So now that the penultimate episode of long-running AMC series The Walking Dead's ninth season "The Calm Before" has wrapped, let's just start off by saying that even with some background on what to expect… wow!
It's not like it hasn't been there since the very beginning of the season: against the backdrop of the ever-escalating war between the communities and Alpha's (Samatha Morton) Whisperers we've had the approaching Trade Fair. Hosted by Ezekiel (Khary Payton), Carol (Melissa McBride), and the Kingdom, the Trade Fair was meant to be a last-ditch effort to bring the communities together and working as one – and that means ratifying the constitution Michonne (Danai Gurira) was working on before Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) "death."
And although "Scars" was an intense episode filled with some shocking, heartbreaking backstory of what went down with Michonne and Daryl (Norman Reedus) that resulted in the "X" scars, the ending looked promising: Michonne and Judith (Cailey Fleming) escorted Daryl, Connie (Lauren Ridloff), Henry (Matt Lintz), and Lydia (Cassady McClincy) to the Kingdom for a truly unified fair.
And then "The Calm Before" happened…
The Walking Dead s09e15 "The Calm Before": The fair at the Kingdom is underway, with all four communities coming together in celebration for the first time in years; while some pacts are renewed, other deals will come at a much steeper price. Directed by Millicent Shelton, and written by Corey Reed and Vivian Tse.
There's been one constant theme throughout the show's nine seasons that never wavers: there are Karmic bills to be paid… sacrifices to be made… for our hubris. In the Walking Dead universe, every epiphany comes with a pricetag – and this episode was a classic example of this. We saw the set-up coming from a mile away: the communities unified at a prosperous Trade Fair, the charter/constitution signed by all the communities, and happy reunions and forgiveness all around. Now with a unified front, what chance does Alpha and Whisperers have… right?
That's when "The Calm Before" began to take shape: that heart-breaking moment when you're thrilled to see our heroes back together and ready to kick some serious ass – knowing all too well that for this round? It's too little, too late: Alpha's three chess moves ahead while Daryl and the others are just putting their pieces on the board. And if there's one thing Daryl learns before the final credits roll, it's this: the Whisperers have a whole lot more pieces to play with – and he doesn't have as many as he did twenty-four hours ago.
As viewers, we knew that the communities' lesson in unity would come at a cost – but it was the journey there that made this episode click. The writers and actors both seemed to gleefully embrace the teasing scenarios, with everyone except Dog (because then we'd riot) put in a moment that could've definitely been there "I'll be right back…". It was disturbing, unsettling… and is it wrong to say a little fun? The episode twists again at the end, forcing the viewer to confront their "horror movie glee" with the brutal reality of loss. As Daryl, Michonne, and the others make their way up the hill, it's the sharp contrast of the reanimated heads on stakes with the bright, gray skies in the background that nearly blinds us with its sheer horror.
Because the Whisperers didn't just kill ten people… they attempted to kill the communities' hope by preying on symbols: symbols of safety and security; symbols of redemption; symbols of wisdom and grace; symbols of the future; symbols of health and vibrancy; and symbols of leadership.
Alpha, Beta (Ryan Hurst), and the Whisperers have set their own terms… in next week's season finale "The Storm," we see if the communities can muster the will to renegotiate – and survive.
Now here's a look at some of our takeaways from "The Calm Before":
● The Fallen: Ozzy (Angus Sampson – Highwayman leader), Alek (Jason Kirkpatrick – Ozzy's rand-hand man), DJ (Matt Mangum – ex-Savior working with the communities now), Frankie (Elyse Dufour – Negan's former wife), Tammy Rose (Brett Butler – Earl's wife), Addy (Kelley Mack – one of Henry's teen friends), Rodney (Joe Ando-Hirsh – another teen friendly with Henry), Enid (Katelyn Nacon), Tara (Alanna Masterson), and Henry (Matt Lintz).
● The wooden Hilltop "H" coins with the blood on them (in the beginning) and snow on one (at the end) were a sucker punch to "The Feels" – and something AMC needs to start marketing yesterday.
● Appreciated how Ezekiel gave props to Rick, Carl, and Jesus during his Trade Fair-opening speech.
● "I've been drawing pictures of you since I was little" – Judith to Carol
● Watching the leaders debate Lydia and how Tara comes to understand their thinking reminded me in all the nice ways of how "the band" used to be when they were together – glad some hatchets were buried (metaphorically, which you need to clarify in a show like this), and it showed why Tara woud've been a great leader for Hilltop.
● Every moment between Connie and her sister Kelly (Angel Theory) – and I'm demanding it now: a Connie/Kelly episode done in sign language and subtitles. Would be sweet!
● Daryl asking Connie to take care of Dog while he's gone? And that look he gave her? Sold!!!!
● "You just had to give me the girl. No one else had to die. Now that deal… is done." – Beta to Daryl, clearly showing he has no clue who Daryl really is…
● "I have a feeling it's going to be a hard winter." – "Alpha" to Ezekiel, and I know there were millions crapping their pants when they met at the Trade Fair (Alpha in disguise, obviously).
● Quack -a- Doodle Doo starring Baby Huey playing is a ton more disturbing if you think too much about it, considering how everything played-out…
● Alpha leaving Lydia behind and alive (surprised by both) is going to end up being her Achilles' Heel next season – but I wonder if it will play out like it does in the comics? Sorry, no spoilers…
● Let me be clear: there is no way I trust Siddiq (Avi Nash) in any way, shape, and/or form. I don't buy his story, his speech was at best cheesy, and he seems to be pushing this whole "let's unify and then move on" approach. He either switched sides, or helped kill the others to save his own skin. Maybe I'm wrong, but… yeah. Got my eye on you, Siddiq: taking out Enid would make you a lot more valuable from a medical standpoint… just sayin'…
Here's a look at the first preview for next week's season finale of AMC's The Walking Dead – where even in the midst of "The Storm," Carol struggles to accept Lydia after all that's happened to the community at the hands of the Whisperers:
The Walking Dead s09e16 "The Storm": In the aftermath of an overwhelming loss, the communities must brave a ferocious blizzard; as one group deals with an enemy from within, another is forced to make a life or death decision.
That's right! Bring Out Your Dead: Bleeding Cool's The Walking Dead Live-Blog is back for one final Walking Dead Sunday night before the end of this game-changing ninth season – starting with a little "pre-game" at 8:30 p.m ET (live-blog goes live on our website) before charging head-long into our live-blog coverage beginning at 9 p.m. ET. After the show, hang out with us a little longer as we share our thoughts on the night's developments and offer up some predictions on what's still to come – and to see if Chris Hardwick has any news to break on Talking Dead.
AMC's The Walking Dead season 9 finale "The Storm" airs Sunday night, March 31, at 9 p.m. ET.