The “party,” of course, being “outright war with the Whisperers.” But while Carol and Daryl set out to do some simple recon (or so it seems), Negan has his own, bombastic, incredibly entertaining plans to get intel on their current foes. What none of them realize, unfortunately, is that the Whisperers secretly began the war a while ago, and they’re already winning.
“Bonds” begins with Carol setting out of Alexandria on her own, but when Daryl sees her leave he rushes to join her. Carol says she’s going to find Negan, and when Daryl stares at her suspiciously, she admits her real goal is to find Alpha’s mega-zombie herd in hopes of figuring out some way to stop it…while staying safely in Alexandrian territory. Daryl agrees but remains suspicious. Eventually, the two come across a field where Whisperers are “gathering” zombies to form small herds, which can then be added to the Zombie Bomb (or sent as one of the hourly waves of undead that keep attacking the various colonies).
Carol, still claiming that finding the Zombie Bomb is her only goal, wants to follow the mini-herd into Whisperer territory. Daryl reluctantly agrees as long as they aren’t seen and don’t kill anybody, Walker or otherwise, because then Alpha will know the Alexandrians have crossed into Whisperer territory again, and none of the colonies are ready for the retribution Alpha would wreak upon them in retaliation. Once there, Carol unfortunately—and very uncharacteristically—snaps a twig, drawing the attention of Walkers and Whisperers. Carol and Daryl get separated in their attempts to avoid capture/being eaten alive, and Daryl is forced to kill a few to escape.
That should certainly have been enough to get the attention of the Whisperers on its own, but it isn’t. When Daryl reunites with Carol, she’s captured and bound to someone with a zip-tie—a Whisperer they can bring back to Alexandria to interrogate—and Daryl realizes that this was her true goal all along. But will they get any useful information out of the guy? And what will be the price they and the rest of Alexandria pay for it?
Negan’s going to know before they do, as he has been brought fully into the Whisperer camp after they captured him last week. Negan is, of course, a huge yet extremely charismatic asshole, but hearing him pull his shit on the very uncharismatic assholes that make up the Whisperers is glorious. Beta nearly kills Negan just to shut him up, but the ex-Savior reminds him of all the info he has about his former captors at Alexandria. To Beta’s immense frustration, Alpha is intrigued by their sassy prisoner and tells her second-in-command to test Negan. When an irate Beta starts questioning her—something, she points out, seems to be happening more and more regularly—she asks if Beta is ready to challenge her to take her place. Beta caves, kneeling in front of her, while Negan watches and grins.
As it turns out, the Whisperer test is much less deadly than you might suppose. Sure, it’s somewhat deadly, but it starts with his digging a pit, killing a large boar and helping put it in the pit, and then burying it to make a Hawaiian-style pig roast. Helping make dinner while learning how to skin zombies is a lot of work but it feels far too easy—until Beta, while showing Negan how to walk among the dead (and getting increasingly furious with Negan’s constant conversation and egotism), riles up more than a dozen zombies and then abandons his chatty companion to get eaten alive.
Back in the Whisperer camp, Beta tells a disappointed Alpha that Negan was too weak to join them. This, of course, is exactly when Negan saunters back into camp with a swagger as gigantic as the Zombie Bomb. Honestly, after surviving Beta’s impressively deadly trap, he’s earned it. “I’m ready for my goddamn skin-suit!” announces Negan loudly, which his trademark shit-eating grin. “And you’d best bring that extra-long tape measure on account of my humongous balls.” Negan then walks right up to Alpha and not only pledges his complete loyalty, he kneels in front of her while a beyond-infuriated Beta is forced to watch.
Negan’s machismo and assholery can be hit or miss; sometimes it’s entertaining as hell, while other times it’s just obnoxious and/or pitiful posturing. While not every line is a winner—the phrase “Beta with benefits” was the low point for me—watching Negan enter the bleak, silent, horrific world of the Whisperers and give all his captors merciless shit is so immensely satisfying. It takes the Whisperers down a peg to see the peons get overwhelmed by Negan’s egocentric Alpha Male personality, just as they submit to their actual Alpha. Hell, just hearing Negan constantly refuse to keep his voice down was a delight. It’s a hilarious fish-out-of-water comedy that promises to end in horrific death and graphic violence at any moment.
