It was a dark and stormy night. Perfect weather for running away from walkers, right?
The episode begins with, of all things, a herd just milling around in an open field. From a distance watching this are Daryl, Aaron, Dog, and Jesus, who note that the walkers aren’t moving in one direction. They’re just lurking, which they never do. That’s not normal. They decide to head back, as a storm is coming.
As the four leave, we close in on one member of the herd turning its head in our direction. That’s not ominous at all, is it?
Back in Alexandria, Negan stews in his cell and talks to his new visitor, Gabriel, about the preacher and Rosita being an item. Gabriel sees that Negan is trying, but Negan figures that this might be all they get from their sessions. One more week has passed, but Negan doesn’t want Gabriel talking it personal. He appreciates the preacher coming by to visit him. Right now, he has everything he needs.
The window is as good as a television. Acceptance is an important first step, Gabriel says, but Negan continues about the window. The people talk like he’s not there, and that’s when he gets the good shit. Rosita, for example, was talking about things that Gabriel would find interesting. And she wasn’t talking about Gabriel. With that, Gabriel ends the session while Negan focuses on his baseball.
Gabriel sees the Hilltop messengers and learns from one resident that Rosita has been found hurt.
Then on the road we see men on horseback alert the people at the Hilltop that riders are coming.
It turns out to be Michonne, Siddiq, DJ, and Magna’s crew arriving at the Hilltop. Dianne tells everyone inside that it’s not biters, but Michonne. She’s a bit cold to Michonne, who just wants to see Rosita. She tells Dianne that the newcomers are good people who would be welcomed by the Hilltop. Without asking the Hilltop first, of course. For extra measure, Michonne and Siddiq, along with the others, remove their weapons.
With that, they’re welcomed in the gates. Michonne asks Tara for Jesus, who is out looking for Eugene. Enid tells them that after resting up from her exhaustion, Rosita will be fine. Also, Aaron was here, too, much to Michonne’s surprise. Not to mention Carol and Daryl came by, too. Michonne and company can have their weapons when they leave. As for the newcomers, Tara informs them that they will have to earn their trust.
I have to remind myself that Tara is running the show while Jesus is out.
Anyway, Siddiq assures Michonne that it’s good they’ve arrived at the Hilltop. Michonne agrees, but she’s cynical as well.
Magna’s crew unloads and talks about how they can prove themselves while Siddiq and Michonne argue about the changes at the Hilltop. They spot Carol, who greets them warmly and introduces herself to the newcomers. And she can sign her name, so that’s good for Connie at least.
When the two have a moment alone, Michonne updates Carol about Judith and R.J. As for Carol, she’s just dropping off Henry so he can become a blacksmith and prove his worth. Carol wants a delegation from Alexandria to make this fair happen, but Michonne tells her that they’ve had their own troubles, too. Carol knows why this is hard, but they’ve all lost something. They’ve both lost children. You’ve also killed children, Carol.
They’ve always been a family and still are. But the Kingdom is still the Kingdom. In between the communities is a broken world and they can’t pretend otherwise. It’s a shame, but it’s the way it is.
Back with the search group, Aaron tells Jesus that he’d be a damn good leader if he stopped fighting it. In fact, Aaron looks to Daryl as an example- he keeps people away, but he’s good at finding them. And just like that, Daryl realizes that there’s a herd approaching with the wind carrying the sound. He times and tosses a clock as the four head off to get some distance.
Carol is headed back to the Kingdom, though Dianne wants to head with her, saying that the Kingdom needs her. Henry talked to Earl about his pay and work, and Alden assures Carol that he’ll keep an eye on Henry, who promises to make Carol proud and wants to see her at the fair.
Out in the field, Aaron, Daryl, and Jesus observe the herd that has now doubled in size. It should still be going the other way, so Daryl suggests they leave.
At the Hilltop, Enid joins Henry for his first day of being a blacksmith, with Alden teaching him how to make a spear. However, Enid is here for Alden. Henry is asked if he has plans after dinner, as Earl asks if he can join him and Tammy for dinner. Luckily he can instead of talking with Enid, as he wanted to do.
And it seems that Enid and Alden are an item. Don’t that beat all?
