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SPOILERS! SPOILERS! Given this episode is one of the deadliest on record for familiar characters, be sure you’ve watched “The Calm Before” ahead of reading this article.
Just in case any viewers had the slightest hint of an impulse to doubt how unabashedly evil Alpha is, The Walking Dead’s penultimate Season 9 episode eviscerated such contrarian ideas. Alpha used the Kingdom’s big fair to prove she’s as far removed from the morals and standards of humanity as any prior Walking Dead villains, bringing to live-action one of the most shocking and heartbreaking reveals from Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s Walking Dead comics.
The troubled TV protagonists discovered just how limitless Alpha’s thirst for dominance is, with a whopping TEN CHARACTERS getting decapitated, with their disembodied heads lined up on stakes to mark a territorial border. Combine that with the gigantic zombie horde Alpha revealed to Daryl, and the future doesn’t look any brighter for anyone. Let’s run down all the newly deceased characters as they were revealed in the episode. (Note we left out that random Whisperer that got stabbed just for seeing Alpha cry.)
The Highwaymen's Ozzy and Alek
Honestly, I’m still not fully aware what the thought process was behind introducing the marauding Highwaymen in Season 9, considering they weren’t really villains and they weren’t really good guys. In any case, the group is now two members lighter than it used to be, with Angus Sampson’s Ozzy and Jason Kirkpatrick’s Alek already getting killed off after appearing in just two episodes.
As underserved as the characters were, I appreciate Siddiq’s story addressing that Ozzy and Alek did indeed try to save the others from their Whisperer captives, killing off quite a few skin-heads before Alpha and Beta arrived and re-tipped the scales. Is this it for The Highwaymen now, or will the other eleven members come out of the woodwork to avenge their friends' deaths? Will we see any surprising faces among them if that happens?
Speaking of somewhat villainous characters who also showed signs of positive-minded virtue, Matt Mangum’s Alexandrian D.J. also got his head lopped off by the Whisperers. Introduced in Season 8 as one of Negan's higher-ranking Saviors, D.J. later fell under Jed’s leadership after Negan was captured. Once Jed was killed by Carol, D.J. opted to become loyal to Alexandria, where he served as a gate guard.
D.J. was part of the group that went off to protect the Hilltop from the Whisperers, which also included Kal, Oscar, Magna and others. Curiously, though, D.J. was the only one shown to have gotten decapitated, which inspires questions about how he got separated from the rest, and whether or not their trip was successful. Given his history, maybe he tried defecting to join the Whisperers and was then killed for his efforts, Spencer-style; or maybe not.
Another former antagonist that embraced the Team Family lifestyle once Negan was defeated, Elyse DuFour’s Frankie had spent these most recent years as a dutiful member of Alexandria. She’d even adopted a child, which was one of the kids that Jocelyn had kidnapped during the events seen in “Scars.” Sadly, that little girl will once again be without a mother.
Frankie was seen inside the Kingdom in “The Calm Before,” having made the trip for the fair. Seemingly meeting for the first time, she and Henry had a non-ominous interaction as he was trying to find Lydia. It’s not clear how she was lured away from the festivities, but I guess it’s not worth all that much discussion, since she’s definitely dead now.
When Brett Butler joined The Walking Dead as the vocal matriarch Tammy Rose, it marked one of the most intriguing casting choices within this multi-series universe. Sadly, Tammy Rose and her various head-coverings didn’t get to shine in the limelight very often before she was brutally murdered by Alpha and her ilk.
Little mystery encircles Tammy Rose’s death, as Alpha was seen eavesdropping on her and Earl discussing the name of their still-new child. (There's likely some symbolism to be found tying their talk of first-man Adam to Alpha.) Speaking to Brett Butler’s career as a stand-up comedian, Tammy Rose did get to leave audiences laughing, jokingly teasing her husband about possibly being an asshole back in his school days. Poor Earl, and poor Tammy Rose.
Rodney and Addy
In rare form, The Walking Dead wisely got rid of two annoying younger characters by killing off Rodney and Addy, two of the Hilltop teens who spent their free time fucking with Henry's existence. The biggest tragedy here is that Jackson Pace’s quasi-ringleader Gage wasn't also beheaded alongside them.
