Light it up.
The episode begins with Beta and other Whisperers working in the woods- remember this- while Alpha graduates Negan to the next level. She hands him a reed and instructs him to whip her arm. He does, and when finished, it’s his turn.
Soon enough, the Whisperer herd, a masked Negan among them, heads for their next target.
Over at Hilltop, Eugene is talking with the mysterious stranger on the radio as he searches for a particular album. They go over the shooting starts they’ve seen, with the woman on the other side noting that she recently saw a satellite fall from the sky. Eugene confirms that he’s kept his end of the deal by keeping this talk secret, but lets the woman know that the satellite parts are the reason they’re able to communicate.
A celestially ordained meet-and-greet, if you will.
The woman hasn’t talked either, but her people are over-cautious. Eugene spits out that he’s in Virginia and asks the woman to pick the time and place in which they could hypothetically meet. If she doesn’t like it, she can leave. Eugene tells the woman, who we learn is named Stephanie, that he’d just like to meet her. She would like to as well and will talk to her people, but asks Eugene to hold off on talking to his.
She’d just like confirmation from her side first. Fair enough.
Outside, Earl and Alden spot the Alexandria caravan arriving- plus one new addition. Doesn’t make sense since they’d be on lockdown. Aaron explains that the woman’s name is Mary- no, it’s Gamma!- and she ran away from Alpha’s camp. More than that, her nephew is Adam and she wants to see him.
Like any sane person, Earl has no intention of letting that happen. He was told that people came to see Alex- the medic- not that he’d be meeting one of their enemies.
Doesn’t help that Alpha’s people left the baby to die. Alden has a compromise: the newcomer sees the baby and that’s it. Just because she came for something doesn’t mean they’ll get it. Again, that’s fair. Lot of real sensible decisions being made today.
Carol rests at Daryl’s living space when she’s surprised by the arrival of Ezekiel- who sounds like he swallowed some gravel. He tells her that Jerry and Kelly made it to Hilltop and he’s aware of what happened at the cave. If she doesn’t return, then he’ll just sit with her and they’ll get eaten by mosquitoes together. Sounds better than being eaten by the dead, I suppose.
Speaking of Kelly, she’s ready to go back out in search of Connie and Magna, but Luke implores her to stick around a bit since she can barely walk. Yumiko agrees, plus they don’t know if the ceiling caved in. Kelly rightly asks that if Yumiko thinks they’re dead, why is she coming with them?
Because that’s a sensible question, we don’t get an answer to it because Daryl and Lydia have arrived. Gotta say, Daryl sure as hell made a quick recovery, given his injuries from the previous episode. Whatever. Anyway, they didn’t get far in locating the others and the folks here can’t go looking for them because Alpha is on her way.
Well, this was inevitable. Eugene is away from the radio, and Rosita arrives just at the moment that Stephanie sends a transmission. Just as Rosita responds, Eugene rushes down and tells Rosita to get out before he says something that he regrets. Now that she’s said something, she made Eugene break his promise. He tries to communicate to Stephanie, but gets no response.
Gee, I wonder if Rosita is going to keep this revelation to herself.
Negan has more unsolicited advice for Alpha. He respects a massacre and knows that some people at Hilltop and Alexandria have it coming. But it might be fantastic to get those assholes to surrender and bend the knee to Alpha. They can join the Whisperers. Alpha is open to this.
At Hilltop, Lydia implores the community to leave since Alpha’s herd will just go right through them. Everyone is divided: some feel they can rebuild, but some would rather stay and fight. Plus, as Earl points out, communities like Hilltop don’t just sprout up overnight. Even though there are only a few folks here able to fight, they’ll have to take on Alpha to survive. If they die, they die fighting for a place that means something.
Still, they decide to evacuate some folks to Oceanside. Daryl leads a group out- just as Carol and Ezekiel arrive- and find a roadblock on the way, as well as a scout strung up in a tree. Daryl realizes that this sort of handiwork comes from Negan, who must now be with Alpha.
