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Written By:

Rich Cross

The second episode of The Ones Who Live turns the attention to Michonne, the unstoppable lone warrior, back out on the road on a solo mission to track down Rick, her partner and the father of her adopted family. She now has evidence that Rick survived the devastating explosion on the bridge in which he sacrificed himself to protect his community from a walker swarm. Michonne is unable to rest until she can confirm his fate, even after all of the years of silence that have followed. It’s Michonne’s determination, rather than Rick’s seeming indestructibility, that’s driving the drama at this point.

Gone rolls the clock back to replay the time period seen in Years from Michonne’s perspective. It takes the story up to and beyond the pair’s joyous reunion to explore the complicated consequences of its immediate aftermath. This is a much more emotionally literate episode than Years, as it digs deeper into Michonne’s attempts to deal with loss, her empathy towards others, her resilience and her stoicism. The delve into her psyche builds the anticipation ahead of that pivotal moment in the woods so well that it’s hard not to think that Gone would have worked better as the new show’s opening story.

After Michonne rescues two travellers from encroaching walkers, she is summoned before Elle, the leader of a ramshackle roaming convoy of vehicles, to account for her actions. Michonne, in turn, questions why Elle is prepared to abandon those who leave the caravan to scavenge. She asks to be rewarded with the gift of a horse so that she can continue her journey northwards towards Bridgers Terminal, her best lead on Rick’s whereabouts. Others in the community immediately warm to her, including the pair she saved, Aiden and Bailey, and the community’s inventor, armourer and pyrotechnic expert, Nat.

Sometimes, time pressures result in sketchily drawn guest characters whose fates are difficult to feel invested in. The script for Gone, by Nana Nkweti and Channing Powell, gives these temporary allies of Michonne more substance so that the jeopardy that they then face has a greater impact. Breeda Wool brings a sense of quiet pathos to the role of Aiden, while Matthew Jeffers excels in the much more demonstrative portrayal of the feisty fixer Nat.

The opening episode had a lot of new world-building to get through, establishing the nature of the Civic Republic Military (CRM) enclave, the isolationist philosophy that governs it, and the extent of Rick’s entrapment. Gone does not have to carry the same expository burden, which allows directors Amber Templemore-Finlayson and Katie Ellwood (aka “Bert and Bertie”) to really focus on Michonne’s literal and figurative journey. Along the way, there are some interesting revelations about life in this part of North America. Elle’s nomadic cavalcade is a form of community rarely seen in the Walking Dead universe, although it’s clear that her group can be little more than rootless hunter-gatherers who relocate with the seasons. Michonne also learns about “the Wailing”, a mass migration of walkers who seem to pose an insurmountable obstacle on her route.

The gas attack, launched from CRM helicopters to protect the isolation of their city, makes for a horrific set-piece and provides some fantastic visuals. Nat’s missile attack on “the Wailing” had earlier demonstrated his prowess with weaponry, and the murderous CRM attack from the air gives all the justification required for the later retaliatory attack on the chopper piloted by Rick. In the aftermath of the gas bombing, the survivors hunker down in an abandoned shopping mall to give their damaged lungs time to recover. The passing of the months that they need to recuperate is evoked through a downbeat and melancholic montage, something which invests the reunion all viewers now know is imminent with an even stronger sense of emotional release.

Danai Gurira’s return to the role of Michonne impresses immediately. Gurira delivers a masterful and emotionally exposed performance as her character’s belief system is tested almost to the point of destruction. The reunion with Rick is a moment of triumphant personal vindication that’s undercut by the need to agree on a cover story that can deceive approaching CRM reinforcements and buy the pair time. The moment does exonerate Michonne’s refusal to surrender her search for Rick, but this is not presented as a simple, sentimental assertion of the power of belief. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that everyone who broke away from Elle’s convoy hoping for a better life in Michonne’s company is dead by the time that she and Rick return to the CRM citadel. Any hope of escape is quickly compromised by the return of an old adversary who knows the duo’s full backstory. And Michonne’s own relief is quickly tempered by doubts about the ways in which Rick may have changed and what he has been willing to surrender.

Gone lands the emotional payoff of the reunion with fan-pleasing conviction, at the end of what’s an engrossing backstory for Michonne. But what impresses just as much is the fresh jeopardy that the Grimeses are immediately plunged into, as a new high-stakes crisis ensnares them.


New episodes of THE WALKING DEAD: THE ONES WHO LIVE premiere on AMC and AMC+ in the US each Sunday

Read our previous reviews of THE WALKING DEAD: THE ONES WHO LIVE below:

Season 1, Episode 1, YEARS

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