Spoiler Warning for Season 9, Episode 14 of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed. Minor spoilers from “Fear the Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

“Loving someone means doing whatever it takes to keep them safe.”

“The Walking Dead” is a dark show. It always has been. It’s no stranger to taking risks and putting the characters through absolute hell. Since the six year time jump, a looming darkness has been present in the story. Something bad happened, but it was only just danced around…until now. The latest episode gets dark to show just how far a parent is willing to protect her children.

Due to the fact that this episode switches back and forth between timelines, events will be discussed in chronological order.

Rick Grimes took his last stand and blew up the bridge that was meant to unite the communities. Fans know that he was whisked away in a helicopter to star in a film trilogy, but the family he left behind received no real closure. They were left with that chilling image of him heroically pulling out his colt python before disappearing in a fireball. Soon after his disappearance, Michonne began coming out to search for him. She stumbles upon the embankment where his body washed up and where Jadis/Anne rescued him. Walkers from the blast litter the area, but that isn’t of interest to her. Instead, her focus is the colt python that she finds buried in the mud. It’s the only remnant she or anyone has found of him. Time passes and her belly grows to show the progression of her pregnancy with RJ, and she is still out searching. She carefully looks at the walker faces just to make sure none of them are her beloved husband. Daryl crosses paths with her and explains that he has followed the river all the way to the ocean and hasn’t found Rick. The two have a beautiful moment where they check in on one another, and Michonne asks Daryl to come back to Alexandria. He has to keep up the search and states that he won’t stop until he finds something. Michonne asks if he is okay being alone, to which he states that he is, but Michonne isn’t. This really says a lot about who they both are and how they have progressed in the series. In many senses, Daryl has always been better on his own, but he does still need his family to serve as his anchor. Michonne was alone for a long time and while she is a lone-wolf, she does need people around her and she always has; even keeping Mike and Terry as her walker pets before meeting Andrea was a way of not feeling alone. Such a seemingly simple opening scene says so much about these characters and their pasts.

The past blends with the present and future as Michonne is called to the gate of Alexandria to greet new arrivals. Scott tells her that this group, most of which are children, were found nearby. One of the members is injured and is propped up by Rosita. Michonne is stunned when she recognizes the woman named Jocelyn (Rutina Wesley). The timeline progresses a bit and Jocelyn is taken to the infirmary to be treated by Siddiq. She ultimately rushes out, causing a stir in the street as Michonne, Rosita, Aaron, Siddiq and others try to calm her. She claims that there are others out there that must be brought back. Michonne leads a group that includes Rosita, Aaron, Eugene, Father Gabriel, and some of the children arrivals to a location where the missing members of Jocelyn’s group may be hiding out. Inside are charts detailing the steps to skin a deer and cook a rabbit. The group ultimately finds a handful of additional children survivors to bring with them to Alexandria. The number of children suddenly at the community gives everyone a childlike persona as a campfire celebration is held outside the new arrival’s home. Gabriel, Siddiq and Rosita hang out with the children, showing that they were already equipped to be parents way back when. Michonne and Aaron watch from the porch with a happiness that they haven’t been able to have in a while. Wishing Rick was still here to see this, Aaron tries to comfort her, but it’s clear that his loss is still a touchy subject. While doing dishes, Michonne and Jocelyn reminisce about their college days, revealing how they actually knew one another. Jocelyn encourages Michonne to keep up the search for Rick, but to also enjoy what’s currently in front of her. The fact that Jocelyn and Michonne were able to find each other after not seeing one another for 15 years proves that nothing is impossible. The concept of finding someone you knew prior to the apocalypse is absolutely mind-blowing, but this episode proves that some things are better left in the past.

