WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 9 episode "The Calm Before," which premiered Sunday on AMC.
In one of the most brutally emotional episodes since the departure of Rick Grimes, “The Calm Before” reminded us just how harsh The Walking Dead can be. In a move comics readers were perhaps both expecting and dreading, Alpha murdered 10 survivors and mounted their zombified heads on pikes to mark the northern border of Whisperer territory.
She does the same thing in the comics, where instead of 10 people, she goes for an even dozen. Also, those among the dead are a pregnant Rosita, and King Ezekiel. While the losses this week were great, thankfully, we were spared seeing two such dynamic characters eliminated (despite how certain we were Ezekiel would be among the fallen), one of whom was with child.
But Alpha was able to convey her boundless cruelty without killing a pregnant woman. Instead, she took the young, the old, the strong, the innocent and the hopeful. Outside of the Highwaymen, the group was predominantly comprised of Hilltop community members, which could've been a way for Alpha to ensure many in the communities would blame Lydia's presence on their deaths. But in the end, they also all had one other thing in common: They represented values and a way of life Alpha despises. During Siddiq’s speech at the end of the episode, he highlights how everyone fought for each other despite some being strangers. Protecting the weak flies in the face of everything Alpha believes and she typically kills anyone or thing that threatens her way of life, so these losses were especially symbolic.
We hardly knew them, but Ozzy, Alec and DJ were charming enough rogues to worm their way into our hearts in the space of three episodes. Following an iffy introduction in which they behaved like actual highwaymen of old, Carol and Ezekiel convinced them to engage in a more give-and-take existence. When faced with the opportunity to engage in a more civilized society, complete with cinema, Ozzy & Co. agreed to safely ferry fair-goers to the Kingdom.
What makes their deaths particularly tragic is that they clearly were the good kind of humans, as evidenced by their attempts to rescue the kidnapped survivors when they discovered what had happened. The new world needs more salty heroes like these guys, and it’s a shame we got to know so little of them.
Frankie first came on the scene as one of Negan’s long-suffering wives. As such, she didn’t remain loyal to the Saviors after the war, and had integrated into Alexandria, even adopting a daughter. Last week in “Scars,” her daughter was among Jocelyn’s abductees, and we saw them joyfully reunited when Michonne and Daryl returned with the children in tow. What will become of her daughter remains to be seen, but that two children are now without their adoptive mothers after this underscores Alpha’s own corrupted maternal instinct.
Brett Butler’s grieving mother turned into one of season 9’s sleeper hits. She and Earl suffered the loss of their son and Gregory’s manipulations to become representative of the best of the communities. There were few people who’d suffered tragedy in the communities, and Tammy and Earl represented those who could find happiness once more through sheer endurance.
There have been countless tales on The Walking Dead of people unable to cope with what the apocalypse laid at their feet, and Tammy and Earl defied that expectation. That said, when fate gifted them with a Whisperer baby, the bell started tolling. It’s unlikely Alpha actually cared about getting vengeance for the baby she forced her own clan member to give up, but she undoubtedly knew it would twist the knife.
Addy and Rodney
These kids were not … awesome. But they were kids. While this week’s episode focused on their general ugliness when it came to Lydia and Henry, their deaths only served to highlight how far beyond the horrors of The Walking Dead’s earlier seasons the show had come.
The idea of kids in a stable-enough situation to form cliques, much less use them to victimize a new girl, didn’t seem possible in the days of Shane, the Prison and Terminus. But their deaths also serve to point out how far the communities still have to go when it comes to protecting their young.
While Enid might not have been the most dynamic character on the show, she’d earned some plot armor. After watching her parents die and then losing the one person who helped her to reconnect, seeing her turn a corner the past few seasons and become a capable medic and loving girlfriend to Alden never failed to bring a smile to our faces. We’re not devastated that she’s gone, but it sucks that she couldn’t just have headed out to find Maggie instead of being beheaded.
Out of all the victims, Tara has been with us the longest. Coming on the scene after the Governor manipulated her family into fighting against Rick, she eventually found a place with the other survivors, and for a minute it even looked like she might find love with Denise. But the woman's death marked a turning point for Tara, and Alanna Masterson grew the character into a seasoned, dedicated warrior.
This season showed her ably taking over leadership of the Hilltop after Jesus' death (and a little before, if we're being honest), and staunchly standing her ground in the face of Michonne's fervent isolationism. At the very least, she got to sign the charter, including the mutual protection pact, so her life won't go unavenged, and the Hilltop won't be on its own if and when the Whisperers step up the aggression.
While The Walking Dead is known for its calculated deviations from the comics, even more than its faithful adherence to them, it’s no secret we didn’t think Ezekiel would survive Season 9. The King had been way too happy for way too long, and Henry’s story had only started. Plus, we couldn’t imagine the show robbing Carol of yet another child.
Yet that’s just what happened. In a twisted bait-and-switch, it was the King and Queen’s son who succumbed to Alpha’s wrath, and as much as we hate to revel in the death of a teenager, it was a more compelling narrative choice. Not only is it ultimately a little more tragic to cut down Henry in his prime, it makes Alpha even more cruel and vengeful a mother. She might have let her daughter go, but she was going to make Lydia’s abandonment of her as painful and punitive for the girl as possible. There, she succeeded.
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.