WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 9 episode "Evolution," which premiered Sunday on AMC.
Just as with Season 8, The Walking Dead ended the first half of this season with a major death: Paul "Jesus" Rovia, the idealist moral foil to Gregory, Morgan and Maggie, took his final bow.
After running neck and neck with Game of Thrones in the competition for bloodiest genre drama, The Walking Dead took a bit of a break from axing major characters without warning. Despite that Season 8 was subtitled “All Out War,” relatively few major characters actually died. There’s absolutely an argument to be made that Carl Grimes’ death was enough to make up for the dearth of losses, and it’s not as if audiences are hungry for their favorite characters to eat it. That said, is it really The Walking Dead if plot armor is unimpeachable?
The answer is no, it isn’t. Part of what made the AMC drama good in the first place was the tension that permeated the early episodes. It was created in part because everyone on the show was in danger from everything around them. The walkers might have been the apex predators, but without the infrastructure of modern society and all that came with it (medicine, clean water, plentiful food sources, shelter), humans were vulnerable to literally everything. It made sense that they would get picked off frequently (or just disappear, a la Heath). It also made sense that, as the survivors became more successful at building permanent social structures, their life expectancy would increase. However, the post-apocalyptic world is still far from safe, as “Evolution” just taught us. As this fledgling society progresses, so too do the antagonists it breeds, and tonight audiences were reminded of just how unsafe Rick and Carl’s “new world” remains, especially in their absence.
After a spectacular cemetery fight that showed off all of his considerable skills, a “walker” stabbed Jesus in the back after whispering, “You … are where you do not belong.” It was a shocking and tragic moment, not in the least because a walker -- you know, those undead creatures that can't move at more than a slow gait and have a Maslow's Hierarchy of exactly only one level -- got the jump on a martial arts expert. For a moment it seemed as though Eugene’s horrific prophecy that the walkers had evolved was accurate – which, considering their numbers, would undoubtedly spell extinction, or at least great peril, for the remaining survivors and their communities.
Fortunately(?), that turned out not to be the case. After Jesus’ tragic demise, Daryl killed one of the fully armed super-walkers only to discover it was a human wearing a walker skin. Fans of the comics will no doubt note the villains this encounter heralds, but for show-only watchers, this was one of the series’ more gutting, confusing and, frankly, thrilling character deaths we’ve seen since … OK, since Rick two episodes ago, but still. By all accounts, Season 9 is the series most unpredictable and gripping season yet.
Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC, The Walking Dead stars Norman Reedus, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Alanna Masterson, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Nadia Hilker, Dan Fogler, Angel Theory, Lauren Ridloff and Eleanor Matsuura.