WARNING: The following article includes spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 9 finale, "The Storm," which premiered Sunday on AMC.
The Walking Dead ended its ninth season Sunday with a contemplative, and chilly, finale in which survivors from the Kingdom and Alexandria try and make their way to warmth and safety.
Members of the Kingdom, and anyone else remaining at the fair after Alpha’s aggression, make their way to the Hilltop after the onset of a massive blizzard. Some residents of Alexandria are forced to relocate to the only homes that have adequate heat and power, resulting in a group having to make its way a short, but deadly, distance through the storm.
Both groups face trials on their journeys, but come out the other end unscathed, at least physically. The biggest paradigm shift of the season still took place last week, at the tragic end of “The Calm Before,” but that’s not to say there aren't significant changes in the finale, which leave us with plenty of questions for Season 10.
Did the Whisperers Spot a Violation of Their Borders?
In making their way from the Kingdom to Hilltop, the group that includes Ezekiel, Carol, Lydia, Jerry, Umiko and Michonne faces the painful realization that the blizzard will hit before it can reach its destination. They conclude they won’t survive the weather unless they take a shortcut through Whisperer territory, a fearful prospect considering Alpha’s deadly warning.
They decide to take the risk, despite the probability they are being watched. However, when it's a matter of life and death, they choose to cross, and hope they won’t be seen. They ultimately make it back to Alexandria, but they have no way of knowing whether their intrusion onto Whisperer territory was detected. Luckily, one of the final scenes reveals Alpha and Beta have led their group to warmer pastures for the winter; unless scouts were left behind, they will have no way of knowing their borders were crossed. Not that that will stop them from pursuing more aggression once weather permits, of course.
Are Carol and Ezekiel Done for Good?
The king and queen separated at the end of “The Storm,” with Carol deciding to resettle in Alexandria while Ezekiel remained at Hilltop. It's clear Ezekiel saw the writing on the wall after asking Daryl – very nicely – get lost so to he and Carol could reconnect after the loss of their son. Unfortunately, Carol seems to be under the impression Ezekiel blames her for Henry’s death, so she decides to return to Alexandria, and perhaps more familiar faces, to heal.
What’s interesting is that, while many fans thought Ezekiel’s head would end up on a pike at the end of “The Calm Before,” just as it did in the comics, it now seems as if he’s following a storyline similar to his counterpart, only a little rearranged. Ezekiel pairs up with Michonne in the comics, and the two part ways during the two-year time jump between the end of "All Out War" and the introduction of the Whisperers. Michonne is based in Alexandria during that time, and Ezekiel is killed before they can reconcile. Given the Whisperers appear to be preparing for another offensive once the weather improves, it’s possible the king has merely delayed impending doom, not avoided it.
Will the Whisperers Strike Again?
While few of us, including the communities, were convinced that Alpha’s brutal last stand was indeed her last, the final moments of the season finale seemed to confirm that she’s merely biding her time until she can strike again. She and Beta were seen in a warmer climate, presumably with their “herd,” where Alpha was encouraged to be strong for some kind of trial to come. After Beta reassures her, she holds out her arm and he whips it with a switch.
It’s either penance or an endurance trial, and as Alpha doesn’t seem to require forgiveness, it's clear she’s preparing for some kind of conflict. And unless The Walking Dead plans to spin off the Whisperers into their own hellscape of a series, it’s likely Alpha still sees the defection of her daughter as a wrong that must be righted. Unfortunately for her, the survivors are already planning on revenge, whether she’s counting on that or not.
Will Negan Return to Jail?
After six years in prison, Negan seems to have turned a corner. He’s still as provocative as ever, if his needling at Gabriel, Rosita, Eugene and Siddiq is any indication, but his affection for Judith may have overridden his more murderous persona. This season has seen him beg for death at the hands of Maggie, desperate for her to liberate him from the mental penance forced on him by captivity; after the second time jump, he seems to have mellowed into acceptance considerably after the following four more years of imprisonment brought Judith into his life.
He and Michonne already achieved some sort of minor detente, which permitted his words to actually get through to her on a few occasions. However, in “The Storm” he risked his life for Rick’s daughter without a second thought. When Michonne visits him as he recuperates, Negan displays genuine consideration for the fall of the Kingdom. It’s doubtful he’ll leave his cell permanently and be allowed to join the communities as an equal, but it certainly looks as if he’s willing to adopt a new way of life – if only that will permit him to look out for Judith.
What is Lydia’s Future?
Cassidy McClincy’s Lydia attempted suicide twice during “The Storm," once when she wandered away from the group and sought to allow a frozen walker bite her arm, and again when she simply tried to leave. Both times, Carol stopped her from carrying out her plan. The first time, Henry’s mother simply had to look at Lydia before the girl shuffled back into line. The second time Lydia begged Carol to kill her, in a backward way of honoring Henry.
As little as Carol as to give to Lydia, it’s clear she can’t let Alpha’s daughter die. It's unclear whether that’s because of her own maternal instincts or because Carol knows that’s not what Henry would’ve wanted. Lydia winds up in Alexandria, for better or for worse, and participates in a snowball fight with Daryl, Carol, Judith, Michonne and R.J. at the end of the episode. It seems likely that seaSson 10 will see her fine a place within the communities, despite how hard won it is.
Who Called the Radio?
During Episode 6, “Who Are You Now?,” Michonne’s vice-grip on Alexandria forbids anyone to leave the communities without permission, and prohibits outside contact that could reveal their location. Gabriel and Eugene disobey those edicts and, with the help of Rosita, repair a radio and leave the community to set up listening posts. Eventually their endeavor results in Eugene’s injury and Jesus’ death. But when Michonne finds out what happened, Gabriel maintains they should still be looking for people to help.
The arrival of the Whisperers distracted from Gabriel’s project, at least until “The Storm,” which opened with Ezekiel at the Hilltop talking to someone we later find out is Judith, via the radio system. Afater they disconnect, we hear another garbled voice come through, asking, almost imperceptibly, “Is anyone there?”
We have no idea who that is, or what they may want. Is it Maggie, somehow in need? Is it a Whisperer straggler looking to defect? Is it yet another group with unknowable intentions? Season 10 will tell. But given the desperation and low-tech communications, we feel safe in saying it’s probably not the Commonwealth.
Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC, The Walking Dead stars Norman Reedus, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Alanna Masterson, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Nadia Hilker, Dan Fogler, Angel Theory, Lauren Ridloff and Eleanor Matsuura.