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Spoilers below for anyone who hasn’t yet watched The Walking Dead’s latest episode, titled “Bounty.”
When The Walking Dead killed off Chandler Riggs’ Carl Grimes, it was clear another younger character was needed to take on Carl’s various comic book plotlines that the TV series hadn’t broached yet. Thanks to the time jump, li’l orphaned Henry got to vault through puberty to take on Carl’s more mature arcs, such as being largely responsible for getting a ton of protagonists murdered by Alpha and the Whisperers. Yeah, Henry screwed everyone, and I’ve never missed Carl more.
Of course, Henry’s ridiculously immature act was fueled by his new friendship with Lydia, with whom he bonded inside the Hilltop’s cells. His motivations are morally sound enough, as he agrees with Daryl and others that returning to her mother Alpha is far from Lydia’s best interests. However, Daryl and the others quickly came to the wise and grounded decision that Lydia wasn’t worth wasn’t worth sacrificing both Luke and Alden.
Not Henry, though.You see, Henry doesn’t exactly know how fucked everyone else is going to be, because he wasn’t around to hear Alpha’s threats concerning the Whisperers’ “land” being trespassed upon. Why not? Because he’d broken Lydia out of her cell and was hiding her from everyone.
Technically, he should have a clear and present idea of the horrors Alpha is capable of, considering Lydia spent enough of their time together talking about how harsh and abusive her mother is. If Henry did ponder any of that, though, it only fueled his hero swagger instead of shrinking it.
Did Henry take 5 minutes to consider his actions, or to seek outside counsel, before penning his letter and going out on his own to track Lydia down? Of course not, even though he only has a vague awareness of where they might be. That, along with the zero advantages he has over the Whisperers.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with The Walking Dead’s comic book storylines, it may sound like I’m going overboard in vilifying Henry for fooling himself into thinking he’s merely rescuing a distressed damsel. But for those who do have an inkling of where the comics take things, there has rarely been a more opportune time to worry about the remaining characters. (Well, some of them, if not others.)
Without getting into super-direct spoilers, let’s just say that in the comics, the dependably foolish Carl made the same mistake of chasing after Lydia and Alpha. And even though it initially seems like Carl’s intrusion would go unpunished by Alpha, she does not make threats for the sake of hearing herself talk. People end up dying – a lot of people.
Those deaths bring me back around to why I miss Carl being around for this narrative span. (Enid misses him as well, seeing as how she referenced his letter.) The dude definitely made tons of terrible choices before during the TV show (and comic), but he was a much stronger character in the post-eye-loss era. Plus, he had a much longer and more meaningful history to share with Lydia during their time together, and she had more of a reason to lower her guard so quickly.
Carl, whose walker bite and actual death followed courageous attempts to save others, had recently moved to Hilltop not long before the Whisperers showed up, similar to Henry’s situation. However, Carl moved there to be more independent among a group of familiar survivors, while Henry tagged along to take mentor lessons from Daryl. A duty that he is TERRIBLE at, by the way.
Carl’s attempt to rescue Lydia was admittedly inspired in part by losing his virginity to her, which happened whenever he allowed her out of her cell for the first time. I’m not going to say that having intercourse is the main thing that gave Carl and Lydia’s relationship more significance, but it gave him a bond unlike any he’d had before.
Plus, this was how Carl discovered the Whisperers extremely lax rules about rape and consent. (The Whisperers don’t call it rape, though, instead likening sex to an animal’s natural instinct.) As such, he was the only one aware of that sensitive information, which better informed his solo trek.
Now let’s contrast that with what happened when Henry took Lydia out: she ate a worm, and then HE ATE A WORM. Sure, he showed her shit and she went into a panic, but the TV show’s remixed take on Carl losing his virginity was Henry eating a dirty worm. Not even the filthy pun embedded within that can justify it.
Lydia did talk with Carl in the comics about eating dead animals as part of The Whisperers’ dietary habits, but nobody was the head chef how fresh the day’s worms were. This was the point when Lydia should have panicked and decided to stop talking to Henry, but I can’t judge Lydia too harshly, since anyone would seemingly be better to spend days with than Alpha.
Time (and social media) will tell how well viewers react to the consequences of Henry’s actions. Assuming enough viewers keep showing up. The Walking Dead has often been a lock in years past to conquer the midseason schedule, at least on the cable side. However, the show’s ratings hit their most worrisome point recently with Alpha’s introduction.
That dip occurred despite a couple of positive upticks in viewers earlier in Season 9. I admittedly would have though the Whisperers’ arrival would bring back anyone who wasn’t happy with Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan, who has taken a big backseat to others in Season 9. But that hasn’t exactly been the case.
Clearly, the ratings issue has more factors going into it than just “Henry be dumb, y’all,” but The Walking Dead has always suffered the brunt of fans’ barbs whenever its younger characters are being showcased. But let us not think back upon Sam Anderson and the undead Sophia, and let’s just hope that Henry spontaneously develops the skill set needed to convince Alpha to leave everyone else alone…
And she just kills him in their place. Trade Lydia for Alden and Luke, and trade Henry for a bunch of other protagonists. It’s just smart math.
The Walking Dead airs every Sunday night on AMC at 9:00 p.m. ET, and fans can probably get ready to see a few more graves being dug around Hilltop and beyond in the coming weeks.