Spoiler Warning for the Mid-Season Finale (Season 9, Episode 8) of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed. Minor spoilers from “Fear the Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

“We used to be explorers. The whole world was ours to rediscover.”

The world of “The Walking Dead” has just become more complicated. For years, our characters have fought walkers…but now they’re fighting back. The Whisperers have been introduced with deadly consequences as the series bids farewell to yet another major character. Without any doubt, this is quite possibly the creepiest episode yet, but issues do persist. Whispers have turned into screams

As seen in the previous episode, Eugene is missing and a search party consisting of Daryl, Aaron, Jesus and Dog departs the Hilltop to track him down. The opening scene of the episode shows a herd of walkers that moves rather unusually. From afar, the aforementioned party observes and notes the strange movements as the walkers mill about in a singular location. “There’s a storm coming,” Daryl states as the team leaves their location to circumnavigate the herd. Something is up though. The camera focuses in on one particular “walker” that looks especially strange. Later, the foursome wander through a field and there’s an excellent scene between Aaron and Jesus as they discuss Daryl’s visits to the Hilltop becoming less and less frequent. Both Aaron and Jesus were recruiters for their respective communities, and it was Jesus who linked up Alexandria and the Hilltop all those years back. Aaron has so much confidence in Jesus as a leader, and he connects it to how Daryl spent much time pushing people away until he finally decided to be part of society. Even though Daryl has moved away and lives on his own, he is still someone who finds people; this is exactly what Aaron saw in Daryl when he arrived at Alexandria, leading to him offer Daryl the job as recruiter. These three men are outsiders, each for different reasons, but have had to learn to let people in and become part of something bigger.

Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel Stokes, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

While most of the episode focuses on the drama at and surrounding the Hilltop, there is a MAJOR development that takes place at Alexandria. Negan receives a visit from Father Gabriel, who has been meditating with him on a weekly basis. This is likely to help calm the former tyrant down and give him some peace of mind whilst locked in his cell. Negan doesn’t seem to see any benefit to their sessions, but Gabriel claims to see that he wants help. Time has changed and Negan has been given some basic freedoms and luxuries, including the window being opened, which has allowed the prisoner to overhear some of the conversations taking place outside. He points out to Gabriel that he overheard Rosita talking one day…but she was apparently talking about someone other than Gabriel; this may be just Negan trolling Gabriel, but is it possible that Rosita is cheating? Having heard enough, Gabriel leaves the jail and spots the messengers from the Hilltop arriving. Barbara updates him on the situation with Rosita, and the look on his face is one of shock and panic. Back to his normal antics in bringing bathroom humor to the forefront, Negan throws his shit in Gabriel’s face (literally), prompting the priest to SNAP and demand that Negan shut up for once in his life. Weirdly enough, Negan seems to show some concern when Gabriel explains that Rosita is injured at the Hilltop; this is especially upsetting to Gabriel because he is unable to be with his girlfriend due to the fact that he is responsible for watching Negan. Hours later, as night has fallen and a storm has swept in, Negan bounces his tennis ball against the wall. When the ball rolls out of the cell, he notices a surprising error that has taken place: his cell door is unlocked. It seems that when Gabriel stormed out, he didn’t close it properly, allowing the prisoner to exit the jail with a grin on his face. After years of being locked away, Negan is back and he is free.

The Hilltop is really a fully functioning machine. When Michonne’s group nears the community, guards ride up the main road yelling at the workers to drop what they are doing and seek safety inside the walls; with so much danger, it is comforting to know the community has a warning system in place to keep their residents safe. Michonne and the crew arrive at the gate and those on the inside seem ready for battle. Magna’s group communicate via sign language and also prepare themselves to fight and flee if need be. Dianne stands guard at the gate and silently orders Michonne and the others to disarm before they are to be allowed inside. This just goes to show the complete lack of trust that has developed. Tara sternly greets the arrivals at the gate and updates them on the situation regarding Eugene. Michonne is stunned to learn that so many of her people left without her knowledge, specifically Rosita, Eugene and Aaron. “It’s like the old gang’s back together,” Tara sarcastically tells Michonne, showing a sad look at how broken this family has become. There’s a sense of confidence that Tara has in Daryl’s ability to return with the crew, and she notes that they are likely already on their way back. Siddiq checks in with his former apprentice Enid and learns that Rosita will be fine, but is still unconscious. In another heartbreaking peek at the fractured state of the group, Michonne spots Carol in the distance and smiles, but there is no warm reunion to be had here and the feeling is definitely not mutual. We also see here that Tara is really doing an excellent job as the defacto leader of the Hilltop in Jesus’ absence; this is huge considering events later in the episode. It is important to point out that Tara was a resident of Alexandria during All Out War, so whatever happened during the time jump seems to have really affected her and pushed her to move to the Hilltop.

Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

While settling in, Magna and Yumiko discuss the fact that the Hilltop is run by a man who calls himself Jesus and they wonder if they just stumbled into a cult, but Connie assures them that it is likely just a nickname. Carol prepares her wagon to return to the Kingdom, and Siddiq and Michonne decide to speak with her; she warmly reunites with Siddiq, but her interactions with Michonne are awkward to say the least. Carol is introduced to Magna, Yumiko and Connie, which allows her to show off the fact that she can sign her name in ASL. After being left alone, Carol asks Michonne how Judith and RJ are doing and Michonne asks about Ezekiel and Henry in return. Their catch up turns to discussion about the dire state of the Kingdom, and Carol pleads for Alexandria to help out and send a delegation to the upcoming fair. This is something Michonne simply isn’t willing to do, stating that Alexandria has been through some tough things and must now look out for itself. This saddens Carol as she points out that everyone has been through bad things, including herself and Michonne in losing their children; they got each other through the bad times because they are a family. In this scene, these two women are not feuding, but are simply in disagreement; they still care for one another even if they may not be on the best of terms right now. Before departing, Carol reconnects with Dianne who asks to tag along to return home to the Kingdom after being given approval by Tara. We also see a touching scene as Carol bids farewell to Henry and he really shows a sense of maturity when he reveals that he asked Earl for an advance on his pay so that he could send his mother home with some tools and supplies. Alden really seems to be taking on a big brother type role for Henry and assures Carol that they will take good care of him. Much like a mother dropping her child off a college, Carol is proud but sad to see her son leave the nest and she is brought to tears. He assures her that he will return home in time for the fair, which probably means that something will prevent that from actually happening. After losing so many children to this world, it is absolutely refreshing to see that Carol has been able to raise up Henry and be a mother to him for several years. She lost Sophia, and Henry lost his family, but they found one another and became family, and that is exactly what this story is about.

Henry is really a major focal point of the episode as his apprenticeship officially begins. Enid pays a visit to the blacksmith station and pokes fun at Alden for not being as skilled as Henry clearly is. Last episode showed that Henry has a crush on Enid, but that goes straight out the window as it is revealed that Alden and Enid are now dating. This is yet another strange romantic pairing, but this might just be the result of the time jump and our lack of knowing what happened during those six years. Later, Henry is shown to be eating alone while the rest of the community shares in a communal dinner. He is invited to hang out by a group of teenagers who have noticed that something seems to be bothering the new arrival. The characters introduce themselves as Gage (Jackson Pace), Adeline (Kelley Mack) and Rodney (Joe Ando Hirsh); while they have just been introduced this season, these characters state that they have lived at the Hilltop for half of their lives and would have been young children when the apocalypse began. The teens make reference to Henry being at the Hilltop long ago during the War and remember him as “the kid with the stick.” There’s a minor reference that Rodney makes to Oceanside in regards to his fascination with the fact that it is a community of all women, but this isn’t clear confirmation that Cyndie and her people are still around. There is essentially a culture shock that Henry undergoes that is pretty similar to what Carl went through upon arriving in Alexandria and meeting Enid, Mikey and Ron in Season 5’s “Remember.” The teens invite Henry for a night of fun out in the woods and they end up getting him drunk on moonshine and showing him their captured walker, which they urinate on and throw things at…for some reason. This angers Henry and a split divides between him and these teens as they leave him behind. Later, Henry returns and is placed in jail by the guards and Tara for drunk and disorderly conduct. Tara allows Earl to see him and there is a great moment where Henry apologizes and vows to stay on track with his work. We see Earl show forgiveness and see himself in the teenager as he mentions his own time in this same jail years before in “The Bridge.” Henry has had to grow up fast in this world, and this episode shows that he still has a lot to learn, but that he is aware of how important his work at the Hilltop will be for securing the future of the Kingdom.

