A Look into That Shocking Episode of The Walking Dead and Previewing What Comes Next
Check out the trailer and a sneak peek of the season finale, along with commentary from showrunner Angela Kang on what happened and what the future holds.
By Chris Morse
The penultimate episode of The Walking Dead’s ninth season finally delivered to viewers one of the more brutal gut punches from the comic series, arguably moreso than Negan’s infamous issue #100 introduction. Needless to say, if you aren’t yet caught up on the series, turn back now if you don’t wish to be spoiled (you can watch the episode online here). Otherwise, let’s dive into this shocker of an episode.
It’s been a rocky relationship between our communities of survivors and the Whisperers, who blend in with walker herds by wearing masks made of their skin. Filling in for the absent Rick Grimes in the story is Daryl, who is shown firsthand what kind of power the group wields when Alpha takes him on a hill to show him a massive herd – one she’s not afraid of using if his people encroach on their territory again. The leader no longer wants her daughter back, but she has drawn a line in the sand during this confrontation, and it’s a line she has shown our survivors quite literally.
Much to their horror, Daryl and company stumble across a border consisting of the remains of several of their fellow survivors – ten in total – still zombified as their severed heads were placed upon spikes to mark the line between the groups’ territories. The scene is devastating and translates very well to the television screen, capturing the spirit of what it was like to turn the pages of the comic series and see this unfold on paper.
The impact of the episode closer was blunted only by the characters chosen to meet this unfortunate fate, with the most prominent two victims from the source material, King Ezekiel and a pregnant Rosita, being spared for the time being. However, the deaths of several teenagers, including Enid and Henry (even if he was far from a fan-favorite at that point), definitely came as a surprise that shows just how brutal and remorseless Alpha and the Whisperers can be. This episode was a doozy.
There’s a lot to consider and Angela Kang offered a little bit of her perspective in a chat with EW, unwrapping the most recent deaths, changes from the comic series, and teasing a little bit about what’s to come in the snowy(!) season finale. To begin with, the showrunner explained the process behind choosing which characters would get the spike, so to speak.
You know, there were so many conversations about it, because it’s really hard to decide who dies, and any time there is death on the show, sometimes it’s just story-related, sometimes, as with Andy [Lincoln], it’s because there’s a personal factor. There are contractual things. There are all kinds of things that go on. In this case, we love all of our actors. Some of the people who are on those pikes, we knew from the time we cast them that they were gonna be on the pikes. We specifically cast Brett Butler as Tammy knowing that she would wind up in that array. And we told her that at the time we cast her.
There are other characters that have been with us for a while. And it felt like, for the various characters who were on there, for example, Tara, as the leader of Hilltop, who Alpha really has a beef with, there’s some sort of sense and a feeling of retribution specifically with that death. And then there are people that almost feel random. And then you learn that there are people that just wound up in harm’s way by virtue of trying to be heroic, like DJ and those Highwaymen.
So it’s really a mix of things. Because we think that with Alpha, in some ways, this is an act of terrorism. And the thing about it is it’s terrifying because sometimes you don’t exactly understand how or why she picked her exact victims. And so that’s a big part of it. As well as, there are certain stories that we’re planning into the future, and so sometimes we’ve swapped out characters for those reasons.
As we mentioned above, the television version of this sequence did not share many of the same victims as the event in the comics, with Tammy being the one character present in both versions. Kang offered a simple explanation, pointing to the fun of keeping comic book readers guessing and speculating by changing up a few things here and there, all the while still paying homage to the source material.
Oh yeah, a little bit. I mean, that’s a little bit of the fun of the show. Obviously, doing this show, sometimes we’re very directly adapting from the comic, but we also deviate, and everybody knows that that’s kind of part of the deal with the show. We want to pay homage to the comic and we want to kind of put in those little Easter eggs for the comic book fans. For regular viewers, they might go like, “Oh, maybe Ezekiel’s gonna die or not.” But for a comic fan, it means something different, and so it gives them a little moment to speculate as they’re watching the show, which we think is kind of fun.
Some viewers have wondered how so many characters were abducted without others finding out, but that is very much by design. The story played out in a similar way in the comic series, with characters suddenly taking a backseat with all the commotion of the fair happening, but being able to successfully pull off so many abductions speaks to why Alpha is at the apex of her group to begin with.
Seeing it happen without seeing how is part of what makes the event so terrifying and effective. Kang broke it down rather nicely herself, which you can read her comments on below.
I think it was some sort of a mix of a ruse. Like when we had that moment where Henry had to kind of go off to deal with the pipe crisis — was that actually what was happening? Or was that something that they generated in order to kind of draw people in? And it’s very much in the comics. People were fooled into going with them, and I think that’s kind of what’s terrifying — that she’s able to put on a wig and a hat and look totally different and walk through the fair. In the comics, she just kind of walks around with her bald head, but because we played events differently, too many people got a good look at her. But she looks completely different with long hair and a flowing dress. So I think that’s kind of the horror of it, the feeling that somebody could snatch you from within the midst of a giant crowd.
And we didn’t want to really get into the weeds of exactly how it happened, ’cause in some ways it’s more terrifying not seeing that happen on screen. But I do think it was you trick people into going to an advantageous location, and then you very quickly knock ’em out, tie ’em up, et cetera.
Following that episode, many questions remain about the future and where the show might go from here. We have the obvious bits with the upcoming Whisperer War, but there are still quite a few differences, such as who might lead the Hilltop now that its de facto leaders Tara and Jesus are both out of the picture. With Lauren Cohan’s hiatus still ongoing, this is something the showrunner says we will have to wait and see on.
That will be a big part of the story going forward. Again with Hilltop, we also saw Hilltop have a change in fortunes over the course of the season. So I don’t want to give too much away, but that’s definitely a story point that we will get into in future stories.
Something more immediately ahead in the future is the Season 9 finale. Despite this past episode having a strong finale vibe, it’s clear the writing team decided to do things a little differently this time around. We still have one more to go and it’s shaping up to be the “winter zombieland” we always dreamed of. Yet we still have no idea what’s in store for us heading into it with the previous episode’s brutal stinger safely behind us. Regarding the change-up, here’s what Kang had to say.
When we started working on this season, that was our assumption too, that it was the finale. I kind of felt like, “I don’t want it to be the final moment, but it’s probably in the finale.” And that’s the assumption we went on for a long time. But as we worked on it, we found that it’s everybody’s expectation. And one of the big things I wanted to do this season is kind of play with the rhythms of our storytelling a bit here and there so that maybe the things are happening at times that you don’t expect it to happen, so there’s a little bit of an element of surprise for the audience. I also think there’s something interesting about, “Here’s this gigantic thing that happened,” and then, “What happens next?” And seeing a taste of it.
But again, I’m gonna take a little bit of a left turn in the finale, too. So we just thought that this would be an interesting way to go about this story. Because we’ve seen our people go up against enemies. We’ve seen them go to war. We know kind of the rhythms and what that looks like. And we wanted to explore like, “Okay, well the Whisperers are a completely different group than we’ve ever encountered before. What’s different about if something like this happens when it’s the Whisperers involved?” So we thought that we wanted to tell the beginning of that aftermath here.
Finally, AMC has released a sneak peek clip of the season finale, showing what this wintery aftermath looks like for our survivors. There is a lot of grief to process here between Carol, Daryl, and the others as they race against the weather with a powerful storm fast approaching. Give it a watch below and be sure to tune in this Sunday night for the season finale of The Walking Dead at its regular time on AMC.