Whenever The Walking Dead embraces the messy internecine politics and struggles of the people within Alexandria and Hilltop (let’s be honest, Oceanside is a continual afterthought on this series), it tends to give the show a jolt of energy. Much like last season’s best episode, the drama to be mined from angry and rebellious factions inside the walls of our supposed refuges makes for good TV, and in highlighting the increasing resentment of Alexandria’s more dimwitted and reactionary elements when it comes to Lydia and Negan, the show has found some engaging material. Scared people do stupid things, and in targeting the most vulnerable members of their community, the idiots threatening these former antagonists have chosen some stupid positions, indeed.
If only it had been conveyed in a more elegant manner. “Silence The Whisperers” was directed by Michael Cudlitz, the man who played dearly departed Abraham, but there are multiple moments in which both clarity and emotional impact suffer from some abrupt cutting and weird choices in camera angles and coverage. It starts with the opening montage, which should be affecting and potent, but instead often feels jarring, like the camera is dropping in halfway through a scene it should’ve followed more closely. It continues through Ezekiel’s first discovery of the tree collapsing onto Hilltop, which is a bit confusing despite a slow pan, simple because of the way it’s framed. And it carries on throughout the episode, which has some great moments, but are too often weakened by the way Cudlitz fails to convey the spatial geography of locations effectively. Does anyone have a clue how far down the fall would be from where Ezekiel stands when he’s considering suicide? Me neither, because the episode doesn’t frame it well. Margot’s death works because the belated cut showing she died makes sense for the scene, but that’s also how everything else here comes across, even when it doesn’t logically follow in such a manner—things are often a bit too late to really land.
But what works here really works, and shows the writers know they have compelling stuff when dealing with the fractious internal situation behind the walls. Following on the heels of the opening montage from last week, where wave after wave of walkers crashed down upon Alexandria, here the main threat comes to Hilltop, and yet it’s the shell-shocked members of the other community who are looking for an easy fall guy for their suffering. Gage and his two cohorts are making life hell for Lydia, but they’re not the only ones. We see her trying to connect in multiple situations, only to be rebuffed. (Admittedly, maybe waving at traumatized survivor Siddiq isn’t the most promising of targets.) But Aaron sees her tormentors messing with her, and does nothing. Just like a number of other folks, he’s apparently given up on being fair-minded, a particularly galling choice given how it basically negates his tête-à-tête with Negan last week. Suddenly Gabriel, nobody’s idea of the most rational and thoughtful person in the community, is stuck playing common-sense guy, just because he tries to delay the inevitable blow-up that will happen when he sides with those who don’t want to kill Negan. Luckily, whoever let Negan escape made that choice easier.
And we don’t know who that is, yet, though I would personally put Carol at the top of the list. Lydia claims responsibility, but Daryl immediately calls her out, knowing she didn’t go anywhere near the former Savior’s cell during the night. (Daryl makes a lot of mistakes this episode. Oh, you’re sorry this happened? Too little, too late, Mr. Stay-Away-From-Negan.) Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Cassady McClincy continue to be two of the best things about this show at present, and having Lydia walk into the recently vacated cell of arguably her only friend was a smart choice. No one in camp has done a very good job of helping these two integrate into the community, and both times Daryl talks to them from the other side of the cell bars—first Negan, then Lydia—makes clear that even the guy who should know better has failed miserably. Michonne wisely points out keeping Lydia safe might be the only thing keeping their communities alive, and Daryl can’t even communicate that to the others. He’s not having a great day.
Then again, Ezekiel might be having a worse one. Carol’s former beau is at the end of his rope, and when Michonne sees him wandering off to consider the better aspects of falling to his death, she steps in to put a stop to that self-pitying nonsense. Not only that, but we finally hear her open up a bit about the way multiple personal tragedies can alter you on a fundamental level. “It’s harder the second time around…especially when you get used to having someone there,” she says, the ghost of Rick Grimes all but perching on her shoulder as she reaches out to a man who not only experienced a similar loss, but has to walk around knowing the person he loves no longer wants to be with him. Dropping the “King” stuff may have been unavoidable, but Ezekiel is now stuck without a persona to give him strength. To quote his panicked admission to Jerry two seasons back, “I’m just some guy.” Thank goodness Jerry will never allow that shit.
Why is it so hard to remember the names of our new recruits? Maybe it has to do with how little the show knows what to do with them. Magna remains the most memorable, simply because Nadia Hilker is a magnetic actor, but even she is stuck doing little but sniping at Yumiko for making decisions Magna doesn’t agree with, as though that’s a huge problem when it involves saving their asses. Luke remains the music guy with nothing else to do but travel to Oceanside, because we had one scene with him in the season premiere where he flirted with a woman named Jules, while Connie and Kelly have barely registered as presences thus far, the former’s attraction to Daryl notwithstanding. Even after last season’s bloodletting, there are a lot of people standing around that don’t get serviced much by the story; focusing our attention on the messy scenes within these communities is a better way to address that problem.
And problems, they have. As Daryl tells Carol during their routine check-in, it may be true that all of this Negan/Lydia drama is a distraction, but they’re still a symptom of a serious set of problems—the people alongside them are getting paranoid and stupid, and it’s going to threaten everything they worked to build. “Silence the whispers” is now graffiti everywhere inside Alexandria, suggesting Gage and company have a lot more supporters than is manageable. Alpha may not have to do anything but sit back and wait; these communities have the potential to tear themselves apart without her help.
- “Shoulda gone to New Mexico.” Daryl, Carol, you’re not wrong.
- Cassady McClincy is so good in her scenes, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan so excellent a foil, I almost wanted him to murder the other two dummies as well, just to keep their repartee going.
- I actually thought the way the show handled Ezekiel kissing Michonne, then immediately apologizing, was very smart. Needy, lost, and lonely, with her measured reaction making it feel real.
- Eugene and Luke bond over the recognition of the scientific name for cockroaches.
- I deliberately avoided talking about Judith, because her precociouser-than-thou talk with Michonne was a reminder of how this series mishandles that kid. The two of them slicing and dicing walkers wasn’t bad, though.
- Scene of the week goes to Lydia slapping down a dead squirrel in front of Alexandria’s three biggest idiots and proceeding to carve it up, blood shooting onto Gage’s dumb face.
- “When you get scared, you pick a target and shoot.” Amen, Lydia.
- If you’re curious, the song that opens and closes the episode is “Heaven I Know” by Gordi.
- Here’s hoping we catch up with Negan sooner rather than later.