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Matt Lintz as Henry. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

The creepiness factor is upped exponentially as night falls and a heavy fog sets in. Daryl has managed to stay on the Rosita’s tracks and has found the barn that she left Eugene in. Much like what he did in last season’s “Worth,” Eugene buries himself under hay and floorboards to wait out the storm and the herd. He warns Daryl and the others that the herd is looking for him and has been through this area multiple times…and that they were also whispering. Aaron looks at him with fear, and takes this as further evidence to corroborate the strange behavior they witnessed earlier. Dog barks to alert the team to the fact that the herd has arrived, which is confusing considering that Daryl used a baking timer to redirect the walkers. They rush out of the barn and try to get away, taking a moment to stop and collect themselves, and to also theorize about what the hell is happening. Eugene explains that he believes the walkers are evolving, but Daryl thinks this is stupid. Jesus states that it would make sense for some memories to come back and for them to relearn how to talk and strategize. No one believed that the dead could reanimate and walk, but here we are. Eugene volunteers to be left behind, but Jesus shoots this down immediately and tells him that this isn’t his call to make. Instead, Jesus offers to redirect the herd so that his friends can get away. In typical Daryl fashion, this is not happening and he runs off with Dog to do the deed instead. Using Dog’s barking and a handful of firecrackers as a distraction, Daryl tries to draw the herd in his direction and it works…for a minute before the walkers unnaturally turn and continue in the path of Aaron, Jesus and Eugene. Daryl is completely and utterly stunned. Imagine surviving with these creatures for eleven years, adapting to life with them and becoming accustomed to managing them, only to have all of the rules suddenly go out the window. As terrifying as that is, it only gets more horrific in the following minutes.

What’s creepier than a dark night, walkers and fog? All of those things in a cemetery. The trio manage to gain a slight lead on the walkers and believe that they will lose them in a hard-to-navigate a gated graveyard. They are DEAD wrong. The walkers pile in as the team find a potential exit, which is obstructed by “topsoil.” There’s a final stand of sorts as Jesus, Aaron and Eugene are forced to fight off several walkers, using their melee weapons in a badass showdown. In particular, both Aaron and Jesus are able to show off their ninja skills and the years of training that have gotten them to this point. When a lull hits, whispers can be heard from every direction, hinting that they are now surrounded. Fortunately, Michonne arrives and to her surprise Magna and Yumiko have followed to prove their worth. It’s a frantic scramble as everyone struggles to open the gate as more walkers approach. Jesus tells Aaron to help Eugene get out as he steps forward to face the herd by himself. In what is his most epic display of fighting strength and heroism, Jesus singlehandedly takes down multiple walkers using a variety of slow-motion kicks and punches. When he’s finished he turns to return to his group at the gate, attempting to kill one final walker in the process. In a dramatic turn of events, the walker ducks and avoids the blade of his knife before stabbing Jesus through the chest with a weapon of his own. The look on Jesus’ face is one of utter fear and confusion as the “walker” whispers “you are where you do not belong” in his ear. Aaron screams out in terror and heartbreak as the lifeless body of Jesus falls to the ground. Multiple “walkers” come rushing out of the fog and engage in a battle with their weapons drawn as Daryl arrives and takes out Jesus’ assassin with a bolt. The attackers are killed by our survivors and the gravity of what just happened sets in. Aaron tearfully looks down at the corpse of Jesus on the ground, and Daryl examines the first soldier. He finds that it is an actual human being wearing a intricately fashioned walker mask. Everyone is disturbed and confused, and rightfully so. These aren’t walkers…they’re the Whisperers. The episode ends on a chilling cliffhanger as the sounds of more whispers can be heard as the group stands ready for another attack. This is a whole new world we a living in and it is terrifying.

Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter, Tom Payne as Paul ‘Jesus’ Rovia, Ross Marquand as Aaron. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

The good in “Evolution”

  • The horror. Michael Satrazemis really returned the series to its horror roots by crafting what is likely the most terrifying episode of “The Walking Dead” to date.
  • Father Gabriel putting Negan in his place, but also Negan getting the upper hand and escaping from jail after years. This opens up so much story potential for him, especially with the new villains just arriving.
  • Tara stepping up to the plate and being a leader in the absence of Jesus. She hasn’t abandoned her quirky nature entirely, but there is a hardened edge to her and she isn’t putting up with bullshit.
  • The scene between Carol and Michonne as they discuss their shared losses and have a disagreement about working together. They’ve been through a lot together and even though their division is worrying, it is comforting to see that they still love one another.
  • Carol and Henry’s dynamic is beautiful, and it is rewarding to see Carol happier than she has been in a LONG time.
  • Magna’s group continue to be great, and their dialogue really serves to develop their characters nicely.
  • The mystery surrounding the strange behavior leading up to the chilling and terrifying introduction of the Whisperers. This is one of the most unique threats we have faced and the show is already doing an excellent job at showing just how dangerous they are.
  • The cliffhanger. That is how you do a cliffhanger.

