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TV Review: The Walking Dead - Season 9, Episode 11

Season 9, Episode 11: Bounty

PLOT: King Ezekiel goes on a mission to revive cinema while the Whisperers try to negotiate a captive exchange at Hilltop.

REVIEW: Any viewers who skipped airings of AMC's The Walking Dead tonight in favor of watching the live broadcast of the Academy Awards missed less than I thought they might. While Bounty does feature the first tense face-to-face with new villain Alpha (Samantha Morton), leader of the "Whisperers" group that likes to walk among the dead wearing masks of zombie flesh, the interaction between her and representatives of the Hilltop community did not go as far, and didn't get as heated, as I was hoping.

Maybe I was disappointed by the interaction because I'm still feeling burnt out by the over-extended "all-out war" that was fought between the communities and the Saviors run by Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). I watch Alpha facing off with the Hilltop folks and Daryl (Norman Reedus) and I just feel tired of this villainous community leader stuff. I think, "I can't believe we're going through this again so soon after Negan." The characters have had a seven and a half year break since Negan was strutting around making threats, we've only had a handful of episodes. In concept the Whisperers are awesome and creepy, so as great as Samantha Morton is, and as fun as it is to watch her eyebrows dance around as she plays Alpha, I think I'm going to need her to stop talking and put the mask back on so I can really enjoy their presence.

The Hilltop has Alpha's daughter Lydia (Cassady McClincy) in their custody, the Whisperers have Hilltop residents Alden (Callan McAuliffe) and Luke (Dan Fogler). Although Alpha takes a very cold approach to her people, even ordering one female Whisperer to abandon her baby in a field as zombies approach because the infant is making too much noise, something within her has made her break her own code of conduct and go after her daughter, offering a trade of captives. Daryl isn't very receptive to this trade offer, since he knows Alpha beats Lydia, much like his own father used to beat him. That's a great set-up for emotional interactions between these characters, but they're still holding back in Bounty.

The Walking Dead Norman Reedus Samantha Morton

I also felt that the stand-off scenes were weakened by the amount of cut-aways to the B plot, which involves King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) leading Kingdom residents on a mission to acquire a projector bulb from a movie theatre full of zombies. As Ezekiel says, the bulb isn't something they "absolutely need", and I wasn't convinced this mission was something we absolutely needed to see right now. Every time we bounced over to the theatre, it deflated the tension of the Hilltop scenes. Ezekiel gives a nice speech about "bringing cinema back from the dead" and I would have been fine with seeing this mission in most other episodes... but it didn't seem right to pair it with the situation at Hilltop.

This cinema mission did have fun and action in it, though. One of the bright spots was when the Kingdom bunch uses a boombox playing a tape labeled "Mission Mix" to draw the attention of the zombies away from them - and there's a shot of Jerry (Cooper Andrews) lip syncing to the music. Jerry got a good amount of screen time in this episode, which makes me very concerned that they're starting to build him up toward a tragic end. I know this fair the Kingdom is planning is not going to go well.

Some of Jerry's screen time comes in an opening flashback, where he tells Ezekiel that his wife is pregnant. In present day, we find that Jerry has three kids, so we know this flashback occurs several years ago, sometime during the six year jump between episode 5 and episode 6 this season. It occurs at a time when the communities are not very happy with each other for reasons that have yet to be explained, so it really just serves to tease us over the fact that there are story details being kept secret. And to give us one more scene with Jesus (Tom Payne).

There was one sequence in Bounty that I thought was truly great. It involves that baby the Whisperer sets down in the field. The baby is rescued by Luke's friend Connie (Lauren Ridloff), who runs off into a cornfield with both zombies and Whisperers coming after her. That would be a troubling situation for anyone to be in, but it's even more frightening that Connie is the one enduring it because she's deaf. We experience this sequence through Connie's perspective; the sound drops out as she moves through the cornfield, zombies lunging out at her from behind the stalks. This scene is the biggest thing anyone who watched the Oscars missed out on.

BEST ZOMBIE MOMENT: There were a lot of zombie moments to choose from in this episode, King Ezekiel and his pals take down a whole bunch of them at the theatre, but the "Connie in the cornfield" sequence is the winner.

GORY GLORY: A zombie scalps itself while crawling through an old popcorn machine to get to the Kingdom group.

FAVORITE SCENE: If Jerry hadn't won my heart a long time ago, he would have in this episode when he pronounced the word "fragile" just like the dad in A CHRISTMAS STORY does. Just like I do every time I see the word "fragile"... My favorite scene is, of course, the one where Connie escapes through the cornfield with the baby, I just wanted to give a nod to that Jerry moment.

FINAL VERDICT
 

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