Something that had been bugging me about the past couple seasons of The Walking Dead was its choice to settle for brutality as its best course of action. Not that extreme violence wouldn’t be seen in a zombie-dominated world, but repeated efforts to show just how bad Negan and people like him could be was building up a wall around the series that felt far less inviting than when the show still functioned as a human-based drama first, gory, action-filled apocalyptic series second. “The Bridge” is a strong episode of The Walking Dead for the ways it feels guided by the characters we are following, serving as a great reminder as to why this show ultimately worked so well in its early days.
Without the flashiness of a trip to Washington D.C., this episode had to settle for showing us some day-to-day business. This also meant delivering on the very different leadership abilities from two important characters that are not going to be around after this season. Thinking about this (and it’s not likely I won’t keep bringing this up during the season, given how well-known this is), it seems like a huge shame to know The Walking Dead will have to exist without two actors who excel when pushed forward by the story being told.
Those that have followed along with my reviews may be aware that I tend to give Andrew Lincoln a hard time. It’s not because of his abilities, but for all the ways Rick’s character has been jerked around to so many different extremes. As a result, it’s easy to pick on his latest deliveries of the show’s central themes through a big speech. Season 9 finds him in an overly optimistic position thanks to the sage knowledge given to him by his dead son Coral. It’s an aspect that is undoubtedly going to hit back on him hard (Daryl’s eyes give this away every time they interact), but it also emphasizes what great territory we are in this season.
It’s only two episodes in, but there is such a refreshing feel to a season not plagued by the strife between two communities where out strategizing via gun battles is the only option. While we’re still catching up with some characters, the current place everyone is in allows time for nuanced takes on the roles we see, a lived-in feel to the various communities, and less overall stress about whether or not we’ll have time for meaningful dialogue, compared to terse, to-the-point deliveries of plot-related motivations. Taking out Negan has allowed The Walking Dead to become a character drama again, and I’m all for it.
That’s also why I just don’t care about Jeffrey Dean Morgan still being on this show. No doubt Negan will eventually find a way out of his jail cell and raise all sorts of hell (as a comic reader I’m even more intrigued given what characters are and are not still around), so I can only hope that development doesn’t take away from what we see so far. I can still appreciate Rick blindly explaining how great everything is, knowing the show is cleverly planting seeds for how some of the current peace will fall apart, as it further establishes him as a tragic hero. That’s good stuff, as Rick is more interesting by letting us know what’s going on in his head, while we also see another side of what’s taking place.
Speaking of other sides, Lauren Cohan is doing terrific work as Maggie. With no more time explicitly focused on revenge or grieving, she’s now the leader this show has let her grow into being and it’s allowed for some excellent character work. Her interactions with Michonne, Jesus, and Earl are all the kinds of scenes that are as compelling as many of the zombie attack sequences. When I’m harsh on this show, it’s because there’s a lack of this sort of quality. The writers can slip too far into spelling out the symbolism via on-the-nose dialogue too often. For “The Bridge,” with a better chance to breathe, we have exchanges that resonate.
Recalling the memories of Herschel meant Maggie could have a self-awareness that’s so great to see. The empathy she has for Earl, as she figures out her next steps, is the kind of scenario that gets to the core of what this series should be going for. In a time of lawlessness and desperation, what type of people are we supposed to be? That’s a central question that’s more refreshing to see referenced than the unending nihilistic streak that took the lead for the past few years. All of this helps even out even the silliest of scenarios.
I said last week that Daryl would be fighting that Justin character in no time. “The Bridge” doubles down on this by not only having Justin be a dick by drinking too much water but establishing him as the same jerk who didn’t do his job turning the zombie horde. It leads to an exciting and tense action sequence, but it’s the sort of fallback choice to make you think, “Of course, but really?” It doesn’t hurt the episode too much, as we once again get to see Daryl earn that paycheck in his expanded role this season, but it’s a good reminder of the genre quirks that always make their way into this show.
The little things are fun as well this week though. Ezekial finally being able to give Carol a ring was nice. Father Gabriel unintentionally wooing Anne (formerly Jadis) is the kind of thing that makes me think one of them is doomed, but I still enjoyed their interactions. There’re also the always enjoyable sequences where someone needs to be amputated. Okay, so that’s not as fun, but it was quite wrenching.
This was a very solid outing with The Walking Dead, which is precisely what I was hoping for, following last week’s effective but a bit muted premiere. The series is in a great position to push forward with its current story arc thanks to putting the emphasis back on character moments. Zombie violence is still around as well, but the impact these actions and more have on others allows me to connect. Sometimes that’s all I’m asking for, and I’m happy to see it happening again.
- Zombie Kill of the Week: Daryl almost had it with his double-knife attack, and then Rick pulls off the “Andrew Lincoln Longs” maneuver for the win.
- I’m hoping Michonne takes up being a lawyer again in this new world. She can make some great debates happen.
- Pocket sand! – Daryl still got his punches in.
- Brett Butler and John Finn are doing some great work as Tammy and Earl.
- Aaron is quickly rising the charts as the person to suffer the most and get in the most near-death positions on this series.
- Who doesn’t like seeing a nice campire scene?
- “You’re gonna die behind these bars.” – Just kill him now Rick.
- So who killed Justin? The thing from the comics many know are coming? Daryl? Eugene’s crazy dialogue?
- Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what me and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on The Walking Dead TV Podcast.