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The Walking Dead - Variant - Review

  The Walking Dead “Variant” was written by Vivian Tse and was directed by Karen Gaviola, whose other credits include Paper Girls, Lucifer, and Hawaii Five-O. This episode finally introduces the “Variant” walker – one that can climb and turn doorknobs – and think??!! The episode is also noteable as the first time we get to see Cooper Andrews’ (Jerry) utterly AMAZING sword skills! Really, show??? Why were you keeping that from us???? The episode also sees Eugene (Josh McDermitt) do the bravest thing that he’s ever done – stand up (or actually kneel down) for the woman he loves! Also show? DO NOT KILL JERRY! 

The Judith (Cailey Fleming) voiceover focuses on Eugene’s journey. As she says, no one is blameless for the choices that they’ve made, but maybe all that matters is what you do now. The episode picks up right where we left off with the riot. Eugene is about to get mobbed for “killing” Sebastian (Teo Rapp-Olsson) when he is once again saved by Daryl (Norman Reedus) who pulls him to safety in a house.

I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting to see more of Rapp-Olsson, but we pick up with his body strapped to a table in the morgue, not yet re-animated and very surprisingly, Pamela (Laila Robins) seemingly mourning him. Mercer (Michael James Shaw) is there and offers to do the actually killing blow – I’m betting he’d have loved getting to shove his knife in the little prat’s brain! – but she won’t let him. She still has plans for her wayward son. She tells Mercer that she had her differences with her son – but family is complicated… and then she brings up Max (Margot Bingham) – his sister – saying that she’d been loyal to her for over a decade, and she’s just lost her way…. Mercer doesn’t react, but he has to know it’s a threat. She tells him that she needs an example – but if he can find and pin it all on Eugene, Max can be “saved.”

Mercer rounds up all the “new immigrants” and has them interrogated. Rosita (Christian Serratos) is the first that Mercer interrogates her – he starts by simply reading her file and insisting that she verify whether it is true or not. She challenges him – are they just strangers now? He asks where she was during the riot. She says alone, but witnesses saw her with Eugene. She stops denying it and even tells Mercer that they’d been talking about his sister. Max had said that she wouldn’t leave with them – she wanted to stay and make things better there. 

Mercer tells Rosita that he knows Eugene will go to her because they are like family. She says she’ll call if Eugene turns up. Mercer goes on to say that he respects her, but that she should tell Eugene to turn himself in because that will be better for everyone – well, except Eugene obviously. He tells her that if he doesn’t, none of her people are going anywhere (so much for his promise to help) and things will only get worse – for all of them. Rosita just smiles. Shaw is great in this scene as you can see how much it’s costing him to have to do this to save his sister.

On the road to Oceanside, Aaron (Ross Marquand), Jerry, Lydia (Cassady McClincy), and Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari) run into a herd. Jerry wants to stop and wait for it to pass – and cook for the others! – but Aaron insists that they need to get the supplies to Oceanside and make sure that they’re ok. I wonder if we will ever find out what happened to Luke (Dan Fogler – whose IMDb page lists him as on the show to 2022…). Lydia and Elijah continue to flirt adorably. As the herd moves away, one stops and turns – seemingly for no reason.

Rosita comes to the church where Daryl is guarding Eugene. They’ve all been interrogated. Rosita warns that Mercer is going to be watching, and Daryl tells her that he’s counting on it. Eugene’s first question is whether Rosita has seen Max – she hasn’t – and then he apologizes for putting them in ‘extremely compromised positions.’ Daryl simply says the prick (Sebastian) had it coming. They have a plan to get out, but Eugene is not leaving without Max. Rosita goes to look for Max with the hope that they can get them both out.

Meanwhile, Pamela makes an announcement offering a reward for the fugitives…

Back on the road to Oceanside, the wagon has gotten stuck because they’ve had to go off road to avoid the herd. Jerry severely hurts his knee as the wagon breaks free. They hole up in an old Renn Faire enclosure – and this is an amazing set! LOVE IT! Elijah moves in to steal a kiss as he and Lydia make a fire, but she pulls back for some reason… Jerry is also loving the new digs, but Aaron is clearly worried about Oceanside. He and Lydia take first watch.

