Review: The Walking Dead 9×12, “Guardians”

Aaron Neuwirth reviews The Walking Dead season 9, episode 12 in which our heroes grapple with what it means to be a guardian.

It would appear The Walking Dead is getting back on track. Last week was an awfully good step in the right direction, and “Guardians” is offering more good stuff for the series to work with for the back half of this game-changing ninth season. If you took out all the soap opera baby daddy stuff and doubled down on learning more about the wild ways of the Whisperers, this may have even been an all-timer. As it stands, “Guardians” does a lot to lean into what its title means.

Let’s dig into that, starting with Michonne. She’s so intent on guarding the people of Alexandria that she’s becoming something of a dictator. It’s not to the point of maliciousness, which is what was such a problem for folks like the Governor and Negan, but for someone who put so much effort into the Walker World Constitution (the Charter), let alone helping establish a council, it’s interesting to see how her good intentions are leading to her usurping control from those chosen to lead. This portion of the episode stood out by bringing Michonne back into the forefront, while also having us deal with intriguing politics concerning these communities.

I often comment on the quality of the writing, and it’s because I know the show is capable of nuance and intriguing looks at how this world functions, given that we’re watching a weekly series that has time to explore, as opposed to a film with a set length. It’s complicated issues like the ones going on in Alexandria that I’m happy to praise, as it makes me think on how I would handle these issues, knowing there’s no easy answer.

That brings us to Negan, a former guardian who is looking for a way to restore that role in a new way. He is rightfully called out by Michonne, as far as why he returned after escaping his prison cell. However, in a blunt and silly way, Negan tries to make a point back at her. He’s not necessarily wrong, though saying he could keep people in line is hardly the way to make a better point. I’m not big on Negan in jail, so I can only hope he gets out and becomes useful on this series, but scenes between Danai Gurira and Jeffrey Dean Morgan at least have some spark, given a level of animosity that hangs over them.

The least successful of the guardians is Eugene, whose love for Rosita leads to me fully realizing the nature of the love triangle (love rhombus?) a few characters are in. We have Rosita pregnant with Saddiq’s child, but she and Gabriel are together now, though Gabriel is worried if he can man up. Meanwhile, Eugene is so in love with Rosita that he wants to force everyone else into a peaceful position by giving tough love talks and providing charts and supplies. It’s very silly. I get it, and the Eugene character can be fun thanks to Josh McDermitt’s control on the delivery, but I’m glad this is mostly in the background and kept to a minimum. It’s not The Walking Dead of Our Lives.

A real guardian is Alpha, who gets plenty of time to shine this week, along with Ryan Hurst’s Beta, the towering Whisperer, who is the main muscle of the group (and the latest big guy I’m sure Daryl is going to have to kill, eventually). We get to hear Alpha tell stories of her wonderful parenting, have her tough talk dumb Henry, take the initiative in combatting a possible mutiny from a couple who were clearly in over their heads, and make the most out of testing Lydia’s loyalties.

Not a bad day, even though it did end with a heard descending on the Whisperer camp and taking a big bite out of it. Before that, however, we got to see some significant moments detailing just how wild Alpha’s philosophy is when it comes to showing the sort of leadership and power that she has. There were some vicious acts on display here, and while it may not have lead to dumb Henry getting his due, after being instantly caught, it’s undoubtedly going to lead to a rocky trade fair whenever the show gets around to having the event take place.

Daryl is, of course, as guardian as well. He and Connie (and the dog named Dog) spend most of the episode tracking dumb Henry. They watch the Whisperers enough to see the camp and lead in the herd. Daryl is basically the only reason we have dumb Henry around, as his actions seem to draw our favorite crossbow wielder into the story. It can be a good thing, because who doesn’t like seeing Daryl act like a man of action when it comes to taking down some creepy folk?

Bringing it back to Michonne, it is neat to see the show finding ways to climb out of the Rick Grimes hole that has been left behind. Having her spot Judith spying, allowed for a conversation that led to some serious introspection. Michonne getting told by her daughter that she had once changed made for a compelling reason to have her reconsider the spot she put the council in. It allows the show to look back at itself for the better, knowing it can tell stories based on its own history of the characters who have been established, reflecting on how times have changed. That’s what’s needed if The Walking Dead plans to continue, even without its former lead character.

“Guardians” has a lot working in its favor. It splits up the episode just enough to keep track with a few interesting groups without feeling overcrowded. It also found a good way to tie everyone together, rather than feel like an assemblage of characters for the sake of filling in some story gaps. Things may be heading for the worse, given how badly the Whisperers got it by the end of the episode, but at least we’re getting a better sense of how things are working. Plus, we can all hope the fair has fried Twinkies or something similar.

Dead Bits:

  • Zombie Kill of the Week: I’ll make a slight divergence and point to Beta carving the face off of a walker to create a new Whisperer mask was gross and amazing.
  • “You’re so stupid.” – Lydia says, after punching Henry in the face. New Walking Dead MVP?
  • Henry was caught so quickly I didn’t even have time to think what his stupid plan could have been.
  • Lydia doesn’t have her mask, but I admire her zombie walk, which consists of shaking her arms around to blend in.
  • “Go to your room.” – Michonne doesn’t have time for shrewd observations.
  • “Bad dog” – Dog can retrieve arrows for Daryl but needs to work on releasing.
  • 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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