The Kingdom kicks off its big fair and everything goes swimmingly. It’s all sunshine and smiles on a pretty uneventful episode of The Walking Dead this week… at least, as far as I can tell from my DVR recording.
AMC and/or various cable networks really screwed the proverbial pooch with this one. The extra-long penultimate episode of the season was scheduled to run for approximately 1.5 hours, but somehow that information didn’t make its way to the cable providers’ programming guides. This resulted in countless viewers’ DVR recordings cutting off the last half hour and ending in a spot that kind-of felt like a natural mini-cliffhanger stopping point. As it turns out, a whole lotta important shit went down in that last half hour. Thankfully, Chris Hardwick opened the Talking Dead aftershow (which didn’t air for another hour due to the stupid Into the Badlands premiere in between) with a warning and a recommendation to record a rebroadcast in the middle of the night.
This all means that I wasn’t able to finish watching the show until Monday evening. Given what happens, it was basically impossible to avoid spoilers during that time.
The First Hour
Episode The Calm Before largely lives up to that title during the parts before the cut-off. It starts off with a fake-out, introducing a pair of nobodies we’ve never seen before, named Hilde and Miles. We skip through time to see them over the course of about five years, as they first find and join the Hilltop, become important members of the community, and eventually head out in a wagon as part of the delegation to attend the Kingdom’s fair. A woodworker, Hilde has carved a bunch of wooden coins with an “H” logo for Hilltop to bring as trinket gifts. Although our time with them is brief, it sure seems like these will be key characters we’re supposed to care about.
Not so much. They’re killed by the Whisperers before the episode’s opening credits come up. Alpha scalps the woman’s head. Ick.
Over at the Kingdom, Ezekiel stands beside a hilarious papier-mâché tiger and gives a grandiloquent speech to formally launch the “Fair of New Beginnings.” Carol prepares to leave in search of Henry, but needn’t bother. He arrives with Daryl, Connie, Michonne, and Judith. Tara is rather pissed that they also brought Lydia with them.
Michonne asks for a meeting of all the community leaders, at which she apologizes for being such a stick-up-the-ass for the past few years and declares that she wants Alexandria to rejoin the other communities. She also announces that Lydia will be granted asylum at Alexandria. After some grumbling (and having it pointed out that she used to work for the Governor), even Tara comes around on that. Michonne proposes that they form a mutual protection pact for all the communities. Ezekiel brings out the charter Michonne had drafted some time back. With a, “John Hancock, eat your heart out,” he’s the first to sign. Michonne allows Gabriel to sign for Alexandria.
The first day of the fair seems to be a rousing success. However, Carol, Daryl, Michonne, and Yumiko leave early to go help the Hilltop prepare for war with the Whisperers. Tara stays behind to take care of some business. Daryl asks Connie to take care of Dog for him.
On the way, their group merges up with Ozzy and the Highwaymen. They find evidence of an attack on the delegation from the Hilltop, but no bodies. The two teams split up again to search. Before long, Daryl and Carol’s group is set upon by a herd of Walkers that they can tell are former Hilltoppers. They fight like hell to kill the zombies, only for a bunch of Whisperers armed with guns and machetes to come in behind and encircle them. Beta, still very much alive, snarls at Daryl and orders them to lower their weapons. Outmatched, Daryl and crew have no choice but to comply.
That ambush happens at night. The episode then flashes back to earlier in the day to spend some time at the fair, where everybody seems to be having a lot of fun. Luke coerces Alden to sing a song on stage with him. Jerry adorably clowns around with his kids and Judith. Henry tells Lydia that he likes her – like, like likes her, and she kisses him. Sadly, Henry has to run off to take care of a plumbing issue. He asks her to save him a seat at movie night.
Spotted among the crowd at the fair are Hilde and Miles… wait, what?! That’s not Hilde! It’s Alpha wearing her hair! She even goes up to King Ezekiel and introduces herself as “Debbie” from Hilltop, and he offers to show her around. Ruh-roh!!