Pamela cleans up Sebastian and mourns her son. She actually seems to realize that she bears some responsibility for what’s happened – and failed him as a parent. She leaves the room when he reanimates, telling the soldier coldly as she walks out to “take care of it.” And here I was thinking she wanted him put down…

Princess (Paola Lázaro) is waiting for Mercer when he gets back to the station. He tells her that he’s sorry, but he can’t be seen to be playing favorites. She says “So it’s not personal?” and I loved the double meaning here. Everything is personal between them. He tells her that Pamela wants Eugene for what happened to Sebastian, and Princess can’t believe he’s ok with that – and of course, he really isn’t, but he has to save his sister, right? Princess has a special place in her heart for Eugene because he was really the one who insisted she come with them. He accepted for her who she was – and only good people do that. Mercer at least tells her that he has to look out for his family and Eugene will get a trial. They both know it won’t be a fair one. Princess asks him what good is the Commonwealth if a good man is put to death? They’re interrupted when there’s been a sighting and Mercer has to go.

Aaron and Lydia keep watch – and if you didn’t recognize the typical Renn Faire enclosure (if you have never been to a Renn Faire (what’s wrong with you???) you should go!) – there’s a banner “Ye Olde Renaissance” hanging under them. And how is that still there? Aaron asks if everything is ok with Lydia and Elijah. She tells them she was reminded of Henry, and just doesn’t think she can risk love again. Aaron tells her about Eric. He’d said no again and again when Eric first asked him out – and now he regrets not saying yes sooner, so that they could have had just one more day together. Marquand is really good in this scene, and it was really nice to have that shout out back to his husband. He tells her that there was loss before the world turned upside down too. The only thing that they can control is saying yes.

As the scene ends, a walker’s hand comes over the top of the ramparts… and we all know that’s just not right!

Back in Alexandria, it’s night and Rosita finds Max skulking about – and though she tries to keep the troopers away – Max is taken into custody. 

Mercer has a prepared speech for her to say. They want her to say that she’s suffered from depression for years and recently stopped taking her meds. She supposed to say that she manipulated the recordings of Sebastian. She refuses to say it and place the blame on Eugene. She tells him that she did it because she couldn’t stand to be a part of something so rotten. He tells her that he’s trying to save her from being executed for treason. She tells him that she’s trying to speak truth to save the Commonwealth – just like their Dad used to say. She reminds him that their father never forgot his responsibility as a citizen. She thinks he would have been proud of what they tried to do – and be ashamed of Mercer – and that really hits home.

Back at the church, Daryl tells Eugene to get away from the window – where he’s trying to see what’s going on. Eugene tells him that he’s tired of sitting on the sidelines – he’s going to look for Max himself. Daryl stands in his way – I absolutely adored this scene! Daryl just stares at him. He doesn’t move or change expression – it’s perfect. Eugene tells him to stand aside, he doesn’t want it to get ugly. Then he starts to roll up his sleeves like he’s going to fight Daryl!!!!!!!! LOL!!!!!!!!!! He holds up his fists, and Daryl stands aside and tells him to go ahead. He knows Eugene isn’t going to go. And that’s not funny. Eugene is ashamed again that he’s a coward. Daryl tells him that’s not it – it’s because Eugene is smart. Eugene is ashamed that his only real skill is lying. He asks Daryl if he thinks people are born brave or that they become it. Daryl tells him “both.” 

Princess goes to Ezekiel (Khary Payton) who is tidying up the clinic. He gives her an update on what everyone is doing. Princess thinks that they’ll just go back to how they were before – with her Ezekiel, Eugene, and Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) on the road. He tells her that he’s not leaving. Princess points out that things are terrible, and Ezekiel says that’s why he has to stay. The people want change, so he needs to stay and help. Ezekiel asks if Mercer is a good man. She tells him yes, but she’s known a lot guys she thought were good guys who didn’t turn out to be. Ezekiel points out that most people try to make the best of the situation they find themselves in, and it’s possible that he’s trying to do the same. She tells him that maybe this time she deserves more than just the best of a bad situation. He tells her that whatever she decides, he’s there if she needs him.

Pamela goes to visit Hornsby (Josh Hamilton) who is kneeling, handcuffed in an empty cell. He thanks her for coming, he hoped she would. He has a lot to say about a way forward. She tells him that he murdered her son. Hamilton continues to impress. Hornsby knows immediately that he’s done. His face falls as she tells him that his people murdered 8 workers, who then turned and killed Sebastian. He tells her that he needed to get her attention, but he never intended… He took a gamble, and he lost. He points out that he might not have gotten along with Sebastian, but he was always there to help with his little side projects. 