So they turn right back around to Hilltop, with Daryl informing Aaron that Alpha is closing the roads around them. Neither Oceanside nor Alexandria can arrive in time, so Hilltop is on its own. Earl implores everyone to get their heads in the game, as they’re about to be in for the fight of their lives.
As Ezekiel looks over Henry’s old armor, Carol enters and sees the lump on his neck. He always planned on telling her. Carol goes in for a kiss, even though they’re about to go into battle.
Gamma spots Adam, but before she can approach him, Alden stops her and essentially tells her to fuck off. Aaron enters and tries to mediate, but Alden isn’t budging. Gamma’s partially responsible for Alpha coming their way, and she might hate Alpha, but she was still one of them. After Earl lost Tammy and Alden lost Enid, Earl raised the baby on his own and Alden is adamant that Adam will never be Gamma’s.
As far as Aaron is concerned, Alden doesn’t feel he’s being unreasonable. If he dies tonight, it will be for everything they’ve been trying to build for children like Adam. With that, Alden takes the baby upstairs.
So how can this work out? Does Gamma save Alden’s life and he softens? Does Gamma get put in a situation where she saves Adam’s life, thus proving herself to Alden? Conflict is king, but you and I both know how these sorts of situations work themselves out in the end.
Anyway, after coitus- that was fast- Ezekiel simply declares “that was fun.” That was never his and Carol’s problem, but he’ll take it. He notes that Carol has lost her sense of humor, but Carol just left it on a dresser in the Kingdom. That’s exactly where Ezekiel left his pride. He asks if this would’ve happened if it were any other night and they might not be getting ready to die.
Eugene is working on…well, I can’t tell exactly what the hell he’s working on, when Rosita shows up to let him know that she spoke to Gabriel. Coco is fine, but Rosita didn’t feel the need to bring up the horde. Anyway, long scene short, she tells Eugene to try and start up communicate with Stephanie again. Even tries to get him to kiss her, but that doesn’t go anywhere.
Point is this was a scene.
Another scene is Carol joining Lydia and lighting up a cigarette. She tells Lydia that she should hate her, but as far as Lydia can tell, Carol hates herself enough as is. Carol still plans to kill Alpha, which won’t help, but it will at least feel good. Even then, Lydia might not hate Carol because she won’t be thinking about her. At the very least, Carol thanks Lydia for her honesty.
Lydia acknowledges that people don’t know how to be honest anymore. They lie until they leave you feeling lonely. Carol heads off without even offering Lydia a puff of her cigarette. Rude.
Luke and Kelly work on a trap when Yumiko comes to Kelly and apologizes. Still, Kelly is adamant that they’ll win and find their friends. Why? Because they get shit done.
Know what else gets shit done? Rats, which start streaming out the woods. Either it’s rat season or the horde is coming. I could go either way, really.
So Eugene is back at the radio and tries to reestablish contact with Stephanie with a song- Iron Maiden’s “When The Wild Wind Blows.” As everyone prepares for battle- Ezekiel even gives Henry’s armor to Lydia- Stephanie eventually joins in. She apologizes for disappearing, saying that she just freaked out for a bit.
Eugene also apologizes for letting down his guard and tells Stephanie that the girl who responded to her is named Rosita.
He admits that he’s fond of Rosita, but they’re strictly friends. He hopes that Stephanie gets the chance to meet her someday, but then lets her know that the last few days have been incredible. Just as he tells Stephanie that he doesn’t know when they’ll speak again, Stephanie gives her location: Charleston, West Virginia.
She proposes that they meet near the southern rail yards in one week. He agrees just as Rosita enters to tell him that it’s time for battle.
Okay, so maybe Daryl isn’t back to 100 percent, as he hobbles down the stairs when Ezekiel is examining the bump on his neck. The Kingdom leader confirms that he has cancer, and Daryl admits that the two never really had much to say to one another, but Daryl still knows what he’s been through. He calls Ezekiel stronger than most and there are a lot of people- himself included- that are happy about that.
