This Walking Dead article contains spoilers.
The 12th episode of The Walking Dead season 10, titled “Walk With Us,” opens with a riveting and apocalyptic battle sequence that ends way too quickly. It’s a five-minute scene in which everything in the settlement is on fire, including the mansion at its center. Fast cuts of Daryl, Carol, Ezekiel, Rosita, Aaron, Yumiko, Eugene, Lydia, and more fighting off the walker horde with archaic weapons drive the scene toward its inevitable conclusion –the Hilltop won’t survive this Whisperer assault. The heroes must abandon their home.
The beautifully-shot fall of the Hilltop ranks among director Greg Nicotero’s very best contributions to the series. Set at night in a backdrop of bright flames, it plays like The Walking Dead‘s own version of “The Long Night.” It’s a shame that AMC didn’t give the show the budget to stretch this battle to a half-hour or perhaps an entire episode, but there’s no denying showrunner Angela Kang found a sweet spot with season 10’s best action sequence.
Surprisingly, while it brings plenty of destruction, all of the characters in the battle escape intact. It’s a bit of a disappointment that even a battle this big can’t pierce the plot armor protecting heroes like Daryl and Carol — not that I ever want them to die. Far from it. And we soon discover that Kang and writers Eli Jorne and Nicole Mirante-Matthews are just biding their time. After all, the battle sparks a chain reaction that leads to THREE deaths later in the episode, including one of the biggest in the series to date.
Let’s break down the deaths of “Walk With Us” and how they will affect the season going forward:
The Hilltop’s blacksmith saves the day when Ezekiel becomes incapacitated and is unable to lead the community’s children to safety. It’s Earl (John Finn) who finds Judith after Ezekiel loses her in the cloud of smoke enveloping the settlement. He takes the kids to a safe house in the woods, the rendezvous point where he hopes the other survivors will find them before the Whisperers and their walkers do.
But, as Judith discovers later, by saving the children, Earl has made this his final sacrifice for the community he loves. It’s revealed that the blacksmith has been bitten in the arm, and the time to sever the limb to stop the infection has come and gone. He knows there’s only one thing left to do.
Kang and the writers come up with a particularly grisly death for Earl — one worthy of his life-long profession — as he hammers a sharp nail into a table and smashes his head into it, driving the nail through his eye socket and skull. But in true Walking Dead fashion, Earl rises for one more scare and Judith is forced to put him down for good with Michonne’s sword.
Earl’s sad death is actually a hopeful one for the character. By sacrificing himself to save the children, Earl is finally able to do what he couldn’t for his son Kenneth and his wife Tammy Rose, both of whom were killed last season — Tammy in particularly gruesome fashion. In the final moments of his life, Earl knows that he’s served a purpose worth more than his own life. That’s about as “good” a death as anyone can get on The Walking Dead, and resembles Rick’s own epic “demise” to save his family.
We always knew the Whisperer formerly known as Gamma (Thora Birch) was not long for this world. You can’t kill your own sister and hope to live in this cruel world of cause and effect. But Mary is redeemed a bit before the end, sacrificing herself in order to save Alden, Kelly, and her little nephew Adam, the baby she’d previously abandoned in a field and later made an orphan. Mary gets to hold the baby one final time before her death, and some might even say that was too good for the former Whisperer, but at least we see her humanity return in these moments.
After locking Adam and the others in a van, Mary leads a group of walkers away, taking them down one by one. But just as we’re beginning to think Mary might survive the ordeal, Beta appears to punish her for her betrayal. The fight is barely a fight, as the hulking Whisperer carves up her abdomen, letting her die and turn into a walker. (Beta decides that Gamma will walk with the Whisperers alive or dead.)
It’s only thanks to an act of kindness that Mary is able to escape her fate as a walking corpse. Alden shoots an arrow through her skull, ending her life once and for all.
Fans of The Walking Dead comic book always knew this day would come. And with almost two seasons-worth of episodes as the show’s main antagonist, Alpha’s (Samantha Morton) days were certainly numbered. The leader of the Whisperers dies at the hands of Negan, who slits her throat and cuts off her head, much like he did in the comics.
In Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s comic, Negan kills Alpha in order to gain the trust of Rick and the rest of the communities during the Whisperer War. But unlike on the show, he isn’t ordered to infiltrate Alpha’s group by anyone and he doesn’t seduce the Whisperer leader in the process. Instead, it’s witnessing an attempted rape — which is allowed in Whisperer culture — and Alpha admitting that she let her followers sexually assault her own daughter that sends Negan over the edge.
Fortunately, the TV series spares us the more grotesque aspects of Whisperer life, giving Negan’s “betrayal” a bit more nuance in the process. Earlier in the season, we’re led to believe that Negan had defected to the Whisperers in order to escape his execution after killing Margo while defending Lydia from attackers in Alexandria. He tries to fit into the Whisperer way of life and ingratiate himself with Alpha, which is seemingly how Negan thinks he’ll survive in the wild. But there’s way more to Negan’s motives than meets the eye.
The final minutes of “Walk With Us” paints the complete picture: it’s Carol who freed Negan from Alexandria and sent him to the Whisperer camp to kill Alpha and bring back her head. This was the Queen’s plan all along.
Whether Negan seducing Alpha was part of the plan is questionable, but Carol knew that charming, manipulative Negan could get close to the Whisperer leader — close enough to land a killing blow without her expecting it. There were also other inciting factors that pushed the former Savior to betray the Whisperer. Negan has his own version of a moral code (believe it or not), and while he’s cool with forcing multiple women into “marrying” him at the Sanctuary, he absolutely abhors rape and violence against children. This is why he killed the Savior who tried to rape Sasha and why he spared Carl in season 7 (although he later tried to brain the young Grimes to punish Rick).
While it’s Alpha’s encouraged rape culture that finally convinces Negan that the time is right to pull the plug on the Whisperer leader in the comics, the TV version of this scene plays with cringey sexual tension (they share one last awful kiss), as Negan leads Alpha to Lydia, whom he’s locked in a cabin but not the one her mother thinks. Negan says he’s captured Lydia for Alpha but he’s really done it to protect the young woman from her mother. After all, Alpha plans to let a walker feed on Lydia in a twisted ritual that she believes will fulfill her daughter’s destiny. But Negan won’t condone the murder of a child — not to mention that he’d already sacrificed his freedom once to protect Lydia — and tells Alpha that her beliefs are bullshit.
It’s no surprise, then, that when Alpha enters the cabin, it’s empty and her throat is cut open by her beau. Lydia, meanwhile, finds herself in a different cabin far from her mother and safe from harm. Alpha dies in Negan’s arm. One has to wonder if Negan actually developed any feelings for the creepy cult leader or at least pities her as she passes. Either way, he cuts off her head and tosses it at Carol’s feet. The Queen simply remarks, “Took you long enough.”
Here’s a scheme worthy of the very best moments in Game of Thrones, as we learn that Carol has been pulling the strings against Alpha the whole time while distracting her minions elsewhere. Of course, she almost got Magna killed and later did get a bunch of people in the Hilltop murdered in order to keep Alpha busy while Negan made his move. Was Lydia crossing the border back to her mother also part of Carol’s plan? She was the one who used Lydia to show Gamma the truth about Alpha, after all. Was she just creating a situation with which to send Lydia packing just to fuck with Alpha?
Perhaps some of this stuff was just a coincidence, but Carol has gone to great lengths in the past to get her way. Could she have masterminded the events of the last few episodes to avenge her son’s death? However deep this particular rabbit hole goes, we know that, at least for now, our Queen is victorious.