And what it is, is what it always will be. Is it?
The episode begins with Kelly alone in the woods. Despite the ringing in her ears, she takes aim and downs a nearby boar. Still, her hearing is still pretty bad, as evidenced when some walkers nearly manage to ambush her. She manages to take one down, but the remaining walkers help themselves to her boar. Well, there goes lunch.
She goes on the run, but trips and falls down a hill, getting some cuts and bruises in the process. Exhausted, she rests against a rock. Not the best idea when there’s a walker right behind her…
But enough about that. Let’s catch up with Negan, who is washing his face in a stream when he’s confronted by an Alexandria resident: Brandon, played by Blaine Kern III. However, Brandon is just messing with Negan and even tosses him some water to drink.
Restoration work has begun at Hilltop. While Eugene has an idea for the wood, Alden and Earl suggest to Yumiko that it be used to make weapons and catapults instead. Yumiko is on board, just not right now while they’re still helping the Kingdom residents. While Yumiko still doesn’t fully believe that the Whisperers behind this, Earl is tired of everyone sitting on their thumbs and doing nothing.
Another resident, Brianna, informs Yumiko that some fish was stolen in the middle of the night from the cellar. Again. Well, who was on watch? Magna, that’s who, but she’s too busy reading a book and listening to a very on-the-nose song. Yumiko reminds Magna that, given their strained resources, everyone should stick to their jobs. Magna’s response is merely to turn up the music.
Yumiko leaves rather than doing the practical thing, which is kicking Magna in the face.
Siddiq, Daryl, and Dog arrive at Hilltop. They tell Ezekiel- who has a bit of a cough- that they haven’t spotted Negan yet. Ezekiel, remembering Negan’s past crimes, believes that Alexandria deserves better than this. As Siddiq goes to help the injured in the infirmary, Daryl asks Ezekiel if he’s wise about Carol, but he isn’t.
As others arrive, Connie writes to inquire on Kelly’s whereabouts, but apparently she was supposed to be back here before the others arrived. Well, that ain’t good.
Apparently Brandon is the Saviors’ number one fan, because he tries to whistle like them and then waxes on to Negan about how the Saviors used to run shit until Rick Grimes showed up. Negan doesn’t say much here, as he’s playing it safe, but Brandon figures that Negan is headed back to the sanctuary. In addition, seems Brandon heard that Negan made Rick cut off Carl’s hand and then Negan shot Carl.
This gets under Negan’s skin, as he not only denies this, but is adamant that he would never kill a kid. Sure about that, Negan? A spooked Brandon now agrees, saying that they’re both Negan.
Brandon’s probably gonna die. The two happen upon a twisted barbed wire trap and figure this is the work of the skin freaks. Before the two can decide whether to go forth, a walker gets the drop on Negan. However, he manages to wrap his walking stick through the barbed wire and slices off the walker’s head. He then smashes it under his boot. Hey, points for creativity.
Thanks for your help, Brandon. While this kid was of no use, he has a reason for not helping: he had to gift wrap Negan’s present, which turns out to be Lucille. Or at least a bat wrapped in barbed wire. He also happened to find Negan’s leather jacket in the back of an old storage garage. Seems Brandon’s father never saw Negan without it.
Elsewhere in the woods, Aaron spots someone gutting some walkers and letting them bleed into the water. Turns out to be Gamma, and if she’s just letting the walkers infect the walkers like that, then someone should get their ass kicked.
Brandon and Negan engage in a Savior pastime that Negan does not remember at all- rating walkers based on their hotness. After all, she’s clearly a 3.
Upon hearing a scream, Negan heads to a nearby bus and eliminates one walker, but at the cost of his blade. He heads inside and finds the source of the screaming: a woman and a young boy. Negan takes care of the remaining walkers and even uses a door to slam one walker’s head over and over again. Classic Negan, am I right?
Daryl and Connie search for Kelly, with Connie lamenting that she didn’t accompany her friend. However, Daryl tells Connie about a time that his brother, Merle, took him fishing on private property. On a stolen boat, even. While drinking, Merle eventually fell into the lake, so Daryl had to swim Merle all the way back to the shore. Merle’s response? Go get the beer. At least Merle had his priorities in order.