Unlike how it went with some other characters, though, Joe Ando Hirsh’s Rodney and Kelley Mack’s Addy sorta earned their deaths in “The Calm Before.” At one point when Addy apologized (yeah right) to Henry for ratting him and Lydia out, Gage and Rodney stoked Lydia's jealousy by half-falsely claiming Henry and Addy had the hots for each other. But with that coupling now altogether impossible, it better not mean that Lydia and Gage start hooking up at any point.
Katelyn Nacon’s Enid was the first of the two lead characters whose super-depressing deaths were revealed, and it was a legitimate jaw-dropper. Having first been introduced as a mopey, 15-year-old orphan with a unique interest in turtles back in Season 5, Enid reversed nearly all of her surliness after Carl’s death by becoming a beacon of hope and medical assistance within Hilltop. Of course, anything blissful is almost always a presage of far more melancholy and/or hostile situations.
To that end, Enid and Alden happily solidified their relationship as boyfriend and girlfriend in “The Calm Before,” and she convinced him to join Luke on stage at the fair for a musical performance. Of course, she wasn’t able to watch them belting out The Temptations’ “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” because she at some point became one of Alpha’s next victims. At least she did find happiness, though, which is something Carl had wanted for her.
The zombified head of Alanna Masterson’s Tara might have actually been the biggest shock of the bunch for me in the moment. Of course, a quick reflection on things made it easier to see the set-up. For one, Michonne directly referenced Tara’s series roots as part of The Governor’s group. As well, Tara was extremely antsy to return to Hilltop, even against others’ contrasting advice, so that she would look like a more dependable leader to Hilltop’s residents. Such behavior generally spells doom in this world.
Arguably the biggest reason Tara died, though, goes back to the comics. Ezekiel got his head staked in the source material, so a major community leader similarly needed to die here, though not one that readers expected. Alexandria’s council head Father Gabriel has more love triangle drama to get through, though, and zero audience members would have blinked if Rachel Ward would have been killed so soon after she was revealed to be still alive and leading Oceanside. Alas, only Tara was left to take the fall.
Wowzers, wowzers, wowzers. As already evidenced somewhat by Rodney and Addy’s disembodied heads, Alpha used this massacre to once again prove both her general ruthlessness and her specific distaste for non-adults. Had Lydia cut ties with Alpha with less animosity and fewer empty threats, perhaps the Whisperer leader might have spared her daughter’s new love Henry. Alas, a spurned mother’s vengeance is nothing if not resounding and cataclysmal.
Not exactly a fan-favorite on The Walking Dead by any stretch, Matt Lintz’s teenaged Henry still seemed destined for longer-term survival as a way for the TV series to continue adapting Carl Grimes’ still-ongoing comic book storylines. Especially now that Lydia is a full-blown citizen of Hilltop. Of course, it’s highly possible that all of these deaths will once again convince everyone to kick Lydia to the curb, which may go down if Daryl isn’t in her corner anymore.
Honorable Mentions: Hilde and Miles
Weirdly, the cold open for “The Calm Before” introduced a pair of new and short-lived characters, Brian Sheppard’s Miles and Caroline Duncan’s Hilde. Basically, viewers got a time-lapsed capsule of the couple's introduction to Hilltop (on their wedding anniversary) and their happy years in the community prior to the fair. Hilde hoped to use the occasion to pass around the many wood-carved “H” keepsakes that she’d hand-crafted, but those hopes were for naught. I bet they sell they become licensed merchandise before too long.
Miles and Hilde’s glee was cut short by Alpha, who killed them and stole the woman’s clothing as a disguise for walking around The Kingdom's fair. It looks like Hilde’s artistic efforts weren’t all in vain, though. While standing at Henry’s head stake in the final moments, Lydia leaves behind one “H” carving that had been turned into a necklace, so it would appear someone picked up the others from where they’d spilled onto the ground. Probably not the bloody ones, though.
My hole-ridden Henry voodoo doll may have ultimately had a sub-minimal impact on the character’s fate, but it was still worth it in the end. Next week should be quite interesting, to see how the community's surviving leaders choose to react to this violent message. Also, to see what's up with those snowflakes that were falling there in the final seconds.
It’s not yet the end of The Walking Dead Season 9, either, with “The Storm” yet to close out showrunner Angela Kang’s first year at the series’ helm. The finale will air on AMC on Sunday, March 31, at 8:00 p.m. ET.