This Walking Dead article contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead season 9 was all about the battle to achieve Carl’s dream of rebuilding civilization and the many set-backs that threatened that ideal. It started with the symbol of an unfinished bridge and ended with a mysterious radio signal hinting at the wider world.
There was a mighty time-jump – first of eighteen months, then of six years. In that time, the community leaders fell out for reasons undisclosed, and Sanctuary and The Kingdom fell into disrepair, perhaps forever. Now only Hilltop and Alexandria remain.
With the threat from Negan neutralized, a new big bad arrived in the form of Samantha Morton’s Alpha and her group of Whisperers – living people wearing the skins of Walkers and travelling inside herds, steering them like cattle from within.
Characters were lost. Many characters. Rick, Maggie, and Jadis/Anne all left but didn’t die. Thanks to Alpha, others — including Jesus, Tara, Enid, and Henry — departed the show in a much more permanent way. A new group arrived — Magna, Yumiko, Connie, Kelly, and Luke. Carol grew her hair out, and most important of all, Daryl got a dog. He named it Dog.
With season 10 fast approaching, here’s a recap of everything you need to remember from last time around:
The Goodbye Rick Grimes Miniseries (episodes one to five)
Eighteen months after Rick beat Negan and the Sanctuary surrendered, all is not well in the new civilization. Maggie can’t forgive Rick for keeping Negan alive and locked up in a cell, and she’s not the only one with a problem. Oceanside resents the former Saviors who executed their men and boys and have been picking them off one by one. Gregory resents Maggie for ousting him from power in a Hilltop election and tries to have her murdered, but he is caught and hanged as a result. A good portion of the Saviors resent the King, the Widow, and Rick, and are missing the good life under Negan.
It doesn’t help that the ex-Saviors are hungry, and Hilltop is unhappy about having to shore them up with their own supplies. When Rick tries to bring the communities together to build a literal bridge, tensions flare. Michonne tries to help by drawing up a charter for the communities to sign, bringing the rule of law back into the characters’ lives.
It’s not all bad news. Carol has found a family with new husband Ezekiel and their adopted son Henry. Jerry and Hilltop gardener Nabila have paired up. Rick and Michonne are living with Judith in a rebuilt Alexandria with souvenirs of Carl around the house. Temporarily, Anne (formerly Jadis of the Scavengers) hooks up with Gabriel, but that ends when she kidnaps him to offer up to her mysterious helicopter contacts. Her conscience overrides her and she eventually lets Gabriel go.
Attempting to lead a large herd of Walkers away from his people, Rick Grimes is thrown from his horse and seriously injured. He sacrifices himself to save Alexandria by blowing up the bridge they were building to stop the Walkers from crossing it, an event witnessed by Michonne, Daryl, and the others. However, Rick doesn’t die, he’s rescued by Anne/Jadis, who radios her helicopter contacts and tells them that he is a “B” (despite marking him as an “A” in season seven), whatever that means. She and Rick are taken away by helicopter and not seen again.
After the Time Jump (episodes six to sixteen)
Six years later, Kingdom is falling apart at the seams and Sanctuary is an abandoned wasteland. Only Alexandria and Hilltop remain, and in the time past, their leaders have fallen out severely over an undisclosed event. Carol is fiercely protective of Henry (unbeknownst to her adopted son, she burns a group of former Saviors alive when they threaten and steal from them), and unwillingly takes him to Hilltop to train as a blacksmith.
Judith Grimes is around 10 years old and now has a little brother, RJ, by her dad and Michonne. She brings a group of survivors back to Alexandria (Magna, Yumiko, Connie, Kelly, and Luke) but Michonne is suspicious and refuses to let them stay, instead taking them to Hilltop. Maggie has taken her son and left to go with Georgie, the woman who swapped “The Key” instructions for rebuilding sustainable civilisation for records in season 8. Jesus was voted Hilltop leader in Maggie’s stead, but is uncomfortable in the role, preferring life on the road.
Daryl split from the group immediately after Rick “died” and has spent the last years surviving alone in the woods looking for Rick’s corpse, with only his dog for company. He and Michonne both have a mysterious X-shaped scar on their backs, which we later learn was received when Michonne welcomed an old friend and her group of children into Alexandria, who then robbed them, kidnapped their children, branded Michonne and Daryl, and tried to kill Judith and the other Alexandrian kids. Michonne saved Judith by slaughtering the child assassins while heavily pregnant with her and Rick’s son. The whole event left her fiercely protective and suspicious of outsiders, explaining her attitude to the newcomers.
During a fight with a group of Walkers, Jesus is killed by a Whisperer – a member of Alpha’s gang who disguise themselves among the dead. To find out more about the new enemy, Michonne and Daryl take a Whisperer hostag. She turns out to be teenager Lydia, the daughter of The Whisperers’ leader, who insists that Lydia only call her Alpha and psychologically and physically abuses her daughter to make her “stronger.” Henry and Lydia form an immediate attachment and, when Lydia is returned to Alpha, Henry follows them and is almost killed but then rescued by Daryl and Connie.
In the meantime, Eugene tries to declare his love to Rosita, but she’s in love with Gabriel and pregnant by Siddiq following some no-strings fun, so they stay friends. Gabriel decides to stay with Rosita and help to raise the baby.
Lydia is granted asylum by the group leaders, and welcomed to the trade fair organized by Ezekiel as a symbol of cooperation between the various communities. The leaders all sign Michonne’s charter, which Ezekiel has kept safe all these years in the hope of reconciliation after their undisclosed major fallout. All is well and the communities celebrate their various trades and gather to watch a film.
Meanwhile, Alpha infiltrates the fair disguised as a Hilltop woman and, one by one, draws off ten characters who are then bound and killed by her people, with their reanimated heads left on pikes signifying a border that the other groups are forbidden from crossing. The full list of the dead is: Tara; Enid; Henry; Hilltop’s Addy, Rodnemy and Tammy-Rose; Ex-Saviors DJ and Frankie; and Highwaymen (a short-lived new group) Ozzy and Alek. Siddiq was captured too, but is left alive by Alpha so he can tell the others what happened. Instead of telling a story of defeat and fear though, he tells the crowd an inspiring tale of togetherness – that every member of the kidnapped group fought until the very end to protect each other, even though many were strangers.
Crushed by their loss, with the Kingdom in disrepair, Ezekiel’s group decamps to Hilltop and leave its home behind forever. A snowstorm forces them to cross Whisperer territory, no doubt causing problems with Alpha in the future. While they travel, back at Alexandria, Judith runs off in the snow to look for Dog and almost freezes to death but Negan – who has befriended her over the years of talking though his cell window – saves her life (and Dog’s too). He escaped from his cell earlier in the season but, finding the Sanctuary abandoned, decided to return to Alexandria and try to win the group’s trust and become part of them. Michonne thanks him for saving Judith, whom he genuinely loves, and begins to thaw a little towards him.
Unable to cope with their combined grief over Henry’s death, Carol breaks up with Ezekiel and moves back to Alexandria. In his grief, Ezekiel shows jealousy of Carol and Daryl’s close friendship.
Thanks to Eugene and Rosita setting up an antenna earlier in the season, Hilltop and Alexandria can now communicate by radio. Ezekiel talks to Judith over the airwaves, and walks away before we hear a voice crackling through the speaker asking if anybody is there…
The Walking Dead season 10 premieres on Oct. 6.