The fact that Michonne knew Jocelyn before the apocalypse gave her and the rest of the Alexandrians plenty of reason to trust her and the children. The morning after a kids sleepover at Jocelyn’s proves that this was the wrong move. Michonne goes to the new arrival house along with Scott and Frankie (who hasn’t been seen at all this season, but moved to Alexandria after the fall of the Sanctuary) to pick up their children. They find the house empty with Jocelyn, Judith and the other children nowhere to be found. Scott finds the pantry completely raided and the same is true of the infirmary. Michonne waddles in a panic through the community as she realizes what has happened. One of the guards is found dead and footprints of blood lead to the manhole cover that accesses the sewer. Jocelyn has kidnapped Judith and the children of Alexandria that were trustingly placed in her care. It’s the ultimate betrayal. Michonne immediately takes off to recollect the children, and she enlists Daryl’s help. They manage to track the traitors down to an old school, but Michonne needs to take a moment to rest and the two have a heart-to-heart. Feeling totally betrayed by what Jocelyn did to her, Michonne expresses the fact that she shouldn’t have been so trusting. Daryl comforts her by stating that it isn’t her fault whatsoever. Michonne and Daryl have such a beautiful friendship that goes back so far, and the fact that we are getting to see more layers of their dynamic after all these years just proves how rich it is. From this point, things get dark as the two split up to cover more ground. Michonne ends up coming across one of Jocelyn’s kids, but he takes off running and she follows after. Daryl hears this and enters the school to help with whatever is about to happen. He finds the children at the end of a hallway with their weapons drawn. Michonne is in front of them and begs for her children to be returned to her. One of the kids, a girl named Winnie (Elle Graham), fires an arrow at Daryl’s shoulder while another child named Linus (Luke David Blumm) knocks Michonne unconscious. One might wonder why Michonne and Daryl didn’t attack straight away…but fighting kids is surely something no one is ever prepared to do. That’s seen even further as the episode progresses.

The mystery of the scars on Daryl and Michonne’s backs is finally revealed. When they come to, our heroes have their hands bound to pipes on the ceiling and are gagged. The children prepare an iron and Linus brands Daryl’s back as Jocelyn eerily encourages him. Daryl screams out in absolute pain and Michonne lets out tears as her friend is put through this. Jocelyn gets in Michonne’s face and states that she is doing this to make the children stronger and to assure that they survive. Winnie then uses the iron to brand Michonne’s back, causing her to also scream out. It’s a disturbing sight to see these people we love, particularly one who is pregnant, go through this. Fortunately, Daryl is able to free himself from his binds after the group leaves, and he takes down one guard before freeing Michonne. For some reason, they decide to split up again and Michonne wanders the halls with a pipe as a weapon. She comes across Jocelyn, Linus, Winnie and some of the other children, and she demands that Judith be returned to her. Jocelyn orders two of the children to attack, and one does such with Michonne’s own katana. Linus manages to slice Michonne’s stomach with a knife before he and the other child soldier storm out to join their friends. Judith and the Alexandrian children are rushed outside in a hurry, making the viewer realize that Jocelyn has built up this group by kidnapping children. Screaming Judith’s name, Michonne rushes outside, but is slammed across the head with a piece of wood by Jocelyn. In another disturbing bit of events, Jocelyn repeatedly beats Michonne. Using a moment of distraction, Michonne grabs her katana and stabs Jocelyn in the leg, knocking her to the ground. She then uses the katana to stab her best friend straight in the chest, ending her life without any hesitation. Michonne then finds herself face-to-face against a small army of children. She states that they will be welcomed back in Alexandria if they surrender, but they instead charge forward and Michonne is forced to kill each and every one. She initially hesitates and begs for them to stop, but she realizes that they must be killed if she wishes to save her unborn baby and Judith. Winnie is the last child standing, having being given orders to kill the Alexandrian children. Michonne is able to talk her down and the child runs off before Judith steps out of the trailer she was being held in. There’s a chilling moment where it seems as though Judith doesn’t recognize her, but the young girl eventually runs forward in embrace of her mother. Daryl FINALLY arrives and comforts the rest of the children as the nightmare comes to an end.

