If nothing else, “Chokepoint” is at least a reminder that The Walking Dead can still deliver an episode full of fun action, now and then. After the second half of season 9 has largely been spent speechifying and wondering what the hell happened during the six-year time jump, this episode was a welcome return to some largely pointless, pulpy violence. And hey: I’ll take it, when the alternative is just continuing to ask for information the show refuses to gives us.
In tonight’s “A” plot, we pick back up with Daryl, Connie, Henry and Lydia where we left off last week, as they make their escape from the Whisperers camp in the confusion of a zombie attack. “Chokepoint” goes out of its way to give Beta some character, first as an important leader among The Whisperers and then as a physical force to be reckoned with. When he growls out something like “They will all walk with the guardians,” it does sound rather menacing … and then you remember that “the guardians” refers to the zombies who just attacked Beta’s camp. In fact, I’m pretty sure we’ve seen more Whisperers killed by zombies this season than members of our three communities. So yeah: Still having a hard time accepting these guys as genuine threats, AMC.
With that said, the battle between The Whisperers and Daryl & Co. was entertainingly shot and bloody good fun, even if it couldn’t be any more apparent that The Whisperers are in way over their heads in trying to fight our heroes. Hell, according to Lydia, these are “our best,” and they were dispatched with relatively little effort by the burgeoning power couple of Daryl and Connie—whose little note-passing session was admittedly adorable.
Beta, of course, was defeated in as cliche a fashion as possible, with Daryl knocking him down an ambiguous hole where we’d normally just expect him to disappear for an episode or two before returning as a lukewarm “surprise,” much akin to the multiple Rick vs. Negan fight scenes that you knew couldn’t end with the death of either. The fact that the show felt the need to actually show Beta getting back to his feet at the end of “Chokepoint” as a stinger seems to imply that they have no faith in their audience’s awareness of tropes at all.
In the “B” plot, the fortunes of The Kingdom’s “trade fair” were put in jeopardy by the sudden appearance of a new group called The Highwaymen, who introduced themselves by assaulting Jerry off-camera and sending him home with “a grammatically correct death threat, yo.” It does beg the question where random groups like this are coming from—have they always been in the general area, and are only now making their presence known? Or did they start halfway across the country and journey to be here? We’ll probably never know, as we didn’t even get the name of the Highwayman leader (who sounds rather like Tom Waits) in this episode. One would think they probably would have bothered to name him, if he was going to be sticking around.
Still, I had to laugh when Carol managed to defuse a potentially deadly stand-off with the simple question “When’s the last time that any of you have seen a movie?”, and not only because I jokingly suggested the same thing 20 seconds before she said it. It’s a totally absurd move, but an admittedly hilarious one—and really, after 10 years of the zombie apocalypse, who knows how powerful an enticement a screening of Smokey and the Bandit might be to Tom Waits and his band of marauders? It doesn’t make any sense that such an offer would suddenly make this group of predatory men want to stop stealing everyone else’s shit in the long run, but I have to give the joke credit nonetheless. In general, this episode of TWD felt a bit more lighthearted, and it mostly worked.
A few other stray notes:
— That first scene, with Daryl, Connie, Henry and Lydia in the woods, was impossibly, unbearably dark to look at. I can’t imagine how this episode’s director thought anyone was supposed to be able to see what was happening there.
— I appreciate the memorial to Zeke’s dearly departed tiger Shiva that is seemingly a centerpiece of the festival—and her image on The Kingdom’s flag. Both nice touches.
— When they first mention The Highwaymen, I don’t know how you’d be able to think of anything other than this bit from Over the Garden Wall. Also: Are a bunch of southern 40-somethings really going to name themselves after an antiquated English term for roadside bandits? Seems a bit overly literate for these unshaved messes.
Finally, lest we forget, I will for the fifth week in a row be assessing a standardized, one-point reduction from this review score, for the fact that The Walking Deadrefuses to answer the most obvious questions raised by the first half of the season, such as how relationships between Alexandria and The Hilltop fell apart, and why Michonne and Daryl have shared “X” scars on their backs. Because The Walking Dead shows no inclination of ever giving the audience the basic information it needs to process what is happening in its fictional world, I will continue to assess this one-point deduction to each and every review score, until such time as they actually bother to fill us in on information that all the characters already know. I’ll just be repeating this block of text at the end of every review, so get used to reading it!
Unweighted Score: 7.5
Weighted, Get-Your-Shit-Together Score: 6.5
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident horror guru. You can follow him on Twitter for more film and TV writing.