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Spoilers below for The Walking Dead's Season 9 winter finale, so be sure to watch that crazy episode before reading on.
It's true that The Walking Dead's midway point in Season 9 was quite a depressing one, with fan-favorite hero Jesus getting killed off. However, it was also a celebratory affair since it officially introduced the live-action Whisperers as the latest deadly comic-to-TV threat. Speaking with showrunner Angela Kang ahead of the episode, I asked if fans could "stake" their hopes on The Whisperers' most iconic comic act getting adapted for AMC. Here's her answer:
There will definitely be some iconic moments coming up, though things may play out not quite as expected. We're always kind of like trying to find new ways to twist and turn things. But yeah, the group definitely has some memorable actions that they take. So that's part of the story.
Considering how The Walking Dead has already changed up several of the details involved with The Whisperers' arrival, it wouldn't be too surprising to learn that Angela Kang and the writers figured out a slightly different way to represent the awe-striking monstrousness that the Whisperers' various members are capable of. We should probably get into the details before going on.
Spoilers for this arc of the Walking Dead comics are noted below, so be warned.
In the source material, The Whisperers cement themselves as unforgettable villains by murdering a bunch of the various communities' protagonists and impaling their decapitated heads on spikes to mark the borders around the group's so-called settlement. Several A-list characters were sprinkled among some lesser-known survivors, such as Ezekiel and Rosita, making it one of the most shockingly deadly acts in the comics' entire run. (Glenn's death probably still takes top honors for most.)
It was a crazy reveal that Robert Kirkman might have conceived while thinking the TV show would never be able to properly adapt it, similar to how he felt when he introduced Ezekiel's tiger Shiva and other elements. However, The Walking Dead has proven itself capable of bringing any comic book event that fits the TV narrative, so it's not at all out of the question for fans to be worried dearly about a handful of well-established characters.
Interestingly, the live-action series even seems to be setting the same characters up to fall prey to The Whisperers. For instance, Ezekiel has evolved beyond theatrics to become a confident leader within The Kingdom, he's happily married to Carol, and he's also the non-biological father to now-teen Henry. There may not be a more optimal time to kill a character off than when they're winning at life in every other respect, so be prepared for Ezekiel to fall.
Similarly, Rosita was revealed to be in a romantic relationship with Father Gabriel in the same episode where Eugene came close to confessing his own desires for Rosita. She was physically and emotionally jarred by the Whisperers' arrival, and Father Gabriel stressed when he learned she was hurt. This isn't quite set-up that Ezekiel got, but Rosita still makes sense as one of the Whisperers' victims. (Hopefully she's not pregnant like she was in the comics, though, because ugh.)
We'd previously suspected we might see The Walking Dead taking on The Whisperers' mass-murder efforts whenever it was revealed that Season 9's reworked opening title sequence featured a shot of heads impaled on sticks. That shot wasn't added into the final version that aired during Season 9 episodes so far, but it's possible the visual could be inserted later, after The Whisperers continue to do their damage in live-action.
I always imagine it to be a big catch-22 situation whenever The Walking Dead's creative team comes upon highly memorable comic book moments. One impulse would drive the writers to adapt things as closely as possible, respecting Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's finely crafted panels. Another impulse would be to subvert comic fans' expectations by turning moments around with unexpected changes. Considering just about every shared situation between the show and comics has earned both praise and derision, there's likely not a perfect balance.
To that end, comic fans are also wondering what's up with the newly freed Negan, whose cell door was left unlocked. Negan does make a grand escape in the comics thanks to a dipshit Alexandrian, but it wasn't the first time he had the chance. During an earlier predicament, Negan chose to remained jailed to prove to Rick that he could be trusted. But with Rick no longer around in the live-action narrative, Negan's story seems destined to get changed up.
When I asked Angela Kang whether or not the TV show would be bypassing Negan's comic attempt to demonstrate his rehabilitation, here's what she told me.
I think because we've done different time jobs and we do have a different array of characters, that story of escape will play out in its own way unique to the show. But, you know, it is something that will tip off the start of a longer story for Negan as a whole. We'll see quite a bit of what happens in the first episode back after the break in airing. And I think Jeffrey, as Negan, just does some really great work. And I know that he was really excited to be out of the cell, and so that was fun for us to see that, finally.
In the comics, Negan's post-jail story puts him up close and personal with Alpha, Beta and other Whisperers, so it's possible he might even find himself among the antagonistic group's beheaded victims. Considering his story also circles back around to feature an important moment with Maggie, who is no longer a TV staple, it would make a lot of sense for Negan's arcs to get shifted around to match all the other elements.
Do you guys think The Walking Dead's TV show is ready to deliver such a deadly act like this? Or do you think AMC's version of The Whisperers will make a completely different, if equally horrific, mark on Alexandria, the Hilltop and the Kingdom? Hard to think of something more horrific than beloved characters' heads resembling meatball appetizers on toothpicks, but it's potentially possible.
We're going to have a while to wait to see how Angela Kang & Co. decided to tackle The Whisperers' most vicious act, with The Walking Dead not set to return to AMC until Sunday, February 10. While waiting, our fall TV schedule and midseason premiere guide will clue everyone in on what else to expect in primetime for the next few months.