Nine years have passed in the real world, but it took this long for The Walking Dead to answer a fairly basic question: What happens to zombies when winter comes around, water freezes, and snow starts falling?
This year, The Walking Dead takes a page from Game of Thrones by making the penultimate episode the real climax of the season, while the finale serves as a dénouement. Rather than follow up on the immediate consequences of Alpha’s massacre at the Kingdom fair, the show makes a time-jump forward a few months. From what we gather, the united communities of survivors have maintained an uneasy détente with the Whisperers, each staying on their side of the borders Alpha established in order to avoid further conflict.
Winter has arrived, and a bad storm is on the way. Ezekiel opens the episode by announcing that, sadly, the Kingdom has fallen. As hard as it may be to believe, it turns out that Henry was the lynchpin holding the place together. Without his plumbing maintenance services, all the pipes have frozen and burst, and with no easy-access water supply, fires have taken out a number of critical houses and buildings. The community is unsustainable during the harsh winter. (I have to ask, are winters really so bad in Virginia? I always assumed it was the type of place where everybody freaks out if the temperature falls below 60 degrees.)
As a result, Ezekiel and Carol lead a wagon train out of town, heading for shelter at the Hilltop. For reasons unexplained, Michonne, Daryl, and Aaron are also with them. Despite his previous dislike of her, Daryl has softened considerably toward Lydia and even defends the girl to Carol. Ezekiel pulls Daryl aside and essentially asks him to take a hike after they get to Hilltop. His relationship with Carol has been rocky ever since Henry died, and he doesn’t need his wife’s feelings for Daryl complicating matters.
Blaming herself for everything that happened, Lydia wanders off and comes across a Walker half-frozen in a lake, bobbing its head around and snapping its teeth at her. The girl has a suicidal moment and almost lets it bite her arm, until Carol finds her and brings her back to the group, saying nothing about what she saw.
As the storm intensifies, the convoy can’t make it to the next waystation, so they make a pitstop at the abandoned Sanctuary building. This provides temporary shelter from the cold and snow, but they worry that they don’t have enough food to outlast the storm. A decision is made to take a shortcut to the Hilltop by crossing a frozen river. This plan has two major downsides: 1) They can’t take their horses or wagons across the river, and 2) It forces them to cut through Whisperer territory and risk initiating a war. Even so, it seems like the best option.
Question: If they’re just going to abandon the horses anyway, wouldn’t it be smarter to stay at the Sanctuary and slaughter them? That should give them enough food to get through the storm. Is it really more humane to the horses to leave them to starve to death?
Trekking through the woods, the group encounter some freaky frozen Walkers, and also have to fight off more crawling out of the snow. Daryl kills one with an icicle.
Lydia wanders off again and Carol searches for her. The girl whines about how nobody likes her and begs Carol to kill her, but Carol can’t do it and brings her back.
The Situation at Alexandria
Meanwhile, the storm has taken out the solar panels at Alexandria, leaving many of the homes without heat. People cluster in the houses that have big fireplaces. Gabriel grudgingly agrees to let Negan stay in his house. Negan is greatly amused by the love quadrangle of Rosita, Gabriel, Eugene, and Siddiq all staying together. Judith is also with them.
Unfortunately, the fireplace at Gabriel’s house proves to be dangerously clogged and unusable. This forces the group to form a rope line and made a trek through whiteout conditions to Aaron’s house. Along the way, Judith hears Dog barking and runs off in search of him. Negan instinctively chases after her. The whipping wind slams a piece of debris into Negan’s leg, injuring him. Nonetheless, he presses on until he finds Judith and Dog and returns them to safety, even giving Judith the coat off his own back.
Eventually, the storm breaks and Ezekiel’s band of refugees make their way to the Hilltop. Jerry suggests calling the joined community “Kingtop.”
Daryl tells Ezekiel that he’ll honor his wishes. He’s leaving with Michonne and will bring Lydia to Alexandria with him. However, Carol has a heart-to-heart with Ezekiel and tells him that she’s going with Daryl. She even gives his wedding ring back. They may survive the winter, but their marriage hasn’t.
Shortly afterward, Michonne returns home to Alexandria and is relieved to find Judith safe. The kids in the community have a snowball fight, and Lydia seems happy for a moment.
When she hears about what happened, Michonne thanks Negan for saving Judith. As the weather thaws, so too does her animosity toward him.
What have the Whisperers been up to all this time? From the looks of it, they appear to have migrated to someplace warmer. There’s not a trace of snow on the ground near their camp. Alpha and Beta are seen talking. To remind us what a psycho she is, Alpha holds out her arm and allows Beta to whip it with a switch, like a Flagellant religious nutjob.
The episode ends with Ezekiel on the radio with Judith. Despite everything that’s happened, he sounds optimistic about the future. After he leaves the room, a garbled voice on the radio asks, “Is anybody out there?” I guess that’s a setup for Season 10.
This is a very understated season finale. Nobody dies, and the only conflict is against nature. I’ve been reading a lot of fan complaints about it being a big letdown, but honestly I didn’t dislike the lack of action. That said, I do agree that it’s not a terribly exciting way to end the season.
The winter setting is a refreshing change of pace from the norm on this series, but the whole time I kept wondering what the soap flake budget for the episode must have been. The snow looks very fake and the winter sets very soundstagey.
This was a very rocky season for The Walking Dead. In many ways, it was an improvement over the last few years, but at the same time had quite a lot of its own failings. The biggest was certainly the Henry storyline, which dragged on for far too long. That kid was a straight-up idiot and every moment with him on screen was wasted.
Also very problematic for me was Negan’s redemption arc. Although well played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, I simply cannot buy into the idea of a rehabilitated Negan, much less one who seems destined to be accepted into the good graces of the people he tortured and tormented. The character should have died last year.
It kind of bugs me that nothing was resolved with Alpha and the Whisperers. I prefer seasons that have definitive endings to their storylines, and this one certainly didn’t.
All that being the case, the show hasn’t lost me yet. I’ll be back for Season 10.