MAJOR Spoiler Warning for the Season 9 Finale (Season 9, Episode 16) 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.
“Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once.”
Season 9 is one the best seasons of “The Walking Dead” ever. That’s a bold statement, but the first year of Angela Kang’s tenure as showrunner has breathed new life into an aged show. While this finale may not be as energetic and earth-shattering as the previous episode, it still has a refreshing feel and experiments with a whole new element that has never been seen before. Winter is here and it brought with it a TON of snow.
A truly powerful and emotional monologue from King Ezekiel opens the episode. Some months have passed since the Fair and the pikes. He speaks into the radio that Eugene set up to allow the communities to communicate with one another. Somber music plays as he narrates the downfall of the Kingdom. Everyone tries to hold things together, but there’s no saving it. The pipes burst and fires burn the once vibrant community. A stunning shot shows one of Ezekiel’s quotes on the wall with a literal crack through it, also splitting the screen between Carol and Ezekiel. The time has come to leave. Members from the other communities are present to help escort the Kingdom residents to the Hilltop. Daryl brings Lydia a plate of food and urges her to eat, acting as a parental figure in her life. Carol goes through a box of cards that were given to Henry on his birthday each year. Also inside the box is a Shiva pendant, serving as another emotional punch. In the theater, Ezekiel looks over the charter, placing his hand on Tara’s name as he continues to mourn her loss. A caravan of all the Kingdom folk exit the gates as Michonne, Aaron, Daryl and several others act as escorts. The King takes one last look at his beloved home, a place he worked so to build and that so many people died to keep standing. A light snow begins to fall as a wide shot shows the dreary state of the Kingdom. It’s hard to say goodbye to the community, which has been a regular location in the series since the start of Season 7. All good things must come to an end.
Issues have arisen in the time since the pikes were discovered. Michonne speaks to Yumiko about the challenges faced by the Hilltop without a central leader. It’s revealed in their dialogue that a council has formed, similarly to that of Alexandria’s. Losing Jesus, Tara and so many others is weighing heavily on the community. Yumiko shares with Michonne that the Council sent Maggie another letter, but there has been no response from her. In a field next to the road the caravan is traveling on, a small collection of walkers wander around. They don’t turn to the caravan, so everyone is on high alert and concerned that they may be Whisperers. Alden questions Lydia as to why her former people won’t leave them alone. He’s clearly angry at Lydia for her former connection to the antagonist group, but she hasn’t been with them since the Fair. Daryl tells Alden to cool it and really shows how much he’s willing to stand up for Lydia. He also sticks up for her to Carol, who is having an especially difficult time with her being here as she explains that she can’t look at Lydia without seeing Henry. This episode really highlights the importance of Carol and Daryl’s friendship, but there seems to be some confusion and/or jealousy as Ezekiel notices the two of them talking. Jerry warns that the temperature is dropping fast and a huge storm is coming. Snow continues to pile up on the roads, changing the environment drastically. Two snow covered walkers emerge from the tree-line, allowing Carol and Daryl to have a double epic arrow kill. Daryl goes to retrieve the arrows and Ezekiel decides to join him to talk while the caravan continues. Ezekiel asks Daryl what his plans are for after the caravan arrives at the Hilltop. Daryl is unsure, but Ezekiel proposes that he not stick around so that he and Carol can work on their relationship alone. Daryl doesn’t respond at all to this incredibly awkward interaction between two of the most important people in Carol’s life. Ezekiel is mourning the loss of his son, but him speaking for Carol is a strange thing and doesn’t really seem in line with his character.
This season has done wonders with the character of Lydia and this episode is no exception. She separates herself from the rest of the caravan and stumbles upon a walker that is half-frozen in an ice-covered pond. She approaches it and sits before it, staring into the lifeless and frozen eyes. She removes her gloves and places her arm right in front of the snapping mouth of the walker, holding it there and mentally preparing herself to be bitten. Carol appears and while no words are exchanged and there is no attempt to stop Lydia, the two end up returning to the caravan. It’s really a powerful moment between two victims of abuse that serves to showcase Carol’s outlook and mental state at this particular moment. Jerry and Aaron proclaim to everyone that they can no longer continue on the roads as night is falling. Michonne tmakes a suggestion of a shelter for the night…but it is rather surprising. The team charges into a barren and empty factory with their weapons drawn. Magna is completely stunned to find out that people once lived in this damp and dirty place. “Welcome to the Sanctuary,” Michonne states, giving double meaning to the former headquarters of the Saviors. Everyone desperately triesth to stay warm as Daryl finds Carol to talk to. The two have a heart-to-heart about the fact that Ezekiel only blames Daryl because he can’t let himself blame Carol for Henry’s death. For the first time in quite a while, Carol feels like she is losing herself again and while she is still trying to hang on, it’s incredibly difficult. Daryl proposes leaving with Lydia to make things less painful for Carol, but even she can tell that he doesn’t want to leave. This is a huge turn from where he was at just after the time jump in “Who Are You Now?” and “Stradivarius” in which he was living on his own and Carol had to convince him to rejoin everyone. Lydia overhears their conversation, adding even more weight and guilt to her already fragile state. It’s quite interesting that Carol and Daryl are able to talk about what they want to do in the future while Ezekiel circumnavigates Carol to ask Daryl to take a step back. They’ve both know her for so long, but asking Carol what she wants directly is clearly the best move.
The collection of main characters realize that staying at the Sanctuary while the blizzard rages on might not be the best decision. While looking at a map, Aaron points out that Rick’s bridge would have cut their travel time in half and would have saved their lives. With no real other alternative, Carol states that they can travel over frozen rivers just as long as they don’t all walk across at once. The only problem here is that they would need to cross through the Whisperer territory, a huge concern that Ezekiel raises. This is a legitimate concern considering Alpha literally established this border with the heads of TEN of our people. Michonne, Daryl and Carol suggest that the Whisperers won’t be able to see them crossing in the cover of darkness, but this is of no comfort to Ezekiel as a literal war could be triggered. It becomes totally clear that the only option here is to abandon the horses at the Sanctuary and to traverse the rough terrain to make it to the next way station. There’s an excellent scene where Michonne checks in on Ezekiel after the group discussion. He’s really having a difficult time as the guilt of not evacuating the Kingdom sooner hits him, but Michonne proclaims that none of his people would be alive without him. She also notes that Alpha was able to walk around the Kingdom unnoticed because theo communities had become strangers. She makes an excellent point that the Kingdom hasn’t fallen because the Kingdommers are still alive and that since the charter was signed, they are no longer just Ezekiel’s people. A chilling sequence follows in which the caravan arrives at the now snow-covered hill of the pikes, and cross over the border. Ezekiel and Lydia both take a moment to look at the place where Alpha cruelly left Henry’s head. This is truly hallowed grounds.
We have three major active threats this episode that all overlap: the walkers, the Whisperers and the blizzard. While the caravan travels through the forest, the low visibility stops them dead in their tracks as they spot three figures just feet ahead of them. The downpour of snow makes it difficult to tell if these are Whisperers or walkers in front of them. Daryl shoots one in the head with his crossbow, but the other two are still a threat. He and Michonne inspect them closer and find them to be two walkers that are frozen solid, although their eerie groans can still be heard. These walkers are easy to kill as their heads basically explode when Michonne slices them. They ultimately make it to the river crossing and Daryl steps forward to make sure the ice is frozen enough for people to walk on it. Lydia slips away from the rest of the group and Carol decides to go find her. The creepy factor is increased as some walkers begin emerging from the snow, posing yet another risk as Daryl, Ezekiel and Michonne must dispatch them before the caravan crosses. As more walkers close in on the location, Ezekiel, Aaron, Alden, Yumiko and others assist people in crossing over the lake. In the meantime, Carol manages to catch up with Lydia in a shed. Knowing that getting to the Hilltop won’t solve any problems, Lydia wants to just die. She blames herself for the ten people dying on the pikes as the result of her being accepted as one of the group. Lydia tells Carol that she should just kill her and let it all end. She raises the end of Carol’s spear to her chest and tells her to “do it for Henry.” Carol instead uses her spear to kill a walker before tell Lydia that she isn’t weak and urging her to take her hand and come back.
