(Major spoilers ahead for the March 24 episode of “The Walking Dead” on AMC)
Fans of “The Walking Dead” by now are pretty used to the brutality of the show, with so many major characters being killed over the years. But nothing that has come before on “The Walking Dead” could fully prepare us for the emotional devastation that came at the end of this past Sunday’s episode — the next-to-last episode of season 9.
While maybe not as overtly severe as the season 7 premiere in which Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) beat Abraham and Glenn to death with his baseball bat, it certainly beat that episode in terms of quantity — this episode saw ten protagonist characters murdered and their heads placed on spikes.
In a sequence ripped nearly straight from the pages of the “Walking Dead” comics, Alpha (Samantha Morton) and her Whisperers managed to capture Daryl (Norman Reedus), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Carol (Melissa McBride) and Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), held them captive overnight and then Alpha delivered a speech to Daryl about how the Whisperers can live peacefully alongside the communities so long as they stay out of Whisperer territory. And if they don’t abide by those rules then the Whisperers will sic a massive horde of zombies on them.
Alpha then notes that they’ve marked the borders of their territory very clearly, and sends Daryl and the others away. And as they head home they encounter said border markings — ten spikes, each with the zombified head of a protagonist character on it.
If you read the “Walking Dead” comics you knew this was coming, though the character involved are completely different on the show — with Daryl taking Rick’s place as the receiver of Alpha’s big speech, and an almost entirely different group of characters being killed off here.
It turned out that Alpha and presumably other members of the Whisperers had infiltrated the trade fair and snatched these folks, with some others being added later when they made a rescue attempt.
Considering the fact that so many character deaths were revealed so quickly — combined with how some of these folks are either relatively minor figures or have been less prominent this season than in the past — it might be tough to keep track of who all actually died this week. So let’s run down the list of newly murdered characters real quick.
There were three characters who you might consider primary protagonists who were killed: Tara (Alanna Masterson), who has been the leader of Hilltop since Jesus died in the first half of season 9; Henry (Matt Lintz), who has filled Carl’s role from the comics in this plotline thus far; and Enid (Katelyn Nacon), the medic from Hilltop who has been around forever — she was living in Alexandria when Rick’s group moved there.
The next most prominent character killed was Tammy Rose (Brett Butler) from Hilltop — she happens to be the only character killed in this sequence in the comics who also died here on the show.
Then we have two members of the recently introduced Highwaymen who were helping to keep the roads clear for the Kingdom’s trade fair — Ozzy (Angus Sampson), their leader, and Alek (Jason Kirkpatrick). They, along with the former Savior-turned-Alexandrian DJ (Matt Mangum), had tracked the Whisperers and tried to rescue the folks the Whisperers had kidnapped. That trio obviously did not succeed, and were added to the group of folks to be killed.
The Whisperers also snatched up two of the other teens from Hilltop, Addy (Kelly Mack) and Rodney (Joe Ando-Hirsh). These two, as we’ve seen over the course of season 9 of “The Walking Dead,” have had a bit of a rocky relationship with Henry — though Addy has had a crush on him the whole time.
Last on the list of the dead is Frankie (Elyse DuFour), who you may have forgotten about because she has not been around much this season. Frankie was on of Negan’s wives, introduced back in season 7, who befriended Eugene (Josh McDermitt) when the Saviors captured him. Frankie appeared for the first time this season just last week — she moved to Alexandria after the war with the Saviors — and popped up briefly again in this episode at the trade fair.
That’s one hell of a body count for the Whisperers, and it could have been worse — in the comics, Ezekiel and Rosita were among those whose heads ended up on those spikes, with twelve characters in all being killed by the Whisperers for their crude border marking.
So while this development is devastating, it could have somehow been moreso. It hurts to think about. I’m almost scared to watch next week’s “Walking Dead” season finale after this.