I try to be a responsible recapper of The Walking Dead, so I'm going to take responsibility for being totally wrong about what those symbols from a few weeks ago meant. They were the mark of the Highwaymen, a new group introduced in "Chokepoint," the 13th episode of Season 9. Their negotiation with the Kingdom was the sillier half of a relatively inconsequential episode, with the other half focused on Daryl's (Norman Reedus) crew trying to escape the Whisperers.

The Highwaymen are a band of thieves who moved into the area after Carol (Melissa McBride) burned alive the Savior marauders who controlled the area earlier in the season. They're old-timey highway robbers led by Angus Sampson who prey on travelers and dress like Civil War re-enactors. They beat up Jerry (Cooper Andrews) and took his sword and demanded an audience with Ezekiel (Khary Payton). They said that they'd rob anyone going to the trade fair unless the Kingdom paid tribute. Zeke and Carol and JerBear were like "lol no," and after getting the drop on them with the reinforcements they brought (the Highwaymen seem a little amateurish), they counter-offered with a job offer of ensuring travelers safe passage. At first, the leader — who I'll call Custer, for his 1800s garb and cowboy hat — laughed it off, but then Carol invited them to watch a movie. And they were very excited about that. What a treat! Also, I'm very into Custer's choice of weapon: a big ol' wrench. I wonder if he was a plumber in his past life.

Meanwhile, Daryl, Henry (Matt Lintz), Lydia (Cassady McClincy), Connie (Lauren Ridloff), and Dog were on the run after escaping the Whisperer camp. Daryl didn't want to bring Lydia, but Henry wouldn't go without her, so Daryl reluctantly agreed. They decided to take shelter in an office tower that was undergoing renovation when the zombie apocalypse hit. In the calm moments before the storm, Connie made the case for keeping Lydia around, while Henry got honest about his deep feelings for Lydia. Her mother Alpha (Samantha Morton) is not going to let it go that they made her look weak by escaping and nowhere is safe for them now, but at least they have each other. She gave him another worm-breathed kiss. Don't forget Lydia likes to eat worms and bugs!

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Then Beta (Ryan Hurst) and his Whisperer strike team found them. There was a cool construction site fight — I really liked Daryl hitting someone with an axe through a plastic sheet, creating the effect of blood exploding out of a shadow — but that was just build-up to Daryl and Beta's mano a mano. Shoutout to Beta for busting through a wall like the Kool-Aid Man. Daryl is much smaller than Beta, but he held his own, and when Beta lost eyes on him, he snuck up behind him and knocked him down an elevator shaft. He came to in the last scene of the episode, concussed and pissed.

The gang decided to head to Alexandria to get Henry stitched up — he got injured in the fight in which he killed his first living person — and after that, who knows? "There's a whole world out there," Daryl growled. But at least they'll all be together, even Lydia, who's part of the gang now. And there's definitely something going on between Daryl and Connie. Daryl seems like the kind of guy who likes a woman who challenges him, and Connie is even more of the strong, silent type than he is. She's overruling him left and right. I'd say it's only a matter of time before she puts a finger on his lips and then kisses him.

All things considered, this was one of the weaker episodes of the half-season. Even for a short episode — only 40:48 without commercials — there was a fair amount of filler in it. Did we really need any of the stuff with Tara (Alanna Masterson) and friends? We did not. Plus, I don't envision the Highwaymen making much of a long-term impact, and also they're kinda goofy. And after four consecutive Henry and Lydia-heavy episodes, I'm ready for a break from the teenage lovebirds. Cassady McClincy is very good and Matt Lintz is fine, but they're just not who I want to spend all this time with. Let's get a Negan-Judith episode. Hell, even a Father Gabriel-Rosita episode. But that Daryl-Beta fight delivered, man.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. Previous seasons are available to stream on Netflix.

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Jeffrey Dean Morgan, <em>The Walking Dead</em>Jeffrey Dean Morgan, The Walking Dead