When it comes to villains in The Walking Dead, there are generally two flavors: tyrannical maniacs who are distorted reflections of Rick Grimes, and crazed cult-like marauders. In a case like Negan and his formerly zealous followers The Saviors, these flavors mix like fudge ripple ice cream. That just about every antagonist on the AMC drama and in the long-running comic series more or less fall into one of those two categories can be a bit troubling from a narrative standpoint. They can often feel recycled. Sure, we get the occasional antagonist who often operates as a sniveling pawn in some larger scheme, à la Gregory or Spencer, but even those archetypes keep coming back, and they rarely feel like a force our heroes have to really reckon with.
After the events punctuated by Rick’s departure from the television series, it would seem the group is devoid of a clear-cut villain (besides the walkers, of course … oh, and Negan, we suppose), but the latest promo has low-key revealed what Michonne, Jesus, Aaron and the rest of the crew will face next. There's moment when two survivors hunker down in a ditch to avoid detection by a passing herd of walkers. As they lay still in the muck, they hear what they think is one of the undead growl “Where are they?” It undoubtedly caused numerous viewers to shout, “Holy shit! Talking zombies!” at their televisions. And while that would be amazing on a jump-the-shark level, it isn’t the case.
What the survivors actually heard was a member of a roaming band of nomads known as The Whisperers, who wear the skins of the undead to walk among them. Formally introduced in The Walking Dead #130, The Whisperers quickly became one of the strangest enemies the survivors have ever encountered. They live a near-primitive lifestyle and operate more like a pack of wolves than a community of people. They even go so far as to have an alpha and and a beta within their hierarchy. What makes The Whisperers unique is how casually they were sneaked into the narrative of the comic. However, despite their strange behavior, their existence makes complete sense.
We’ve seen the living use the remains of the dead to move around hordes of walkers undetected before, but not like this. The Whisperers are a group of survivors taking this camouflage to the logical extreme. Because of this unorthodox method of survival, many Whisperers have met tragic ends at the hands of the living. That inadvertently creates a conflict that has been building over time. Who’s to say some of the walkers cut down in previous issues, or episodes, weren’t actually living people? It’s a terrifying notion, one a lot of the protagonists of the comic would not want to confront. But on the other hand, you don’t wear antlers in the woods during hunting season, so …
How The Whisperers arc will play out on the television series is, of course, up in the air, but if we had to put money on it, we’d say the upcoming episodes will most likely follow the plot beats of the comic. Ever since the survivors arrived to Alexandria, there hasn’t been a ton of deviation from the source material like there was in previous seasons (with the exception of that whole weird Wolves arc). A lot of characters directly affected by The Whisperers are still alive, and if the show does follow the comic closely, some of them won’t stay that way for long.
Of all the characters affected by The Whisperers in the comic, what happens to Negan is arguably the most fascinating. Now, not to get too far into spoiler territory, we'll just say he briefly falls in with the group but is never is able acclimate to their way of life (and has some ulterior motives, because, well ... he’s Negan). Tackling that plot element on the show is almost a given because no one wants to see Jeffery Dean Morgan sitting in a cage week after week. Bringing in The Whisperers immediately after Rick’s sabbatical is a wise decision. A group this crazy is going to spice things up, and could certainly lead to a midseason finale that might shock the drama back to life (and may or may not feature heads on pikes).
Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC, The Walking Dead stars Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Alanna Masterson, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.