Review: The Walking Dead 9×08, “Evolution”

Aaron Neuwirth reviews the mid-season 9 finale of The Walking Dead, "Evolution" in which Daryl, Jesus, and Aaron attempt to find Eugen and learn of something very scary.

I take a lot of notes for this show. It used to be that a mid-season finale of The Walking Dead would take up a page and a half. I barely got past half a page for “Evolution.” This is mostly because not much happened. There were characters talking about a lot of things that could happen, and that I’d like to see, but aside from the one main story that had a beginning, middle, and end, the rest of this episode left me wishing I could actually see the events that have been so heavily referenced, following the six-year time jump.

To be clear, I don’t find it very exciting to see a lot of people dancing around the events that transpired with Michonne and the Hilltop. Something took place, which presumably cost some lives and ruined the relationship between Alexandria and Hilltop, but the show is spinning its wheels to reveal that information. I understand teasing out a story, but the endless ways The Walking Dead has chosen to allude to this only keep it as the main focus in my mind. Not helping is the Hilltop stories that “Evolution” decides to tell.

Why does this show think it needs another Carl? And not just Carl, the annoying, angsty Carl that no one liked. I get that Henry serves as a weird replacement that makes up for some of the plotlines that the comic had for Carl, but from what I see it’s just not worth it. So, rather than delve more into what happened with Michonne, or focusing on anyone else that could prove to be more interesting (even Enid at this point), we get to watch Henry meet up with a bunch of dumb teenagers.

If you were excited to learn what would happen with that, then I hope you enjoyed a tired story featuring moonshine, drunken activities, messing with walkers, and a finale that features the aftermath of it all. This may have killed time for the episode, but I would have been happier to learn more about everyone else, who currently sit in exciting positions given what Rosita could be telling others, or the ways the new group must interact with Hilltop.

Speaking of, the newbies find themselves ideally finding a place to stay at Hilltop, but they must earn it. Michonne isn’t winning them many points, but at least Carol got to have a quick meet and greet, leading to one of the more human sections of the episode. Just having Michonne and Carol talk about their kids is far more affecting that most of what I’ve seen in the past few weeks. Too bad she’s off early on in the episode, and we don’t even get to see Ezekiel (or Jerry).

Negan is back this week as well, as you need to do something with this go-nowhere character before we take a break from him. As it stands, there is at least some progress. He’s been having therapy sessions with Gabriel, who is finally calling him out on his shit (Rosita-related stress), but it’s all just a build up to Negan’s discovery. What Negan chooses to do, now that he’s out of his cell, could enter potentially dangerous territory, but I can only hope he shows that he’s not been rehabilitated, and murders some folks on his way out of Alexandria, never to be seen again. That won’t happen, but I can also hope Negan has something more interesting to accomplish than restarting his old ways.

The bulk of the episode is focused on the well-handled objective of Daryl, Aaron, and Jesus finding Eugene. They are successful, but also have to deal with a herd of walkers, unlike the others. With Eugene talking all about the possibility of walker intelligence increasing, it seems like a setup for something pretty wild for the series. Of course, that’s not the route chosen. It’s the old Scooby Doo reveal of people wearing masks. So non-comic readers may be a bit let down.

Still, even with the whisperers revealed to be (presumably) folks as crazy as the trash people, the show did an excellent job of building the atmosphere and somewhat surprised me with the death of Jesus. A foggy graveyard proved to be the scariest bit of atmosphere this show has crafted in some time, and it looked great. As for Jesus, well, even with all the mentions of his potential leadership abilities, none of that was enough to keep him from dying.

I can’t say this hit me too hard, as the show’s version of Jesus has never been great (despite Tom Payne’s efforts). At least he went down fighting, and it was an opportunity to show off the threat of this latest big bad group. Given that nature of this group, the ideal will be to see Daryl and the gang have to figure out something that doesn’t just involve some Rick logic of merely being stronger, with good hearts.

Given the Rick of it all, this has been an odd first half of a season. It started with a lot of promise but has had a tough time juggling everything to make this Rick-less world understandable. There are plenty of signs of potential, and I like the idea of aging everyone up to push people out of a comfort zone, but the execution has been hit or miss. With more character-based stories that are told straightforwardly, the back half of this season could work to the show’s advantage, now that everything at least seems set up. Let’s just hope it’s not going to keep teasing out the nature of previously transpired events.

Dead Bits:

  • Zombie Kill of the Week: Jesus got to be a lot more like his comic book counterpart with some cool martial arts business, before biting it.
  • Clearly, people shouldn’t be dating Aaron, as he’s cursed to be alone.
  • I don’t care for Negan, but between his Steve McQueen in The Great Escape impression, and his whole bit about TV, Jeffrey Dean Morgan was at least having fun.
  • Daryl’s dog, Dog, seems like a good companion.
  • Of course Henry is so lame that even Enid is all for the former Savior dude, Alden, over him.
  • With Jesus gone, maybe Tara can become a better character again, now that she doesn’t have to have complaint-filled dialogue moments with him.
  • Those graveyard doors are tough.
  • So, the Whisperers have some involved masks if we can believe they function so easy to wear for long periods of time. They must have a great preservation system for those.
  • 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 Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks,, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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