This Walking Dead article contains major spoilers.
You probably weren’t expecting The Walking Dead season 9 to end with a snowball fight, but the finale’s true power is in the cathartic winter wonderland of those final minutes. Winter has always had a cleansing quality to it and “The Storm” is all about fresh starts. After losing 10 family members at the Kingdom’s first and likely only multi-community fare, including Enid, Tara, and Prince Henry, the remaining survivors deserve a win and the storm allows them to rally together and earn one.
Not everyone gets a happy ending in “The Storm,” of course. For King Ezekiel, the fantasy seems to be over, as he’s forced to abandon his dilapidated Kingdom and live in the Hilltop (“Kingtop,” the wonderful Jerry suggests) without his queen. Even the fair wasn’t enough to save the Kingdom — in reality, a series of old school buildings surrounded by a wall — or maybe it was the final nail in the coffin. Early in the episode, Ezekiel hints to Daryl that the months since Henry’s death had been tough for the king and queen, and it’s easy to imagine that the weight of the loss made it more difficult to save the settlement.
In reality, the Kingdom’s exodus is an efficient way of focusing the show further on Alexandria and the Hilltop. The Kingdom was always the least fleshed out settlement on The Walking Dead, and season nine’s particular interest in Alexandria and Hilltop didn’t really help matters much. While the big time jump episode, “Who Are You Now?” mentions the fact that Kingdom’s infrastructure is not long for this world, this storyline takes a backseat to Daryl and Henry’s adventures in Hilltop for the rest of the season.
Taking Kingdom off the chessboard, at least for a little while, should allow the much more interesting storylines in Hilltop and Alexandria to continue to develop. And Jerry’s “Kingtop” comment might mean that the King is taking over Hilltop in the wake of Tara’s death. I thought Daryl would be the one to step up and lead Hilltop, but judging from the smile on his face as he throws snowballs at RJ and Judith in Alexandria, he’ll be sticking around his old home for a while. With Michonne leaving in season 10, I assume he’ll become a permanent resident.
Ironically, a return to Alexandria also offers Carol a chance to escape the fantasy of the last six years. That she runs to the home she once abandoned in the wake of Rick’s war with Negan is a reminder of a painful loop for the character, one mired with loss and crises of faith. While the “fairy tale” of the Kingdom and its king is over, the loss of yet another child continues to haunt her (it’s only been a few months!!). But there’s hope for the former queen.
Instead of closing herself off to others, as she’s done in the past, we see her throwing snowballs along with Daryl and Michonne, meaning that in the cold of winter she may still embrace the warmth of community. And let’s not forget that she saves Lydia TWICE in the finale. How lovely is it that it’s Carol who stops Lydia from killing herself in the same manner that Carol did in the comics? (In issue #42, comic book Carol feeds herself to a walker in the prison.) Carol can’t help but get close to kids, and it’s likely that she’ll have some sort of relationship with the former Whisperer next year.
Negan’s (limited) journey through season nine comes full circle in “The Storm.” He ends the season right where his captivity in the season eight finale began: in a bed recovering from an injury, but for completely different reasons. While the storm presents the best opportunity to put down the former villain once and for all (Rosita even jokes about it), it’s Negan himself who puts his life on the line in order to save Judith Grimes. That he braves the dangerous blizzard for the daughter of his archenemy must be the start of some sort of redemption for Negan, even if his crimes far outweigh this one good deed. Still, Michonne rewards him with a conversation and even a thank you.
Should we believe that Negan has fully turned to the side of good? I don’t think I’m quite there yet, but he certainly has a soft spot for Judith, who is by far the best addition to the cast this season. Seriously, bravo to Cailey Fleming for picking up the torch from Chandler Riggs as the heir apparent of the Grimes family. She absolutely killed it this season.
Meanwhile, Kingdom’s exodus to Hilltop feels claustrophobic for much of the episode’s runtime, especially when the group is forced to cross into the Whisperers’ territory, although we learn later that there was no threat lying in wait at all — well, besides the walkers popping out of the snow, of course. The characters reminisce about Rick’s bridge, which would have made their journey a bit easier, and it’s a nice bit of closure to the storyline that tied the first five episodes of the season together. Basically, Kingdom and the abandoned Sanctuary fell because that bridge between communities was never built. On the other hand, the metaphorical bridge between these characters is stronger now than it’s ever been, and as Michonne says, they will never risk the bridge crashing down ever again.
The journey ends up being a cathartic one and it’s also surprisingly Whisperer-free. The final minutes of the episode reveal that Alpha, Beta, and the rest of the Whisperers sought shelter elsewhere during the storm, meaning they weren’t around during the Kingdom’s migration to Hilltop. But now Alpha is back and ready for the next step in her plan to rid the new world of civilization. I suspect her plan will lead to the bloody Whisperer War from the comics, which we wrote quite a bit more about here. Expect a very violent season 10, basically.
But that’s not all season 10 will be about. The final seconds of “The Storm” provides the most riveting teaser yet that there’s a much bigger world lying in wait beyond the Virginia communities. As Ezekiel exits the scene after offering little Judith a few hopeful words through long-range radio, we hear the crackle of another voice asking, “Is there anybody out there?” While we went into much more detail about the radio here, this final moment, along with the helicopter that evacuated an injured Rick in the first half of the season, seems to point at yet another settlement from the comics slowly making its way into the show.
Might the survivors finally make contact with the Commonwealth in season 10? More importantly, is this where Michonne will be off to when she makes her exit from the series next year? We’ll find out soon enough.