As movie night starts with a cartoon short, Lydia’s smile of wonderment fades very quickly when her mother sits next to her and puts a hand on hers, then gestures for her to keep her damn mouth shut. Things are about to get very bad.
And that’s where the episode recording ends. Except that, the episode itself is far from over.
The Part You May Have Missed
Flashing forward again to later that night, Alpha slithers up to the captured Daryl and Michonne. Her face has serious bruises, which she brushes off by claiming to have had “trouble on the road.” When Daryl defiantly proclaims that she’ll never get Lydia back, Alpha dismisses the threat, saying that her daughter’s not a concern anymore. That sounds ominous already.
Wielding a shotgun, Alpha pulls Daryl aside and takes him for a walk. It must be a long one, because the sun is up before they hit their destination, a large canyon filled with thousands of milling Walkers below. Alpha says that her own people are mixed in there, directing the horde. She tells Daryl to deliver a message to his the various communities. If any of them intrude onto Whisperer territory again, she’ll unleash the entire horde on them. It’s a serious threat. When Daryl questions where exactly the border is, all she’ll say is that he’ll figure it out soon enough.
In another flashback, Alpha pulls her daughter out of the movie theater and they argue outside. Lydia begs her mom to leave her alone. She wants to stay. Disgusted, Alpha hisses, “You’re not one of us. You never were.” Lydia cries.
Back to the morning, Alpha releases Daryl to reunite with Carol, Michonne, and Yumiko. They’re all unharmed. When a random Whisperer catches Alpha shedding a tear over her daughter, she stabs him in the head.
While walking, Michonne spots Siddiq, badly beaten and tied to a tree. They ask him what happened, but he can barely get any words out. He leads them to a field, where they see poles planted in the ground in the distance. As they get closer, it’s clear that these are pikes with heads on them – heads of people they know. This is Alpha’s border line.
Among the victims are Ozzy (Angus Sampson), Tammy Rose (Brett Butler), Enid (Katelyn Nacon), Tara (Alana Masterson), and – last and certainly least – Henry (Matt Lintz). Carol is devastated at the loss of her son. Worse, all of the heads are zombified and still animated, their jaws and eyes moving around.
Fun trivia: Carol has seen two children turned to zombies on this show, both played by members of the Lintz family.
Intercut with the revelations are flashbacks to earlier in the day, as people at the fair start to notice that some of their friends are missing.
We then jump forward a little bit in time. In the Kingdom, Siddiq gives a speech at what’s left of the fair, explaining what happened. He says that Alpha let him live so that he could tell the story and scare them all, but he urges the communities to stay together and stay strong. He says that, just before the end, all the victims banded together and fought for one another.
The episode ends with Daryl and Lydia standing at the pike border (heads now removed). Lydia leaves a token at the spot of Henry’s death – one of the wooden “H” coins.
DVR issues aside, this is clearly a very important and momentous episode. That said, I have to be honest that I was perhaps expecting more from it. I tried my best to steer clear of spoilers during the day on Monday, but couldn’t avoid seeing some headlines about a “spectacular slaughter.” That led me to think there’d be an all-out attack inside the Kingdom with dozens if not hundreds of victims. I was sure this would be the end of Ezekiel, and maybe even some other longtime players like Rosita or Eugene.
The reality is far more muted than that. Only a handful of victims die, and of them only three are what I’d consider key characters: Tara, Enid, and Henry. To be frank, the only one I’m actually a little sad to see go is Enid. Tara had outlived her usefulness as a character a long time ago, and I’ve been rooting for Henry to die for most of this season. I’m both thrilled that the stupid twerp is finally dead, and disappointed that his exit couldn’t have been even more gruesome.
Would my reaction to this episode have been different if I’d been able to watch it in one sitting with no interruption and not even a suggestion of spoilers? Perhaps so. I’ll never know for sure.
I will say that I’m looking forward to next week’s season finale, though. Vengeful Carol is the best Carol.