WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for this week's episode of The Walking Dead, "Scars," which premiered Sunday on AMC.
In “Scars,” The Walking Dead finally explains the origin of Michonne and Daryl’s scars and their subsequent isolation, and it does so by serving a largely standalone episode reminiscent of the show’s earlier seasons.
Via flashback, we learn that in the months following Rick’s death, Michonne and Daryl were both pretty obsessed with finding their former friend's body or the walker he may have become. While everyone else in Alexandria has seemingly started moving on with their lives, Daryl and Michonne still struggle with their loss and bond over it outside the community walls. Michonne’s staggering grief informs her continued devotion to Rick and Carl’s vision for the future, and it’s also probably a huge motivating factor in why she easily embraces an old friend who comes to Alexandria’s gates with a gaggle of children.
Rutina Wesley plays Jocelyn, a close girlfriend of Michonne’s whose return to her life could not have been more perfectly-timed. Under normal circumstances, this kind of friendship is probably something that would’ve helped Michonne make it through the loss of her partner and surrogate son. Under apocalyptic circumstances, however, Jocelyn’s return is nothing short of miraculous.
But this is The Walking Dead, so when Jocelyn reveals herself to be TWD’s very own Maester Qyburn, it’s horrific, but not surprising. The slow reveal of madness lurking underneath a veneer of normalcy is a trope that played out in specific storylines, but also served as a broader theme of the series’ earlier seasons as the survivors grappled with the ways in which the world had irrevocably changed for the worse.
Eventually, storylines like "Terminus" or "Woodbury" more or less died out as the survivors got more savvy in dealing the new world (lack of) order, and gained ground in creating communities that espoused humanity’s best qualities as opposed to its worst. But that doesn’t change the reality of the predatory world around them, as Michonne and Daryl are forced to witness once more.
After Jocelyn kidnaps Judith and several other Alexandrian children, Daryl and a pregnant Michonne hunt them down, only to find that Jocelyn jumped off the deep end long ago and has started recruiting the children of the apocalypse to be her own personal murder gang. They capture the two and brand them after it becomes clear Jocelyn has trained her minions to use adult sympathy to their advantage. When Michonne hesitates to drop a weapon and tries to reason with the kids instead, Daryl is shot and she’s knocked out for her trouble. Unfortunately, Jocelyn’s mania has led her to artificially inflate the kids’ confidence to absurd heights, so Michonne, to her own horror, is eventually forced to kill several children in self-defense. While pregnant.
It’s a vintage Walking Dead tragedy – an onion of horror with seemingly endless layers. It’s worth noting that devoting only one episode to this trauma when the incident clearly had a massive influence on the bulk of Season 9 undermines its impact just a bit. It’s extremely strange to have watched Michonne and Daryl go through this ordeal that once more involves Michonne forced into murdering children while carrying one of Rick’s and at the end of it say to yourself, “Somehow that felt anticlimactic.” But ultimately, the entire thing feels a bit rushed
“Scars” feels like something early seasons of The Walking Dead would have (and did in the case of Carol and Lizzie) taken a bit more slowly and showed us in excruciating slow-motion Michonne’s realization of what she needs to do... or at least her realization of what Jocelyn’s become. Overall, it’s still executed well, and it certainly explains Michonne and Daryl’s subsequent paranoia and isolation, but the episode misses some of the resonance of similar arcs, simply by virtue of its abbreviation.
It doesn’t help that packed into this episode is also a reconciliation of sorts between Michonne and Judith, who’ve been at odds since the beginning of the second half of Season 9. With a little help from Negan, who seems well on his way to redemption via Judith, Michonne finally realizes shutting her daughter out in an effort to keep her safe will only ensure that the kid gets into dangerous situations all by herself. The two meet up outside of Alexandria’s walls where Michonne watches her daughter slay walker after walker, and is finally forced to recognize that locking herself and the people she loves behind the walls of Alexandria is marginally effective at best.
The episode ends with Michonne and Judith meeting up with Daryl, Connie, Henry and Lydia on the way to Kingdom, and it looks like the security chief has finally found a way to leave Jocelyn and her flock of danger ducklings behind. Of course, if Alpha and the Whisperers launch the same kind of attacks they do in the comics, Michonne is liable to double down on her old ways once more.