Dog picks up on a scent, leading the two to the rotted corpse of the boar from earlier. Upon hearing a noise, Daryl whirls around and prepares to fire, but it turns out to just be Magna. No sign of Kelly on her end, either.
At Hilltop, Alden focuses on plumbing and construction, but Yumiko’s mind is elsewhere. She wishes that she was out with the others searching for Kelly, but Alden reminds her that someone has to stay back and keep things going.
Earl, meanwhile, still has the Whisperers on his mind. That tree didn’t just fall on its own, given how healthy it was, and he believes everyone has forgotten about the greater threat. But Alden hasn’t. He thinks about the Whisperers every day. Good, and Earl doesn’t want Alden to stop.
Inside, Siddiq happens upon an ornament that Henry forged during his days an apprentice. Ezekiel says that this gift was intended for him, but then his coughing fit comes back. Siddiq thinks the smoke inhalation from the fire might have caused this. Ezekiel snaps and knocks away Siddiq’s hand, insisting that he’s fine.
Upon closer examination, Siddiq finds the root of Ezekiel’s problem: a thyroid on his neck. While Siddiq knows that this could be anything, Ezekiel knows better. He’s seen his grandmother and father fight this and win. Thyroid cancer does have a 98 percent survival rate, after all, but those were different times. Now, Ezekiel knows his odds.
At last, Siddiq admits that he’s been going through his own pain ever since the incident in the bar. He can’t stand being in Alexandria because of how many people look to him. He acknowledges that while he can’t get away from it, he can at least talk about it. After all, what are they here for if not for each other?
Back on the bus that time forgot, the woman explains to Negan that she and her son, Milo, had been on foot for weeks until the ‘hissers’ ran through their camp and caused everyone to scatter. After that, they just went on living from place to place.
When the two leave to go for a walk, Brandon suggests that he and Negan follow the two in hopes of finding a stash of weapons. Negan isn’t interested in following a woman and some kid. In fact, before Brandon can leave, Negan sits him down and informs him that while he’s grateful for his help, things will only get more dangerous going forward. As such, Negan suggests going on alone while Brandon goes back to Alexandria.
Brandon is fine with that, but he knows that he’ll be questioned about where he’s been. He’s not that good of a liar, either. Okay, so Negan has a plan: Brandon can go wherever the hell he wants. He can tell the people at Alexandria exactly where Negan is. Whatever Brandon does, Negan just doesn’t want to see him again. As Brandon leaves, he derides Negan as being just like all the others.
Oh, hey there, Alpha. Gamma returns to the Whisperers’ camp and informs Alpha that she’s damming up the creek, just as she asked. However, Gamma would like another guardian. Beta isn’t a fan of this, as one another guardians taken they’ll be minus one more. Alpha reminds Beta that shifting strategies take time. The creek, the border, and the tree will crush the survivors.
One Whisperer proposes just releasing the walker herd right now. Alpha stops Beta from charging at the Whisperer and wants him to say his peace. So the Whisperer says that they should just cut the enemy down all at once instead of through piecemeal attacks. He makes a good point, so Alpha puts it to a vote. As you’d expect, no one agrees with this Whisperer. Well, that’s democracy for you.
She slices at one of the Whisperer’s legs, bringing him to his knees. When he tries to attack, she slices again, this time at his arm. She then tells the Whisperers that when the survivors lose their will to fight, the smart ones will know where to run to stay safe. With that, she hands Beta a blade to deliver the finishing blow. Well, at least now Gamma for sure has another guardian.
With Brandon gone, Negan informs the kid that Brandon isn’t the best of co-pilots. But then, Negan guesses that this kid has never been on a plan, so of course he doesn’t catch his drift. Negan then tells the kid to imagine being on a plane that’s just been sitting on the runway forever. The plane finally starts to move faster and faster, and then the wheels come off the ground and you’re flying.
Negan isn’t that big on the food either. Neither was Lucille. I don’t entirely disagree with that, but hey, airplane food is hit and miss. Anyway, Negan tells the kid that he’ll miss growing up in this world and not being able to experience things like video games or nut tapping.
As you’d expect, the kid has no idea what nut tapping is…nor should he. Anyway, Negan explains what nut tapping is all about- catching the other guy off guard and embarrassing him for doing something like speaking ill of your mother. Now, if you go too high, you get nothing but dick. I’m going to assume that Negan never had this conversation with Judith during their many talks.
