Warning: Full spoilers for the episode follow…
Well now… that was certainly something!
Ten people dead, some of whom were kind of important. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
This series doesn’t always follow the comic books exactly, but… it does more than it doesn’t. And if it needs to tweak things, it usually just switches characters around. It has different people die in place of others. A notable change-up here in the back half of Season 9 is that Daryl and Henry filled in for Rick and Carl in the Whisperers arc. Story elements tend to remain while “who does the actual doing” is what tends to change.
Those who read the comics knew something bad was about to go down at the Kingdom’s fair. But even if you hadn’t read up, the show signaled ahead a few episodes back. If you pick up on things, there were definitely things to pick up. Anyhow, I wrongly had this moment – the ten zombie heads on spikes – pegged for the season finale. I thought this would be the brutal mic drop that takes us out of the season. But it was used here in the penultimate episode. Nicely done, show! Also, the move pairs really well with last week’s wickedly harsh episode. I’m enjoying all the ghoulish gloom.
But then what’s left for next Sunday’s Season 9 finale? Well, side note, I watch these episodes a few days ahead of time, via press screeners, so when these reviews post I haven’t seen the “Next Time On…” promos. So this will probably be answered for all of us anyhow. Still, I’m thinking next week has to spring Negan from the clink. Michonne has to decide to set him free in order to help protect Alexandria. Judith was, once again, almost killed and while Michonne probably isn’t going to regress back to the security nut she was, she has to make some extreme calls.
I know we just came out of a big flashback episode, but I also wouldn’t object to the finale being an all-Negan flashback chapter. Like, let’s ditch the present day story entirely. Because this “The Calm Before” not only gave us the ten heads, but a bit of the aftermath as well. Siddiq, the lone survivor, made an impassioned speech, and then we saw Daryl and Lydia honoring Henry’s grave. I mean…er…pike. So it’s not even a full cliffhanger that needs to be resolved right away. Some time has passed. So it’d be great to remove ourselves from the entire storyline completely and finally delve into Negan’s past. Especially if he’s going to rejoin society. We’re going to need that extra push of sympathy for him.
More to consider: Will next week’s finale answer anything about Michonne’s fate, given that star Danai Gurira is leaving the series and will only appear in a few episodes next season? Taking that into account, the show really needs to free Negan and get him set up as Judith’s new de facto protector/parent, pronto.
Now, to the matter at hand. All them damn dead people! Nicely placed and sequenced, I might add, in order of impact and importance. Did the Whisperers know Daryl and Carol would read the heads left to right like a book, and that the TOO COOL HILLTOP TEENS™ were garbage? Because, bingo! Alpha was dead on.
The Highwaymen were up first. Then former savior D.J. Then two of those terrible teenagers (who were so s***ty to Lydia). Then the names got a bit more important. Tammy was there. Then Enid was up. By the very end, the hammer fell. And to those who were expecting specific names from the comics, the show set you (and me) up good!
In the comics, the most notable heads on the poles were Rosita and Ezekiel. Here they flipped it, showcasing Tara and Henry – the latter being the big shocker. Henry had just come into his own as a character during this back half. He was the Carl surrogate. And he was just starting to make fewer dumbass mistakes. Also, maybe equally important, to say the least, he meant a great deal to Carol and Ezekiel. And Daryl had been charged with protecting him, so now he’s got an entirely new dead person to feel hella guilty about.
This was pretty big. Again though, sneakily, the episode still hinted towards Rosita and Ezekiel. They had Gabriel asking about “someone,” making us assume it was Rosita. But – boom – it was Tara. And not only did they have Ezekiel roaming the fair with Alpha (disguised as “Debbie”), they had Lydia going to Ezekiel to report Henry being missing. As if to signal Ezekiel was getting whacked while searching for him.
But it was Henry who got got, and then we saw him and the rest go down swinging. Which is another reason why I feel like the finale should be kind of separate from the present day thread. We were floored by all the deaths, then we flashed back to see those who died get taken out honorably, with fire and grit in their hearts. Alpha leaving Siddiq alive was a tactic meant to drive everyone’s fear, but he managed to turn it into a galvanizing moment. One that, hopefully, pushes everyone forward into righteous conflict rather than the usual sandbox of sad reflection.
“The Calm Before” toyed around with time a bit too much at times, flashing us back to the fair after Daryl and the rest were caught, then flashing us back to characters noticing other characters were missing at the fair, then to the kidnapped parties fighting back, but overall it was a maniacally macabre showing. After nine seasons, the show is overly long in the tooth. It can’t help that. But it’s doing the types of things that a show that’s been on the air this long should do. It’s making big, bold moves. Ones reminiscent of the show’s early seasons, but at a quicker pace.
Grrrs and Arghs:
- Going forward, if the finale picks things up in the present, I’ll be looking at Daryl and Carol to see how they react. Both of them could regress since they’ve both experienced similar trauma before. Carol losing a child and Daryl feeling like he’s responsible for someone else’s death. Hopefully, the show figures out something new to do with them.
- I don’t know how much Lydia will be blamed for this, but everyone pretty much vouched for her a few times over and we saw Alpha cut ties with her (and cut some random Whisperer’s neck, out of rage) so as it stands, no one’s making any more aggro moves. Still, I look forward to Lydia perhaps taking the place of Henry, who’d taken the place of Carl, in this new angle. And her sticking with Daryl, given the way they can bond over past abuse, is a nice touch.
- At least the Whisperers didn’t touch that sweet papier-mache Shiva statue!
- Funny to see that “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” are still awkward terms for people a full decade after the world’s fallen into abject ruin.
- The finale could also just be about Eugene’s inter-community RPG game. I’d watch that. Just sayin’.
- I see they went old school cartoon with the movie screening. I’d been making myself chuckle for weeks thinking the movie, which everyone was going to marvel at (and that literally bought the Highwaymen’s services), was some tediously mediocre film that no one gave a s*** about when it came out. Sure, Ezekiel could have somehow had a print of a classic like The Godfather or The Wizard of Oz – but what if it was, like, Identity Thief. Or Annapolis. Something totally underwhelming. Not even a bad movie, just blah.