WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 9 episode "The Calm Before," which premiered Sunday on AMC.
While the series has veered far afield from its source material over the last few seasons, last night's The Walking Dead paralleled two harrowing moments from the comic’s "Whisperer War" arc. Specifically, “The Calm Before” featured Alpha threatening Daryl with her massive herd of walkers before leading him to the northern border of her lands marked with the heads of ten survivors.
The second half of Season 9 has been building slowly to some kind of major paradigm shift -- a perceptible incline to anyone watching, regardless of their knowledge of the source material. Samantha Morton has given us a villain whose simmering evil feels desperate to burst out every time she’s on screen. After seeing her murder her husband and blatantly brainwash Lydia into misremembering the event, the Whisperer leader has shown herself to be an indiscriminate killer, but other than that she's remained relatively, oddly benign. If you consider Negan’s introduction and subsequent brutal behavior, Alpha has looked like a schoolteacher in comparison.
“The Calm Before” firmly established the show’s commitment to the character’s brutality as represented in the comics, and it did so by faithfully recreating two horrific sequences from Volume 24. Issue #143 ends with Alpha leading Rick to a bluff and showing him the massive herd she controls. The walkers outnumber anything Rick’s ever seen, and ensures that if Alpha wanted to overrun the communities, she could. For the show, Daryl took Rick’s place in the sequence, but the rhetoric was essentially the same – Alpha made a show of strength and warned Daryl to stay out of Whisperer territory or she’d let loose the thousands of walkers she controls onto the communities.
Issue #144 sees Alpha lead Rick to the northern border she’s established where he’s confronted with 12 of his people, their heads mounted on spikes. Tammy, a pregnant Rosita and King Ezekiel are among the fallen to have present analogs on the show, though Brett Butler’s Tammy is the only comics’ character to die on the show and in the books. Depending on your perspective, the show went easy on its own cast, considering Rosita and her unborn child survived and Carol still has a husband to return to. But Henry and Enid were key characters whose youth and optimism made their deaths a different flavor of tragedy (and we can’t discount the fact that this is now technically the fourth child Carol’s lost to the apocalypse). And for someone who’d been as steady and forceful a leader as Tara, seeing her cut down so thoughtlessly would be enough for at least the Hilltop to go to war.
Like so many other moments from the comics, The Walking Dead served a seminal moment from the source material, but tinged with a satisfying twist. And we can only expect more of the same moving forward, given how many key players in the "Whisperer War" arc aren’t cast members on the show anymore. Rick, Andrea and Dwight are key players in the comics' version of the war, while Carol, Ezekiel, Michonne and Daryl seem poised to take over for the show's adaptation. But each will chart vastly different paths considering the unique losses they’ve suffered. One thing remains certain -- Alpha’s kicked a much bigger hornet’s nest than she anticipated.
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.