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Spoiler warning for anyone who hasn't yet watched The Walking Dead's Season 8 finale, titled "Wrath."
For all that the latest Walking Dead finale wrapped up its various plot threads, such as the All Out war's ending and Dwight's exile, several future storylines were only hinted at, from Negan's recovery process to Maggie's newly enraged sense of vengeance. Perhaps the most intriguing tease was that super-massive herd of walkers, which Rick noted was larger than any they'd seen before. Comic fans immediately latched onto the idea that this was the show's first true reference to the source material's big villains, The Whisperers, but here's what executive producer and finale director Greg Nicotero said about that.
I think the intent with that was to show that if they continue fighting amongst themselves, there will be nothing left to survive. So it wasn't necessarily a reference to the Whisperers. It was more a reference to that there's still an enemy out there, and it's a common enemy, which is the army of the undead.
For those who are unfamiliar, The Whisperers are the deadly group that showed up following the comic book's post-War time jump. Their main gimmick involves its members wearing walker skins as if they are full-bodied costumes, making them blend into big herds like this, and allowing them to travel largely undetected. "Wrath" really only directly referred to the giant zombie pack during that one scene, and while we're taking Greg Nicotero's words to EW at face value, isn't it too peculiar a thing for that herd to show up merely as a vague warning to Rick's crew that in-fighting is bad? Especially considering every giant walker swarm has stood for that same thing in the past, from the Alexandria breach to Negan and Gabriel's gut-covered escape.
Not that we'd expect Greg Nicotero to up and spoil any major Season 9 villain points already, but we can't help but feel like there's something more to this. If the TV show does indeed use The Whisperers in live-action -- which isn't guaranteed, but also isn't unlikely -- then it's hard to believe that they would co-exist in a world with this giant herd without being a part of it. Those are just bad odds.
No longer the showrunner for The Walking Dead, Scott Gimple will still oversee the entire franchise, and he had a similar and much less wordy explanation for what the herd meant. But somehow, his answer to EW still comes across as slightly more optimistic for fans hoping to see those wild villains. When asked if the herd was intentionally hinting at the Whisperers, Gimple said this:
If it was, it was subliminal. It very much had to do with the world they live in now.
Interestingly, The Walking Dead has featured several moments in past episodes that have seemingly nodded to the Whisperers' existence. From that one Savior bringing up heads on spikes to Ezekiel to those walkers with the skin ripped from their bodies, the foundation for Whisperer havoc has been lightly spread about, and the finale may have also thrown in another visual clue or two. Remember those posts in the field where the War's final "battle" took place?
Surely, those could just be normal fence stakes where the fence itself had long been removed. Or, those posts could refer to how the Comic Whisperers mark their territory to keep outsiders and intruders away. The fact that there are other fences and things in the field-filled setting makes this guess a bit more flimsy, but it feels absolutely intentional for those particular lone posts above to be seen in the exact same shot with the walker herd in the background. I'd bet a closet full of snappy walker-skin blazers that we'll see the Whisperers in the first half of Season 9.
The Walking Dead Season 8 is no more, and Season 9 won't be around until the fall season. So in the meantime, check out Fear the Walking Dead Season 4 and its new characters on AMC every Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. ET. And then head to our midseason premiere schedule and our summer premiere schedule to see all the new and returning shows on the way.