And just like that, the wind has been effectively taken out of The Walking Dead's sails.
That's not to say that The Walking Dead Season 9 Episode 7 was a bad installment, but given the quality this season has churned out, I expected much better. "Stradavarius" just wasn't what you would have expected going into the midseason finale. And as a result, it often felt sluggish and unfocused.
Simply put, it just didn't feel up to par with the rest of the season.
The Walking Dead has run into this rut in the past when it's tried to focus on multiple storylines simultaneously, and unfortunately, the pacing of hours like these always take a hit.
While it's safe to say that most of us have lowered our expectations of The Walking Dead over the last few seasons, I believe that's part of the reason why The Walking Dead Season 9 has been so impressive.
So, in what was otherwise an exhilarating first half of the season, one sub-par installment is easily forgivable.
One bright spot during the hour is the fact that Michael Cudlitz made his return to the series by directing. While this marks the first time a former castmember has returned to direct, Andrew Lincoln himself has expressed his desire to return to direct next season.
Overall, Cudlitz did a decent job behind the camera and made the most of working with what he was given.
That doesn't necessarily mean "Stradavarius" was throwaway or filler, as it did set a few things in motion and provided some insight into some interesting developments that have taken place since the time jump.
Although it was a bit surprising to learn that The Walking Dead Season 9 episode 5 was not only Rick's last but Maggies as well. With all of the focus placed on Andrew Lincoln leaving the series, it made Lauren Cohen's departure feel irrelevant.
I'm glad somewhat of an explanation was given for Maggie's departure. While it's good to know that she merely joined up with Georgie, I wish we could have seen more of what directly influenced Maggie to leave the community.
Was Maggie forced out? Did being a leader become too much for her to handle? Did she have another attempt on her life? While there are certainly many questions lingering over her exit, at least the manner in which Maggie left leaves her story open-ended should Lauren Cohan decide to return to the series.
Perhaps in time, these questions will get answered, but there's also the possibility that they never will.
Hilltop has been thriving just as much, if not more so, as what we've seen from Alexandria. Jesus has supposedly been doing a good enough job of leading Hilltop in Maggie's absence -- even though he doesn't feel completely comfortable in that position.
While Jesus just won reelection, he hasn't fully embraced being the community's leader. The only thing that seems to keep Jesus level has been his midday karate rendezvous with Aaron.
Jesus says that he's been trying to teach Aaron how to fight, but there's obviously more to it than that.
If I didn't know any better I'd say there is definitely more of a romance than bromance developing between these two. I called Jesus and Aaron potentially getting involved during The Walking Dead Season 7, and based on what we've seen things appear to be heading in that direction.
Hell, if the love doctor, Father Gabriel, can get it on with Anne and Rosita, no relationship is out of the question.
In other news, Daryl finally got a haircut! Well, it was more of a trim, but we're making progress.
Carol probably could have taken a little bit more off the top there, but I guess Daryl needs to retain his signature dirty, rugged look.
Daryl's basically separated himself from rest of the group since Rick's "death" and hoping that he somehow survived. however, there's a fine line between holding out hope and being in denial.
Daryl: Look, I know you still think I'm lookin' for him.
Carol: Are you?
Daryl: Never found a body. Ever. After a while it just got easier to stay out.
Carol: You have to let that go.
How awesome is it that Daryl has a dog? Living out in the wilderness is can be lonely, so I'm glad he has a companion out there. While Daryl doesn't have his best friend, Rick, anymore, at least he now has man's best friend.
Considering that Daryl has stepped into the leading man role, it's difficult to take any danger the character is placed in seriously.
With Rick gone, we know Daryl will be sticking around for a while, but with that comes the fact that there's no sense of danger for the character. Case in point: Daryl trying to rescue his dog from the walkers. We know Daryl was never in any real danger, and it was a scene to cause tension where there wasn't any.
While we knew there was no chance Daryl was going to get bit, the one character that I was most concerned for of becoming walker chow was Daryl's dog. Don't you dare pull a stunt like that again, writers!
With Daryl more than likely safe for the foreseeable future, I'm officially changing the fan cry to "If Daryl's dog dies we riot!"
Michonne accompanying the newbies to Hilltop didn't really serve much purpose other than learning about Luke's apparent fetish with musical instruments. Although, I did enjoy Luke's spiel about how music has always brought people together, and if civilization is trying to rebuild, surely having a few violins and recorders won't hurt.
Another fun moment was getting a chance to see Magna, Connie, and Lee in action once they got their weapons back to fend off the herd. And how badass was Yumiko with that bow?
It's a shame that Luke doesn't have a signature weapon of choice. What I would give to see Luke drive a clarinet right through a walker's skull.
All joking aside, I've taken a strong liking to this new group. Although Magna will take some more poking and prodding in order for her to open up and grow on me, that will come with time.
Yumiko: Look, I'm sorry about Magna. She can be a bit hot headed.
Michonne: That's one word for it.
While Rosita was initially by herself, I wish we could have followed up more on her struggle with Eugene to lose the herd.
After the insane cliffhanger ending of hearing the walkers speak on The Walking Dead Season 9 Episode 6, the only followup we were given was a dehydrated Rosita and some exposition as to how she hid Eugene in a barn.
And nothing good has ever happened when a barn is involved on The Walking Dead.
It's a minor gripe, but somehow seeing more of Eugene and Rosita's escape from the herd would have made for a far more entertaining situation than most of what transpired. Hopefully, the search for Eugene doesn't get dragged out and Daryl, Jesus, and Aaron are able to find him quickly.
That is if the Whisperers don't find him first.
While there were a few interesting developments, "Stradavarius" was ultimately so underwhelming. It wasn't what you would typically expect heading into the midseason finale, but it did partially set up the coming conflict with the Whisperers.
Hopefully, The Walking Dead Season 9 can finish its first half as strong as it began.
Not it's time to hear from you, TV Fanatics.
What did you think of "Stradavarius"? What are your thoughts on the new survivors so far? Are you satisfied with the explanation of Maggie's exit? Will Eugene be found before the Whisperers do?
Hit the comments below and let me know.
Remember, you can watch The Walking Dead online right here at TV Fanatic.
Steven Ford is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.