The Walking Dead recap: Any goodbye could be the last

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Khary Payton as Ezekiel, Cassady McClincy as Lydia - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 15 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Khary Payton as Ezekiel, Cassady McClincy as Lydia - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 15 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC /

The Walking Dead completely nails the page-to-screen adaptation of one of the most harrowing sequences ever committed to the cells of the comic. Caution: Spoilers.

Lydia, oh Lydia. You’ve caused quite a lot of chaos in the world of the Dead.

The penultimate episode of The Walking Dead Season 9 brings the fire with a careful and well-considered adaptation from the comics. While the event in question is most certainly evidence that evil does indeed exist in this new world, the episode is careful to counter waves of despair with an unblinking hope.

After all, the gang is in this mess because they’ve collectively decided to risk it all to save just one young girl. It’s a terrible, awful, no good, very bad idea, but they soldier ahead anyway because the other option is to compromise the very humanity and goodwill that this new society is built upon. They’ll do anything for peace and love, but they won’t do that.

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As a sacrifice to the gods of chaos, our good guys sacrifice twelve, count ’em, twelve warm and wonderful bodies in exchange for their souls, heads ceremoniously impaled on a line of menacing spikes by Big Bad Alpha (Samantha Morton).

And while the identities of the twelve were hotly discussed throughout the comic fandoms over the past few months, this episode did an amazing job of at setting us up for the wrong heartbreak. Hey! Lookie over here! Here’s a pregnant Rosita (a spike victim in the comics) making amends with Eugene! And over here! Ezekiel (yet another comic victim) interacting with undercover Alpha!

Drenched in long goodbyes and lingering last looks, the run time leading up to the big spike reveal was full of plentiful and surprising character interactions. Set at the long-awaited Fair of New Beginnings, the entire episode was one cohesive story from start to finish. Even better, that story included every principal character on the show, marrying them all together in a nostalgia stew that stirred up a lot of old memories. Carol (Melissa McBride) gets choked up when she sees Lil Asskicker herself, Enid (Katelyn Nacon) and Siddiq (Avi Nash) team up to teach CPR at a booth, and Jerry roughhouses with his kids and Judith (Cailey Fleming).

Walking Dead
Khary Payton as Ezekiel, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Cailey Fleming as Judith – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 15 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC /

The fair also gives the leaders a chance to participate in some heartening government building. As the leaders meet about the potential threat of the Whisperers, they sign the social contract that Michonne abandoned all those years ago. They agree to form a united front against any enemies that would attack them. They also agree to give asylum to young Lydia, and to send a contingent out to protect Hilltop from any Whisperer retaliation as a result of said asylum.

This is the new world. And, for a moment, it’s truly beautiful.

Yet, soon a sense of dread looms over the proceedings. And the call is coming from inside the house.

In her hippie getup, Alpha sways around the proceedings, picking up bits of gossip and then deploying that information as a weapon in her interactions with fairgoers. One by one, she also happens to be picking some of them off as her prisoners. She’s a busy lady, leading away or kidnapping ten people, and paying visits to both Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Lydia (Cassidy McClincy).

And once she’s done with her messy business at the fair, she successfully stages an attack in the woods on Michonne, Daryl, Carol, and Yumiko. We know most of these characters are safe because of contracts, but it’s still tense as all get out. In another life, Alpha may have been a war mastermind. It’s clear that our gang is dealing with some next level shizz.

Retaliation by enemy groups for attacks that our heroes initiated is nothing new. Back in the lead up to Negan and the Saviors, our gang killed literally dozens upon dozens of Saviors, and Negan and Co. initially only killed three as a response. That number includes the sadistic Glenn and Abraham Show, but when you look at it as a numbers game, Negan was kind of right. Seeing as how Negan is certainly on deck for his inevitable redemption arc in Season 10, it’s interesting to see that there was a method to his madness, even back in his heyday of wicked plotting.

