The Kingdom’s Fair Turns Deadly on ‘The Walking Dead’ (RECAP)
[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 9 Episode 15, “The Calm Before.”]
If you thought last week’s episode of The Walking Dead was intense, “The Calm Before” takes the season’s conflict to new heights (literally).
Ezekiel’s fair, a gathering the show teased all season, has finally arrived. With the fair comes some pretty major, pretty horrifying events from the comics, and TWD has embraced the source material, albeit with a new, shocking twist.
Many goodbyes are said this episode… and for some unlucky characters, they prove to be final.
A Dangerous Journey
The episode opens by telling the story of the woman who makes the “H” wooden necklaces at the Hilltop. She and her husband live a pretty happy life in the community over the years, until they decide to go to the fair. They end up getting killed by Alpha en route to the celebration.
Alpha starts scalping the woman’s body as she sings, “Lydia, oh Lydia…say, have you met Lydia…”
At the Kingdom, Ezekiel gives a speech honoring Rick and Carl Grimes to open the fair. Carol, Zeke and Henry share a joyful reunion, as do Kelly and Connie. Ezekiel’s happy to see Michonne, but Tara’s not too happy to see Lydia.
At a meeting of community leaders, Michonne declares that Alexandria will officially join forces with the others. Father Gabriel announces that Lydia will be granted asylum in Alexandria, but Tara brings up a valid point — if Alpha retaliates, it’ll be against Hilltop. Using her own and Tara’s pasts as an example, Michonne says Lydia didn’t choose where she came from, but she chose where she wanted to be.
Daryl says they should take fighters to Hilltop to protect it from Alpha, and the other communities agree; they opt to send people that night. They decide they need to present a united front and seal their pact by signing Ezekiel’s charter.
Several characters get emotional moments at the fair; Alden and Enid, thanks to Luke’s nagging to get the former to perform with him, finally decide to call each other boyfriend and girlfriend. Siddiq almost tells Michonne he’s going to be a dad soon. Rosita and Eugene have a heartfelt chat in which she thanks him for his help and tells him that even after everything that happened, they can still talk.
Things aren’t going well for Lydia. Addy apologizes to Henry for letting people know he was hiding Lydia in the cabin at Hilltop. This, paired with Addy’s friends telling Lydia that Addy and Henry “have a thing” for each other, makes the former Whisperer storm away in jealousy and anger. The pitfalls of young love!
Meanwhile, the Hilltop group is getting ready to go. Michonne says goodbye to Judith, Daryl leaves Connie in charge of Dog, Team Magna bids farewell to its leader and Yumiko, and Carol, Ezekiel and Henry part ways. Several other fighters from the various communities join them, and they head out. On their way the group runs into the Highwaymen, who let them know about the wagon that was carrying the necklace-woman from Hilltop. There are tracks leading away from the scene. The group decides to split up; Yumiko, Michonne, Daryl and Carol investigate where the tracks lead, and the rest go on to Hilltop.
That Deal Is Done
Of course, the tracks don’t lead anywhere good. The group gets ambushed by a sizeable horde of walkers, and once they manage to take the undead down, there are Whisperers waiting. Beta shows up and tells them to drop their weapons. “You just had to give me the girl,” he tells Daryl. “No one else had to die. Now, that deal is done.”
Earlier, in flashbacks, it’s revealed that Alpha infiltrated the fair wearing the Hilltop woman’s hair, hat and dress. While she creeps around being creepy, listening in on people’s conversations and staring at sketches of Carol and Ezekiel, Henry finds Lydia and manages to get the truth out of her regarding what Gage and Rodney told her. Henry tells her she has nothing to worry about and they kiss, but their moment is cut short by a loud noise Henry feels the need to go investigate.
A Hard Winter
Alpha next happens upon Ezekiel, who introduces himself to her. They have a truly unsettling conversation. “Could you point me in the direction of the clothing booths?” Alpha asks. “It’s going to be sweater weather soon, and I want to be ready. I have a feeling it’s going to be a hard winter.”
The movie seems to go as planned, though several notable people are absent, namely Ezekiel and Henry. As Lydia watches the film, the still-disguised Alpha slides into the seat next to her and puts a finger to her lips.
No Empty Threat
That night, Carol, Daryl, Michonne and Yumiko are taken to the Whisperers camp. Upon hearing that Lydia was offered asylum in Alexandria, Alpha orders Daryl at gunpoint to come with her, alone. In a scene straight from the comics, Alpha shows him the giant horde of walkers she’s amassed. “The only reason you and your friends are alive is because I let you live,” she says.
Alpha assures Daryl that his friends in her camp are fine, but the next time their people cross into her land, her horde will cross into theirs. She tells them she has marked the border of her territory, and that they’ll see it as they leave. Daryl asks her if she killed Lydia, and Alpha remembers how Lydia refused to return to the Whisperers at the fair.
Heads on Pikes
Daryl meets the rest of his group in a field, where Alpha said they would be. He shares happy reunions with Carol and Michonne, but that relief evaporates when they find a terrified Siddiq tied to a tree. Michonne frees him, but he points out into a clearing — a clearing where there are zombified heads on pikes.
The group approaches the pikes and, much to their horror, discover those heads belong to people they knew: people who were in attendance at the fair. They first see a couple of the Highwaymen, then DJ, Frankie, then Tammy Rose, then Addy and Rodney, then Enid, then Tara, then last — and most horrifyingly — Henry.
Daryl runs to Carol and turns her away from the pikes, grabbing her by the shoulders. “Just look at me,” he tells her. “Just look at me.” He holds her as she starts to cry.
A Story to Remember
In the aftermath of the horror, Siddiq stands on the podium at Kingdom and gives a speech about what happened. He tells the assembled group about how the Highwaymen found Alpha’s victims in a barn and freed them, and even though they were eventually overwhelmed, they all fought back against the Whisperers together.
“So we have to keep going,” Siddiq says. “For them, and for all of us. We need to honor them. We need to honor them, and we need to remember these friends, our family, died as heroes. That’s the story that I want to tell you. That’s the story I want us all to remember.”
The episode ends with Lydia and Daryl going to the field where the empty pikes still stand. Lydia places her Hilltop necklace by Henry’s, and snow begins to fall.
- This is the first episode of The Walking Dead since “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” that actually made me sick to my stomach. The pikes were gruesome, and the impact these deaths will have on each community will be profound. Bear McCreary’s music for that scene was, as always, fantastic.
- Kudos to Angela Kang for not making this a finale cliffhanger. I was worried we’d get the pikes at the very end of episode 16, but this way, the characters have one more installment to process the losses and make a plan to fight back. This is the most excited for a finale I’ve been in a long time.
- I’m not a fan of the decision to kill off Henry. This is pretty repetitive storytelling for Carol’s character, who has already lost an abundance of children over the seasons (Sophia, Lizzie and Mika, Sam). And what was the point of bringing in Henry to replace Carl, only to kill him later?
- Who’s going to lead Hilltop now? They’ve lost two leaders in a very short period of time. This would be a great way to re-introduce Maggie, but it’ll remain to be seen whether Lauren Cohan’s schedule allows her to return.
The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC