The survivors of The Walking Dead are waging All Out War against Negan and the Saviors, an adaptation of Robert Kirkman's comic book storyline that will "absolutely" come to a close at the end of season 8, as promised by showrunner Scott M. Gimple.
Consisting of volumes 20 and 21 in the long-running comic book series — issues 115 through 126 — the arc gave way to an appropriately titled volume 22, A New Beginning, catching up with members of the Alexandria, Hilltop and Kingdom communities after the war.
The post-war arc put an emphasis on rebuilding and later introduced an enigmatic group of roamers known as the Whisperers — whose unchallenged leader, the cunning Alpha, became The Walking Dead's newest central menace after first popping up in the closing moments of issue #132.
The Whisperers, so named because they wear the flesh of walkers to better disguise themselves from both the living and the dead, came into conflict with Alexandrian leader Rick Grimes and his people after encountering the Hilltop's Dante in the wild, taking him hostage.
Jesus captured a Whisperer who would later be revealed as 16-year-old Lydia, one of the "talking dead" and daughter of Alpha. Unlike the rest of the barbaric Whisperers, Lydia hadn't lost hold of her humanity and was subjected to terror and brutalization from her own mother, who allowed the teen to be raped in efforts to toughen the girl up.
Lydia entered into a romantic relationship with Carl Grimes, Rick's teen son, the pair maintaining the relationship even as the Whisperers went to war with Rick and the united communities' citizens.
In The Walking Dead's live-action counterpart, the show made its biggest deviation from the comics yet when — spoilers — Carl revealed an incurable walker bite on his midsection in the final moments of the season 8 mid-season finale, "How It's Gotta Be."
When the series picks up in late February, Carl Grimes will die: the bite is a "one-way ticket," according to Gimple, who says the bite will "play out as we've seen bites play out."
Despite fan outcry over the decision to axe Carl — and subsequent efforts to oust Gimple from his position as showrunner — Carl Grimes will be The Walking Dead next major casualty.
Carl's comic book storylines will be divvied up and given to other characters, but some of Carl's biggest moments — his relationship with a jailed Negan, his romance with Lydia — will be snuffed out with Carl's death.
Suggestions to alter the storyline, as the show frequently does, could place the Romeo and Juliet-esque romance being given instead to Enid — maybe Alpha has a son, Lloyd — and his future blacksmith learnings could be given to no one in particular, if adapted at all.
With Carl dead, the Whisperers story arc loses much of its luster, especially coming on the tail end of a season that has exhausted a good number of its viewers.
After the lengthy conflict with rival group Negan and the Saviors — not to mention the rinse, wash, repeat nature of the groups' conquering of groups like Woodbury, Grady Memorial, Joe and the Claimers, the Termites, the Wolves and the Scavengers — will audiences want to sit through yet another "us versus them" conflict?
And with one of its biggest components six feet under in the show, are the Whisperers worth tackling in live-action?
The Walking Dead may only have a few seasons left, according to one star, and the series might be better off skipping the Whisperers altogether and jumping ahead to the Commonwealth, an intriguing New World Order type of organization whose mysteries are currently unfolding in the pages of the comics.
Introducing the Commonwealth could lead to the kind of endgame desired by leading man Andrew Lincoln, especially if the organization is somehow tied to that helicopter that's been spotted flying in the Virginian skies.
"I really feel that the fans — and also for my own satisfaction — that there deserves to be an end point," Lincoln said of the series eventually wrapping up. "There needs to be an end game and that is something that is definitely being talked about."
Maybe the Whisperers, as a group, would be better off popping up on Fear The Walking Dead.
The companion series has already poached The Walking Dead's Morgan Jones (Lennie James), so why not tackle a Walking Dead storyline when the flagship show has since deviated into its own direction with Carl's looming death?
Kirkman's comics have always been more of a guideline than a blueprint for the show, meaning the Whisperers arc is no longer a requisite for The Walking Dead's future direction.
Pitting Rick into a moral battle with an imprisoned Negan while simultaneously navigating the waters of the Commonwealth, a group with some semblance of structure and a possible return to proper civilized society, would mean heading towards an end game.
The group tangling with the Whisperers, especially immediately after dispatching Negan and the Saviors, would mean spinning wheels.
The Walking Dead returns to AMC Sunday, February 25.