Or perhaps he just looks sane in comparison to what we’re dealing with now. Where Negan may have been justified to do the horrific things he did, Alpha is 100% wrong. Her response to the kidnapping of her daughter is not proportionate in any sense of the word. It’s a calculated response that illustrates the depths of the evil that stir within her cold, dead heart. So to make a show of her power and dominance, she murders twelve people, making bobblehead popsicles out of ten of them, and using an eleventh’s scalp as a wig. Damn.

Walking Dead
Samantha Morton as Alpha – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 15 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC /

Alpha marks her territory by leading Daryl (Norman Reedus) away from his friends and showing him her nuclear bomb. A horde. A horde as far as the eye can see, swirling around a nearby valley. And she’ll march that horde over hell and earth if they encroach on Whisperer territory again. She’s marked the border to the north.

In the comics, this ominous meeting with Alpha falls to Rick, and Daryl takes up the mantle here with a subtle anger. Daryl’s minimalistic approach is a refreshing change from Rick’s tendencies to speechify and grandstand. There’s no trademark Rick Grimes sneering and posturing. Nope. Just a low key presence and blunt honesty, both of which are Daryl’s specialities.

However, we know that Daryl would have likely had a very different reaction if he knew what awaited him at the newly staked border. The spikes.

The undead heads of Ozzie, Alec, DJ, Frankie, Tammy, Nadia, Rodney, Enid, Tara, and Henry await them, chomping fruitlessly at the air.

Oddly enough, given all the foreshadowing and misdirection, Tammy (Brett Butler) is the only character that meets her spiky fate in both the comics and the books. The other nine characters are very different. Some readers might be upset about this, but the choices actually make a good deal of sense.

First off, the characters that the show decided to sacrifice were – by and large – not the best fighters. It would make sense that Alpha would lure away the weakest of the pack. She seems to be talented at sizing people up based on ability, and she wouldn’t want to make her job harder than it already was.

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Eleanor Matsuura as Yumiko – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 15 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Eleanor Matsuura as Yumiko – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 15 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC /

Second, the deaths of the last three characters on this list change the dynamics in an irreversible way. Enid and Tara were the defacto leaders of the Hilltop, and now they’re gone, leaving a power vacuum in its place. This twist may serve to open up a window for Lauren Cohan to return as Maggie, but, despite hopeful platitudes from showrunner Angela Kang, AMC hasn’t announced Cohan’s return for Season 10 quite yet, so maybe not.

The death of Henry – ostensibly swapped out for Ezekiel – makes the most sense of all. Henry had a sweet heart, but ultimately he was super annoying. He had to go. And his death will send emotional ripples throughout the Kingdom. Following Ezekiel and Carol as they cope with the loss of their child in Season 10 will most certainly be more interesting than a storyline focusing on Carol and Henry trying to navigate a world without Ezekiel. Loss and the disparate reactions to loss are always fascinating to follow, and Melissa McBride does grief better than almost anyone on TV.

In the end, poor Henry sacrificed his life for Lydia’s. But Siddiq’s rousing speech at the coda of the episode is built on the beautiful belief that they did the right thing. Humanity is mostly good, right? And we must fight evil at all costs. Because if we aren’t willing to fight for one another – for what we think is right – what do we have left?

Until next week, don’t talk to strangers, kids. Oh, and it’s beginning to snow…

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Random Thoughts Before I Go:

  • The girl from Oceanside is the small but fierce Rachel who once did want to kill Tara on sight, but her sister Cyndie prevented her from doing so. The idea of Rachel growing up to confidently lead Oceanside is very sweet, but what happened to Cyndie, y’all?
  • AMC seems hell bent on inducting “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” into the horror song hall of fame. Its inclusion in Breaking Bad was terrifying in a fun way, but Alpha brought it to a whole new level when she cheerily sang it WHILE SCALPING ONE OF HER VICTIMS.
  • Between Jordan Peele’s Us and this episode of The Walking Dead, this week has been a hard week for candied apples.
  • The interactions between Daryl and Connie are really sweet and, while I’ve never shipped anyone with Daryl in the history of this show, now might be the time… #Donnie

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.