Spoilers are ahead for the season eight of The Walking Dead. Keep reading at your own risk.
This week, the women of The Walking Dead finally get the spotlight.
Season eight is about a lot of things: Rick’s revenge, Daryl’s anger, Ezekiel’s losses, Jesus’ morality, Morgan’s insanity, Gabriel’s faith, and of course, Negan himself. It’s also a season that’s thus far focused mainly on the goals and actions of men, with many of the women either staying behind in the home--Maggie, Michonne, and Rosita--or existing mostly as sounding boards for the men’s plans-- Carol and Tara.
We have of course seen Carol and Tara fight alongside Ezekiel and Jesus, and we’ve had brief interactions with Maggie at the Hilltop. But when it comes to interiority, to knowing what the characters are feeling and thinking, and screen time, the focus has mostly been on the men. This week’s episode, “The King, the Widow, and Rick,” gave us a chance to finally interact more with all the women who’ve been holding down the fort while the men took center stage.
The character who gets the most focus and agency this episode is Maggie, who’s now become the leader of the Hilltop. Jesus has commanded more screen time this season, but he turns to Maggie for advice and final say. She sits in Gregory’s chair, and in the wake of Gregory’s betrayal, even orders him to be caged in alongside the Savior prisoners. “I grew up on a farm. I know all about sheep and wolves,” she tells him. In the wake of her husband Glenn’s death, Maggie has grown into a formidable threat in Negan’s eyes--his oft repeated phrase is that they need to take down “the king, the widow, and Rick.”
This is also the first episode where we really get to interact with Michonne and Rosita. Both women stayed behind to guard Alexandria because of wounds they suffered last season, Rosita was shot and Michonne nearly beaten to death in the Savior attack on Alexandria. From a narrative standpoint it makes sense that they’d stay behind to continue to heal. (On the other hand, if two main characters had to be put out of commission to up the tension in season eight, did it have to be two of only five women leads?)
Michonne and Rosita find each other in Alexandria, and it’s clear they both feel antsy about not being a part of the fight. “The second they rolled out from sanctuary and I wasn’t with them, it’s like a siren’s been going off in my head,” Michonne says. “It’s been a day and a half and I’ve felt every second.” The two agree to go see Rick’s work at the Savior compound, so they can be assured things are going well and to perhaps feel vindicated that Negan is getting what he deserves. The two get waylaid on their way back though when they investigate the sound of music at a warehouse, meant to draw the walker horde away from the Saviors.
It’s enjoyable to see Michonne and Rosita begrudgingly bond as they both decide--against their better interests and likely against the wishes of Rick--to enter the battlefield. Here are two headstrong warriors who aren’t used to letting others fight their battles. It’s refreshing to get to an episode that passes the Bechdel test as both women converse and then work in tandem to enter the warehouse. What ensues though is an ungraceful fight where it’s clear neither of them were ready. It’s messy and it’s human, and it’s the kind of development I’ve been looking for.
And then we have Carol. Carol has been at Ezekiel’s side this whole season, but beyond her doubtful frowns we haven’t really interacted with her much. Here we see Carol back in the limelight and determined to pull Ezekiel out of his grief in the wake of his overwhelming loss; there’s literally no Kingdom men of age left to fight except for Jonah. Where Jonah dutifully listens to Ezekiel, Carol literally shows up to his door with a shotgun. With Carol acting as an addendum to Ezekiel’s story for most of this season, it’s nice to see badass Carol back, taking charge where others won’t. There’s even a scene where she agrees to train a stubborn young boy, a call back to all the times Carol has (begrudgingly) taken on a mentorship role.
Tara gets a few brief moments as she tells Daryl she’s still going to kill Dwight for murdering Denise. We even re-encounter garbage-dwelling Janis this episode, and she’s still as weird and terrible as ever, sculpting in the nude and refusing once again to help Rick. (Janis is one of the most unbelievable parts of this show, let’s just admit this.) Even Enid gets some screen time, and it appears she’s acting as assistant to Maggie as she leads the Hilltop. Where Maggie is firm in her decisions, it seems Enid is softer, showing compassion.
All in all, it’s a surprisingly packed episode full of numerous women. When Michonne, Rosita, and Tara sit in the car with Daryl at the end, it’s probably the most women we’ve seen in a single shot together this season. It’s an interesting episode that finally provides us with some perspective away from the battlefield, and I only wish it didn’t take six episodes in to get that.
This episode is both more than what I was hoping for and yet it also felt not quite enough. With all of the women sharing a single episode, it’s difficult to really focus on any one character’s development. I can only hope we’ll see all these women more often in the backend of season eight.