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The Walking Dead is having what could arguably be considered its best season yet, which is rather shocking, considering the show has lost three major characters over the past year, including its lead, and we are nine years into the series at this point.
And last nights episode, The Calm Before, is likely to be the exclamation point on the entire thing. A haunting, horrifying, tragic affair that featured the highest highs of the series, a local fair that made it seem like civilization was truly being rebuilt, followed shortly by the lowest lows, the slaughtering of ten cast members.
Specific spoilers follow, so turn back now if you havent seen the episode yet. And go watch it immediately.
Comic fans have been waiting for years for this moment to arrive, one of the most iconic death sequences in the history of the series, possibly only short of Negans Glenn beatdown itself. Alpha, in her infinite wisdom, believes the best way to show Daryls group (I guess we have to stop calling it Ricks group now) that she means business is to show him first, her nuclear option, a massive horde of walkers she can unleash at any time, and then her warning shot, ten zombified heads on pikes, each a named character in the series, including three very major characters.
But none who were supposed to die.
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The Walking Dead has heavily deviated from the comics here in a way that, I believe, most people will appreciate. The show has saved King Ezekiel, the pregnant Rosita and newcomer Luke, all of whom were supposed to end up on pikes, and though the show executed a few purposeful fakeouts that these three were going to die (Alphas conversation with Ezekiel, yikes), they all survive.
Technically, out of the ten dead, there is only one shared from the comics. That would be Tammy Rose, the older woman who recently adopted the abandoned Whisperer baby with her husband. Actually, its more like one and a half deaths carry over, as Frankie is on a pike as well. I forgot who this was, but its Negans redheaded ex-wife, and in the comics, a Negan wife with a different name is killed.
Then there are the rest of the redshirts, characters with more minor roles. Hilltop teens Addy and Rodney, Ozzy the Highwayman leader, his second in command whose name I dont know, and DJ, the ex-Savior turned Alexandrian council member who has just sort of been there this season in a surprising amount of scenes. But no longer.
The major deaths hurt. And all three were characters who dont exist in the comics at all.
Theres Enid, who has been with the show since the Wolves era, and recently formed a new relationship with Alden, who many thought would be killed instead of her. Enids death was not the biggest of shocks to me because I follow off-screen rumblings and knew that actress Katelyn Nacon had recently moved from Georgia to LA, so it seemed likely she was on the chopping block. Literally.
Tara is a big loss, the Hilltops fourth lost leader this season, and a member of the cast who has been on the show longer than any remaining cast member besides the trio of Daryl, Carol and Michonne, believe it or not. Shes been a source of controversy among fans, and the show has never quite seemed to know what to do with her, but lately shes been very solid thanks to the overall increase in quality of season 9, and losing her still feels rough. Showrunner Angela Kang described her death as a tactical kill by Alpha, given that she was the leader of Hilltop.
And then there was the revenge kill.
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That was Henry, the death that genuinely surprised me the most. Henry has been acting as a stand-in for Carl, who if he was still alive, was supposed to be the one having a relationship with Lydia during this arc, but now, things have swung wildly in a different direction. Henry is dead, meaning theres no longer even a faux-Carl to carry on those plotlines going forward. The show accomplishes something similar to if it killed Ezekiel, as it gives Carol a reason to go full, uh, Carol on the Whisperers, though killing so many of Carols children at this point just seems mean. Lydia, meanwhile, appears like shes going to have her story carry on not as a romance with Henry/Carl, but instead being adopted by Daryl, a character that has grown so much this season he practically has a little family unit this season between Lydia, Connie and Dog.
There were no fake-outs, no cliffhangers, and no killing off someone totally wild like Michonne or Carol just for shock value alone. We truly are living in a different era of The Walking Dead these days.
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These deaths were rough to watch (I literally had dreams about those heads last night), but the episode was written and acted incredibly well, that last reveal sequence in particular as different groups slowly figure out whos missing, and your heart sinks over and over again. This episode walked a fine line between killing characters in a way that had an emotional impact, but doing so without having people scream at their TVs about the way it was handled, which The Walking Dead has struggled with so, so many times in the past.
This was a stellar, unforgettable episode that is one of the crown jewels of season nine along with last weeks Scars, memorable despite a lack of character deaths. And this wasnt even the season finale, which will take place next week and I cannot imagine it will try to top this, harrowing as it may be.
It is genuinely hard to believe The Walking Dead has gotten this good again. And I hope it continues to stay that way.
Follow meon Twitter,FacebookandInstagram.Read my new sci-fi thriller novelHerokiller, available now in print and online. I also wroteThe Earthborn Trilogy.
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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero