Major spoilers below for anyone who isn't yet caught up with all The Walking Dead's latest episodes.
In the first half of Season 9, The Walking Dead introduced a new mystery element in the form of unexplained X-shaped scars on Michonne and Daryl's backs. It was clear the circumstances and meaning behind the scars would get revealed at some point this season, and the installment "Scars" was the logical place to take viewers back to the harrowing events that occurred between the two Season 9 time jumps.
Now that we're privy to all this new information, let's go over everything we learned about the past, how it affected the present, and the questions we still have after the end credits rolled.
What Happened In The Past
For Michonne to have completely shut Alexandria off from the rest of the communities, fans knew something awful had to have happened to her. Those expectations were largely matched by what actually went down, too, as Michonne dealt with both the betrayal of an old friend and the kidnapping of her surrogate daughter.
In the months after Rick "disappeared," the pregnant and still-grieving Michonne spent quite a while looking for signs of his survival, as did Daryl. (The latter apparently went out as far as the ocean, too, yet somehow didn't discover that gun like Michonne did.) Caught in this emotionally vulnerable and psychologically warped cycle, Michonne found temporary relief in the form of Jocelyn, an old friend she hadn't connected with in around 15 years.
Appearing distressed and injured, Jocelyn quickly gained everyone's trust, soon introducing the large group of children under her ward. She claimed the other adults in the group had snapped and/or died. The kids were proficient with weapons and other survival skills, so it wasn't hard to believe they'd been on their own for a while. Of course, this was all just Jocelyn's elaborate ruse to steal the majority of Alexandria's food, supplies, and ammunition, while also kidnapping the community's young and impressionable survivors. Including Judith.
Michonne and Daryl tracked them down, but soon also found themselves held captive. Then came THE MOMENT that viewers have wondered about for months, with Jocelyn having the kids use a fire-heated iron to permanently brand Michonne and Daryl each with a "X" on their backs. Tadaaa, the answer to our questions has been "helplessly savage children" this whole time.
As admittedly freaky as it was to watch these half-brainwashed children doing the evil bidding of a psycho – The strong survive...and thrive. – it was less impressive to learn the X scars' origin was merely circumstantial, without any deeper meanings getting revealed. Lots of unanswered questions remain, which could technically still get answered later. (More on those below.)
Daryl and Michonne escaped, naturally, though Michonne got both her stomach slashed by a shitnose kid, and her back bludgeoned by that shitnose Jocelyn. (Both of those moments legitimately made me want to break all the things around me.) Michonne eventually killed Jocelyn and got Judith back, thankfully, though not before a few agonizing seconds made it appear as if Judith might not recognize her mother anymore.
Seriously, Michonne is not getting any breaks in Season 9. Her eyes may be more open again to the thought of communicating with others and trusting outsiders again, but those rascally Whisperers aren't going to make it easy for her to keep that mindset going.
What Happened In The Present
I would have preferred more info getting teased out in previous episodes about Michonne's trust issues and the scar situation, as opposed to getting it all at once in this episode. However, it's easy to understand why the creative team wanted have Michonne reflecting on The Jocelyn Debacle whenever Daryl and Lydia arrived at Alexandria's gates.
Because Michonne knows Daryl is the one person who truly understands what it means asking her to welcome a stranger, she allowed Lydia in without the abundant scrutinization she heaped upon Magna's group. She still made her thoughts loud and clear, though, undercutting Henry's appreciation for Alexandrians being allowed to attend the Kingdom's super-important fair. She then offered the not-so-vague hint that the safety of all the citizens is way more important than Lydia's safety is.
For all the other current-day moments (such as Aaron clearly bullshitting Daryl by saying he's got good dad qualities), the crux of the episode involved Michonne having her first conversation with Judith about being kidnapped by Jocelyn and the other kids. Her daughter was the person that Michonne most wanted to shield from that ugly reality and others, by way of ignoring them completely, though Negan made it obvious that Judith is more world-weary than her mother expected.
In fact, Judith actually remembered being kidnapped, to the point where she even explained that Michonne being covered in blood is why Judith hadn't recognized her upon being found. (Okay, I guess so, sure.) That reveal was seemingly the last nudge forward that Michonne needed to embrace the outside world again without every action driven by maintaining the sanctity of Judith's innocence.
To that end, the episode's happier conclusion had Michonne and Judith using a horse and car-riage to chauffeur Daryl, Lydia, Henry and Connie to the Kingdom. It's no guarantee that Michonne will rapidly jump at the chance to sign Ezekiel's charters at the fair, but I'd assume that's where things are meant to be heading.
Naturally, a pair of Whisperers showed up at the very end to witness people arriving at the Kingdom, and one of them immediately said that they gotta go tell Alpha all about it. So here's hoping all the Kingdom's fair-goers can get in a few hours of good, solid fun before the next round of horrors come knocking.
Some Unanswered Questions
Okay, so what was actually up with Jocelyn and her underage warriors? Was she making the kids burn/brand prisoners just to test the youth's mettle and lack of empathy in the face of doing something so awful? Was the X shape even important at all, or was it just the first branding iron these people came across?
Also, were Michonne and Daryl ever going to be released, which would have possibly added further relevance to the brandings' permanence? Or were the kids just going to be tasked with killing the pair later anyway? I suppose I could understand if Jocelyn gave those children more increasingly sadistic directions about torturing Michonne and Daryl, but was that actually the case?
Did Daryl tell Michonne about his big fight with Beta, and everything else that he knows about Alpha and the Whisperers at this point? Why haven't we seen more flabbergasted explanations and reactions from people when the Whisperers are being discussed?
I prefer when Henry is mostly quiet and doesn't risk everyone's safety. That's a statement, so I guess my question would be, "Can we get more of that?"