This is a spoiler-free review of Episode 16 of Season 9. Already seen the episode? Read on for full spoilers following its UK broadcast.
If last episode was The Walking Dead’s Red Wedding, Season 9’s finale continues the Game of Thrones trend with frostbitten walkers, as winter arrives for the first time in this series. Compared to what came before it, The Storm is a relatively sedate episode, especially for a season finale, yet it works and feels like the end of another chapter. The survivors leave behind a Kingdom that can no longer shelter nor support them, taking on a journey to the Hilltop through the worst blizzard ever seen. If the elements weren’t enough to contend with, in order to make it to Hilltop alive, they must cross the border Alpha marked so violently just a few months before.
The Storm takes on both a physical and metaphorical sense in the episode, as while a snowstorm rages outside making travel unbearable, the survivors are still dealing with a wealth of emotions from the shocking events of The Calm Before ripping through them like a hurricane. The losses hit the survivors hard, none more so than Queen Carol (Melissa McBride), who has had another child taken away from her by this apocalypse. She doesn’t know what to do or how to feel, but she blames herself as others lay blame upon Lydia (Cassady McClincy). Michonne (Danai Gurira) blames the distance the communities put between themselves that allowed for Alpha (Samantha Morton) to be able to walk among them unnoticed. Since adopting Henry, Carol has spent more time raising him than her biological daughter, Sophia. Back then, losing her daughter fuelled Carol into becoming the slaughter-hungry monster whom we caught a glimpse of this season, when she sparked a fire with some old Saviours, but she doesn’t want to be that woman anymore. After everything she went through, she tried to retreat away and live in solitude, but Ezekiel (Khary Payton) came knocking and the two bore a romance nobody expected but one that was full of honesty and sweetness. In the royal bed chambers, a quote is painted on the walls: “Sometimes you have to let the cracks happen to let the light in.” Carol is cracking again now but there is nothing left to shine; somebody has to be her light.
On their journey, Lydia and Carol slip away from the rest of the group and share a moment that ends promising hope for the two of them (although maybe don’t get too involved, Carol, just in case). The scenes they share showcase just how incredible Melissa McBride can be, suppressing such heartache and love behind her tearful eyes. Credit must also go to McClincy, both torn apart for both the same reasons as Carol but also having to be a stranger to this community, a refugee from the enemy. She suffers insults and questions, the wounds still raw for the survivors, but even Alden (Callan McAuliffe) takes a shot at her, and he was in her exact shoes a few years prior, when he was a Saviour.
In fact, for almost all this season, the cast have been electric. From Rick’s farewell to Michonne’s pregnancy battle, everyone has shown a new side to them – even Daryl (Norman Reedus) has become a likeable leader (a label he would never give himself), getting to expand his repertoire from more than just looming and grunting.
Greg Nicotero returns to the director’s chair for the season finale and revels in using the blizzard to his full advantage. The wind and snow reduce visibility to a few feet, making shadows from trees shaking in the wind terrifying, let alone any walkers foolish enough to be outside without a coat. The atmosphere puts both characters and viewers on edge, exuding a vibe directly from The Thing. In an otherwise subdued episode, the frosty set piece still manages to chill with a close combat kill that’s never been seen before and almost chuckle at the Hilltop’s new mascot.
The Storm respects the fallen and allows the characters a chance to grieve, bringing the communities closer together. It provides a fitting end to a season that began so overshadowed by Andrew Lincoln’s departure it threatened to derail the entire series. But thanks to the work of the cast, crew and new showrunner Angela Kang, they have proven that this show can live on – and maybe even thrive – after Rick Grimes.
The Walking Dead Season 9 is available on FOX UK, with new episodes airing on Mondays at 9pm. Don’t have pay-TV? You can also stream it live and on-demand on NOW TV, for £7.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial. Season 9 is available until 1st May 2019.
