The Walking Dead didn't silence the Whisperers. On Sunday's Season 11 Episode 5, "Out of the Ashes," Alexandrians discover Hilltop squatters: what's left of the skin-wearing Whisperers once part of the pack led by Alpha (Samantha Morton) and then Beta (Ryan Hurst). When survivors of The Whisperer War that trashed Alexandria return to the Hilltop Colony, burnt down by Alpha and her army in the Season 10 episode "Morning Star," ex-Whisperer Lydia (Cassady McClincy) spots herded walkers. The group of Aaron (Ross Marquand), Carol (Melissa McBride), and Jerry (Cooper Andrews) find Keith (Brad Fleischer) in a fleshy mask the Whisperers used to walk with the dead.
"After Alpha fell, the herd scattered," Keith reveals. "Those who weren't killed or burned are gone. I'm all that's left."
Lydia wants the Whisperer left alone. With Alpha dead, he's not hurting anyone. But Aaron is determined to turn whispers into screams when he finds out Keith lied about a small pack of Whisperers hiding out in the Hilltop cellar.
They're scared and "just trying to be people again," says Lydia, but Aaron is suspicious they're a threat hiding in plain sight for an ambush. "We weren't all monsters," Lydia argues as Jerry finds a headscarf belonging to his wife Nabila (Nadine Marissa): proof they were part of the Whisperer and walker horde that Beta unleashed on Alexandria. Now their home is in tatters and their children are going hungry.
Keith goes for a knife and slashes Aaron, letting the Whisperer stragglers escape. Aaron strings up Keith and threatens him with a biting walker, letting the zombie sink its teeth into Keith's tied hands when he refuses to tell him if the Whisperers are still a threat.
Carol puts a stop to it, telling Aaron she's keeping him from "doing something else you're gonna regret." The day after his foreboding nightmare, Aaron growls, "We are standing on the ashes of what the Whisperers destroyed. Gracie is going hungry because of them! The world is full of people who are beyond saving, and I am not going to wait for them to show up at our doorstep." Carol tearfully warns Aaron, pleading with him: this is a path you don't want to go down.
Aaron relents and Keith's zombie-bitten hand is severed to prevent the infection from spreading. In the ashes of the Hilltop, Lydia apologizes. What's left of the Whisperers has changed and Keith can prove it: he tells them about sighting the long-missing Connie (Lauren Ridloff), who disappeared with Magna (Nadia Hilker) when Carol caused a cave-in during Season 10.
Connie and Magna escaped Alpha's cave teeming with walkers by blending into the horde, but they were separated before Magna returned to Hilltop alone in Season 10 Episode 12, "Walk With Us." (They'll follow that lead on Connie in Season 11 Episode 6.)
In the comic books, it's Aaron and Jesus who kill Beta before finding a small camp of surviving Whisperers in The Walking Dead issue #173. Aaron and Jesus finish off the hostile Whisperers and offer refuge to a trio of recent recruits disgusted by their rituals: Josh, his mother, and his father Mike.
"He's thinking about all of the damage that the Whisperers have done, just destroying their communities, and not only running the herd through there — some people went back and trashed the place and burnt their crops, just really to make it so that they could never go back to Alexandria and have a safe home," said showrunner Angela Kang of Aaron's actions on The Walking Dead: Episode Insider. "So I think for Aaron, this is enemy number one. He doesn't trust them. He has a sense that this guy is being shady and cagey, which he is. He's right that the guy is lying to him."
"And so he thinks, 'Why wouldn't he be lying about everything else?' Like, everything we know about the Whisperers is that the vast majority of them are willing to do whatever Alpha said, and they lived under that for years," continued Kang. "So I think he's in that dark headspace. When Jerry discovers that they were definitely at Alexandria and probably helped trash it, that tells him something, and he gets very emotional."
Follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter for all things TWD. The Walking Dead Season 11 airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.