Things are about to get shitty and Daryl just wants to know that the kids are alright. If one of them dies, the other gets the children out.
As Ezekiel heads out, Daryl turns around and is surprised to see Judith still here. She wants to fight and Daryl knows that she’s capable of killing walkers, but the walkers they saw today weren’t just walkers. Judith isn’t scared, but if she was, it’d be for RJ, her mother, and that people like Daryl might get hurt. No shame in being afraid, as Judith knows what she’s fighting for.
But Judith has a present: it’s Daryl’s vest. Some present, Judith! But the actual present is she’s added a new wing on the back. Looks nice. He can wear it on Ride with Norman Reedus. One more thing: if Ezekiel comes looking for her and RJ, they are to go with him, even if they don’t know where Daryl is.
Daryl then heads to the Hilltop graveyard, where Carol joins him and pleads for Daryl to not hate her. But Daryl tells Carol that he’ll never hate her.
As night falls, the Hilltop residents assemble outside the gates just as the herd slowly trickles in. Some of them head towards a wire linked to the machine Eugene was working on- oh, so that’s what that was- causing some of the walkers to fall. This isn’t enough. Aaron commands the battalion to split into two ranks as they head into battle.
When the herd approaches the barricade, the fighters begin taking out as many as they can.
Beta, meanwhile, has also assembled a squadron of his own. From a safe distance, they begin firing the gourds- I think- that they were gathering at the start of the episode. The gourds splatter over the barricades, but one hits one of the fighters directly, setting them ablaze. Jerry realizes that whatever this substance is works just like gasoline.
Alpha lights a torch, but when Negan reminds her that these people were meant to join her, she says that they will: as part of the horde. Semantics, you know.
The Hilltop fighters begin to retreat, but the Whisperers are a step ahead of them, as archers begin shooting fiery arrows that set the Hilltop ablaze. The survivors are now effectively trapped as the episode comes to a close…
Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. Three episodes into the back half of the season and it’s nice to see things escalate. We’ve had skirmishes here and there, but Alpha bringing some of her horde to the Hilltop highlights the magnitude of her numbers, as well as how outmatched the Hilltop is. This isn’t a community of fighters, so it makes sense that Alpha would choose this location to attack.
It doesn’t help that not everyone is united. Yes, everyone agrees that the Whisperers must be stopped, but this episode highlighted the various points of infighting between the survivors. Those seeds of dissent aren’t sown by Alpha, mind you. The survivors are willing to fight, though the question is whether they’re ready to fight Alpha first or each other.
Not that the survivors come to fisticuffs, no. But I enjoyed a number of the conflicting situations this week. One, because these situations didn’t drag out any longer than they needed to, and aside from Eugene and Rosita’s second scene, they were engaging to watch.
You know what? Let me start there. First off, since all of Eugene’s conversations with Stephanie has been done over the radio, it’s smart that their bond has grown off-screen. We didn’t even know Stephanie’s name, but Eugene drops it so casually like the two have been talking for ages. That’s a good way to develop this friendship without us as an audience having to witness every single talk.
Despite not knowing what she looks like, Eugene has developed a strong liking for Stephanie- a liking unlike what he has with Rosita, which is strictly a best friend sort of bond.
Again, it was only a matter of time before someone found out that Eugene had established contact, but Rosita finding out in the show has greater weight, I feel, than when Siddiq and Annie found out in the comic book. No problem how it was handled there, but Eugene has a greater bond with Rosita than he does with those two. This creates greater conflict between the two.
It puts Eugene in a difficult situation because he’s worked so hard to gain Stephanie’s trust, but he’s not going to lash out at Rosita because of how much he cares for her. Good that the show doesn’t drag this out and Rosita encourages Eugene to try and patch things up. Not that he wouldn’t have done that anyway and I could’ve done without the kiss offer, but good development here.