There’s still no way that Negan has legitimately joined the Whisperers unless something has gone horribly wrong in The Walking Dead writers’ room. Negan’s been driving down his Road to Redemption for a full year now, and despite the character’s claims to the contrary, Negan clearly doesn’t have the disposition to wear a mask made of human skin and trudge quietly about. But there’s a new reason to suspect Negan’s still on the side of the angels. The colonists have now repeatedly riled up an overwhelmingly powerful foe; if they want any chance of surviving this war, it won’t be a random hostage that saves them. It’ll be by having a secret ally who can secretly sabotage the Whisperers’ assault from the inside.
Meanwhile, the lesser two story arcs on “Bonds” move more slowly, but they still may have some interesting ramifications for the future. In Alexandria, what seems like a simple stomach bug begins sweeping its way through the town’s inhabitants, and ends up looking like a full-scale epidemic. Siddiq tries to help his partner Dante, but this gets complicated when Siddiq discovers his PTSD has started making him sleepwalk—by waking up on top of the windmill, and, more terrifyingly, holding his baby. Meanwhile, Eugene uses his Russian satellite-augmented radio set to find an entirely new survivor—and suddenly realizes he has no idea what can of worms he may have opened. The woman certainly seems nice and is the one who suggests (wisely) they don’t trade information about their locations…but she also asks Eugene to keep their contact a secret, which feels a bit ominous.
I would guess that the radio is the seed of a future plot for the show—the Whisperers certainly don’t seem to have any interest in communication devices—and I feel very confident the illness in Alexandria is a result of those zombie guts Gamma was pushing into the creek last week (and she was presumably one of many doing the same). Now that Carol has broken the treaty yet again and grabbed a hostage, Alpha will almost certainly mass her Whisperers and zombies to directly attack the colonies—colonies that have already been facing constant streams of zombies and are already exhausted. Colonies that have had major accidents injure its residents, or are getting ill from unknowingly drinking tainted creek water.
The Whisperer War is about to begin in earnest, but Alpha has already been waging a quiet, secret campaign against the colonies for quite some time, continually weakening them. Even if the colonies were at full strength—which they very much aren’t—it seems doubtful that they’d be prepared to face what’s coming.
Happily, The Walking Dead does seem prepared for what’s coming. Based on the efficiency of storytelling since season nine, it appears the show has learned its lessons from the dull, interminable war between Alexandria and the Saviors in seasons six, seven, and eight. This time, the stakes are much, much higher. The enemy is much more powerful (and interesting). And despite the small amount of padding in this episode, the show looks poised to give us a war that won’t bore us to tears. However, even if The Walking Dead somehow manages to screw this all up, at least we’ll have the joy of seeing Negan mess with the Whisperers solely by being there. Well, at least until Beta murders him.
- Yes, Aaron did see Gamma push zombie guts into the creek last episode, but that doesn’t mean he realized what was happening. He certainly doesn’t know it’s the water making people sick, since Alexandria’s two doctors currently think it’s some kind of virus. But I’m sure they’ll solve this puzzle shortly.
- Dear Walking Dead: Please stop showing us scenes of Eugene and Rosita. They are not the Ross and Rachel of the zombie apocalypse, and if you want them to be, knock it off.
- I hate to admit I chuckled when Negan realized the sheet of human flesh he cut off was much smaller than Beta’s strip of flesh. It’s such a dumb, tired joke and dick-measuring, but Jeffrey Dean Morgan just sells Negan’s facial expressions perfectly. Of course, the fact that they’re comparing sheets of human flesh does make a scene a tiny bit more absurd than usual.
- Dr. Dante teases his elderly patient Cheryl that she’s getting sick just to see him, and telling her he thinks they’d make a great couple. It feels a little creepy, but Cheryl does have the perfect reply: “Son, I would break you like a twig.” Cheryl fucks, you guys.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.