This scene gets really creepy – Pamela strokes his hair, and then pinches him until it hurts. He blurts out that there are players in place – I’m betting the CRM – who will take everything if he’s not there to control them. Pamela then sticks her hand in his pocket – and just gross! But she there to take out his lucky coin. She’s going to use it to decide if he lives or dies. He chooses the hand with the coin, and thinks he’s dodged the bullet. He thanks her. He promises to be better – no more games or lies – he’s 100% at her disposal. She goes to the door, telling him that she knows that. She brings in a reanimated Sebastian and has him chained to the floor. She tells him Sebastian – who is biting at her – is all that’s left. A body is brought in – with a headshot – it’s Roman (Michael Tourek), Hornsby’s thug. Pamela turns and tells Hornsby to feed her son – the body’s still warm… I loved Hornsby’s stunned face!

Princess is leaving, when Mercer shows up at her apartment and asks to talk. The pink fuzzy jacket is back – that’s her armor after all. They go back inside, and she declares that it’s awkward, but she has to leave. He asks if it’s because of him. She tells him that she can’t stay there when they’re going to kill Eugene. Mercer insists that he’s doing everything to make sure that doesn’t happen. But Princess stresses, not EVERYTHING. Mercer agrees – and that it’s a shit show. He admits that the place isn’t perfect, but it can be a lot worse ‘out there.’ 

Lázaro is nothing short of powerfully brilliant in this scene. Princess opens up to him completely. She tells him that nothing has ever been easy for her. Her dad bailed when she was 9. Her mother remarried when she was 91/2. Her step-father and step-brother both abused her – tying her up and leaving her in a closet when she acted out. If she pissed herself, they’d take turns beating her – telling her the bills are paid, you have a roof over your head… She can’t just sit by and watch because that would make her, her mom. Mercer doesn’t know what to say. She tells him that because of what happened to her, when she sees a man, she sees a monster. But she tells him that’s not what she sees when she looks at him. Mercer is stunned into silence and just stands there as she leaves.

Lydia and Aaron are sitting at the fire when they hear noises and decide to do another sweep – but it’s too late. There are a bunch of walkers already in the gates – and they’re fighting back! They wake up Elijah and Jerry. We get Jerry’s (Anderson’s!!!!) amazing sword fight – not even able to move his feet!!! MORE OF THIS PLEASE SHOW!!! 

They take refuge in one of the buildings – and the walkers are turning the door knob!!! They all retreat to the roof. Aaron is convinced it must be Whisperers again. He devises a plan to separate the Whisperers from the walkers, but meanwhile, the variant has climbed up on the roof and is about to attack Jerry. Aaron fights it to the ground and tries to pull of the “mask” only to pull off the walker’s actual face!!! Fantastic effect. 

We get a nice closeup in the daylight. The walkers are all dead now – was there just this one variant leading them? Jerry and Aaron discuss the possibility that this is just an aberration or a different type – like there are roamers and lurkers, some come back to places they remember. Aaron has heard stories about some who can climb walls and open doors…

Lydia and Elijah pack up the wagon. Elijah is taking the hint, so Lydia goes after him and gives him a HUGE kiss… Awwww. As they drive out, Aaron asks Jerry what he was talking about the day before – a Kingdom 2.0. Jerry laughs, but wouldn’t it be just perfect? Jerry says Ezekiel could be King again, but Aaron suggest is seems more like it was built for King Jerry – who then adds and Queen Nabila! LOVE it! After all, Ezekiel has a new calling. 

Rosita returns to the church and tells Eugene that she found Max, but she’s not coming. She’s already in custody. Daryl tells them the shift’s about to change. They need to get going. Daryl goes to check that the others are ready. Eugene is refusing to go. Rosita is furious – if he stays, they’ll kill him. Eugene tells her that if he leaves now, he’ll never forgive himself. Max has made him a better person, and what kind of a man would he be if he left her. Serratos and McDermitt are terrific in this scene. Eugene takes off his bolo tie and gives it to Rosita to give to Coco. 

Eugene walks into the station and is immediately pushed to his knees by the troopers. He tells them his name and then he confesses to the recording and the unintentional death of Sebastian. Mercer asks him if there’s anything else, and Eugene says yes. Maxime Mercer may have been there, but she had absolutely nothing to do with any of it. Shaw is fantastic here – he’s clearly impressed, and torn. The episode ends with silent shots of Max, Mercer, Eugene, and Rosita with the bolo. She asks if everyone’s ready, and then she’s attacked in the living room and a bag is put over her head!!!!!!!!!!!

Are these CRM personnel? More of Hornsby’s men? Where is everyone else gone – presumably she was talking to people she thought were in the next room? I’m betting that Mercer is going to come around to do the right thing. I’m curious as to whether Hornsby will feed or kill Sebastian… Fingers crossed we actually find out what happened at Oceanside next episode. Really great performances in this episode – many of which were really subtle. More of Cooper Anderson’s amazing sword skills, please! The variants are clearly going to be a transition into the new series…What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!




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