A New Enemy And A Shocking Death Get 'The Walking Dead' Back On Track
The AMC series returns to its horror roots.
The Walking Dead closed out the first half of Season 9 with an effective mid-season finale that harkened back to the good old days. A major character was killed off (well ahead of his comic timeline) and a new threat was introduced. Daryl has become a crazy dog guy and the middling series is starting to show new signs of life. We are cautiously optimistic.
After clumsily navigating the ominous tasks of Rick and Maggie's departures from the series in the past few weeks, The Walking Dead is now in the future. The time leap in Episode 7 is here to stay. Alexandria, Hilltop, and Kingdom are all functioning still but Michonne has made it clear they each have to look out for themselves. Sharing is not on the menu at the moment, and the de facto leader is on edge.
TWD still struggles with the community subplots. Michonne's shuttling of a new group to Hilltop and Carol leaving her snotty son to apprentice couldn't be more yawn-inducing. The real reason to still watch the show is the action that happens in the wilderness. (Although the romances of Rosita/Gabriel and Enid/Alden are marginally interesting.)
Daryl has been looking for Rick's body for a long time. For the past... Months? Years? (The only calendar we have is Carol's hair.) He's out there already so, after Eugene and Rosita go missing amidst a horde of talking walkers, Daryl meets up with Jesus and Aaron, who are looking for Gene. (Rosita was rescued and taken to Hilltop.)
After Eugene is located (thanks to Daryl's dog named "Dog"), Daryl, Jesus, and Aaron run into that talking walker crowd. Are the dead evolving? Eugene has theories about this baffling new development but he's thinking too hard. The talking walkers are actually whispering, an important distinction as comic book fans likely recognize. Jesus notices the horde simply milling around — new behavior. And Daryl finds them hard to distract — more new behavior.
As the survivors head into a foggy graveyard straight out of Romero, The Walking Dead actually becomes scary again for the first time since Negan (who is now free of his cell, by the way) showed up last year. The horde is closing in. Eugene's bad knee is slowing everyone down so they have to make a stand. Walkers are sliced and diced and Jesus gets a final sequence to shine. He takes down a dozen walkers before one shockingly ducks his sword and counters. The walker stabs Jesus in the side, killing him. Aaron freaks. (In the comics, Aaron and Jesus become a couple — so much for that storyline.) And the rest of the group finishes off the mysterious walker. Michonne and a couple newbies arrive to help out, also.
In the aftermath, the group gathers around dead Jesus. Daryl examines the "evolved" walker more closely and finds he's wearing a dead skin mask. Hannibal Lecter would be proud. Comic readers know already, but this guy is a Whisperer and he's far from the only one. They will obviously be the next big threat on TWD moving forward.
EW talked to showrunner Angela Kang about the mid-season finale and what we can expect in the second half of Season 9 (return date TBA): "We pick things up pretty quickly on top of where we left off, and our people are there and they obviously are gonna have to fight their way out. But they will make yet another strange and shocking discovery along the way within the episode, and the story kind of unfolds from there. We’ll also get to see what exactly is going on with Negan, now that he’s stepped out of his cell. He gets his jail-break, and he goes out there in the world. So I think there’s some really cool stuff coming up with Jeffrey as Negan in the next episode as well as just in that main story having to do with the Whisperers and that unfolding narrative that happens."
The graveyard scene, and Jesus's surprising death are two good steps forward for the AMC series. It's become too lost in human versus human battles and silly drama. This is the zombie apocalypse. Let's get back to the real threat.