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One of the improvements that The Walking Dead has managed to implement over most of this series has been the format; gone are the days (generally speaking) where we follow a couple of characters on some self-contained little adventure that ultimately bears little weight to the overall story and doesn't really move things on in any way. It feels a lot more ensemble now and most episodes are spent switching between individuals, groups and even communities. It makes for a faster paced, leaner viewing experience. This week the focus was split between two story threads. The first, the standoff at Hilltpop between the Whisperers and the Hilltopians and Ezekiel's quest to retrieve a projector bulb so they could revive 'movie night' back at The Kingdom.

We'll start with the latter because, well, we might as well get the 'bad' stuff out of the way first. Now The Walking Dead has contained some grim humour at times but the recent trend (and to be fair, I am talking about the last two or three seasons!) of the show has seen a new injection of the light hearted stuff. The concept of introducing some smart humour into the show isn't an issue in and of itself (it can't be depressing ALL the time) but the style and delivery of this stuff leaves a lot to be desired at times. Ezekiel has basically become a bit of a cliché and whilst his regal ways were mildly amusing for about half a episode when we first met him, it now just feels a bit cringey. Like a joke that goes on too long and never really delivers a punch line. 'The King' and Jerry are clearly supposed to be some kind of double act but the opening scene (a flashback) where Jerry tells Ezekiel and Carol that his missus (whoever she is) is pregnant is just a bit too farcical. Then we were treated to the old classic 'play some classic song followed by a few glib one liners and a montage of zombie killing' as they entered the movie theatre in their (utterly pointless) quest for a light bulb. Hey, I'm sure I'm just being a bit of a grump here but this stuff just feels like a bit of a hang over from the pretension of previous series.

Part of the reason that this whole segment jarred so much is because what was going on at Hilltop was so much more relevant and interesting and tense. As expected Daryl was adamant that Lydia was going nowhere but Alpha's presentation of her two hostages (Alden and Luke) turned things on their head. Daryl is guilty of being rash and reactive but here he fulfilled his role as responsible leader and did they only logical thing that he could do; he decided to trade hostages. Obviously this didn't go down too well with Henry who tried to make a getaway with his new lady friend. Lydia stopped a potential meltdown amongst the natives by volunteering to leave the safety of the camp and go back to her mother. The hostages were traded and whilst Alden and Luke were greeted with warm embraces, Lydia received a slap from her mother. The flashbacks last week implied that her daughter's safety was the catalyst for Alpha's transformation into cold-hearted, zombie skin wearing feral chief. And despite the slap and the obvious abuse that has been taking place, it does seem that her daughter is still extremely important to her. Lydia didn't think her mother would come for her because the Whisperers leave behind anyone that goes missing etc. This ruthlessness was further displayed when Alpha, with just a shrug of the shoulders, convinced one of her own crew to abandon her own baby as she was crying and thus attracting attention from a horde of oncoming walkers. There are rules and her followers are not prepared to break them – however it appears Alpha is, putting the safety of her daughter ahead that of the group. You wonder if any of her followers realise the hypocrisy of it all. Who knows, there may be some simmering resentment within the Whisperer community. Again, with the risk of sounding like a stuck record, Samantha Morton's performance is worth mentioning once again. We always knew she was a talented actress but her turn as the big bad of series 9 is pretty chilling.

The episode ended with promise of further action, as Henry headed out to rescue Lydia from the grubby iron fist of her mother. You have to admire his bravery but there is no chance that he is going to succeed on his own. Upon hearing of his departure from Hilltop, Daryl heads out (with Connie for company) in an effort not to join in with the rescue mission, but to bring Henry back safe and sound. Everyone knows where this is headed though. The Whisperers are not going to disappear from the show at this point and any efforts to 'save' Lydia are clearly going to have huge repercussions.

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