The mid-season finale of The Walking Dead is thankfully less of an embarrassment than the episode leading up to it. In fact, it has some decent scares, a pretty satisfying plot twist, and a notable character death. Too bad the latter was so clumsily foreshadowed last week.
No, it’s not Aaron. The choice of header image on this recap post is just my attempt at a misdirect.
“That’s Not Normal”
While searching for Eugene, the tracking party consisting of Aaron, Jesus, and Daryl (and Dog too) notice a herd of Walkers milling around in a circle as if looking for something, which is very atypical behavior for a bunch of mindless reanimated corpses. Because a storm is heading their way, the living group leave in search of shelter for the night. As they go, a Walker stops and looks up in their direction, as if watching them.
A ways on, Daryl notices sounds of Walkers being carried by the wind. The herd is following them. Somehow, it has even doubled in size. Daryl winds up an old alarm clock and tosses it in the field as a distraction so they can put some more distance between themselves and the Walkers.
Lock and Key
In Alexandria, Gabriel pays Negan a visit for counseling, which is something he apparently does once a week. Negan isn’t in much mood for meditation. He’s being difficult and cocky again. He repeatedly bounces a ball off the wall (his only form of entertainment) and teases Gabriel about his relationship with Rosita. He also mentions that he hears a lot of gossip through his window because people in the community tend to forget that he’s there. Their conversation is interrupted when messengers from Hilltop arrive with news about Rosita.
Gabriel returns later in a foul mood. When Negan tries to bust his chops again, Gabriel yells at him to shut up. He’s upset that he has to stay in Alexandria to babysit Negan when he wants to run to Hilltop to be at Rosita’s side.
That night, Negan loses the ball through the bars of his cell. As he looks at it, he notices that his cell door was left unlocked. Apparently, Gabriel was so distracted thinking about other things that he forgot to lock it again when he left. The gate swings wide open for Negan with a little push. Uh oh.
On Top of the Hill
When Michonne and the Newbies arrive at Hilltop, they’re greated coldly. Tara and Dianne aren’t exactly excited to see Michonne again. Tara’s even downright rude about it. She says that the Newbies will have to wait for Jesus to return so he can make a decision about whether they can stay. Carol at least makes an effort to be friendly to Michonne, but it’s clear that their relationship is strained as well.
Michonne is very surprised and unhappy to learn that Aaron has been palling around with Jesus, which she describes as him “working the backchannel” without her approval. She also remains firm about Alexandria not attending the upcoming fair. Whatever bad blood happened between the communities, Michonne isn’t willing to let go of that grudge.
Michonne and Siddiq are at Rosita’s side when she wakes up. Immediately, she’s in a panic and very agitated. She insists on getting out of bed and going to help Eugene herself, and says that the rescue party searching for him have no idea what they’re up against.
Carol says a tearful goodbye to Henry and sets off back home to the Kingdom. Dianne goes with her.
Henry has a huge crush on Enid, and is crestfallen when he sees that she’s currently involved with the former Savior named Alden. Some other kids his age – named Gage, Addy, and Rodney –, notice him moping around and invite him to sneak out to a party in the woods with them that night. Henry is hesitant at first and afraid to break any rules, but soon relents. The fact that the girl, Addy, is pretty flirty with him is a big motivator.
The kids bring Henry to a clubhouse in the woods where they’ve stashed some moonshine. It doesn’t take Henry long to get sloppy drunk. However, when Gage and Rodney show him their biggest secret, Addy walks away in disgust. The boys keep a Walker trapped in a pit and use it as a moving dartboard and ring toss target. Henry is appalled. He jumps down into the pit so that he can put the Walker out of its misery. The other boys think he’s a spoilsport and leave him there.
Henry gets himself out of the pit and stumbles back to Hilltop, where he ends up spending the rest of the night in a drunk tank. His blacksmithing mentor, Earl, is very disappointed and threatens to send him back to the Kingdom, but Henry pleads for leniency and promises to straighten up. Earl knows a thing or two about making poor alcohol-based decisions and agrees to give him another chance.
Whispers in the Dark
As night falls, Daryl, Jesus, and Aaron find the barn that Rosita mentioned. Eugene is hiding in a secret compartment beneath the floorboards. He’s terrified, and babbles about the Walkers looking for him and talking to each other. He sounds crazy. The others try to reassure him that he’s safe now, but no sooner do they get those words out than the herd comes right up on their position, having abandoned the alarm clock and doubled back to find them. This behavior simply doesn’t make sense. Eugene says that he believes the Walkers are evolving.
The four of them run, but Eugene’s injured knee slows them down considerably. The group decide to split up. Daryl will stay behind to slow the herd down while the others get away. Daryl stakes out a position on a building roof and sets off some firecrackers to lure the Walkers toward him. Dog also barks up a storm. They’re both baffled when the Walkers don’t take the bait. The herd ignores them completely and continues in chase of Eugene and the others.
A fog sets in, reducing visibility to near nothing. Aaron and Jesus haul Eugene to an old cemetery, squeezing through a small gap in the wall that they hope will be enough of a choke point to slow the Walkers down. It turns out not to make much difference.
They run to the other end of the cemetery and are trapped by a locked gate. Eugene tries to climb it but can’t get over before the Walkers close in. Just as they begin to fight, Michonne appears on the other side of the gate, with Magna right behind her. They’re able to get the gate opened. Eugene and Aaron get out, but Jesus stays behind to clear out the remaining Walkers. He gets pretty cocky about it, dodging and weaving and dispatching them with video game-style finishing moves.
As Jesus takes a swing at the last one, the Walker ducks and swings around, grabbing him from behind. Jesus freezes in shock when it whispers the phrase I used for the headline of this article into his ear and then stabs him in the back with a blade.
Daryl arrives a little too late and takes out the whispering Walker with a crossbow bolt, but he can’t save Jesus. He’s already dead. No one can believe what they just saw happen. Daryl notices some strange stitching marks on the Walker’s neck and reaches down to pull off its face, revealing it to be a mask hiding a regular person underneath. From the fog, more whispering voices circle the group from seemingly every direction.
Now we know the secret of the Whisperers. Although it’s not exactly a surprise (I mentioned it as a possibility when the first Whisperers appeared), I think it plays out well. The episode does a pretty good job of building suspense with some old-fashioned horror tropes. It’s even a little scary. That’s a rarity for this show, especially in these later seasons.
I called Jesus’ death last week. It’s a shame that episode was so inept about dropping the hint, because he’s actually given a decent exit, save for the silliness of some of his kung-fu moves.
The Henry storyline is filler plotting. I could do without any of that. The contrivance of Negan’s cell door accidentally being left open is also fairly stupid. For one thing, there was a guard in the room when Gabriel left. How did that guy not bother to check the door?
On balance, I think this is a good mid-season finale. I’m interested enough to continue watching when the show returns in February, and the preview scenes for upcoming episodes look promising. However, to be honest, I’m also grateful to get a break for a couple months.