Gabriel changes Negan’s bedpan, with Negan taking every opportunity to gloat. But Gabriel is in no mood and tells Negan to shut his damn mouth. He’s fed up after trying to find a person to help, but Gabriel finds nothing. Gabriel reveals that Rosita got hurt and she’s at the Hilltop, but he can’t go to help her because he has to be here with Negan. Someone has to stay behind and be responsible for him.
Negan apologizes and Gabriel leaves, while Negan’s cell door is apparently locked.
Back at the Hilltop, Henry meets Gage, played by Jackson Pace, Addy, played by Kelley Mack, and Rodney, played by Joe Ando-Hirsh, who have been watching him mope around. They’ve lived at the Hilltop most of their lives. They ask Henry if he’s been to Oceanside and if it’s really all full of women.
They invite him to be with him in the woods after dark at their spot, though Henry is hesitant. He’s apparently not snuck out of Hilltop after dark. Henry soon reluctantly agrees.
Siddiq and Michonne sit with a resting Rosita, with Siddiq assuring Michonne that he’s on her side. Michonne knew people would be angry, and while it’s not too late to mend fences, she won’t do it the way Siddiq expects. She took tough decisions, but at least people are alive to hate her.
As if on cue, Rosita awakens and learns that she’s been at the Hilltop for a little over a day. When she learns that there are others looking for him, she becomes frantic and tells the two of them that the others have no idea what they’re dealing with right now.
The storm finally arrives as night falls. Dog, Daryl, Aaron, and Jesus make their way through the darkness and approach a shed, where they find Eugene hiding under the floorboards. He emerges from underneath and tells them that he’s dislocated his knee. Rosita was forced to leave him here.
He tells them that the herd has been through twice and is apparently looking for him. This wasn’t a normal herd. Eugene tells them that when the herd first passed them by, the walkers were whispering to one another.
He knows it sounds insane, but Rosita will corroborate his story. And just like that, the herd approaches, though Aaron can’t believe it would be the exact same herd. The five then leave.
So Henry pals around with his new, peer-pressuring friends who get him to drink alcohol. He gets sloshed over just one sip of moonshine, so I can’t even call Henry a lightweight right now. He’s practically a feather.
The three then show him a walker that they have trapped in a hole from six months back. They encourage Henry to go in, and he does. Intoxicated as he is, he gets the seriousness of this situation, so rather than fooling around, he goes in and kills the walker.
Jesus can’t believe that the herd would double back, but Eugene believes that the walkers, strange as it sounds, are evolving and their minds are changing. But it’s no crazier than the dead being alive in the first. Eugene offers to stay behind, but Jesus suggests that they split up. However, Aaron encourages them to stay together. Eventually, Daryl tells the others to head off while he and Dog head in another direction.
Splitting up never ends well. Haven’t these people ever watched Scooby Doo?
And while Negan entertains himself with his ball in Alexandria, the ball soon lands outside of his cell. Well, there goes that fun. However, he finds himself drawn to the cell door, which doesn’t appear to be secure. He slowly approaches and, to his surprise, pushes the cell door open. Yes indeed, Negan’s cell door is wide open.
So Earl and Tara talk with a hungover Henry. Earl is disappointed that Henry lied to him, and he can smell the moonshine off of him. He doesn’t confess who gave him the moonshine, but when Ed is about to terminate their partnership, Henry admits that he screwed up. The people at the Kingdom are counting him, as are Carol and Ezekiel. But Earl expects better.
Henry confesses that he saw his mother cry today. Before that, he was too excited to think and understand that this is a huge deal. He didn’t want to think about that for awhile. Earl has literally been there, and on that cot, too. The minimum for drunken disorderly conduct is two days, so Jesus will settle this when he returns. When Henry gets out, though, he’ll have to catch up on missed work.
Daryl sets off some firecrackers to get the attention of the herd, which soon begins moving in his direction. Dog barks to attract the herd, however the herd does not come their way. Rather, it heads in the opposite direction.
Aaron, Jesus, and Eugene continue through the storm when walkers approach. They head over a wall, but the walkers manage to stream through anyway. The three arrive at a locked gate in a graveyard that they’re forced to climb, but Eugene’s leg isn’t helping.
It’s not enough, as the herd closes in on them. Aaron, Eugene, and Jesus draw their weapons and fight off as many walkers as they can, but the herd continues to approach. Out of nowhere, Michonne and Magna’s crew arrives at the gate. Aaron goes to help while Jesus continues cutting down walkers.
