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Spoilers below for those who haven't yet watched The Walking Dead's most recent episode, titled "The Calm Before."
The final minutes of The Walking Dead's penultimate Season 9 installment were among the most brutal of the series, with nearly a dozen characters falling victim to Alpha and the Whisperers. It wasn't all doom and beheaded gloom, though. The episode's big fair united the various communities again through Michonne's charter, (seemingly) ending her rift with groups outside of Alexandria. What many fans may not have realized is that the scene features a subtle reminder of absent hero Rick Grimes.
The Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang spoke with CinemaBlend ahead of the season's snow-blanketed finale – so stay tuned for those stories – and when I asked about an undersung Season 9 element that she was particularly proud of, it was series composer Bear McCreary that anchored Kang's glowing praise. In particular, she brought up an early-season theme he'd written that also disappeared when Rick did.
One of the aspects of the season that I'm so proud of and never really get to talk about is the score. Our composer Bear McCreary is absolutely brilliant. . . . There are so many musical cues I could rave about, but one example of something I love is he wrote a gorgeous theme for the premiere episode that plays over the opening scenes of the teaser. I'd wanted to establish a hopeful, Western feel at the top of the season, and I thought he captured that so perfectly with this lovely fiddle solo. He built upon and riffed on that theme in subsequent episodes, always tied very closely to Rick and his drive to create the future that Carl envisioned. That theme disappeared for a long time after the six-year time jump, but astute viewers may have recognized that it finally came back when the community leaders signed Michonne's charter in 'The Calm Before.' I loved that, musically speaking, Rick was in the room for that scene.
I'll be the first to admit that while music playing over the scene was familiar to me in a general sense, I did not connect all those dots to recognize the true significance of its placement. Now that I'm aware of that overarching context (and have watched the scene over again), the leaders' signatures definitely take on additional narrative weight and importance.
Though neither Rick nor Carl are able to see Michonne's charter finally becoming as official a doctrine as this government-lite world can offer, the Grimes' spirit and intentions were as present as they'd been in many years for these characters. It arguably took too long for everyone to come together, but Michonne had strong reasons for becoming as sheltered and protective as she did, and she couldn't bear the risk of losing the rest of her family.
As far as emotional references go, it would it have been really easy for The Walking Dead's creative team to have written in that some character had painted a super-detailed portrait of Rick at some point. You know, so that all the characters could look at it lovingly just before they'd sign. (Even Oceanside's Rachel, who probably didn't have many feelings about Rick.)
The Walking Dead has done that sort of thing effectively, with the wall hanging of Carl and Judith's front-porch handprints being an excellent example. So a more obvious nod to Rick wouldn't have felt out of place, but I think the scene is far stronger for going with a less tangible way of honoring him that didn't immediately draw attention away from the importance of the characters finally signing the charter.
It's equally as important to highlight the lack of Bear McCreary's Western-esque theme during the span between Rick's disappearance and the communal reunion. Its absence obviously didn't mean that happiness and humanity were completely absent from these characters' lives, as viewers did see many happy moments amidst the anguish caused by the Whisperers' arrival. But the theme did invoke a sense of unity, progression and hope, which were mostly in limbo after Alexandria closed in on itself.
The Rick-esque theme got the lion's share of Angela Kang's admiration, but that definitely isn't all she was heavily impressed by from McCreary during this 16-episode season. Here, she brings up his work that accompanies the show's creepy and highly deadly villains.
And I can't say enough about I how much I love the Whisperers' theme. It's so simple and terrifying, and all the variations Bear has played on it throughout the back half have been so cool (like doing a low bass version for Beta). He's a wizard and I'm so grateful that I get to work with him!
Indeed, the music accompanying the Whisperers could easily be big and bombastic, to complement their heightened lifestyle and ways of showing dominance above others. The Whisperers are The Walking Dead's most primal and animalistic villains, however, so it only makes sense for Bear McCreary to have kept things relatively stark and without an abundance of quirky flourishes.
If it were possible, I imagine that McCreary would attempt to compose a track for Alpha that used newly discovered musical notes that could instantly inspire physiological terror and fear within those who listen to it. Kind of like the mythical "brown note," only the pants-pooping is completely metaphorical in this case.
Angela Kang said Bear McCreary had been "an incredible creative partner" during their time working together on Season 9, and she complimented his intimate understanding of what The Walking Dead's music needs to be in relation to the storylines, the emotional beats and the differences in pacing and tension. And I think she proved that notion in full by talking about the theme above.
The Walking Dead has only one episode left in the tumultuous Season 9, which will air on AMC on Sunday, March 31, at 9:00 p.m. ET. Before watching, though, go back and re-listen to Bear McCreary's music and see what other score-based clues can be gleaned from his work this season. And then get back to prepping those Bring Back Maggie posters while awaiting more from my talk with Angela Kang.