreaking, especially when the episode begins with things seeming better than ever in a cold open at Alexandria, wherein Rick joyfully plays with his daughter, and happily speaks with Michonne about enacting common laws for the communities with Maggie and the other leaders. Things were looking up, until they weren’t.
What proved to be the most surprising twist as well, particularly for fans of the Walking Dead comics that are waiting on bated breath for them to show up in the TV series, is that the Whisperers actually weren’t responsible for the Saviors’ mysterious disappearances! Instead, it was actually Oceanside that was rounding up Saviors and killing them, specifically to exact revenge for the many, many people that the Saviors previously took from them, back when they lived in their former school building! This was an unexpected twist, even if you really have to suspend disbelief here, because it’s pretty much impossible to believe that the battle-hardened, highly-trained Savior lieutenants were somehow picked off by Oceanside of all factions, particularly without any Oceanside folks leaving any damning evidence or sustaining any injuries in the process! Still, the idea that Cyndie and the others should be inspired to take murderous revenge coming from Maggie’s hanging of Gregory is an interesting and unexpected turn, and Maggie and Daryl walking away right before Cyndie executes Arat was a powerful and dark moment for both characters, as they finally completely abandon Rick’s call for peace in their own right. The episode ending with Maggie and Daryl agreeing to pay Negan a visit only further cements that Rick has failed in his effort to obtain peace for the communities, and all before the Whisperers even properly showed up at all!
That’s not to say that there was no continued buildup to the Whisperers this week though! Gabriel becomes suspicious of Anne, despite standing up for her during the brief scuffle, and even lies to Rick about her whereabouts, after the two seemingly slept together off-screen. Anne appreciates Gabriel’s devotion, but nonetheless, she makes her way to her old garbage dump, picking up a mysterious walkie-talkie, and using her allegedly abandoned ‘Jadis’ identity with a mysterious man on the other end, apparently the pilot of the mysterious helicopter that she saw before. The man talks about Anne/Jadis needing an ‘A’ or a ‘B’, and paying some kind of mysterious debt, but this isn’t made clear, especially when it becomes apparent that Gabriel followed his new lover to the dump! Anne confesses to Gabriel that she has apparently been trading people for supplies, and suggests that Gabriel run away with her, but Gabriel refuses to, leading to Anne saying that she mistook him for a ‘B’ before knocking him out!
This reveal with Anne was not only a cool red herring that was cleverly positioned ahead of the Oceanside murders being made known to the audience, but it’s also all but assured that ‘A’ and ‘B’ are related to ‘Alpha’ and ‘Beta’, the two leaders of the Whisperers. It’s also practically a guarantee that Anne was speaking to the Whisperers’ second-in-command, Beta on that walkie-talkie. Anne has apparently been in league with these strangers for a while, spurred by the communities’ perpetual distrust and suspicion of her, though since her words to Gabriel were a ploy, it’s unknown exactly how truthful she was being about exchanging people for supplies, even if the proposed exchange of Rick and Gabriel is more than likely the truth. Anne being a turncoat in the end may frustrate some viewers, since it is a little obvious that the show would eventually go that way, but Anne serving as a vital link to the Whisperers also makes quite a lot of sense, especially given the incessant fan speculation that Anne/Jadis was going to turn out to be Alpha back when she was leading the Scavengers, and back before Samantha Morton was cast as Alpha before the start of this season. We obviously don’t have the whole story yet, but Gabriel being captured is a pretty inspired way to start directing the Whisperers towards the communities that are under Rick’s watch, especially when it turns out that the Whisperers weren’t the ones picking off Saviors in the end.
“Warning Signs” ends with any hope for unity between the communities seemingly shattered, which may be a bit early for some of the show’s audience, but with Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan only having a couple of episodes left before they leave the show, perhaps it was inevitable that this violent shake-up in community leadership would be coming sooner rather than later. Not every viewer will buy Oceanside being the true perpetrators of the Savior murders (hell, I don’t even totally buy that they could single-handedly kill so many Saviors so effortlessly), but it was great to see some very unexpected consequences result from Maggie and Daryl rendering final judgment on Gregory during the season premiere. Best of all though, this turn with Oceanside means that we can bring the anti-Rick conspiracy between Maggie and Daryl (and Jesus) back into the picture, finally doing something with that cliffhanger tease at the end of last season. With the bridge project seemingly a bust now, and Maggie and Daryl heading to Alexandria to finish Negan off for good, it’s anyone’s guess as to how Rick will once again try to restore the peace, because at this point, it’s just not looking like the new world really cares about peace, even among its supposed heroes.
The Walking Dead delivers a compelling and unpredictable murder mystery this week, which ends with some surprising, if slightly unbelievable twists.
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THE GOOD STUFF
Tensions boiling over after Justin's death
Clever murder mystery style with an unexpected culprit
Gabriel discovering Anne's treachery at the dump
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
Oceanside seriously killed several Savior lieutenants without detection or injury?
Some may feel that Anne turning traitor is a bit too obvious