If you’re a fan of the Walking Dead comics, you knew this moment was coming. If you weren’t, we know just how you feel. (I, for one, was not prepared.)
The penultimate episode of the show’s ninth season was a jawdropper, ratcheting the horror sky high in advance of next week’s finale on Sunday, March 31. Here’s everything that happened on “The Calm Before” show:
As the episode opens, we see a group of happy Hilltoppers heading for the big fair — only to be slaughtered (and, in one case, scalped) by Alpha (Samantha Morton) before they ever get there. But for the next hour or so, it’s easy to forget the hovering threat of the Whisperers. The fair is a huge success, as the fractured communities come together, healing old wounds, forging new ties. Michonne (Danai Gurira) is welcomed back to the fold, as the community leaders convene to discuss future alliances and come away inspired: they will unite to battle the Whisperers, and beyond! From now on, they agree, the communities will be allies, and an attack against one will be treated as an attack against all.
Meanwhile, Rosita (Christian Serratos) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) smooth things over. Henry (Matt Lintz) plans to take Lydia (Cassady McClincy) on a movie date — much to the delight of Carol (Melissa McBride) and Ezekiel (Khary Payton). Tara (Alanna Masterson) steps fully into her leadership at the Hilltop. And Enid (Katelyn Nacon) and Alden (Callan McAuliffe) stroll happily through the fair, young and in love and snacking on candied apples on sticks! Which are, uh, in no way a ghastly foreshadowing of this episode’s horrifying climax. Nope.
…Okay, we lied.
Because as the celebration carries on, an uninvited guest strolls through the crowd: Alpha, wearing the stolen dress, hat, and blonde-haired scalp (ewwww!) of her earlier prey. And while we don’t know what she’s up to, we do know she’s finished with whatever it is by the time a tracker party, led by Daryl (Norman Reedus) and including Michonne, Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), and Carol, heads out to locate the Whisperers’ camp. As night falls, the group is set upon by walkers — and when the zombie are dead, the Whisperers emerge. They’re surrounded.
But instead of killing them, Alpha captures the group and holds them until morning. And at first light, she brings Daryl to an overlook. A massive horde of walkers is milling below, her Whisperers among them. But she and her people won’t bother the allied communities, she says, as long as the bounds of her territory are respected — territory she’s marked with a border just north of here.
“You’ll see it as you leave.”
Daryl finds his friends waiting for him in the woods. Then, they find Siddiq (Avi Nash) — tied to a tree, covered in blood. He points. And just as promised, they see it: a border, clearly marked, by ten tall pikes … with ten heads mounted on top. And they all belong to people we knew.
We recognize the Highwaymen first. Dead. Then the camera begins to cut back and forth between the field and the fair, as people begin to realize that their friends are missing.
Their undead eyes are open. Their undead mouths are moving. Frankie. Rodney. Nadia. Tammy Rose.
Enid is next.
And then, finally—
“No, no!” Daryl screams, running to come between Carol and the last pike, the last head. “Just look at me,” he says. But it’s too late.
She’s already seen.
This horrifying moment seems to go on forever, but eventually, we cut — to the memorial several days later, as Siddiq eulogizes the dead. Alpha left him alive to tell this story in the hopes that it would destroy them, he says. But the story he wants to tell is a different one: about how their lost friends fought for each other, down to the last, and died as heroes. That’s what he wants people to remember. And that’s where it ends… for now.
Next week: “The Storm.”
The Walking Dead airs on AMC Sundays at 9 p.m. ET.
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