The Walking Dead season 9 review: Maggie's absence – and four other talking points from episode 7, 'Stradivarius'

Jacob Stolworthy

For the first time in its ninth season, The Walking Dead slowed the pace with an episode of mixed results.

Events picked up exactly where they left off last week, with Rosita and Eugene in mortal danger after a run-in with those whispering walkers. Not that the series was willing to give us any information on its new villains. Instead, viewers were treated to several reunions with characters they were yet to see following the six-year time jump and were provided with a healthy portion of clunky exposition that bogs down this series from time to time.

Interestingly, this episode – titled “Stradivarius” – marked a big return for a former cast member: Michael Cudlitz, whose character Abraham Ford was killed off in the show’s seventh season, stepped behind the camera to direct the penultimate outing of 2018.

Below are the five biggest talking points from the latest installment of The Walking Dead.

Maggie’s absence

This season didn’t just mark the departure of Andrew Lincoln, but also Lauren Cohan whose character Maggie has left for pastures new. It turns out she’s succumbed to the pleas of Georgie, the mysterious LP-loving lady she met in season eight, and is helping her build a new community which – according to Siddiq – is located “far away.” All this is news to Michonne who had no idea her former friend was no longer based at Hilltop, and is pretty furious to have only just learnt the news. In fact, it seems Michonne hasn’t been to Hilltop for a rather long time (more on which below). Explaining away Maggie’s absence in this way feels a tad cheap, but conveniently sets up a future arc which may be related to a recent comic book development.

Jesus’s conflict

With Maggie gone, the Hilltop’s in need of a new leader and the odds are stacked in Jesus’s favour. Not that he’s particularly up for the challenge. With an election looming, Tara – his second-in-command – chides him for continually absconding for hours on end, but Jesus is unapologetic, and expresses hesitancy about assuming the role. By episode’s end, Jesus leaves once again, this time as part of the hunting party dispatched to find a missing Eugene. The pragmatic Tara decides to stay. “Someone’s got to make this place run,” she tells him, hammering home the fact that Tara could be the one destined for Hilltop success.

Alexandria/Hilltop rivalry

Whoever’s leading Hilltop will have quite a job on their hands, not least because it seems they no longer have the backing of Alexandria. This episode was laden with references to a hostility between the two communities, something that’s exacerbated by Michonne’s refusal to help out with an forthcoming fair designed to reunite all the factions. As a consequence of this rivalry, members of each community are holding secret meetings, namely Jesus and Aaron who regularly “evade protocol” to meet for fight practice. Later, the duo find an injured Rosita in the woods and bring her back to Hilltop. “It was weird seeing her after all this time,” remarks Tara. What happened for these two communities to become so distant from one another? It’s a question that’ll surely be explored in next week’s mid-season finale.

Daryl can’t shake Rick’s “death”

Fans of the long-standing Carol and Daryl friendship have plenty to chew over in this episode, with the former asking her old pal to look over Henry’s shoulder when she’s escorted him to Hilltop. Daryl’s happy where he is – alone and killing walkers (”there seems to be more and more lately,” he tells Carol) with a new canine friend he’s imaginatively named Dog. “She misses you,” Henry goes on to tell him, prompting Daryl to acquiesce her wishes, no doubt spurred on by Carol’s concerns for his well-being. In one of the episode’s quieter moments, it’s revealed Daryl may not be entirely sure Rick died in that explosion. “We never found the body,” he tells Carol. Either that or he needed to see the body for closure. Side note: wouldn’t it be great if Norman Reedus showed up in one of the Rick Grimes films?

Eugene’s in danger

Overall, the episode was a largely uneventful outing, but it did a good job setting up what is sure to be a thrilling mid-season finale next week. Don’t be surprised if it's called “Operation: Save Eugene.” After finding Rosita injured in the woods, the group swiftly learn that – after their run in with those whispering walkers – she left Eugene in a barn before getting away. The episode’s climax sees Daryl and Jesus set off to search for him, unaware of the danger they’re riding towards. However, it seems they might not be the only ones in danger – as Michonne and company head to Hilltop, new addition Connie seems to see a figure watching them from afar in the woods. Either the whisperers are nearby or there’s yet another threat lurking in the wings. All will (hopefully) be revealed next week.

The Walking Dead will drop its mid-season finale US on AMC next Sunday with the simulcast airing in the UK at 2am. The episode will also be available to watch on NOW TV ahead of its repeat on FOX at 9pm the following evening.