In many ways, the present timeline mirrors that of the past. Years after find Rick’s colt python and giving it to Judith, Michonne cleans it and places it in a box for Judith. Bringing news of Daryl’s arrival at the gate, Aaron has a grim look on his face and Michonne is confused as to why their friend is not being let in. Outside, Judith and Gracie teach RJ how to ride a bike; a rare singular moment of childlike innocence in the apocalypse. At the gate, Michonne questions why Lydia is with the group, but Henry stands up for her, as usual. Daryl explains that they only came to Alexandria because Henry is injured and this community was closest. There’s a great scene at the infirmary as Henry is being stitched up and Michonne is checking in with Daryl to learn that the group is headed to the Kingdom. Connie writes a note to Michonne explaining that she would do everything she did again…but in better shoes. Later, Michonne asks to speak with Lydia alone, prompting Henry to thank her for sending a delegation to the Fair. Without flat out saying it, Michonne basically tells Lydia to leave and go be on her own so Henry and the communities are no longer threatened by the Whisperers. While this may have been a valid option earlier, those days are long gone as this conflict has intensified.

For the first time since the time jump, we get a scene between Daryl and Judith. While it would have been nice for it to be a little longer, the content is great. The two discuss the trouble at the Hilltop and Lydia’s involvement in it all. Judith really wants to help and basically tells Daryl that she knows what the group has been through from the stories she has heard. Daryl tells her that she hasn’t heard all of the stories, but Judith questions what Rick would do in this situation…leaving both of them silent, knowing he would help. After taking the day to recuperate, Daryl and his group leave Alexandria…at night. Before leaving, he tells Michonne that Judith should probably hear the story of Jocelyn so that she can better understand why Alexandria is the way it is now. Judith isn’t a child anymore due to the apocalypse and Daryl sees this. We see how much Alexandria’s lack on involvement in the conflict is weighing on Judith as she sulks at family dinner with Michonne and RJ. Judith ultimately excuses herself, and when morning comes, she is no longer in her room. Michonne decides to stop by Negan’s jail cell to see if he has seen her lately, but he hasn’t. This is where yet another fantastic scene between Michonne and Negan unfolds as the former Savior leader explains that he has told Judith many stories of what happened between the groups. He has told her about Carl storming the Sanctuary in “Sing Me a Song” and about Rick slitting his throat in “Wrath.” Much to the surprise of Michonne, Negan has even told Judith about how he killed Abraham and Glenn after she asked about it. Once again, Michonne isn’t happy about Negan being so knowledgeable about herself and her children…but he makes several valid points here.

Michonne has to go after Judith. She’s already been through the horrors seen in this episode, and she lost Carl because he wouldn’t stay in the house. Michonne finds herself in an area with tons of walkers that she must dispatch on her own. The editing flawlessly intermixes between her killing walkers in the present and her killing the children in the flashbacks. Judith is also here and manages to get a badass kill in herself before a walker reaches for her, prompting for her to scream for her mother. After they’ve caught their breaths, Michonne talks to Judith about what happened with Jocelyn years ago. Judith states that she remembers it happening and that she hasn’t brought it up because she knows it makes her mother sad. Even though they both went through that horrible event, Judith still believes they are wrong to close themselves off from their friends. “When did we stop loving Daryl? Aunt Maggie? Carol? The King?,” she asks tearfully. It’s a good question about a complicated situation. For the first time, Michonne really sees Judith as more than just a child. Instead, Judith is someone who understands risks, but knows that love means risking it all for those most dearest to you. Because of this, Michonne and Judith decide to head to the Kingdom in a horse-drawn van. They cross paths with Daryl’s crew and provide them with transportation to the Fair. In a chilling end to the episode, two Whisperers watch from the treeline as the Hilltop’s delegation enters the gates of the Kingdom. “We must tell Alpha,” one of them states as the location of the Fair has been officially compromised. Mind ya business, Whisperers.

