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Rodney Ho covers TV and radio, from Atlanta’s stations to the hottest “American Idol" news.
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‘The Walking Dead’ recap: season 9 fall finale

A new enemy arrives

Originally posted Sunday, November 25, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, this recap features plenty of spoilers. (Curiously, in the past, the show did not provide advance screeners to reporters of finale episodes. This is the first time I’ve ever seen them do so, a sign that the show’s sinking popularity is affecting their tough approach to dealing with spoilers.)

This fall season 9 finale is packed with “Sleepy Hollow”-style shadows, darkness and fog. It’s all part of a lengthy, foreboding introduction to the evil Whisperers, a caliber of enemy our “Walking Dead” crew has never faced before. 

It meant the death of the one character with a name freighted with meaning: Jesus. 

And so far, three episodes after Rick was taken by that mysterious helicopter and the show jumped six years, the producers have generated fresh dynamics and issues that hadn’t been addressed before. And the show has clearly elevated the Kingdom’s Henry as a key player down the road. 

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I don’t miss Rick’s speechifying. I don’t miss the tiresome Rick vs. Negan dynamic. And it’s nice to see the elevation of the three old-timers Carol, Michonne and Daryl.

It may be too late for the millions who abandoned the show the past two seasons but for loyalists who stuck around, season nine has been a lovely palette cleanser. Cheers to new showrunner Angela Kang. 

Old wounds unhealed: “It’s like the old gang is back together,” said Tara to Michonne early in this episode at the Hilltop. 

But it wasn’t a nostalgic, happy reunion tone of voice. It felt both wary and sarcastic at the same time. 

After Tara leaves, Siddiq turns to Michonne and says sincerely: “It’s good we’re here.”

“Yah,” Michonne said, not so sincerely, the look on her face saying that water is certainly not under the bridge concerning her interactions over the years with Hilltop. 

“It’s not too late to mend any of those fences,” Siddiq later offers up to Michonne while awaiting Rosita’s recovery.

But Michonne is unwilling to bend on her beliefs. “I didn’t make the choices I made because they were easy. At least they’re alive so they can hate me for it.” 
And her reunion with Carol is chilly at best. Carol wants more cooperation among the communities. Michonne has become more nationalistic. To Michonne, each community must stand alone to a degree because of the dangers in between: “We have to take care of our own now.” Carol is sad but lets her go. There’s no point debating Michonne at this point.

Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler, Katelyn Nacon as Enid, Callan McAuliffe as Alden - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: (Gene Page/AMC) (Gene Page/AMC)

Get over yourself: Jesus has been the reluctant interim leader of Hilltop while Maggie has conveniently gone off to do spy missions on an ABC mid-season drama with the dude from “Scandal.” Tara and now Aaron keep trying to buck him up and tell him to just go for it. 

“I think you’d be a damn good leader if you just stopped fighting it,” Aaron tells Jesus. 

As we’ll later learn, Hilltop will soon be seeking a new leader. The problem: is Tara leadership material? The show hasn’t introduced anybody else at the Hilltop yet that might merit that role. 

Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel Stokes, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: (Gene Page/AMC) (Gene Page/AMC)

Gabriel gets cranky: Negan is still in the jail cell at the start of the episode. Gabriel has the lucky job of counseling him and changing his bed pans. (You have to wonder: does Negan ever get outdoor exercise time?)

Negan enjoys needling Gabriel and Gabriel finally breaks, telling him “for once in your life shut your damn mouth!” Gabriel said he keeps trying to dig underneath the surface to find a “person” in Negan but has failed miserably. 

Gabriel is in a sour mood because he heard his unlikely girlfriend Rosita is hurt and at Hilltop and he can’t help her because he’s stuck babysitting Negan. Let’s just say he’s a little resentful: “It’s bad enough I have to clean up your s****. I have to listen to it, too!” 

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: (Gene Page/AMC) (Gene Page/AMC)

The great... escape? Gabriel clearly wasn’t doing a great job minding the store with his mind on other things. Later that night, Negan notices that his jail cell door has been carelessly unlocked. So he leaves. Why not? A free Negan is not a good Negan but clearly, the show intends to give him a fresh story line come the second half of the season. 

Matt Lintz as Henry, Katelyn Nacon as Enid, Callan McAuliffe as Alden - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: (Gene Page/AMC) (Gene Page/AMC)

Sorry, Henry: Alden, the one dude from the Sanctuary who was able to gain the trust of the Hilltop folks and is now a blacksmith, is helping Henry on the ways of making anything steel and iron. Henry sees Enid and his heart skips a beat. She is far older than he is, probably four or five years. And he quickly finds out she’s taken... by Alden. This will likely be be some sort of tension point down the road between Alden and Henry. 

