This is a spoiler-free review of Episode 11 of Season 9. Already seen the episode? Read on for full spoilers following its UK broadcast.
Despite bringing the latest menace in The Walking Dead world, The Whisperers, right to the doorstep of the Hilltop, their showdown this episode isn’t full of screams and gunfire, but more like the threat they pose: intimidating. Unlike the villains that came before them, The Whisperers are not after resources, land or extinction: Alpha (Samantha Morton) only wants her daughter back, something that Lydia (Cassady McClincy) doesn’t expect and something the Hilltop are unwilling to do, knowing how Alpha treats her daughter. But The Whisperers have ways of getting what they want.
Walking with the dead has its dangers and being a Whisperer has its consequences. Alpha shows zero remorse when the actual undead decide to join her half-breeds, alerted by the uncontrollable sobbing of an infant. Like the Dynasties film crew when a penguin chick was in peril, Connie (Lauren Ridloff) rushes in to take action, and plunges the episode into muffled silence – giving a taste of how difficult and dangerous living in the new world is when you are deaf. This short sequence of maize and walkers is actually terrifying, because it almost plunges you into the jeopardy, as you question if the zombies that appear through the leaves are dead or alive. Alpha is unfazed by this rescue and even when other members of the Hilltop leave the safety of the walls, she remains deathly still. Her threats, spoken softly, carry with them a power and fear that shudders unlike anything Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) ever put forward.
Away from the Hilltop, it is finally time to catch up with the Kingdom and how they are preparing for the fair. After a brief flashback, which serves little purpose other than to show us how happy the Hilltop are (read: chalk up those who have everything to have it all ripped away from them), it’s straight into a supply run to hunt meat for the feast, and a Cobra-Strike side-mission to fetch a replacement projector bulb from a cinema. The Kingdom remain blissfully unaware of the dangers that are going on at the Hilltop and the prisoner breakout at Alexandria, still expecting everyone to turn up smiling to the fair and finally agree to sign the charter of laws that Michonne (Danai Gurira) has written. Placing zombies in a cinema almost pays homage to some of the great undead movies there have been over the years and this set piece evokes nostalgia with some fantastic special effects, make-up and gruesomeness.
The ignorance that Kingdom lives in is likely be quickly shattered as soon as the King and Queen learn of their Prince and his burgeoning relationship with a girl from a different family. While not quite Romeo and Juliet, Henry (Matt Lintz) and Lydia have developed a bond over a short period of time, and, being teenagers, it is the only thing in the world that matters to them now. Alpha may have laid down the law at the gates of the Hilltop, but knowing about the abuse Lydia suffers and seeing their animalistic behaviour in person, neither Daryl (Norman Reedus), Connie nor Henry can sit idly by and let it continue. Having put their trust in Daryl to raise their prince, should the royalty of the Kingdom find out the dangers Henry has put himself in, the communities could be at war again. The Whisperers themselves pose more of a moral threat than just their intimidation. The survivors have shown over the past six years that they don’t just kill other humans who are a pest, as Negan can attest to. When humans are dressed as walkers, making it impossible to tell the difference, will this stop them from killing anything that moves? Just how do you fight a threat that hides in plain sight and is as intimidating and callous as Alpha?
The Walking Dead Season 9 is available on Sky Box Sets and NOW TV until 9th November 2019. Don’t have pay-TV? You can also stream it live and on-demand on NOW TV, for £7.99 a month (until 9th October 2019, when the price rises to £8.99), with no contract and a 7-day free trial. Seasons 1 to 9 are available on Sky Box Sets and NOW TV until 25th March 2019.
Entrails and innards (spoilers)
– Alpha exclaims that the Hilltop walked into their land and killed their people, and says there was no conflict. Except there was conflict: there was a fight in the graveyard and Jesus (Tom Payne) died as a result of it. Speaking of Jesus, he makes a small cameo in the flashback that opens the episode. Actor Tom Payne has said that it is likely we could see more of Jesus and what he was up to in the six-year time jump – hopefully, it’ll be more interesting than this scene, which merely introduces the completed laws written by Michonne being handed to Ezekiel (Khary Payton). That really could have been explained in a sentence at the cinema or back at the Kingdom.
– Alpha shows her sadistic and inhumane side, when she cocks her head at the Whisperer mother with the crying baby, forcing her to remove her sling and place the innocent child on the floor for the dead. Alpha says that they live like animals and they’ll die like animals too. The Hilltop rush to the rescue of Connie and the child and then… keep the child? Alpha has already come knocking on the door wanting one child back. Is it really wise to keep a second that doesn’t belong to them?
– Lydia tries to run away with Henry but gets suckered into returning to the Whisperers by Enid (Katelyn Nacon), who recounts her old Just Survive Somehow story. Although Lydia does seem smitten by Henry, she is still scared by her mother and so will likely still tell her all the information she has learnt about the Hilltop and their other communities, including, perhaps, the Kingdom’s fair. As no one at the Kingdom or Alexandria knows about Alpha or what she looks like, she could very easily sneak into the fair to learn even more and make trouble from the inside – maybe by taking someone else’s baby.
– Henry is such a person, running off after Lydia after sharing one little smooch with her. She lied to him and everyone else at the Hilltop, and Henry shows naivety in thinking she can change her spots so quickly. Having left a note to his whereabouts that Addy (Kelley Mack) finds in his room – why she’s going into his room in the middle of the night is unquestioned – Daryl sets off to track him, accompanied by Connie. That’s going to be one quiet road trip. They both agree that the way Lydia is treated by her people is wrong, but feel they were right to give her back for the safe return of Luke (Dan Fogler) and Alden (Callan McAuliffe) – even though, only recently, it was Enid whom Henry was smitten for, so losing Alden might not have mattered much to him.