While Gamma may have proven herself to Alexandria, her showing up at Hilltop out of nowhere was expected to ruffle some feathers. As Earl pointed out, what did Aaron expect him to say in regards to the baby? Sure, Gamma wasn’t the one to leave the child for dead, but no way in hell she should expect to be welcomed with open arms either.
It’s one thing for Alden to distrust Gamma because of him losing Enid, but remember that he and Luke were out there when the baby was abandoned. He saw firsthand what the Whisperers would do when the baby wouldn’t stop crying. We haven’t seen this baby since then, but I buy that Earl would be the one to raise the child on his own. I could even see Alden lending a hand when he could, though that’s not implied.
So for the baby’s aunt, who is a Whisperer, to just show up and demand a visit would be a slap in the face to what the Hilltop has been doing: working to make a better life for children like Adam so they don’t have to face something like the Whisperers. It’s not picking a fight. Alden’s just being protective.
Again, could Gamma prove herself and show Alden that she’s on the up and up? Sure. In fact, I’d be surprised if that didn’t happen, given the predictable beats this show often takes. But right now, Gamma is seen as the enemy by the Hilltop. She hasn’t proven her worth to them the way she has with Aaron, so of course she’s going to be shut out of seeing her nephew.
Because Alden doesn’t mention Enid by name, it’s possible that, like Lydia, he’s blaming Gamma for the border wall deaths. But like Lydia, Gamma wasn’t responsible for that- as far as we know. Hell, Gamma wasn’t even part of the conversation until this season. Perhaps Alden is still grieving over losing Enid. Not that I’d expect him to just get over it, but I appreciate that not everyone is looking to welcome Gamma with open arms.
More than that, I appreciate his workaround. He’s not going to let Gamma get anywhere close to Adam, but he will at least let her see that he’s alive and well- even though she wasn’t supposed to be inside. It’s a decent middle-ground when he could’ve just shut Gamma off from Adam altogether. So even though he tells Gamma that she has no place at Hilltop, he at least allows Gamma to see Adam before telling her to back off.
Carol manages to get out of her funk by rekindling her bond with both Ezekiel and Daryl- albeit learning about Ezekiel’s cancer probably wasn’t what she hoped to find out. Still, considering how distant the two have been as of recent, it’s nice to see them not just on good speaking terms, but getting on well with one another.
She’s still adamant about killing Alpha, as she lets Lydia know, but she’s still wracked with guilt over seemingly getting Connie and Magna killed. If there’s one person whose opinion matters to her, it’s Daryl. So to see him avoid talking to her for most of the episode was a gut punch when all she wanted him to do was blame her. As we see, Daryl could never hate her.
In fact, we get a lot of good moments from Daryl in this episode. His conversation with Ezekiel over his bravery, as well as getting the kids to safety in case shit went south, showed a softer side to the normally gruff Daryl. Even though he’s not back to 100 percent after his fight with Alpha, he’s prepared to go all out as long as others are safe.
This also applies to his conversation with Judith. He knows that she’s ready to fight, but she is still a kid. Plot armor or not, the kid ain’t invincible and she sure as shit is no Rick Grimes. Not even Carl Grimes, really. Plus, that’s still Rick’s daughter, and no way in hell would Daryl put Judith on the front line against the Whisperers. If something happened to her, how could he live with himself?
In the end, though, this didn’t matter because the Whisperers were once again two steps ahead of the survivors. It’s a clever plan to box everyone into the Hilltop, but also use more than just the strength of the horde. The slingshot and fire were effective tactics that not only threw off the Hilltop, but emphasized how strategic the Whisperers are in their methods.
It’s reminiscent of how the Saviors often had methods that would surprise the survivors, such as the roadblocks that we saw brought back in this episode. This worked in leading Rick and company to being trapped in the forest before meeting Negan, and it worked here in trapping the Hilltop in what looks like a no-win scenario.
Then you remember that this horde isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. The Whisperers are far from done, but right now they’ve got their sights set on the Hilltop. This isn’t just a fight for the survivors to save themselves, but the Hilltop as well. We’ll see who comes out on top next week. See you then!