Negan asks the kid if he’s all packed up, and he is. Negan knows that moving sucks, but he knows a place that will take in the kid and his mother. They just can’t say who brought them…on one condition: keep those fingers holstered up when Negan’s nuts are around.
Now that Gamma has her new guardian, she leads it to the river, where she kills it all while having memories of leaving her sister to die. In her anger, Gamma slashes at her hand, leaving a deep wound. Then, all of a sudden, someone tosses some bandages to her: it’s Aaron. He attempts to introduce himself, even telling her that he’s from Vermont, but Gamma leaves in a rush.
Perhaps she doesn’t like people from Vermont.
At last, Kelly is found. Daryl suggests that they get her back to Hilltop, but Magna suggest some place closer. Turns out that Magna and Kelly have been stealing and hiding supplies from the Hilltop. Daryl is pissed. After all, the Hilltop has sick mouths to feed, but all Magna is apparently good for is talking shit. Connie writes that they’ll say they found the supplies.
Negan gathers some wood when he hears the familiar Savior whistle. He returns to find Brandon and sees that he has killed the woman and her son. Brandon believes that Negan telling him off was a test. That yes, it would get harder, but now Brandon has proven himself and he now is Negan!
Yeah, fuck that, as Negan takes a stone and bashes Brandon’s head over and over again. With that, the former Savior leader takes his jacket, bat, and heads onward.
While Kelly is brought back to Hilltop, Siddiq gets a radio update from Dante: apparently Rosita caught a bug and Gabriel isn’t back yet, but Rosita will be fine. Siddiq decides to head back for Alexandria tonight, but he then asks if Carol is around. Dante goes off to get her, and Ezekiel swaps places with Siddiq, but just as Carol returns, Ezekiel ends the transmission.
Okay, time for more drama. Yumiko and Magna face off, with Magna figuring that Yumiko looked at her for the past 13 years as someone who always made mistakes. Yumiko denies that. Instead, she tells Magna that from day one, she saw her as an innocent person locked away for a crime that they didn’t commit.
She saw Magna as someone who never trusted anyone because no one, in turn, ever trusted her. Someone who is good, yet angry at the world. Then Magna brings up how her young cousin died at the hands of someone who never got justice…until Magna came around and found him. With this admission, Yumiko tells Magna to find another place to sleep! Oof. Tough luck, Magna. You got the couch!
Gamma returns to Whisperer camp and reveals to Alpha that the man with the metal arm gave her the bandages needed. As Alpha unmasks Gamma, she says that the man with the metal arm could prove useful to them. However, Gamma might need to wear a new mask.
As night falls, Daryl prepares to escort Siddiq back to Alexandria when Connie catches him. She apologizes for asking him to lie for Magna and Kelly, but Daryl understands that they’re family.
Negan? Well, he’s wandering around in the dark in Whisperer territory and finally comes across some walkers to kill. However, he’s soon tossed to the ground and finds himself confronted by several Whisperers, Beta among them. Well, Negan, time to dance.
This episode’s title seems to be referring to how some characters, no matter how hard they try, can’t shake away who they were before. Even if they changed, it will always be, per the title, what it always is. That would make them stuck and unflinching, but characters like Negan, Ezekiel, and Magna go through some moments that remind them of who they were and whether they can truly move forward.
Starting off with Negan, we’ve already seen his gradual development since the war ended in Season 8. It’s not too hard to accept that he’s a changed man, but the question remains whether he truly would go back to his old ways. Maybe not entirely, again looking at the examples of him saving both Judith and Aaron, as well as Lydia in the past episode.
Brandon tries over and over again to remind Negan of who he was and still may be when bringing up the Saviors, but I question his sources. Here, Brandon is a resident of Alexandria instead of being from the Hilltop. I don’t mind the location change, but him being a Negan fanboy is a good way for Negan to be reminded of who he was. He’s tried to move past that, but as he knows, people still see him as the bad guy.
This episode shows us what would happen if Negan did still have Saviors who followed his every move. Brandon is all of that rolled into one, going as far as giving Negan both Lucille and his jacket just to show him how things used to be. But this is an older, wiser Negan who wouldn’t just stir shit up for the sake of getting a rise out of someone.
