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TV Review: The Walking Dead - Season 9, Episode 8

Season 9, Episode 8: Evolution

PLOT: While various characters settle in at Hilltop and Negan finds hope at Alexandria, Daryl, Aaron, and Jesus observe strange behavior among a herd of zombies while searching for the missing Eugene.

REVIEW: For the first time in a long time, AMC's The Walking Dead legitimately had me creeped out while watching an episode, although I will admit that the uneasy feeling I had while watching the season 9 midseason finale Evolution was largely due to the fact that I already knew the SPOILER of what was going on with the herd of zombies Daryl (Norman Reedus), Aaron (Ross Marquand), and Jesus (Tom Payne) observe moving through the countryside in an unusual way and steadily growing in number. Although I haven't read the comic book source material, I knew why Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) had heard the sound of whispering coming from that herd... And I'm glad I knew that, because I'm not sure I would have been feeling very positive about the situation if I really thought the zombies on this show were evolving to the point that they were starting to talk.

But before delving into the whispers among the dead, I'll get the less cool stuff out of the way first. While Evolution gradually built up to the climactic zombie action, we got some character work at the Hilltop community, as Michonne (Danai Gurira) delivered the new group of survivors we recently met to their potential new home at Hilltop.. and she continued to talk very cryptically about events that occurred during the six years between episode 5 and episode 6 this season, events that pushed communities apart. I guess we'll know what she's talking about someday, but for now this teasing stuff is kind of irritating.

There was also a portion of this episode that was dedicated to a character I do not care about at all, Henry (Matt Lintz), the adopted son of Carol (Melissa McBride) and Kingdom community leader Ezekiel (Khary Payton). The show obviously has to spend some time building Henry up, because storylines that involved Carl Grimes in the comic book are now going to be falling on his shoulders since the previous showrunner made the regrettable decision to kill Carl off last season. But I'm not caring about this kid so far. Henry is at Hilltop studying to be a blacksmith now, and the only thing I found interesting about that situation was when Henry witnessed blacksmith Alden (Callan McAuliffe) kissing doctor Enid (Katelyn Nacon). 

I was surprised by that sight myself, because when Alden was introduced on the show last season I thought he was meant to become a love interest for former Hilltop leader Maggie. He had to look for love elsewhere now that Maggie has moved on, though, and I never would have guessed he would find it with Enid. I was actually kind of grossed out by their kiss, it seemed inappropriate for a moment because McAuliffe comes off as being older than his years and I still think of Enid as a little kid. McAuliffe and Nacon are actually not far off from each other in age.

After being disappointed to find out that Enid isn't available, Henry falls in with a trio of Hilltop teenagers, and I didn't trust these kids for a second. I found them to be almost as creepy as the walkers in this episode, because I had a feeling they were up to no good. They did indeed turn out to be a collection of shitheads, and I don't think Henry is going to be hanging out with them anymore. I liked his reaction to the secret they shared with him, that was a positive moment for the character.

Back in Michonne's home of Alexandria, there was an unexpected turn of events with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) - at least, I didn't expect that turn of events to happen quite so soon. What happens with the character in this episode could open the door to some interesting stuff down the line, but there's a chance it could lead to some annoying stuff. I've had more than my fill of watching Negan play villain on this show, so they need to do something different with him now that he has spent six years locked up in a cell.

Now the really good parts of Evolution. The reward for sitting through the Hilltop and Alexandria scenes. I thought the situation with the roaming herd of zombies was masterfully handled, from the opening moment with Daryl, Aaron, and Jesus noting from afar that they were moving around in an unusual way. The building dread as the trio realized the herd was doing more unusual things, getting ahead of them in the countryside. The fear exhibited by Rosita at Hilltop when she finds out Daryl, Aaron, and Jesus are out there dealing with the herd while searching for the missing and injured Eugene. "They have no idea what they're dealing with!" The information delivered by the terrified Eugene when the guys locate him, that the zombies have been circling through the area, actually searching for him.

Eugene presents the theory that the zombies are evolving. Again, if I actually thought the living dead on this show were going to gain the ability to speak, I probably would have been thinking this episode was ridiculous. But I knew that SPOILER. I knew there were people wearing zombie skin moving among that herd, leading it. Directing the zombies in the way they wanted them to go. That's an even creepier idea to me than the idea of zombies on their own, and it gets me wondering what sort of people these Whisperers are. I know of them, but I don't know what they're like in the comics, and right now I can understand why people would disguise themselves as the dead to move unharmed among the herds, the main characters on both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead have done that before, but I can't understand why they would be such douchebags that they would purposely lead the zombies to kill other people. Why are the Whisperers are so determined to kill Eugene and his companions? I look forward to finding out why they do what they do.

As the herd grows and relentlessly pursues Daryl, Aaron, Jesus, and Eugene, night falls and thick fog rolls in, bringing us to an awesome climactic sequence set in a fog-enshrouded cemetery. For me, this felt like one of the highlight sequences of the entire series, something that's going to be a positive memory as fans reflect on The Walking Dead down the line. The cemetery fight and the reveal of the Whisperers.

With this episode, we say goodbye to a character who has been around for a few seasons, but that character goes out with their all-time greatest scene. Aaron and Jesus fighting zombies in the fog with their martial arts skills provided some great visuals, and while I was enjoying the action the dread was also continuing to build, as I knew one of these zombies they were fighting was eventually going to reveal itself to be more than just a zombie. When that did happen, it was a hell of a moment.

There was plenty in Evolution that I didn't care about, but there was enough badass stuff in there involving the zombies and the Whisperers that I was left feeling more entertained by The Walking Dead and more enthusiastic about what I had just seen than I have been in many episodes.

BEST ZOMBIE MOMENT: The zombies and the Whisperers closing in on Eugene, Aaron, and Jesus in the foggy cemetery is one of the best zombie moments in the history of the show, as far as I'm concerned.

GORY GLORY: A good number of zombies are dispatched with slashes and stabs in the final moments of this episode, but the best bit of gore comes when Jesus smashes a zombie's head into a headstone with his boot.

FAVORITE SCENE: That cemetery fight scene leading up to the Whisperers making their presence known.

FINAL VERDICT
 

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