Nine seasons in, you’d think we could just introduce new antagonists on The Walking Dead without much preamble—that they’d just show up and say something like “Hey, we’re the season 9 villains and we’re here to tangle, thankyouverymuch.”
This, however, doesn’t seem to be the case. The Whisperers arrived with a spooky, atmospheric bang (and the death of Jesus) at the season’s mid-point, but it didn’t take long for things to stall out. “Bounty” essentially saw the two sides holding a pointless conversation designed to showcase the bad guys’ inhumanity as they haggled for the return of Alpha’s daughter Lydia—otherwise known as Carl’s (oops, I mean Henry’s) new crush. The idea that there was any question of whether they should even return Lydia seems rather ridiculous—just give the damn girl back and potentially stave off another war, especially when these scary (but oddly reasonable) new people have two of your own prisoners to trade. If this had been Michonne and not Daryl, she would have made the trade immediately … and then probably gone to the war room to plan a preemptive attack under cover of night.
Elsewhere, Carol, King Ezekiel and the Kingdom gang (who I’ve missed, I must admit) made a detour to obtain that most creature of comforts—audio-visual equipment. It was really an excuse to give us some funny visuals and gore—the zombie in a popcorn machine was rather excellent—and let Carol and Zeke vent their hopes and dreams into the ether. It’s distressing to hear them suggest that the Kingdom is somehow struggling to provide for itself, but like everything else on The Walking Dead, the details are frustratingly vague. Regardless, it tells us that Michonne’s original idea for a “charter” is still floating around, as is the hope for a festival involving all the communities.
This wasn’t a particularly eventful Walking Dead, so allow me to indulge in a bunch of individual bullet points.
— The Whisperers brought a freaking baby to the gates of The Hilltop, and then immediately began freaking out when it cried and attracted the dead. How exactly do they keep babies like this one quiet during the entire rest of their existence in the outdoors? If I was Daryl and I saw this shit going down, I wouldn’t be intimidated—I would assume the group outside was completely incompetent.
— Henry has obviously inherited Carl’s character arc from The Walking Dead comic via his star-crossed lovers routine with Lydia, but I’ve come to realize why it doesn’t work as well with Henry as it probably would with Chandler Riggs. In the comics, the reader gets so many instances of Carl being strong, resourceful and intelligent that even when he does something seemingly rash or foolhardy, we’re able to easily assume he knows what he’s doing. With Henry, we only know him as a dumb kid for the most part—his most important moments in the story so far all involve him making boneheaded decisions. Thus, we’re not naturally inclined to give him much credit when he runs out after Lydia. By all rights, he should just die immediately, which only highlights the artificiality of his plot armor when he doesn’t. This is only made worse by Enid not-so-subtly referring to Carl, right in front of Henry. Why the hell would the show want us to be reminded of Carl, right when we’re following the storyline of a pale imitation?
— When it’s been five years since anyone has seen a movie, and some of the kids have NEVER seen a movie before, what’s the first thing you show at movie night with what is probably limited power? My vote is for Star Wars: A New Hope. Can’t go wrong there, right?
— WHAT THE HELL was that “The Walking Dead will be back in 60 seconds” fake-out segment during the commercials? It was incredibly jarring to think that the show was back, only for it to go BACK to commercials for another minute. But on the plus side, we got to see the same footage twice in the space of two minutes, so there you go.
— Did they actually show Connie’s (the deaf character) THOUGHTS on screen in this episode, via text? She’s gazing out at the walkers, and we see “Baby crying over there” on screen. I didn’t see anyone signing to her. If this is what that was … it’s an interesting choice. This episode was full of strange choices.
— It has been TEN YEARS in the world of the show, since the start of the zombie outbreak, and it sometimes seems like there are more herds and zombies now than ever. Surely they would be getting a little thin on the ground via natural destruction (rotting away) and active destruction by this point. Wouldn’t well-organized population centers eventually more or less clear the areas around them? With most everyone dead, it’s not like the zombies are always replenishing. Eventually you’ve got to run out.
— It’s hard to believe that a few episodes ago I was actually praising the show by saying that they’d made it scary again, only to now be watching them clear out a movie theater in slow motion while soft-core porn music blares in the background. You stay classy, Walking Dead.
Finally, lest we forget, I will for the third week in a row be assessing a standardized, one-point reduction from this review score, for the fact that The Walking Dead refuses 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!
“Bounty” actually adds a few insults to injury by making veiled references to a few of these events that it still won’t explain.
Unweighted Score: 6.5
Weighted, Get-Your-Shit-Together Score: 5.5
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident horror guru. You can follow him on Twitter for more film and TV writing.