The last time we saw The Walking Dead, it left us with one hell of an image to simmer on: a battle in a foggy graveyard that left one of our heroes basically dead and the rest in mortal peril, surrounded by whispering people wearing the putrefying skins of the deceased … as one does. It was quite an introduction to the gang of villains known as The Whisperers — but their appearance on the scene in the mid-season premiere was just one of several surprise twists.
Let’s start with the high point of this episode: a big day out for Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who was last seen escaping his jail cell after somebody (intentionally?) left the door unlocked. Judith catches him as he’s going over the wall, but lets him go — because she knows, even if Negan doesn’t, that he’ll be back. After procuring a new leather jacket and taking a nostalgia tour through the ol’ Sanctuary, where he puts his zombified former colleagues out of their collective misery, the erstwhile bat-wielding maniac does indeed return to Alexandria. But his future remains uncertain: Has he turned over a new leaf? Will he finally become the happy-go-lucky gardener we saw a vision of last season? Is he going to apologize for stealing that tomato? Only time will tell.
Alas, it is not all good news. Those living at the Hilltop have grown impatient waiting for the return of the search party, leading Luke (Scott Porter) and Alden (Callan McAuliffe) to launch their own mini search-party-for-the-search-party — with bad results, which we’ll get to in a minute. But virtually right after they leave, the searchers return … with a body.
Sorry, fam: Unlike his namesake, Jesus (Tom Payne) is gone for good and will not be making a surprise comeback to the land of the living. More bad news? While transporting Jesus’ body back to the Hilltop, the group discover that they’re being followed by a pack of walkers, half of whom turn out to be more people playing zombie dress-up. The sole surviving Whisperer, a young woman, is brought back and interrogated. Her answers don’t make much sense – which, if we’re being honest, is not the biggest surprise coming from the woman wearing a hollowed-out human head as a disguise. The bigger shocker: Rosita (Christian Serratos) is pregnant thanks to an off-screen fling with Siddiq (Avi Nash), a fact that the smitten Eugene (Josh McDermitt) overhears to his immense horror and dismay.
Meanwhile, Alden and Luke remain outside in the woods, following what they believe is their friends’ trail to a clearing in the forest. But instead, what’s waiting is a group of Whisperers — and one of them holding a shotgun.
“Trail ends here,” she says. And so does the episode, leaving us to wonder what will become of these poor, hapless dudes and the two-man band they were going to start when they got home.
The Walking Dead airs on AMC Sundays at 9 p.m. ET.