The other prominent storyline of the episode is set at Alexandria. The snow is falling hard already and Father Gabriel and Rosita have a moment of awkward hugging to stay warm. Eugene arrives to report that the solar panels have ceased functions and that he recommends initiating “Winter One Ice-Storm Protocol” as a means of keeping everyone warm and safe. Gabriel comes up with a plan to split Alexandria’s residents between the church, Aaron’s house and Barbara’s house, which all have the largest working fireplaces. He also notes that Negan cannot be left in his cell as he will freeze to death. The storm rages on at Alexandria as night falls and visibility lessens. At the church, Negan is chained to a cot and decides to poke fun at everyone taking shelter with him. Some of the people in this group include Gabriel, Eugene, Rosita, Siddiq, Judith, RJ and several other background Alexandrians. Negan finds the “love quadrangle” to be akin to Christmas. Being locked in a cell for years really makes everything funny it seems. He questions if Gabriel is ever suspicious of Rosita being treated by Siddiq, who is also her baby daddy. This doesn’t affect Gabriel and he professes that nothing will be able to break up the trust and friendships of the people here right now. Judith is greatly concerned because Daryl asked her to watch over Dog while he helped move the Kingdom to the Hilltop, but she is unable to find him now. Negan points out that something smells funny, and Eugene rushes over to the fireplace to pull away Siddiq and Gabriel before an explosion erupts. Eugene inspects the chimney and discovers that the blizzard has rendered it unsafe to use the fireplace. While speaking in his usual technical talk, Negan expresses how much he has missed Eugene during their time together in Seasons 7 and 8. The group discusses the problem a bit before Gabriel announces to everyone that they will be moving to Aaron’s house. It seems as though the group is going to leave Negan behind with even Rosita proposing that they tell Michonne he died on accident. Ultimately, they decide to bring him along and link everyone together with a rope to assure that no one is lost in the storm.
This is not an easy storm to walk through and Alexandria is a massive place. The sound of Dog barking in the distance immediately prompts Judith to let go of the rope and go running to save him. Siddiq, Gabriel and others yell for her to come back, but Negan is the one to chase after her into the dark unknown. Negan finds himself lost in the blizzard as he calls out for Judith before being struck in the leg by a piece of flying debris. He follows the sounds of Dog’s barking and manages to locate the two, picking Judith up and carrying her to shelter. He takes off his coat and wraps Judith up in it before telling her that she ran off to get “a little extra Negan time.” She notices that his leg is injured and he takes a moment to make a tourniquet before picking her back up and rejoining the rest of the group. Who ever would have guessed that Negan would be the one to rescue Judith? While others did help search for her, it is rather strange that Negan was the first to run out in the blizzard for Judith as opposed to someone like Gabriel, Rosita, Siddiq or Eugene. Still, we’ve seen the growth of Negan’s character this season as he has been locked in the cell. He’s interacted with Judith on several occasions and they have formed this unique friendship. This seems to be the basis for what appears to be a redemption arc for Negan that will likely take more of a focus in Season 10.
Thankfully, the storm subsides and the Kingdom caravan manages to arrive at the Hilltop. A frozen solid walker awaits the group at the entrance, to which Daryl smashes in a cascade of frozen blood. Inside Barrington House, everyone gathers around the fireplace and Jerry proposes that the community be renamed “Kingtop.” Daryl checks in with Lydia who is now looking up at the portraits of Glenn, Hershel and Beth that Anne/Jadis painted for Maggie. He tells her that they will be heading to Alexandria in the morning and she asks why he would leave that community with it being so nice. He gives a small smile to the paintings and tells Lydia that he will tell her more one day. Ezekiel finds Carol and expresses his relief that they made it to the Hilltop, but Carol isn’t content. “Did we?” she asks before telling her King that she will be going to Alexandria with the others in the morning. Ezekiel is understanding and professes his eternal love for her. Carol states that she will never “regret the fairytale” that she lived with him and Henry before taking off her ring and trying to return it to him; something he rejects. At Alexandria, the sign is cleared of snow as the Hilltop arrivals are welcomed in through the side gate. Judith runs to embrace her mother in a hug and the family embraces RJ who is playing in the snow. In a much needed scene, a snowball fight breaks out with Judith, RJ, Daryl, Michonne, Aaron, Carol and Lydia. At the infirmary, Michonne checks in on a now unchained Negan and thanks him for saving Judith. He expresses his admiration for her helping Ezekiel with the evacuation, claiming he understands what it’s like to lose a kingdom. “No one ever thinks they’re the evil one,” Negan makes a point about his current redemption arc. The episode concludes with a radio conversation between Ezekiel and Judith, where they share in their hope that the Kingdom will rise again one day after winter has passed. Ezekiel leaves the radio and a static-ridden voice comes on the air saying “Hello? Hello? Calling out live on the open air. Is anybody out there?” before the episode cuts to black. Who is this mysterious voice on the radio?
The good in “The Storm”
- The blizzard is handled exceptionally well. It adds a whole new element of danger and really serves to make the usual set pieces even more stunning to look at.
- The Daryl and Carol interactions really solidify just how important their friendship is, especially in regards to their deep understanding of how much trauma the other has experienced and how they deal with it.