The good in “Scars”

  • The parallels between the past and present, as well as the editing between timelines, is flawless. This really shows that history repeats itself and that learning from mistakes is key to survival.
  • The darkness. This is always a dark show, but episodes such as this remind viewers that these characters experience trauma that influence future decisions. If this hadn’t happened, the entire season post-time jump would be different.
  • The concept of someone from the prior to the apocalypse reuniting with a friend YEARS into the apocalypse, only to turn out to be too far gone is just great.
  • The friendship between Michonne and Daryl has always been wonderful, but this is the best episode they’ve ever had together. They have such a sibling bond wherein they would literally kill for one another.
  • The references to Michonne and Daryl keeping up the search for Rick serves as some hopeful foreshadowing that they all may reunite one day in the film trilogy.
  • Judith continues to be amazing. She’s such an old soul, but still has that childlike innocence.
  • Michonne and Negan scenes are great, and really show that they are foils to one another. There’s incredible chemistry between the two that continues to get better.
  • The chilling tease of the Whisperers finding the Kingdom is the perfect segway between this episode and the next.

The iffy in “Scars”

  • The complete mystery of why the communities were so split, particularly Michonne and Maggie, was not explained all the way. Either there are more flashbacks coming to fill in the missing pieces, or viewers are left to interpret for themselves why the split happened. It does make sense that the other communities would be angry at Alexandria for being totally isolated, especially if no explanation was given.
  • While it makes sense that Michonne needed to go through all of this for story-sake, it’s rather odd that a heavily pregnant woman was forced to be the savior of everyone while Scott, Frankie and the other Alexandrian parents just sat at home.
  • Daryl taking so long to tie up the member of Jocelyn’s group while Michonne was forced to fight off the children alone is similarly odd, but understandable.

Top performances in “Scars”

  • Danai Gurira as Michonne (This is one of her finest performances to date and is totally worthy of award recognition)
  • Cailey Fleming as Judith Grimes
  • Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon
  • Chloe Garcia-Frizzi as Judith Grimes
  • Rutina Wesley as Jocelyn
  • Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan

Lingering thoughts and predictions

  • Based on the conversation with Jocelyn, it seems like the story is already being set up for Michonne to depart the main series to join the Rick film trilogy either during/after Season 10 when Danai Gurira is set to exit.
  • Hopefully, more of the time jump is shown via flashbacks in the future, because SIX YEARS is a lot of time to have missing.
  • It’s remarkable to see how far Michonne and Judith’s relationship has come since they first met. Michonne arrived at the Prison with baby formula just trying to help. In Season 4, Beth literally had to force Michonne to hold Judith. She wasn’t ready to love another baby, but now their bond is stronger than ever.
  • This is also true of Daryl. He gave Judith the nickname “Lil Asskicker” and she has totally lived up to it.
  • Michonne telling Judith the story of her and Rick burying Carl is an emotional callback to “Honor.”
  • The fact that Winnie runs off without being given any closure may hint at her still being alive. Some fans have theorized that she is now part of the Whisperers, possibly even being the one at the end of the episode that spots the Kingdom.
  • Fun fact: that particular Whisperer is played by Emma Coulter, the daughter of Steve Coulter AKA Reg Monroe from Season 5.
  • This episode has major vibes of Season 3 and Season 4, mostly in terms of the tone and environments.
  • Rarely do the characters discuss their lives prior to the apocalypse, but there is actually significant backstory given for Michonne this episode. Who knew her mother died prior to the end of the world? It would be great if we could get more of this moving forward.
  • Much like Season 4 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” a filter is used to distinguish between the timelines. In this case, it is far less ugly and is far better utilized than that of its sister show.

“Scars” is an upsetting and disturbing episode for many reasons. It really allows viewers to understand Michonne’s rationale behind isolating Alexandria. That being said, we also see that no choice is perfect and Michonne is able to learn from Judith to chart Alexandria’s future. With that in mind, the Fair may just throw everything back into chaos.

Be sure to tune into the penultimate episode of Season 9 next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC. 

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