There will be more to say in the coming days (and months) about what season ten will bring to The Walking Dead next October, but I think that most viewers will look back on season nine as the best season at least since season 6, if not season 5. It’s been a wild journey that’s brought considerable change to the series, but it’s somehow better for it. We’ll have more on that later, but for now we look back upon the final episode of the season.
The show in its ninth season took more than a few of cues from HBO’s Game of Thrones (which returns in two weeks). Last week, The Walking Dead gave us the Red Wedding episode, and this week, they gave us the Winter is Coming episode. However, The Walking Dead also took a cue from Game of Thrones in delivering a big, shocking penultimate episode while offering a more low key, forward-looking finale. There are no deaths in “The Storm.” No new villains are introduced, nor any major developments. It’s a regrouping episode, one that allows the series to go into hiatus on a hopeful note. It’s a much better alternative for viewers than spending the next six months grieving the deaths of the ten characters killed in last week’s episode.
There is one death in “The Storm,” but it is not of a character. The Kingdom finally fell this week. Its problems were structural — the water pipes that Henry was meant to fix by becoming a Blacksmith finally failed, which somehow led to fires, which somehow made The Kingdom uninhabitable. I have so many questions, but they are all beside the point. Like, what was the source of all that water? How did burst water pipes lead to multiple fires? Couldn’t they have just shut off the main water supply? And how was the Festival going to prevent this particular problem from happening, anyway?
In either respect, King Ezekiel and Co. made the decision to relocate to The Hilltop. I’m not entirely sure why they choose this particular day to leave — ahead of a big storm — rather than taking shelter in the movie theater until it blew over, but the logistics are not important. The point is, the entire Kingdom — along with various members of The Hilltop and Alexandria — decide to leave, but they get caught in a heavy snow storm. It’s slow going with that many people, and there’s not enough food to last the community for more than a day, so the decision is made to take temporary shelter in The Sanctuary. However, while there, they realize that they must get to The Hilltop soon, lest they risk getting stuck in The Sanctuary for days, should the roads become impassable.
Michonne thus makes an executive decision to save themselves several miles of walking by cutting through The Whisperers’ territory and across a frozen river. It’s a tense sequence, and there are a number of frozen zombies along the way that pose various dangers, but The Whisperers never make an appearance. Eventually, The Kingdom makes it to the safety of what will now apparently be known as “Kingtop,” according to Jerry.
There is, however, some personal drama along the way. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Ezekiel holds Daryl responsible for the death of Henry because, as Carol notes, it keeps him from holding her responsible. I don’t know why Ezekiel would hold either responsible, however, since neither were at The Kingdom when Alpha abducted Henry, and neither Daryl nor Carol were responsible for Henry chasing after Lydia (in fact, Daryl tried to stop him). In either respect, Ezekiel asks Daryl to leave The Hilltop once they arrive at their destination so that Carol and Ezekiel can move on with their lives together.
Meanwhile, Lydia is feeling alienated by everyone, many of whom blame Lydia’s presence for last week’s massacre. Carol can’t even look at Lydia without thinking of Henry. The guilt weighs heavily on Lydia, and at one point, she nearly allows a walker to bite her. Later, she asks Carol to kill her and put her out of her misery. Carol seems to give it some thought, but ultimately decides against it. However, she doesn’t seem that emphatic about not killing her.
In either respect, once they arrive at The Hilltop, Carol decides to end it with Ezekiel and relocate to Alexandria with Daryl and Lydia. It’s not entirely clear why, except that Carol cannot go on living in this fairy tale as the Queen to Ezekiel’s King without their prince, Henry. “I’ll never stop loving you,” Ezekiel tells Carol. “And I’ll never regret the fairy tale,” she tells him. It may be the series first major break up that is not precipitated by a death. It is heartbreaking.
Meanwhile, in Alexandria, the storm forces everyone to buckle down around a fireplace, including Negan, who would otherwise freeze to death in his prison cell. When a chimney is clogged, a large group has to relocate from one house to another, but Judith gets lost in the storm searching for Daryl’s dog, Dog. Negan ultimately tracks her down and saves her life. When Michonne finally returns, she expresses her gratitude, and there is something akin to collegiality between Negan and Michonne. They’re not exactly “friends” now, but I don’t think that Negan will be returning to his jail cell again after recovering from a leg injury. The two are like old enemies now who have reluctantly bonded over their shared history.
There are also two codas to the episode. In one, we see Alpha taking lashes from Beta in order to strengthen herself for “what comes next,” although what comes next remains unclear. She’s clearly still hurt over being rejected by Lydia. It also seems that the reason The Whisperers didn’t catch Michonne and Co. when they crossed over into their territory is because they were spending “some time away.” I guess even people who wear skin masks need a vacation.
The other coda is a conversation on a ham radio between a forlorn Ezekiel at The Hilltop and Judith in Alexandria. The conversation itself is unimportant, but after they are finished talking, another voice can be heard on the ham radio asking, “Is anybody out there?” That’s most likely setting up the storyline with The Commonwealth, which comes after The Whisperers War.
— For the record, The Commonwealth is a very good one in the comics, while The Whisperers War is not. However, given how successfully Angela Kang has translated The Whisperers War into the TV show, I’m really looking forward to see what she can bring to an even better storyline. (Alas, it will be without Michonne, who is central to the Commonwealth storyline in the comics).
— “That is a very mature attitude Father-Not-The-Father,” Negan says to Gabriel. It’s good to know that underneath all the bluster and violence, Negan is just a guy who likes a good Dad joke.
— “Still nothing from Maggie?” Michonne asks Yumiko, in reference to the situation at The Hilltop without Jesus and now Tara. “The council sent a letter, but we haven’t heard anything back,” Yumiko says. That’s a fairly apt state of affairs where it concerns Lauren Cohan’s status on the show. The producers have extended an invitation, but they haven’t really heard anything back. (Cohan’s ABC spy dramedy Whiskey Cavalier, meanwhile, is on the bubble, so if it is cancelled, it would certainly free up Cohan to return next season).