However, just as he’s about to cut down one particular walker, the walker dodges his blow and stabs him instead, whispering into his ear that he does not belong. More of these fast moving “walkers” emerge as the others make quick work of them.
Daryl observes one of the “walkers” and cuts at the skin on its head. He pulls off what appears to be a mask and it’s revealed that the thing killed was not a walker, but a human being wearing skin.
As the group remains trapped, they hear voices all around them whispering to keep them together. And they remain surrounded as the first half of the ninth season of The Walking Dead comes to a close.
Well, that was pretty damn good. Great, even. After catching up with the communities after Rick’s disappearance, coupled with Eugene and Rosita hearing the walkers whispering to one another, “Evolution” finally introduces us to the new threat in great fashion in a very tense and atmospheric episode.
That’s my main takeaway from this episode. The atmosphere. The storm setting really helped and made this feel more like a horror film than a zombie drama. After all, we are dealing with characters in a zombie apocalypse, but the walkers come off more like a nuisance at this point as opposed to something that frightens people. Not anymore.
But here, with the fog and graveyard setting, the storm coming, and the herds circling back to try and locate Eugene- all beautiful tension that gave this episode a very creepy vibe and I enjoyed it. It felt reminiscent of the tension showcased in the Season Six finale, but this had a much more satisfying cliffhanger.
And with that, the end of Jesus. It’s unfortunate that we’ve lost Jesus just when the show seemed to be turning him into a badass. And it’s not made any better when you read about Tom Payne’s frustration in that Hollywood Reporter article about him not getting to be the kickass Jesus we know from the comics. I can agree with that sentiment.
Plus, his friendship with Aaron was continuing to develop and we could’ve seen more than that, but alas, Jesus met his end here. I’m curious what this means for the Hilltop. Tara was Jesus number two, so I guess this makes her the de-facto leader until Maggie returns, given that the door has been left open for Lauren Cohan to come back to the series down the line.
Speaking of Hilltop, the preview for the second half of the season, among other things, showcased a flashback of Michonne. So perhaps we’ll learn just what the hell happened between the communities during the six year time skip because wow is the tension high here. There’s a real sense of unease and distrust between Hilltop and the Kingdom towards Alexandria, but we still don’t know why.
From what we can gather so far, some shit went down that Michonne did that pissed people off, but at least kept them alive if they were still going to hate her. Even during Michonne’s conversation with Carol, there’s no warmth here. It’s cold and clinical. The gang’s back together, but there’s no sense of camaraderie. Perhaps Rick and Maggie being gone means you lose some of that connective tissue, but tension is still high.
Sure, Maggie was at odds with Rick and Michonne, but based on her talk with Michonne after she spared Negan, it felt like they were on the path to mending fences. Not so anymore, and hopefully the second half sheds some light on why the communities are so distant towards Alexandria and why Michonne has been kept in the dark about so much outside Alexandria’s walls.
Speaking of Alexandria- hey, transitions for the win, right?- Negan is now free. This can go one of two ways, and I won’t give away one possible comic spoiler because I want to see what the show does with this. Negan’s been imprisoned for more than six years and chances are he would want to earn some goodwill with the residents. At the same time, he can also leave and check on both his Saviors and the whereabouts of Lucille.
Even though we see Negan walk off, perhaps he’s just going for a little walk? Maybe he returns and stays in the cell as a sign of good faith? No idea, but in the meantime, I did enjoy his banter with Gabriel.
Then we’ve got Henry getting knocked on his literal ass thanks to moonshine. We don’t have Carl and Sophia getting beaten up by other Hilltop kids here, so I suppose this is a feasible way to get Henry in a jail cell. The kids are fine right now. I had them marked for death the moment they started drinking and invited Henry to take on their pet walker.
But it looks like Henry does sober up and learn a lesson during his talk with Earl, who knows what it’s like to be on that side of the gate. Literally.
The midseason finale of The Walking Dead this season turned up the dial on the tension with a very creepy and atmospheric episode that ended with the death of Jesus and introduced us to the new threat in the form of the Whisperers. The stakes are high and we’ll see how the communities deal with this new threat when we return for the second half of Season Nine in February. See you then.