(Spoilers ahead for the season 9 mid-season finale of “The Walking Dead” on AMC)
The first two episodes of “The Walking Dead” after the big multi-year time skip have been relatively low-key — to be expected given Andrew Lincoln’s exit and the need to set up the new status quo in Alexandria and the Hilltop — but they’ve also been setting up the next big storyline on the show via the talking zombies that were/are chasing Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Rosita (Christian Serratos).
And that plot finally came to a head in Sunday’s mid-season finale, when a whole bunch of our heroes came face to face with these things and discovered that, actually, the talking zombies were not zombies at all, but just people posing as zombies among a real walker herd.
So while “The Walking Dead” had spent significant time letting us get to know Magna’s new group and catch up on the new state of affairs with Maggie running off with Georgie, it has certainly was also steering us squarely toward the war with the Whisperers, this new antagonist group that worships zombies. And that conflict is finally here now, with Jesus going down and Michonne, Aaron, Daryl, Magna and Yumiko taking out a bunch of Whisperers in retaliation.
This whole thing began with a plot thread that has seemed largely extraneous at the time. It began two weeks ago with Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) trying to use the radio to find more survivors, and Rosita (Christian Serratos) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) going out and planting a transceiver on a water tower to boost their range. And while they’re out there, a herd of zombies they thought had been going the opposite direction was suddenly bearing down on them.
“Herd musta flipped a hardcore U,” Eugene says about the situation, which is a big clue that this is not just a regular zombie apocalypse situation. But otherwise it kinda does play out like one. For a while, at least. Until, losing pace because Eugene sustained a knee injury while climbing down from the tower, the pair have to hide in the mud and hope the zombies pass them by.
And that’s exactly what happens. But as the her passes Eugene and Rosita, a voice can be heard among them. Or multiple voices, if you’re going by the closed captions. “Where are they?” “They must be close.” “Don’t let them get away.” It’s a talking zombie! Or zombies!
This week’s episode followed up by opening with Rosita running frantically through the woods trying to get away from that seemingly sentient herd of zombies as they continued their creepily undead-sounding chatter. Jesus (Tom Payne) and Aaron (Ross Marquand) eventually find her — she said she had to leave the injured Eugene behind in a barn before falling unconscious.
Then Jesus, Aaron and Daryl (Norman Reedus) head off to try to find Eugene — and spend the entire episode trying to dodge this herd that moves in very unexpected ways. After retrieving Eugene from an old barn, this cat-and-mouse game ends with the good guys getting cornered in a creepy old foggy graveyard.
Michonne, having been warned about the threat by Rosita, shows up in the nick of time with Magna and Yumiko, but they aren’t able to save Jesus — who makes literal first contact with the Whisperers when one of them dodges his blade and parries by stabbing him to death. After finishing off the remaining Whisperers, Daryl reveals their disguise.
And then the whispers start up again right as the episode ends.
Now, I’m about to explain exactly what the deal is with these Whisperer guys — this is technically spoilers for future episodes, so if you don’t want to know what’s happening you should bail now.
Okay, you’ve been warned.
The Whisperers, at least in the “Walking Dead” comics, are humans who worship the zombies and walk around wearing zombie skin and whatnot. It’s basically the same survival technique we’ve seen on “The Walking Dead” in the past, where people would slather zombie guts on themselves to get out of a bad situation. As you’ll recall, doing that is what cost Gabriel sight in one of his eyes, when he got an infection from trying it.
But the Whisperers don’t do it just as a survival thing — or at least they don’t anymore. According to the comics it started out as a means to survive but over time it became essentially a philosophy. “Humankind is an animal and zombies are their true form” kind of thing.
Despite that, the Whisperers do have a sort of primitive nomadic society — they’re still human with all the physical needs that any person has. And they don’t like strangers. Unfortunately, as they demonstrated in this episode, they’re able to steer zombie herds in whatever direction they want, and they can strike from within the herd as well. So that is the most overt threat they pose.
It’s hard to guess exactly how this plot will play out, because Carl (Chandler Riggs) was maybe the most central character in the whole thing in the comics, and he’s obviously not going to be a part of it now — though it’s possible they could be setting up Henry in a similar role. But with “The Walking Dead” seemingly not being concerned at all about deviating hard from the storylines in the comics the last couple seasons, the TV show version of the Whisperer War could go very differently from how it went in the books.
Either way, we’ll find out soon-ish, as the Whisperers story is officially now underway on “The Walking Dead.”