Last week's massacre was the climax of The Walking Dead Season 9, so Sunday's finale, "The Storm," was something like a lower-stakes man vs. wild epilogue. The incremental character moves and inconsequential walker action made it feel more like a midseason episode than a finale but not in a bad way. The character beats were satisfying, especially Carol's (Melissa McBride) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Michonne's (Danai Gurira). It was a pretty self-contained episode about characters not regressing to their old ways.
The episode took place during a blizzard, after a short time jump from the events of 915. Without Henry (Matt Lintz) around to do plumbing work, the Kingdom's pipes burst as winter fell, and the buildings became unlivable. So the residents had to relocate to Hilltop. Unfortunately, a blizzard hit shortly after they got on the road, forcing them to take shelter in the ruins of the Sanctuary.
Along the way, resentments bared their venomous fangs. Alden (Callan McAuliffe), bitter about Enid's (Katelyn Nacon) death, lashed out at Lydia (Cassady McClincy), even though Lydia is supposed to be part of the group. Ezekiel (Khary Payton) asked Daryl (Norman Reedus) not to stay at Hilltop because he blames him for Henry's death. Lydia came very close to letting a walker bite her because she blames herself for all the misfortune that has befallen her and thinks the world will be better without her, but then Carol interrupted her and she didn't go through with it.
At the Sanctuary, Carol admitted to Daryl that she felt like she was losing herself again. The last time she lost herself was when she grew exhausted of all the killing and death around her in Season 6, and she ran away from Alexandria and went and lived by herself for a while, until Morgan (Lennie James) and Ezekiel helped her return to the fold. If she loses herself again this time, she might not make it back.
The group determined that if they were ever going to make it to Hilltop, they had to go right then before the roads became completely impassable, and they were going to have to trudge through Whisperer territory to do it. They got to the frozen-over river, and as the rest of the caravan was crossing, Lydia slipped away. Carol went after her, and when she found her, Lydia said that Carol should kill her. "Everything's gonna be better when I'm gone," Lydia said, putting Carol's spear to her throat. "This is how you keep from losing anyone else. Please just do it. Do it for Henry. I'm sorry it has to be you, but it does. I'm too weak. Just like my mother said."
But Carol made a decision. She wasn't going back to the old her. It was too cold out to cut her hair short again. "You're not weak," she said. "Come on, we have to go."
When they got to Hilltop, though, Carol told Ezekiel that she had to go to Alexandria. She couldn't be with him now. It's not uncommon for couples who lose a child to split, and while there's still love between them, she needs to be apart from him now. "I'll never regret the fairy tale," she said. She tried to give him back his ring, but he wouldn't take it. I hope they can sort out their issues and get back together eventually, but Carol clearly has work to do now. The work of whuppin' Alpha's ass.
Over at Alexandria, they let Negan out of his cell so he could be near the fireplace and not freeze to death. But when Eugene (Josh McDermitt) realized the chimney was clogged, they had to walk through the worst part of the blizzard to another house. On the walk over, Judith (Cailey Fleming) heard Daryl's missing dog barking and ran off after him into the maelstrom. Negan then ran after her. He got hit in the leg with a piece of airborne debris, leaving a nasty gash, but then he found her (and the dog). She was cold and weak, so he wrapped her in his jacket and put her over his shoulder while he held the dog's leash in his other hand and brought them both to safety. It was the nicest thing Negan has ever done.
Michonne got home while Negan was recovering in the infirmary, and she thanked him for saving her daughter. He asked her if the people from the Kingdom made it to Hilltop all right, and she fixed him with that steely gaze of hers and asked, "Do you care?"
"I don't know any of those people from Adam, but I do know what it's like to lose a kingdom," he said. "See things fall apart. It sucks ass."
Who Was on the Radio in The Walking Dead Finale?
And this is where we saw how Michonne's animosity toward Negan has softened. Normally, she would say something harsh about how he deserved it or something, but instead she joked with him a little bit: "The Sanctuary's a s---hole now." He said it was "ballsy" of her to cut through Whisperer territory, and she pulled up a chair and sat down next to the bed, committing to having a friendly-ish conversation with him. "We don't even know if they were there," she said. "The point is we came together and we made it."
"Common enemy, common goal," he said.
"Or facing evil brings good people together," she said, unable to resist digging at him just a little bit.
"Same thing," he said. "It's just that no one ever thinks that they're the evil one." In Seasons 7 and 8, Negan believed that what the Saviors were doing was just. He believed that his brutal means justified the ends, which was keeping his people safe and fed. And Michonne seemed to hear him. This conversation showed that they're both changing; Negan's humility is sincere, and Michonne is rediscovering her capacity to forgive.
The Walking Dead's Lauren Ridloff on Whether Connie and Daryl Could Be More Than Friends
After a brief glimpse of Beta (Ryan Hurst) flagellating Alpha (Samantha Morton) at her behest to punish herself for her weakness in getting emotional over losing Lydia, and to strengthen her for what was coming next (ominous!), the season ended with a cliffhanger that I don't really know what to make of.
Ezekiel, at Hilltop, was talking to Judith on the radio. When he signed off and walked away, a voice came over the radio. It was fuzzy and indistinct. I couldn't even tell if it was a male or female voice. The only words I could make out were "hello, hello." But there's someone out there. Maybe it's Georgie (Jayne Atkinson), the woman who gave Hilltop the key to civilization in Season 8, and who Maggie (Lauren Cohan) is off studying with? Maybe it's Maggie herself? In any case, the world will get bigger again in Season 10.
The Walking Dead will return for Season 10 in the fall. Season 9 is available to stream on AMC. Previous seasons are available on Netflix.
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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero