Wolves, Whisperers, and Saviors — oh my! Old enemies from past seasons of The Walking Dead return to haunt Aaron (Ross Marquand) in an ominous nightmare taking the single dad down a dark path. Spoiler warning for Season 11 Episode 5, "Out of the Ashes." As Alexandria rebuilds in the wake of the devastation left behind by the Whisperers, Aaron and his adopted daughter Gracie (Anabelle Holloway) will starve if Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and her group fail to take back Meridian from the Reapers. When the Alexandrians discover Hilltop squatters, revealing they didn't silence all of the Whisperers, it's after Aaron is stirred awake by dying in his dream to open "Out of the Ashes."
How Does Aaron Die in His Dream?
In the dream, Gracie clings to her father as Aaron hurries them through the woods outside Alexandria. A growling walker lurches forth, followed by one of The Wolves — identified by the bloody "W" carved into his forehead — clicking his tongue at his prey. Then comes an armed Savior, whistling the taunting tone of Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) army, and finally a skin-masked Whisperer wielding a knife.
Gracie vanishes and whispers turn to screams as the villains swarm Aaron, stabbing him to death. He's awakened only by the guttural scream of Mays (Robert Patrick), the madman who forced Aaron and Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) into a game of Russian roulette in the Season 10 episode "One More."
Who Is in Aaron's Dream?
When Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his group of road-weary survivors first encounter Aaron in Season 5, it's as a recruiter for the Alexandria Safe-Zone. In the Season 5 finale, "Conquer," the W-marked Wolves find Aaron's lost pack containing photos of his home community, used to convince people that the Safe-Zone is real.
After the Wolves raid and attack Alexandria in Season 6 Episode 2, "JSS," slaughtering more than a dozen Alexandrians, Aaron is horrified to find a slain Wolf with his photos that led them there.
In Season 8 Episode 2, "The Damned," Aaron's boyfriend Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson) is gunned down by the Saviors. That same episode introduces baby Gracie, orphaned after Rick and the militia's assault on a Savior compound. Aaron agrees to take the child to safety at the Hilltop Colony, but by Season 9, he's become Gracie's father and raises her at Alexandria.
Seasons 9 and 10 pit the survivors against Alpha (Samantha Morton) and her Whisperers, who disguise themselves in the flesh of the undead to walk with them. The Whisperers murder Jesus (Tom Payne), Aaron's friend and off-screen lover, but he befriends Gamma — the Whisperer defector he comes to know as Mary (Thora Birch).
Aaron's Dream Explained
"This episode is starting with this dream, and all of those past foes are just a different representation of the different traumas that our people have been through," explained showrunner Angela Kang on The Walking Dead: Episode Insider. "And everything that is swirling through his mind as he's thinking about how to create a better future for his daughter, Gracie, who herself came out of trauma, was the daughter of Saviors that were killed during the attack that our people were involved in."
When Aaron returns to Hilltop for blacksmithing tools to reinforce Alexandria's walls, he finds Keith (Brad Fleischer) and a few Whisperer stragglers who survived The Whisperer War brought to an end in Season 10 Episode 16, "A Certain Doom."
"I think that really tells us a lot about his mindset going into all of the action of this episode because he's thinking, 'Who were all these people that we've had to fight, all the times we've just barely made it through, all the times that Alexandria almost fell. And is this gonna be the thing that finally breaks us?'" said Kang of Aaron's dream. "I think Aaron really is determined to make sure that that doesn't happen."
Follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter for all things TWD. The Walking Dead Season 11 airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.