The Walking Dead had almost three-quarters of a good episode this week, which is much better than average for recent seasons. Sadly, one idiot character has to go and ruin the whole thing.
The Whisperers, led by the intimidating Alpha (Samantha Morton), stand at the gates of Hilltop, demanding the return of the captured Lydia. Deaf Connie, who got trapped outside the fence before the Whisperers arrived, hides in a cornfield off to the side. Daryl walks out to meet Alpha and tells her to go screw, threatening to blow all her people away right here, but hesitates when he sees that one of the Whisperer women is holding a baby. He’s aghast that they would bring a child to a conflict like this, but Alpha is unfazed. She then reveals that they have Alden and Luke as prisoners, and offers an even trade for Lydia. She says that so long as the girl is returned, there will be no conflict between their groups.
Daryl doesn’t like this deal, but is more concerned with rescuing his own people than with protecting Lydia. He grudgingly heads back into Hilltop to collect the girl, only to learn that dipshit Henry sprung her from the cell and ran off with her. Making the situation worse, a group of real Walkers are drawn toward all the commotion, putting a ticking clock on the situation. Alpha and the Whisperers hold their ground. When the baby starts crying and luring Walkers right to it, Alpha merely shrugs her shoulders and tells Daryl that it’s Natural Selection at work. The infant’s mother then sets it on the ground and walks away, leaving it to be eaten!
Fortunately, Luke notices Connie in the corn and signals her in sign language. Connie runs out and scoops up the baby, then ducks back into the corn, dodging and killing Walkers in the field until Daryl finds her and brings her inside. Alpha watches with interest. This whole scenario may have been a test to see how the Hilltoppers would react and to learn their weaknesses. To that end, Alpha collects a lot of info.
Enid deduces exactly where Henry would bring Lydia. She slips through the secret exit hatch in the fence and tracks him to the teens’ clubhouse. Lydia is all cleaned up and dressed in civvy clothes. Henry gets really whiny about not wanting to let his new girlfriend go, but Lydia agrees to return to her evil mother and kisses him goodbye.
Daryl makes the trade. Alden and Luke are released and return to safety inside Hilltop. Lydia apologizes to her mother for getting captured. Alpha coldly slaps her daughter across the face and tells her not to call her “Mama.” Having gotten what they came for, the Whisperers honor their end of the arrangement and leave without any further trouble.
When Henry complains and asks Daryl how he could turn Lydia over to such a monster, Daryl tells him to learn to live with it. Of course, Henry is incapable of that. He sneaks out that night in search of his girlfriend. When Daryl finds out, he and Connie follow after him – not to bring him back, but to help. The kid got to him, and he can’t live with what happened either.
Jesus lives! Has it been three days since he died?… Oh, wait, it’s a flashback. The second storyline this week takes place before the Whisperers were ever revealed. Jesus makes a brief cameo (along with Tara) to meet with Ezekiel, Carol, and Jerry about the upcoming fair at the Kingdom. Tara offers Ezekiel a gift of the Charter that Michonne had drafted for uniting all the communities. Michonne abandoned it for reasons we still don’t know, but Tara hopes Ezekiel can revive those plans. He’s optimistic and declares, “It’s all going to work out.”
When Jerry giddily announces that his girlfriend is pregnant, he practically hangs a “I’m Going to Die this Week” sign around his neck, which weighs heavily over the rest of the episode, especially when Ezekiel tells Carol that he and Jerry have a “side mission” and brings her to an old movie theater swarming with Walkers inside. Ezekiel wants to hold a movie night at the fair, and to do that, he needs to retrieve a projector lamp from inside the building. Carol worries that this is needlessly dangerous, but Ezekiel assures her it’s no big deal, and Jerry is eager to help. Carol acquiesces.
They open the doors and blast some funky music on a boombox, luring most of the Walkers away. The group go inside and clear out a bunch more as systematically as possible. Jerry heads up to the projection booth to get a lamp, which is very delicate and needs to be cocooned in bubble-wrap and handled carefully. While he’s doing that, Ezekiel takes down a poster frame to mount the Charter in.
Unfortunately, as soon as the boombox batteries die, the herd of Walkers outside press back into the theater. The ruckus causes Jerry to drop the lamp right into an auditorium flooded with zombies. Disappointed, Ezekiel calls for a retreat, until Carol of all people comes around to his way of thinking and encourages him to finish what he started. She says that if they work quickly, they can clear the room and get the lamp – thus almost certainly dooming Jerry to a terrible death. Oh, Carol, what were you thinking?…
But no! Everyone survives! All this foreshadowing was a misdirect. They rescue the lamp and return safely to the Kingdom – passing an ominous symbol spray-painted onto the back of a traffic sign.
Ezekiel frames the Charter. Jerry gets the projector working. The fair is undoubtedly going to be a huge success. Right?
Just to be clear, Daryl and the Hilltoppers successfully de-escalated the conflict with the scary Whisperers, only for moron Henry to run off and deliberately fuck up the precarious détente, almost certainly starting a war, all because he’s horny. Further, he even showed infiltrator Lydia a bunch of the community’s secrets, including how to sneak through the fence. Great job, shithead! Henry needs to die a gruesome death, and soon.
If not for that crappy character, this episode comes very close to working. The staging of the cornfield scene, played with minimal sounds, is the most inventive and suspenseful set-piece this series has had in years. Even the Ezekiel and Jerry storyline is pretty clever in the way it subverts its own heavy-handed foreshadowing. The difference in tone between the two halves of the episode also strikes an interesting balance.
Imagine how much better this show could be if the writers didn’t insist on making certain characters so bloody stupid.