- The Michonne and Ezekiel interactions allow for some much needed respite from Ezekiel’s guilt. Plus it allows two leaders to share in their commitment to protecting the overall group.
- Carol and Lydia’s scene really serves as some amazing parallelism between two victims of abuse. It’s important that Carol was able to accept Lydia as a member of the group, even after all that she has lost.
- Negan being Negan, while also stepping up to the plate to save Judith and Dog. This redemption arc has been in the works all season, and it is finally really starting to come to fruition.
- Ezekiel’s opening monologue is a chilling and emotional farewell to the Kingdom.
- The snowball fight scene is highlight of the episode and is one of the most necessary lighthearted scenes in the whole series.
- The snow walkers are further proof that this series is nowhere close to running out of creative ideas and gags for the undead.
- The ending radio mystery is a cliffhanger done right. Unlike the Negan kill cliffhanger, this is a mystery that allows fans to speculate while not going insane for seven months over an unseen character death.
The iffy in “The Storm”
- The scene of Beta whipping Alpha’s arm to prepare her for what is to come in the upcoming conflict felt rather out of place in this finale.
- Negan rushing after Judith who went rushing after Dog felt contrived and manufactured, especially since no one else immediately went after her. That being said, his arc all season has built up to this.
- Ezekiel’s line to Daryl about how he and Carol needed time alone felt out of character, especially since he knows how important Daryl is to Carol. To be fair, he is mourning and people say things they don’t necessarily mean whilst mourning.
- Alden of all people speaking to Lydia makes it seem like his entire backstory was forgotten. He started off as a Savior and became a trusted member of the group. Is he really the best person to be lecturing Lydia about the bad guys? To be fair, he is also mourning.
The bad in “The Storm”
- Tara not being mentioned in this episode, aside from Ezekiel touching her signature and the line from Yumiko, is strange. Why is no one shown mourning her, especially Gabriel, Rosita and Eugene, all of which were quite close with her?
- The same is true of Enid, although we do see that Alden is clearly mourning her. Would it be that difficult for the characters to talk about two of their long-term loved ones?
Top performances in “The Storm”
- Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier
- Cassady McClincy as Lydia
- Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon
- Khary Payton as King Ezekiel
- Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan
- Cailey Fleming as Judith Grimes
- Samantha Morton as Alpha
Lingering thoughts and predictions
- Daryl using an icicle to kill a walker is added to the list of the coolest ways to kill a walker.
- Carol’s parallels to Lydia also serve as parallels to the former’s comic counterpart, specifically in the suicide attempt involving the walker. In the comics, this is actually how the character of Carol dies.
- Eugene’s radio system is really an excellent way to allow the communities to communicate. Each season, he comes up with another way to show just how useful he is.
- Due to the time jump, Rosita is now several more months pregnant. If only Maggie’s pregnancy would have progressed like this, maybe we could have seen more of Hershel before they left.
- Ezekiel having to abandon the Kingdom is yet another loss he has had to experience during his three seasons on the show. How many more losses can he take before he snaps?
- The fact that there was no snow in the scene with Alpha and Beta highly suggests that they have migrated south to avoid the winter cold and storms. Even showrunner Angela Kang confirmed that this is a major possibility. Where exactly did they go?
- Now that Negan has saved Judith’s life, what will his role in Alexandria be? Will he still be locked in jail? Will he be given a job?
- Thank GOD that Jerry and his family survived this wintery trek.
- The most likely identity of the person on the other end of the radio is Maggie, considering the voice has a southern accent and Lauren Cohan is likely to return in Season 10. It could also be Anne/Jadis, giving the group a possible location of where she and Rick were flown off to. A whole other possibility is that it is someone from “Fear the Walking Dead,” although the current timelines of both shows do not line up.
- The walkers or Whisperers that are shown in the field next to the caravan seems to be a callback to Season 2’s “18 Miles Out” and the famous lone walker that Shane sees. It’s also important to note that Rick and Shane discuss the approaching winter and wonder how walkers will be affected by snow and cold. All these years later, we finally see it.
“The Storm” isn’t the best Season Finale “The Walking Dead” has ever done. It has some issues and may not be as eventful as the previous episode. Still, it serves as a much-needed transition that also serves to finally deliver a element of nature that has been highly desired. That’s a wrap on Season 9, and Angela Kang’s first year as showrunner. If this season is any indication, Season 10 should be amazing.
“The Walking Dead” will return for Season 10 in October. Season 5 of “Fear the Walking Dead” will return on Sunday, June 2 at 9 p.m. on AMC. Stay tuned to Niner Times for complete coverage!