A new threat arrives on “The Walking Dead,” as the show (and its characters) gets a makeover.
We’re now living in a post-Rick Grimes world on "The Walking Dead" and though viewers at home know he didn’t really die at the bridge, his friends and family moved on thinking he did.
As we saw at the end of Andrew Lincoln’s last episode, the show decided to have another time jump, this time about 6-7 years into the future. There were new faces, aged-up versions of characters we already know and the introduction of the next Big Bad, as we got a glimpse of how things have changed since Rick’s "death."
While we only got a peek at Alexandria and The Kingdom this week, it’s clear they’ve been making progress over the years. Alexandria has been restored to its former glory, with solar panels, a windmill and new buildings. The Kingdom, on the other hand, is being held together by duct tape at this point, but still far better off than we last saw it. Viewers will have to wait a week to see how Hilltop is doing, as well as who’s in charge now that Lauren Cohan is off the show for the season. Anyone else think it’s Enid?
Also, Gabriel and Rosita are banging.
Okay, let’s dig into "Who Are You Now?" and the seven ways the show has changed in a post-Rick world.
The Next Generation of Survivors
With Carl out of the picture, it’s up to a new crop of kids to step into the spotlight as the show moves forward.
It now seems pretty clear Judith is going to take over her brother’s role in the comics. As a pre-teen she’s already one headstrong little girl, making a stand against the adults for what she thinks is right. Like Carl, she wants to see the best in people and makes a case to save the newcomers (more on them in a minute) when everyone else wants to abandon them. With her gun, tiny katana, hat and Lori’s penchant for plaid, she’s the perfect mix of those who came before her and a catalyst for things to come. When Michonne says her father and brother would be proud of her, she’s not wrong.
She’s not the only one though. Ben has also been aged up, with Matthew Lintz stepping into the role his real life younger brother used to play. As the son of Carol and Ezekiel, he’s the so-called "prince" of the Kingdom, but is itching to get out of town. This was something Carl struggled with in the comics, wanting to become a man independent of his father by exploring outlets in other communities. He’s headstrong too, fighting back — foolishly — against the Saviors when they attack him and Carol.
And then there’s RJ. The show wasn’t exactly subtle about introducing the idea of a Richonne baby a few episodes back and now, here he is. One can only assume RJ is "Rick Jr.," which, is adorable. He’s stepping into the Judith role of cute toddler for now, creating a gender flip on the Rick-Carl-Judith dynamic with Michonne-Judith-RJ.
[UPDATE at 8:00pm PT: Many on Twitter have called out how young RJ appears, adding that he doesn’t really look like he’s old enough to have been conceived six years ago. One theory suggests Michonne knows Rick is alive, got that X scar from donating her kidney to him and then conceived a baby. What do YOU think?]
Aaron’s also raising Gracie as his own, but we don’t really know much else about her at this point.
The best way for a series to show passage of time is new hair and man, did "The Walking Dead" go all out. Michonne switched up her dreadlocks, while also digging into Rick’s closet for her wardrobe these days. Carol also let her hair grow out — the first time we’ve ever seen Melissa McBride with long locks — while Eugene got a long pony and Rosita opted for braids.
Aaron also got an upgrade in the form of a new arm — after he was last seen getting his real one amputated — and Daryl got a new poncho for his adventures in the wilderness.
A New Negan
Speaking of makeovers, Negan is almost a completely different person from the last time we saw him.
When Maggie left him in his jail cell in last week’s episode, he was a broken man with a scraggly beard, messy hair and downright depressing demeanor.
While he’s still behind bars, he seems lighter in general. With his cropped hair and beard and a smile on his face, this Negan helps Judith with her homework and the two seem to actually have a cool (albeit twisted) relationship. This is something borrowed from the comics as well, as he and Carl bonded in a similar manner in the source material.
The big question is whether he’ll remain imprisoned, after finding a new outlook on life. That, and whether it’s all just an act.
We were briefly introduced to them last week, but viewers learned a lot more about the newcomers tonight.
Joining the show, officially, are Nadia Hilker as Magna, Dan Folger as Luke, Lauren Ridloff as Connie, Angel Theory as Kelly and Eleanor Matsuura as Yumiko, five survivors trying to assimilate with the ones we already know and love.
Luke’s a former school teacher, Connie — the show’s first deaf character — was once a journalist, Kelly was in high school when the outbreak began and Magna’s spent time in prison.
Michonne was the one who figured out that last bit, along with one of her hidden knives, giving everyone a reason to vote them out of Alexandria.
In the end, Magna decided against offing the opposition, changing her mind when she sees Michonne with RJ. After turning in another knife in a sign of good faith, Michonne offered to bring them all to Hilltop.
A Nation Divided
The bridge between the communities was never rebuilt, literally or figuratively.
In the open, Michonne was seen talking to Rick — in spirit — by the river, before the camera panned out to show a still-decimated bridge following the now years-ago explosion.
When Carol and Ezekiel talk about sending Henry to Hilltop, it’s clear the two townships aren’t exactly the best of friends. "Hilltop feels so distant, more distant than it’s ever been," said the King, noting how nothing has been the same since Rick’s "death."
He’s got a plan to bring everyone together again though: a big fair in town, something to make them all "partners" again.
Fans of the comics should have an idea where that storyline is heading.
Though we first see Carol getting her Kumbayas out in the Kingdom, she’s still got a dark side.
While taking Henry to Hilltop, the two were kidnapped by Saviors, who tried stealing all their goods and her wedding ring. That was a very bad idea.
As Henry slept, she tracked them down, doused them with gasoline and lit them all on fire.
"The ring I could let go, but that stuff belonged to people I knew," she told Jed. "People who went out and never came back. You hurt my son." As he pleaded for his life, saying she’ll never see them again, she simply said, "I know" and lit the match.
The Whisperers Arrive
We knew they were coming, as the scene played out on tonight’s episode just as it did in the Comic-Con trailer earlier this year. But now, the Whisperers are officially here.
As Eugene and Rosita went on a mission to try and amplify the signal on their radio, they were surrounded by a herd of walkers. With nowhere to run, they threw themselves into a ditch and covered themselves with mud — only to hear some of the zombies talking.
"Where are they? Don’t let them get away," one of them was heard saying. If you don’t want to know anything else about the Whisperers stop reading now.
No, walkers can’t talk now and the dead aren’t evolving. In the comics, the Whisperers are another group that gets around by assimilating into herds, covering themselves with walker skins and communicating via whispers. Safe to say they do not get along with the other survivors and pose a real threat going forward.
"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays on AMC.
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