Entrails and innards (spoilers)
– The Kingdom has fallen, the boilers and pipes unable to cope without Henry’s new blacksmithing skills (was he taught anything when he got to the Hilltop?). The King must lead an exodus of his people through a harsh winter storm that threatens to kill them. Fortunately, he leads them to sanctuary, The Sanctuary, to try and ride out some of the weather while they re-group. But they’re low on supplies – Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) must not have told them about the hidden food in the walls. The leaders decide the only way they’re going to make it to the Hilltop (now the Grimes Bridge is out of commission) is if they cut through the Whisperer territory, a plan that is met with apprehension from most, but Carol admits they never agreed to Alpha’s borders.
– The survivors tentatively trail through the Whisperer land, double-taking at any walker they see along the way. There is a moment where shadows of walkers stand motionless, staring directly through the snow at the survivors. For a minute, we fear the worst – that the Whisperers have spotted them breaking the rules – but it turns out to be regular walkers, frozen solid. This doesn’t make the survivors question how the nomadic Whisperers could survive themselves out in this cold, but we get the answer. They’re not there at all. Alpha has migrated south for winter.
– There isn’t a lot of the Whisperers in the episode, which is good. After the events of The Calm Before, this episode rightly focuses on the survivors and their emotional state. What we do see is Alpha suffering a self-inflicted lashing, an attempt to make her stronger for what lies ahead. What does lie ahead? Is she planning on attacking the survivors anyway? Morton has been an interesting addition to the show, truly wicked, genuinely creepy and boasting more layers than the villains who have come before her.
– The marriage of the millennium is over. Without Henry, Carol cannot accept the fairy-tale any longer and she hands her ring back over to Ezekiel before heading off to Alexandria. Ezekiel asked Daryl, rather impolitely, but honestly, without his King’s crown on, to leave Carol alone. Ezekiel is worried that she is going to find solace in his arms and not the King’s. Carol tells Daryl that Ezekiel is only looking for someone to blame, he’s hurting, but it does raise the possibility of Caryl making a comeback. Although, at this point, any romantic intentions between the two would spoil an otherwise amazing relationship the likes of which no other couple on the show have been able to replicate. The two make a great combination and they do love each other, but not in the romantic sense, and their relationship is best left at that.
– The storm hits Alexandria hard, forcing the survivors to huddle together for warmth. This means Negan must be released from his cell and, when he is in the company of others, he bites. Despite being incarcerated, Negan knows all the ins and outs of the Rosita-Siddiq-Gabriel-Eugene love quadrangle (who knows, maybe he’s been reading our reviews – we coined that term!) and teases Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) about it. Negan has shown that his violent past is behind him, but he never lost that cocky attitude. After one typically lengthy Eugene (Josh McDermitt) soliloquy, Negan tells him he missed him. We missed you Negan – just keep it fun and not too spiteful.
– Another string to the Negan redemption bow comes as those huddled in the council chambers must traverse the intense snowstorm and cross the street to Aaron’s (Ross Marquand) place. Judith (Cailey Fleming) has lost Dog and during the crossing hears him barking so runs off to find him, which causes Negan to leave the line after her. After taking a whack to the shin, he finds her and Dog almost unconscious from the cold and manages to get them back to safety. This leads to Michonne and Negan having a conversation in the sick bay that isn’t as aggressive as the ones they’ve had before; it’s almost friendly. Negan may be looking at a life outside his cell after all – assuming he can keep everybody happy.
– During this conversation, Negan makes an interesting statement that “nobody thinks they’re the bad guy”. Alpha must know she is the bad guy – her actions far outweighed those against her. Negan, on the other hand, thinks he was just trying to save people.
– The episode is bookended with Ezekiel on the radio, narrating events. By the end, we see that he is talking to Judith on the other end, further establishing communication between Alexandria and Hilltop. After they sign off, following a moment of silence, static comes through and a voice can be heard. The internet speculated that this would happen, and it would be Rick on the other end. It wasn’t. We have no idea who it is, but if the show wants to continue the trend of the comic books, this would be the Commonwealth on the other end.
– It could be them, that is where Maggie is right now, but this may also be a new direction for the show and, if it is, where is it going?