Following on from the new tone and pace established in last week’s premiere, The Walking Dead season 9, episode 2 is a slightly weaker follow up, if only because viewers are expecting better after such a strong start. The Bridge of the title is both a metaphorical and literal one, as Rick and his crew work to rebuild the road connecting the various communities together, while Michonne travels to Hilltop to continue to repair relations with an embittered Maggie.
Aside from a handful of key scenes, The Bridge is more interested in foreshadowing and setting up future conflicts than spilling any major cans of worms, which is understandable for the second episode of sixteen, but not exactly a must-watch slice of TV gold either. Read on for our full The Walking Dead season 9, episode 2 review, but be warned, there are major story spoilers beyond this point.
Luckily, this episode featured even more enjoyable one-to-one scenes between key characters that were the highlight of the premiere, including a funny, awkward fireside chat between Ezekiel and Carol, and another terse argument for Rick and Daryl, who remain divided on how to deal with the Saviours. Norman Reedus exudes a kind of dynamism that he hasn’t displayed for a while here, pepped up by a solid script of punchy fighting talk from this episode’s lead writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick. Unlike Maggie’s out of character turn against Rick, you believe that Daryl genuinely feels he’s in the right on this issue, and his slow but steady break away from Mr. Grimes is all the more painful to watch as a result.
The reason Daryl and Rick are even debating the Saviours at all is because relations with Negan’s former followers are far from rosy. If The Walking Dead season 8 was about war, season 9 explores the aftershock, and what happens when the losers are treated like second class citizens. Case in point: the Saviour who pushes Henry over (gotta admit, I kind of enjoyed that) and fails to direct the Walker herd away from the timber crew nearly got Daryl and Aaron killed, but how should he be punished?
Daryl wants to beat him to a bloody pulp, Rick ends up exiling him, but one mystery character decides to brutally murder him instead. The fact that you can empathise with the motivations of all shows just how good The Walking Dead can be at stomping around in murky waters, providing no easy answers to its grand dystopian thought experiment. Speaking of that Walker scene, you have to appreciate Rick’s nifty little idea to unleash the logs upon the herd, which indulged the campy side of The Walking Dead via a cacophony of heads splattering against the wood like ripe tomatoes to a rolling pin.
The amputation of Aaron’s crushed arm, however, was quite a bit more gruesome, the sight of his bone jutting out between the flesh horrific enough even before Enid was forced to start chopping away at it while Daryl held him down. It’s been some time since The Walking Dead has been so painfully gory, but that made this sudden surge in violence all the more effective as a reality check for viewers; Rick may have taken down Negan, but the world is still just as dangerous as it was before.
In happier news, it’s pretty much tradition for every new season of The Walking Dead to introduce a new romance into the picture, and it looks like season 9’s happy couple is also one of the strangest. It starts off innocently enough, with Anne sketching a picture of Gabriel’s former crush based on his verbal descriptions (bit of a weird way to woo someone, but ok), before things escalate preeeetty quickly while the two are on nightwatch together. So much for the good priest’s chastity, but we’ll cut him some slack, given everything that’s happened.
I’m not against this romance per se, as Gabriel has long felt like a character without much purpose or charm; but this pairing just doesn’t gel or evoke empathy in the same way as, say, Rick and Michonne, but we’ll see if AMC can pull it off in the long run. Something tells me the return of that helicopter, which Anne spots hovering high above her in the dead of night, will put a strain on the love birds’ blossoming affair, as the mysterious pilot is clearly someone she no longer wants to be associated with.
And then there’s good old Negan, who finally shows up right at the end with a very on-brand monologue prophesying a terrible end for Rick and his family. Something’s different, though. This Negan, played with a hoarse throat by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, is more subdued, more… sombre, but no less scary and authoritative in tone. His speech is a well written portent for what’s to come, especially his line about Rick’s bridge being not a tribute to the future, but “a monument to the dead”, which is shudderingly poetic in its creepiness. You have to wonder what he means by this, of course, and where all that unearned confidence is coming from, but so far I’m much more intimidated by despondent doomsdayer Negan than the theatrical, freewheeling Negan of season 8.
It was a good place to end episode 2, as well, especially as Dean Morgan’s voiceover segwayed into that cliffhanger ending of the Saviour exile being murdered, though the way director Daisy Mayer decided to shoot this scene left a lot to be desired. This is the third time in three seasons that The Walking Dead has used an anonymous POV perspective to create a cliffhanger but, frankly, that’s already two times too many.
The show has an annoying habit of using the same filmmaking devices over and over again, and this first-person whodunnit ending is quickly becoming AMC’s favourite new trick. It’s tired, repetitive filmmaking, and The Walking Dead season 9’s fresh coat of paint deserves better, so I’m hoping it doesn’t show up again.
To end on a sour note in this way is disappointing, but The Bridge is by no means a total blemish on this season’s track record so far. There’s some great dramatic meat for Walking Dead fans to chew on until next week’s episode airs, and I’m excited to see how and where the story develops from here, especially with regards to Negan, Daryl, and the bubbling tensions amongst Sanctuary and the surrounding communities. Bring on episode 3.
Verdict: Silly cliffhanger aside, The Walking Dead season 9’s second episode just about maintains the momentum established by last week’s premiere.