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Review: The Walking Dead 9×04, “The Obliged”

Aaron Neuwirth reviews season 9, episode 4 of The Walking Dead, "The Obliged" in which we see one of Rick Grimes final episodes.

And so, the legend of Rick Grimes ends with the man falling from his horse. I mean, sure, “The Obliged” presents a scenario that The Walking Dead can surely get its hero out of at the last second, but next week is Andrew Lincoln’s final episode, so even with a quick save from certain doom by walker horde, Rick’s eventual passing is ultimately coming from a bad case of rebar-itus. What does this final twist say about the rest of the episode? Well, it came at just the right moment, given the way “The Obliged” did its best to squeeze out all the good character interactions it had in it, even at the risk of annoying me with all the Negan.

Look, at this point, I’m just over Negan. Jeffrey Dean Morgan did what he could with the role for a couple of seasons, but I don’t get any satisfaction from seeing him sitting behind bars. I’m not placing this against my take on the moral stakes causing a rift between Rick, Daryl, and Maggie, I just find him uninteresting. Watching Michonne talk with him for extended periods proved to be somewhat tolerable, but the warrior woman-turned law-maker and playful mother is just as fascinating on her own.

If the showrunners are exploring Negan’s potential by showing the audience his emotional side by way of the loss of Lucille the bat, I can only hope they have a much bigger plan in mind for his future. As a comic reader, sure, there are places to take him, but I’m all the more curious, given the differences between which character are and aren’t around any longer. So yeah, bash your head against the wall Negan. Do what you need to do to make your presence known, but maybe let the other characters have their time to shine.

Fortunately, that’s what everyone else gets to do. As mentioned, Michonne speaks with Negan, but she also has the chance to be studied as a character. An opening act montage finds Michonne dealing with her psychological struggle to be a fitting community leader, as well as a driven fighter. It’s not the freshest of ideas, but Danai Gurira is so strong on this show that it’s hard to complain. Between her talks with Maggie and Rick, and the show’s move back towards nuanced character treatment, there’s a lot to get out of a redeveloped Alexandria and its occupants.

Of course, rebuilding society only goes so far when tension has been bubbling underneath the surface, and now it looks like things are coming to a head. Stupid Jed left with his band of Saviors last week, only to return with guns and a plan to take on Carol. Obviously, that’s a mistake, but the show manages to put these characters into a complicated corner and leave the situation unresolved. It’s a cliffhanger as far as where this will go, but in a way that is tantalizing, as opposed to cheap.

These actions also help end the show, as far as where we last find Rick and Daryl. Earlier, knowing that Maggie was on the way to execute Negan herself, Daryl pulled one over on Rick by motorcycling him away from all the action. Rick catches on, and the two have another macho shoving match that forces them both into a huge hole. It’s a big, dumb hole, but the effective kind of plot device that lets these two guys lay out all their emotional cards on the table. It’s a credit to the writing and Rosemary Rodriguez’s direction of this episode that this whole scenario comes off as good as it does.

Further helping matters is the use of walkers. While The Walking Dead has sparsely used the walkers in ways that reduce the gripes shared by characters in recent years, “The Obliged” finds a great use by the idea of having walkers fall down the hole and forcing Rick and Daryl to work together. Seeing that bond between these two is something of a highlight and with the added knowledge that this may be one of their last deep interactions with each other allows for a bit of sadness to talk hold as well.

With connections in mind, it’s worth noting that Father Gabriel managed to get himself out of another pickle as well. His words of forgiveness put a lot of thought into Anne, who is doing a lot with very little, as far as Pollyanna McIntosh is concerned. While this story is clearly not over (helicopters mean something!), seeing the weight brought onto these characters and their newfound relationship has far more meaning than it would in the weaker years of this show.

So where do things go now? Rick is on death’s doorstep, Saviors are causing a ruckus again, and Maggie is en route to Negan’s Death, USA. There are a lot of ideas up in the air, but The Walking Dead finds itself at an advantage of playing some clever hands this late in the game. While finding a way out when it comes to losing both the lead character of the show, as well as one of the more notable stars (Cohan), may have presented a challenge, the work is at least being done to make the drama around them compelling enough. Here’s hoping next week finds the right notes to play as far as its big sendoff.

Dead Bits:

  • Zombie Kill of the Week: Michonne sliced up a lot of walkers real good, but picking up Lucille, or at least a bat that reminded her of Lucille was a fun touch.
  • In case you didn’t know, the bridge is very important to Rick.
  • Daryl pulled out some big swears to remind Rick of Glenn’s importance.
  • That walker was very close to Gabriel’s face.
  • Negan is not my favorite, but Jed is the worst.
  • Always fun seeing Rick and the Gang find clever uses of walkers, such as a ladder this week.
  • Rick has terrible luck with horses.
  • 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.

Written by
Aaron is a movie fanatic and loves talking about such things…a lot. He is from Orange County, California, but earned a degree or two at UC Santa Barbara. He describes himself as a film reviewer, writer, podcaster, video game player, comic book reader, disc golfer, and a lefty. His mind is full of film knowledge and random trivia, but he is always open to learning more, whether it’s through box office stats, reviewing Blu-rays from The Criterion Collection or simply hearing first hand from filmmakers and others about various productions and behind-the-scenes tidbits.

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