Jackson Pace as Gage, Joe Ando-Hirsh as Rodney, Kelly Mack as Addy - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: (Gene Page/AMC) (Gene Page/AMC)

Oh, boy, more new characters: “The Walking Dead” is sort of like “Love and Hip Hop Atlanta” and loves introducing new people as others fade out, die or disappear. Henry at Hilltop meets three new teenagers: Gauge (sic?), Addy (sic?) and Rodney (Yah Rodney!) 

And because they’re teens, they are naturally rebellious and ask goody two shoes Henry to hang out outside the Hilltop walls and do teen-age stuff. You instantly know this will not go smoothly. They get drunk on moonshine in some abandoned space and instead of tipping cows, they dig holes and catch walkers to play with. They find one in there, much to Gauge and Rodney’s amusement. Addy leaves in disgust while Rodney pees on the walker. Henry finds this all stupid and goes in and kills the walker instead. Killjoy!

His new friends then leave Henry behind. Now drunk, he has to shout his way back into Hilltop and is placed in a prison cell for drunk disorderly. (Punishment: two days in the cell.) When his blacksmith teacher Earl asks who led him outside the gates, Henry refused to snitch. Earl threatens to dump Henry’s arse back to Kingdom but Henry explains that the responsibility of taking on this role for Kingdom was hitting him and he needed a brief escape. 

Earl, by the way,  was the alcoholic man who six years earlier almost killed Maggie on behest of Gregory after his son died and landed in the cell himself. So instead of sending Henry back to the Kingdom, Earl gives him a reprieve. 

Rosita reawakens, freaks out: The moment Rosita awakens from being chased by Whisperer-led walkers, she’s alarmed to hear Daryl, Jesus and Aaron were out hunting for Eugene. “They have no idea what they’re dealing with!” she said, all in a panic. 

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Tom Payne as Paul 'Jesus' Rovia, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Ross Marquand as Aaron - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: (Gene Page/AMC) (Gene Page/AMC)

Relentless: Indeed, in the next scene, we see Daryl, Jesus and Aaron tracking down Eugene in a safe space in a barn where Rosita stashed him He had dislocated his knee jumping from the water tower the previous episode and it’s a miracle he even made it as far as he did without being captured by walkers. He told them that the herd is hunting for him and has checked twice before and expects them to return again.

In other words, the walkers in this herd are not so mindless. And both Rosita and Eugene heard them whispering to each other earlier. 

Like clockwork, the herd arrives and they need to vamoose. And there’s another herd coming from a different direction!

“I have a theory,” Eugene says, during a break during the chase. “The walkers are evolving.”

Daryl instantly puts a kabosh on that theory: “It’s bulls***.” 

But as he tries to lure the herd away from Eugene, Aaron and Jesus with firecrackers and his barking dog, the walkers don’t react the way he expects. They are not deterred. Daryl looks understandably befuddled. Maybe Eugene is right, he thinks. 

Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter, Tom Payne as Paul 'Jesus' Rovia, Ross Marquand as Aaron - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: (Gene Page/AMC) (Gene Page/AMC)

Aaron and Jesus try to move Eugene through the woods but Eugene is clearly struggling with his busted knee. 

They reach a point where they are trapped and have to fight. Given the numbers of walkers, it’s not looking good for any of them. The menace is palpable. They kill a few, then there’s a momentary break. 

Fortunately (maybe?), Daryl, Michonne, Rosita and some of the newbies arrive to try to open the obstructed gate. Aaron helps guide Eugene out while Jesus fights off the horde. If Jesus is going to die now, it makes sense for him to do so heroically. 

In the meantime, he does some impressive slashing and killing. 

But then one of the Whisperers knifes Jesus through the heart and whispers (naturally) “You are not where you belong.” 

The rescue team kills the Whisperer but it’s too late for Jesus. Aaron is especially distraught. Daryl checks on the dude who had murdered Jesus and figures out he’s wearing a walker-like mask. 

The mystery is solved: these are human beings mixed in with the walkers. They dress up as walkers and use them like super dangerous pawns to help them do their dirty work. 

But as the waning seconds of the episode are upon us, our heroes are now surrounded and who knows how many other Whisperers are nearby ready to take them on. Daryl, Michonne & Co. are left in a major pickle which we won’t see addressed until February, 2019. 

About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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