The iffy in “Evolution”

  • The hostility among the characters is worrying and unsettling. They are a broken group and we don’t know why. Hopefully, the show explains exactly what caused this tension…and hopefully it is a solid explanation.
  • Enid and Alden is a strange romantic pairing in a season of strange romantic pairings. This can totally be chalked up to the time jump being so jarring. Much like Rosita and Gabriel, this can definitely be evolved into a positive if done right.
  • Henry’s arc takes up a lot of the episode and slows it down a bit, which is rather odd considering this is a Mid-Season Finale. That being said, Angela Kang’s tenure has shown that the premieres and finales aren’t the only BIG episodes, so this can be overlooked.

The bad in “Evolution”

  • Some of the material with Henry and the Hilltop teens is rather cringeworthy. Their behavior comes across as painfully predictable and cliche.
  • The killing of Jesus after being severely underused and sidelined throughout much of Season 7 and 8 feels like a complete slap in the face to fans, specifically those of his comic counterpart. It feels like they literally had no clue what to do with the character most of the time so they just gave him the bare minimum amount of screentime they could to still consider him a main character before ultimately doing away with him. It’s disappointing and the character, as well as Tom Payne, deserved better.
Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Tom Payne as Paul ‘Jesus’ Rovia, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Ross Marquand as Aaron. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

Top performances in “Evolution”

  • Tom Payne as Jesus
  • Ross Marquand as Aaron
  • Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon
  • Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier
  • Danai Gurira as Michonne
  • Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler
  • Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel

Lingering thoughts and predictions

  • Father Gabriel accidentally leaving the prison cell open parallels his carelessness in leaving Alexandria’s gate open in the Season 5 Finale.
  • Gabriel and Negan have a shared history and spent a lot of time together during Season 8, so it is interesting that they are paired together once again.
  • With Jesus now dead, will Tara become the permanent leader of the Hilltop? Perhaps the community will hold an emergency election to decide who should run things now.
  • What exactly did Michonne do to piss everyone off so much? Based on her conversation with Siddiq, she doesn’t regret what she did and she knew it would turn people against her. It seems like Maggie may have been involved, but who else? Just how bad did things get?
  • Will Dianne be welcomed back to the Kingdom? She is one of the few surviving members of King Ezekiel’s army, but is there tension between her and the community?
  • How far off is the fair and will the recent developments change anything about it?
  • Henry’s drinking party with the Hilltop teens directly parallels Alicia hanging out with the Bible study kids at the Broke Jaw Ranch in Season 3 of “Fear the Walking Dead.” In fact, they also kept a walker for their entertainment.
  • Magna and Yumiko must have earned themselves a permanent place in the community after risking their lives to help.
  • The group trapped in the graveyard will have to fight their way home next episode, but will they encounter the named members of the Whisperers?

Honoring the dead

This episode marks the end of Paul Rovia AKA Jesus. When we first met him, he came crashing into Rick and Daryl in Season 6’s hilarious and light-hearted “The Next World.” Right off the bat, he was charming, mysterious, and intriguing. There was an aura to him that made viewers immediately connect with him and many cite this as being one of the best character introductions in the series. He introduced Rick and Alexandria to a larger world of other communities; one could argue that the show would be totally different had he never stolen Rick and Daryl’s truck way back when. When Maggie and Sasha arrived following the tragic killings of Glenn and Abraham, he offered them comfort and showed them what true hospitality is. Throughout Season 7, Jesus became really close to Maggie and that allowed Sasha to see that her best friend would be just fine in her own absence. Jesus was truly a pillar of support for Maggie as she gained power and rose to be the leader of the Hilltop. He trusted her to lead his own people into the future. He may not have agreed with each of her decisions, but he was still loyal to her. In nearly every scene he was in, Jesus’ humanity was his primary quality. He was simply a good guy in a bad world. Even during a full blown war, he still tried to keep himself and the others from turning into their own enemies by working to spare the Savior prisoners. Even here, at the bitter end, Jesus remained a defender of people. That is how he should be remembered. Hopefully, the characters take a page out of his book and carry on his humanity.

“Evolution” is a powerful and intense ride of emotions and fear that almost perfectly transitions the series into it’s next arc. Things are about to get incredibly chaotic and dangerous as the full nature of the Whisperers is shown. These aren’t people to fuck with. Sadly, the death of Jesus (more so his death after lackluster development) shows that the series is not the comics. The two mediums have split and become so different that it is nearly impossible to predict anything anymore. One thing is certain however, horror has returned to “The Walking Dead” and that is a really good thing.

“The Walking Dead” will return for the Mid-Season Premiere on Sunday, February 10, 2019 at 9 p.m on AMC. 

Jeffrey Kopp is the Community Editor of the Niner Times. He is a senior double majoring in Communication and Political Science. His interests include writing and keeping up with an excessive amount of television shows. He is also the go-to expert on all things “The Walking Dead."