The Walking Dead put on a master class in story telling in Sunday night's Episode 9x15 (The Calm Before). It took every expectation fans had from Robert Kirkman's comic book source material, flipped most of them on their heads, and met the others brilliantly. It was a near perfect showing of what the AMC zombie series is capable of with great pacing, acting, and shocking moments.
Spoilers for The Walking Dead Episode 9x15 follow. Major spoilers!
Heading into Episode 9x15, fans of The Walking Dead knew what to expect, for the most part. The fair which had been talked about all season long was arriving and fans of the comics (or fans of the show who read content like this or have friends who read the comics) knew that the fair ends poorly for a handful of characters.
Perhaps the best part of the entire thing? An iconic moment like the "pike" sequence is typically held for a finale episode. Negan's introduction? Finale. Beth's death? Mid-Season finale. Captured by Terminus? Season Four finale. This time, The Walking Dead just went ahead and through it out there in the penultimate episode of Season Nine with an epilogue of sorts to follow, catapulting the show into its tenth season. Still, that's just one reason why The Walking Dead continues to be on fire in Season Nine.
In those books, Ezekiel, Rosita, and a handful of secondary characters are killed off. On Sunday night, only one character who was given the "pike" treatment was consistent with that of the books. Ezekiel and Rosita remained safe. Instead, the longest running character to bow out was Tara, a character from Season Three who was never given all that much of a compelling story until she fell into the leadership role at the Hilltop recently.
However, the writers of The Walking Dead managed to manipulate the expectation for several gasp-worthy moments. Rosita and Ezekiel haven't been -A-list characters of the show quite like Michonne, Daryl, or Carol. Still, fans are attached to them given their thorough development over the years, plus a love for cast members Khary Payton and Christian Serratos and their respective characters' relationships to other characters.
With the audience already thinking one or both of these characters would get piked, The Walking Dead took advantage of that expectation. For a moment, Father Gabriel said, "If you see her, tell her I need to speak with her," and fans thought his girlfriend Rosita was missing from the fair. She wasn't. Instead, Tara was the dead character Gabriel was searching for. Meanwhile, for whatever reason, King Ezekiel wasn't in his seat at the movie which he was so proud to show off. Instead, he wasn't getting killed after walking off with an undercover Whisperer leader Alpha, he was watching from behind the screen. It was Henry who was the big death reveal in this moment.
The deaths in Episode 9x15 are far from the most groundbreaking in The Walking Dead's history. They don't line up with caliber of farewells for Carl Grimes, Glenn Rhee, or even Abraham Ford. Sure, some fans loved Tara or Enid, but for the most part these characters weren't given a story sufficient enough to rattle the fanbase as the aforementioned deaths did. In a year where the AMC series has lost and continues to lose so many of its top actors and characters, keeping faces like Ezekiel, Rosita, Gabriel, Eugene, Michonne, Daryl, and Carol around was a smart play. The episode still accomplished its mission of making the audience feel a shocking wave of emotions and it didn't have to produce a major shock value death to do so.
Furthermore, the entire episode produced an ominous sense of suspension. Samantha Morton's Alpha is making every effort to cement herself as the show's best villain. Her haunting infiltration of the fair created a tense, creepy series of events and showed that this is not a villain like ever before on the series. While her methods are barbaric, she had a simple request of not being bothered. After that request was met with disobedience, she had to assert herself. It all makes perfect sense within the characters mentality based on what the narrative has shown audiences.
Then, of course, the performances of cast members such as Danai Gurira, Avi Nash, and Melissa McBride become the icing on the cake. Morton is chilling in every sequence, right down to getting a creepy tear to roll down her face in a crucial moment for the character. However, Team Family's cast rolling up to the pikes was a shocking moment thanks to the expressions of the actors paired with one of Bear McCreary's best and most haunting scores to date.
Yes, the Highway Men group were a pointless introduction just to toss more heads on pikes. Yes, Ezekiel watching a movie from behind the screen was an easy mislead. And, sure, this all might have been better with Rick Grimes and Carl around. But, guess what? None of it damaged the quality of Episode 9x15 in the least bit.
Let's not overlook how the series manipulated the unveiling of the pike sequence, either. One by one, viewers managed to mark characters as "safe." When it looked like Daryl, Michonne, Carol, and Yumiko were in the most trouble, the episode jumped back in time to a key moment to reveal what was going on at the fair, to show us that Alpha had impossibly infiltrated the communities and was slithering around amongst beloved characters.
It's almost hard to believe how good The Walking Dead is in its current season. This is a show that lost its lead actor in Andrew Lincoln, another fan-favorite in Lauren Cohan, and had a change in showrunners all during its ninth season on air.
Comment sections are starting to see less of the once-popular negativity. Fans are starting to vouch for the current run of episodes. There's certainly still nitpicking by the hardcore audience, such as Michonne not cementing herself as the leader when she dodged signing the charter or having underused characters like Katelyn Nacon's Enid and Alanna Masterson's Tara. However, the ship of The Walking Dead is headed in the right direction, and last night's episode became the latest in a now longer line of consistently great episodes.
Is The Walking Dead at its best in Season Nine? Share your thoughts in the comment section!
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 pm ET. Fear the Walking Dead will return for its fifth season in 2019. For complete coverage and insider info all year long, follow @BrandonDavisBD on Twitter and watch ComicBook.com's After The Dead each Sunday night following new episodes on Facebook.com/ComicBookNOW.0comments