Warning: Full spoilers for the episode follow…
Following in the harrowing footsteps of Season 4’s “The Grove,” this week’s half-flashback episode, all about the morbid events that caused Michonne to close her heart – and Alexandria’s doors – to strangers, was a suspenseful and gruesome affair. It wasn’t rock solid, but it’s been a while since the show’s dabbled in extreme violence toward children (Carl doesn’t count as he’d aged out and was fair game) so there was a super harsh vibe here, which I dug. And what Michonne endured felt severe enough to, indeed, change her worldview for the years that followed.
It made sense to have Michonne get duped by a close childhood friend (played by True Blood/Queen Sugar’s Rutina Wesley), whom she obviously didn’t know had turned savage and sinister, but there still really wasn’t enough time to establish their previous relationship enough to make the betrayal feel shocking. Also, we knew going into this that bad s*** had gone down, so bitter betrayal was kind of the only option. If the episode had consisted of all flashbacks, we might have gotten a few more scenes with them to sell their past closeness.
Splitting the episode between the past and present was still the way to go though. And not just because of the back-and-forth juxtaposition action beats at the end where Michonne hacked her way through walkers and children (with the zombie gore standing in for the mutilated kids). No, because the past horrors, which happened fairly soon after Rick vanished, while Michonne was still pregnant, involved Judith, and it was already established two weeks ago that Judith was going to be the one who talked Michonne into changing her ways. So it ultimately made sense to fold the story on top of itself.
And – boy – was this brutal. And I feel terrible that, probably sooner than later, Michonne’s going to have to go through something equally awful with the Whisperers. Like, right after she agrees to become more loving and open she’ll have to endure another atrocity. Because the agony of what she, and Daryl, went through years back was damn ferocious. The fear and vulnerability. The pain of being branded and beaten while pregnant. And then the wickedness of having to hack through other children to save your own child. Yes, Wesley’s character, Jocelyn, was in the zompocalypse business of stealing kids and hardening them up. Readying them for a terrible, cruel world. Judith got taken and Jocelyn’s own kid recruits, her toy soldiers, forced Michonne to murder them all. It was a nightmare through and through.
And, again, it was super reminiscent of “The Grove.” Not necessarily because crazy kids died, but because, at one point, Carol, in her past, was kind of adjacent to Jocelyn. She wasn’t stealing kids, but she was definitely in the “tough love” zone, wanting kids to shape up and train with weapons. The show was making a few clumsy parallels between Michonne and Alpha a few weeks back, but, truthfully, Jocelyn’s way more of a natural endgame for grieving moms in the apocalypse.
This story also nicely utilized Daryl, continuing his strong showing in this new Rick-less era. Not only was he instantly more interesting post-Rick, as the guy who vowed to never quit looking for him (and wouldn’t return until he did) but also as Michonne’s second on the rescue mission. Then, in the present, he got to have a nice moment with Judith behind some safe Alexandrian walls while also respecting Michonne’s wishes to amscray. The fact that Michonne only let them in because Daryl was there speaks volumes to their level of respect.
“Scars” will be remembered for its grand and ghoulish climax, and for finally revealing the backstory behind Michonne’s overprotectiveness, but it also deftly pushed Daryl, Judith, and Negan forward a bit too – as Negan took baby steps ever closer to gaining a smidgen of Michonne’s trust. The fact that he told Judith all the awful things he’d done, sparing no detail, explaining why people hated him, was a sweet touch. Because Negan stood nothing to gain from it. It only showed that A: he’s at his best around kids and hates lying to them, and B: he considers Judith to be a stalwart, if not strange, friend.
Grrrs and Arghs:
- As much as this episode illuminated for us, we still don’t know why Michonne and Maggie had a horrid falling out. Because that happened much later. I think we calculated about a year ago, from the present time of the story. Or a little less. Because Jerry had just announced his baby was coming a few weeks, or months, after the strain between Alexandria and Hilltop happened. So did Michonne refuse to do something that could help Hilltop because it was too risky for Alexandria?
- Michonne’s passive aggressive subtweet at Lydia was a fun moment. But is Lydia even capable of the kind of compassion it would take to leave Henry because she wanted to protect him? I guess she basically did that once, back at Hilltop, so maybe Michonne’s words will grab hold.
- I’m glad Connie’s been given this totally separate adventure. It was really hurting all the new characters to have them constantly in each others’ orbits.