SPOILER ALERT: Do not keep reading if you have not seen Episode 7 of Season 9 of “The Walking Dead,” titled “Stradivarius”
This week’s episode of “The Walking Dead” picks up near the end of last week’s episode, with Rosita (Christian Serratos) wandering alone and wounded through the woods after she and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) narrowly escaped the group’s first encounter with the Whisperers. She struggles to find her way before eventually passing out.
Elsewhere, Carol (Melissa McBride) and Henry (Matt Lintz) have made their way to Daryl’s (Norman Reedus). Daryl lives a solitary existence out in the wilderness, with his only company being a dog that he affectionately refers to as…Dog. Carol asks Daryl to come with them to Hilltop in order to look out for her son, but Daryl is content to let the boy figure things out on his own.
Out on the road, Michonne (Danai Gurira) leads the new group –Magna (Nadia Hilker), Luke (Dan Fogler), Connie (Lauren Ridloff), Kelly (Angel Theory), and Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura)–to Hilltop along with a couple others from Alexandria, Saddiq (Avi Nash) and DJ (Matt Mangum). Along the way, Yumiko tells Michonne and Saddiq about Bernie, another member of their group they lost, and how he used to get under Magna’s skin in a good-hearted way. Yumiko then asks Michonne about Hilltop, with Michonne revealing she has not been there in some time.
In our first view of Hilltop since the time jump, the community is thriving. The fields for growing food have been extended and many other new features are on display within the walls. Tara (Alanna Masterson) oversees the day-to-day details, but Jesus (Tom Payne) is now the duly elected leader, a role in which he is not at all comfortable. Jesus reveals that he took over after Maggie departed and went to stay with Georgie.
Before Michonne and the others reach Hilltop, they return to the new group’s former camp so they can retrieve their belongings. They find, however, that the walker herd that chased them off as nearly destroyed everything. Michonne decides to round up all of the group’s remaining weapons before telling them she will not be going with them all the way to Hilltop.
Elsewhere, Jesus rides alone on his horse when he is ambushed by Aaron (Ross Marquand). It turns out the two have been meeting in secret for martial arts training, despite the current frosty relationship between Hilltop and Alexandria. After they fight, they talk about several things, including the importance of the fair mentioned in the past few episodes. In the distance, they see a flare. When they investigate, they find a barely conscious Rosita, who tells them Eugene was injured and she hid him in barn nearby. She is too weak to remember exactly where, and walkers are approaching, so they take her and go.
At Daryl’s camp, Daryl prepares his guests a dinner of roasted snake, while Carol takes the opportunity to cut Daryl’s hair. In that time, Daryl says he has been in the wilderness looking for someone, presumably Rick, as they never found a body. Later that night, Henry follows Daryl out into the woods. Daryl catches him, but then sees Dog stuck in one of Daryl’s traps with several walkers nearby. Daryl goes to save his canine companion and tells Henry to stay put. Daryl dispatches several walkers but nearly dies before Henry intervenes at the last minute. It turns out Carol had been observing the whole time from a distance.
Later that night, Daryl and Henry sit by the campfire. Daryl thanks Henry for his help, and explains most of his traps are meant to keep out walkers and that there have been more than usual lately. Henry chastises Daryl for being so hard to find when his mother speaks so highly of him.
Michonne and the others have taken shelter for the night. While the others sleep, Michonne gets up and draws her sword. She encounters Luke fiddling with something. Fearing it could be a weapon, Michonne attacks as Luke turns. It turns out he was holding a rare Stradivarius violin, which Michonne has now cut in half. Luke explains where he got the instrument, and that he believes music will help humanity survive.
At Hilltop, Jesus reveals he has been seeing Aaron. They inevitably argue about Jesus’ role in the community, with Tara telling him he needs to step up for the good of everyone. She tells him she will search for Eugene so that he can stay and keep the community together.
The next morning, Saddiq tell Michonne that Maggie has left Hilltop and Jesus is in charge. Before she can process that, walkers attack. Michonne reluctantly allows the new group to have their weapons. Magna gets her knife, while Yumiko has a bow and arrow. Kelly and Connie each use wrist rocket slingshots. They fight off the walkers, but they recognize one of the walkers is their friend Bernie. Magna breaks down, so Michonne puts Bernie out of his misery.
They continue their ride to Hilltop, with Siddiq saying Maggie went with Georgie to help establish a new community. They encounter two riders from Hilltop, who are on their way to Alexandria to tell them about Rosita. Michonne decides to continue on to Hilltop, riding ahead of the rest of the group.
Daryl decides to ride with Carol and Henry to Hilltop. Their welcome is short-lived though, as Aaron asks Daryl for his help in searching for Eugene. Daryl agrees, and Jesus tells Tara he must go as well. She agrees, saying she will watch over things while he’s gone. Daryl, Aaron, and Jesus ride out together.