He’s more reserved and not into his big speeches. He even tries to help the mother and son get to the Hilltop, but doesn’t want them to reveal how they got there. I think part of Negan never truly will be able to move forward because the world won’t let him, but he’ll at least try his damnedest to be a good person. His conversation with Milo had shades of the talks he had with Carl.
Then Brandon kills Milo and his mother. For him to think this was part of some grand test and to not see the warning signs shows how deluded he really was. After all, this mother and son hadn’t done anything to warrant being killed, and just when Negan had formed a bond with the son and promised him safety, that promise is dropped due to Brandon.
To be honest, I might like this reasoning more than the one we got in the comic. There, Brandon just wanted Rick and Alpha to kill each other, but that’s not what Negan had in mind. Here, Negan’s trying to do something noble and further prove that he’s a changed man, but two people had their hope robbed. So it makes sense that Negan would kill Brandon here. That and Brandon just being an annoying ass.
Ezekiel is still reeling from his own losses, but at least his talk with Michonne has allowed him to open up. That and Siddiq finding the thyroid. I’m curious if Ezekiel’s life really is on borrowed time. I haven’t heard anything about Khary Payton possibly leaving the show, and while Ezekiel may be pessimistic about his odds, I would think the show still had plenty of mileage to get out of him.
Sure, the Kingdom is gone, but people still look up to him for guidance. People like Michonne and Siddiq are here to help him open up in ways that others can’t. Plus, I like that this is an opportunity for Siddiq, in turn, to start talking about his trauma. Granted, he doesn’t fully explain what’s going on, but at least he doesn’t have an episode, but it’s a good first step in him explaining what he’s still experiencing.
After all, everyone else is focused on the impending Whisperer threat. I like that we’re mostly at Hilltop because we haven’t really seen how this community specifically hopes to react. It’s different at Alexandria because Lydia’s right there and is representative of the horror that Alpha brought. Less so at Hilltop, but I wonder if someone like Earl would spur people into action, the same way Negan wanted Gabriel to back in Alexandria.
Because of how early the season talked about Kelly’s hearing problems, it felt like the show was setting up her possible death. The hearing problem came back, but aside from some cuts and bruises, she got out of her situation just fine. Sure, I like spending more time with the newcomers, but she wasn’t in any real peril at the end of the day.
The focus with the new group shifts to Magna and, to be fair I’m fine with this. It feels like, of this new group, she’s gotten the least to do outside of the team’s introduction, which I find odd since, all things considered, she is the leader. But the fact that she and Kelly have been stealing and hiding Hilltop supplies is pretty disgusting.
As Daryl mentioned, they were taken in by Hilltop, which already has to deal with feeding and taking care of two communities when you factor in the Kingdom residents. To steal and hide from them- there’s no excuse for that. I get Connie wanting to protect her family, but like Daryl mentioned, the Hilltop has its own mouths to feed.
Having said that, I do still enjoy the quick moments between Daryl and Connie. He’s accepted her as part of his family despite her being a stranger- a far cry from when he wouldn’t initially accept Michonne, but would accept Merle since, as he said, he’s family. Plus, we got a bit of family history between Merle and Daryl through the story, which was a nice moment of levity.
The Whisperers do seem to have a long term strategy that could pay off in ways that we don’t see yet. Kind of like how Ezekiel had the fed the Kingdom pigs walker meat in order to infect the Saviors- though we never got any payoff to that- the same could be done with Gamma contaminating and damming the creek. We did see Negan drink from a body of water early on, so it’s not impossible that there’s a long term strategy.
It doesn’t seem to be quick enough for some, as we see with the one Whisperer who challenges Alpha, but I like how she seems to be thinking steps ahead and anticipating what the survivors will do. She already seems to have a plan for Aaron, given his kindness and willingness to help a Whisperer, but those plans will have to go on hold now that Negan has arrived.
The plot for the survivors may not have moved forward that much, but Negan’s time on the road with Brandon, his attempt to give some survivors a shred of hope, and eventual murder of Brandon before entering Whisperer territory made this a very entertaining watch. Spending more time with Magna’s group was always a plus and I’m curious how their dynamic may change in light of Magna and Yumiko’s argument.
We’ll see. Catch you all next time.