Another season of The Walking Dead is complete, and what an impressive and different season it was! Season nine has been a breath of fresh air for fans of the series, due largely in part to new showrunner Angela Kang’s influence. Compared to last week’s devastating and unexpected penultimate episode, this season finale was a much less chaotic and traumatic experience. There were some major character developments, some familiar locations revisited, and for the first time in the series, we got to see snow! And like some of the best season and midseason finales in the series, this was directed by the amazing Greg Nicotero.
The episode, appropriately titled “The Storm”, follows our emotionally broken group directly after the events of last week’s episode “The Calm Before” (I love the connection between the two titles). King Ezekiel speaks into a radio about the demise of The Kingdom. With a blizzard on its way and their home becoming uninhabitable, Ezekiel and his people depart their home for the last time to join the others at The Hilltop. We see the aftermath of what the Whisperers’ brutal attack has done to the characters, each showing their grief in different ways.
While the Kingdom citizens make their way across the increasingly frigid landscape, we check in on the characters in Alexandria. The storm is in full effect and the survivors realize their only source of heat for their people are three houses with working fireplaces. They divide the citizens among the houses, leaving a blaring Negan problem. Deciding not to leave him to freeze to death in his cell, Negan is chained up in one of the houses with Judith, Father Gabriel, Rosita, Eugene and Siddiq. There is a great scene where Negan points out the awkwardness of the “hot little love quadrangle” and he even makes them all laugh a little.
Among those hurt the most by the Whisperers’ actions are Carol and Lydia, who share some very emotional and heavy scenes in this episode. Carol, now having lost three children that she loved dearly, is beginning to feel herself slipping into a bad place. Lydia, the daughter of Alpha, the lead Whisperer, feels responsible for the death of Henry and feels that Carol needs to kill her. Carol catches Lydia attempting to take her own life more than once on their journey to The Hilltop, but Carol is unable to do as Lydia asks and insists she come to The Hilltop and continue being one of them.
One of the highlights of the episode was the redemption of Negan. After the house they’re in becomes unusable, the group must endure the blizzard and move to another house. While outside, Judith hears Dog and runs off into the storm to find him. Seeing Judith run off, Negan also leaves the group to bring her back. The Judith/Negan dynamic this season has been weirdly sweet and I’ve enjoyed watching Judith stand her ground against Negan while still being a friend to him. Negan finds Judith and Dog and, with an injured leg, gets them all back to safety. Michonne and Negan have a civil conversation near the end of the episode that sets up a more trusted Negan next season.
Although this episode may not have been the most exciting one of the season, the addition of snow in the environment added a very interesting tone to the episode as a whole. The group has just lost ten of their friends, some of whom were leaders and strong fighters, and they feel hopeless. Having the season end with a bleak and unforgiving journey through the frozen wilderness is such a great way to visually display the overall vibe of the characters now. The frozen walker designs and the walkers coming out of the snow drifts are awesome to finally see.
This season finale did what any good season finale should, which is answer some questions while making a few new ones to think about until next season. With all of the time jumps and major changes to the show this season, next season has a lot of story to continue. Negan is likely to have a bigger role in season 10, which, if you’ve read the comics you should be slightly excited by this. The Whisperers have made their power move and have successfully traumatized our characters… for now. Our characters are now living in Alexandria and The Hilltop and now must regroup and rethink their future. And, of course, we have an enticing cliffhanger to keep us guessing until the fall: who was the voice on the radio in the closing seconds of the episode? Was it Maggie hearing Ezekiel? Was it a new character? Was it Rick? Here’s hoping that season 10 keeps up the momentum that was started this season!