Note: This article was written after the mid-finale of the first half of season 9. Therefore it doesn’t keep the second half in mind, nor is that necessary. I know what happens in the second half and nothing really argues against the smackdown I’m about to lay down. The best things of that half of the season are the personal relationship between Negan and Judith (and how that will (probably) lead to Negan becoming the new Rick Grimes) and teasing Henry as the new Carl only to kill him off. But the whisperers themselves? Pretty much the same type of “overwhelming enemy group” that the show has always used. That’s why I chose to release this article, because the central point is relevant. ESPECIALLY compared to the comic and how it deals with this plotline.
The first half of season 9 of The Walking Dead was awful. There’s just no way around that. It was a snooze fest, as the pace was as slow as it was in season 2. The plot and themes were just a repeat of every other goddamn season. And yet something interesting happened. Eugene and Rosita found out the zombies were starting to whisper to each other. We were introduced to a new, more intelligent horde. I was excited. I really wanted to find out what this meant. But then the half season finale appeared and we found out that the “speaking walkers” were actually just humans wearing zombie skins. It’s at that point that I sighed and admitted that the show had run its course.
This revelation is worse than you may think it is, because in essence it’s a repetition of what has happened before with Terminus, The Wolves and arguably the Scavengers. Groups of people who adapt to the new environment by resorting to primitive means and by preying on others. This is of course done to explore the thematic stance that ‘humans don’t need to turn into cannibalistic monsters in order to prey on each other.’ A moral stance that has been explored to death (heh, get it?) in this show, to the point that we have gotten several speeches from various characters about how they must do the right thing and how they need something to seperate themselves from both the walkers and the bad humans. This tradition got started by Dale and has continued all the way up to the violin-loving Luke.
The Zombie State of the Plot
Now, having an antagonist group that specifically chooses to do morally questionable things for survival is not a bad thing. In fact, to some extent it’s a nice breath of fresh air from the first half of the season, which started with the same infighting between the groups that has been going on ever since season 6. Especially when we get this half season where people can’t even get along long enough to repair a fucking bridge that EVERYONE benefits from. It’s a political angle that was interesting to explore, as I pointed out in my Saviors article, but it’s dragged on for long enough. So having a new bad guy is not a bad thing.
What is a bad thing, is that these new bad guys come at the cost of a very interesting lore change. The walkers have been a foe ever since episode 1 of the show. They have been an omnipresence and a major threat to the humans ever since they’ve tried any semblance of rebuilding civilisation. So having these creatures genuinely evolve and turn into more cunning adversaries would have been a fantastic idea. It was such a good idea that Eugene, our lovable autistic savant, can immediately posit a theory using established lore. In order to kill a walker you need to damage its brain. We saw this explained in episode 6 of season 1. The brains is the basis for the virus to spread. Everyone has it in him and it activates once you die. So using the brain activity and the years that have passed (especially with two time skips in 9 episodes…) was a great way to introduce a new enemy that was different.
It would have been fascinating to see these groups explore the fact that their biggest foe is adapting to them. That the old distraction tactics no longer work. That you need to make damn sure one of these hordes doesn’t know where you live, because otherwise you are fucked as they actively hunt you down. And keep in mind that these groups don’t have the same fire power they had in the previous seasons. So any confrontation between a full horde and a group of humans would have to be done with melee warfare, like the battle in Alexandria. This could’ve allowed us to deal with the idle actors by thinning the cast a bit, but that is a story for another article.
Might Makes Right
But no, instead of this fascinating new angle to explore the show goes with the same old “primitive humans” element. It would’ve been okay if they didn’t explore the same old themes, but we all know how it’s going to go. The survivors will learn what the Whisperers actually are, they will unite to deal with this troublesome foe, they will get along better now, make promises to try and communicate and trade with one another again, protect each other and everything will be fine and dandy for the next fucking season to fuck it up and introduce more realpolitik.
The second half of the season supports this claim, as it’s mostly about establishing the philosophy of the Whisperers and setting them up as the real threat. The one group to end them all. A genuine army that naturally has philosophical differences with our lovable semi-sociopathic good guys. But oh noes, there’s a snow storm and our good guys just have to go into Whisperer territory after the line of heads have been used to determine who owns what territory! Thus demonstrating that conflict is a -brewing and they’ll have to team up to deal with this troublesome foe in season 10! Bonus points if it lasts an entire season similar to season 8 and the Saviors.
Over and Over, Over and Over, I Fall For You…
It’s cyclical. The show has been repeating this stuff, like the realpolitik, over and over again. The war with the Saviors was all about exploring the theme of “mercy” and it paid off by saving Negan and letting him live. To for the thousandth time show that humans are better than to engage in chaotic war and wanton slaughter of each other. The remaining Saviors became a group of their own and allies to Alexandria, Hilltop and the Kingdom. Happy ending for everyone, except Carl.
It’s a cyclical matter that happens every season and it’s why this show has run its course. We don’t need new enemies anymore. We don’t need stories that explore the same shit over and over again. It’s been established that the show follows the same literary skeleton every season: the group is at peace, living in prosperity after coming together the last season. But oh noes, the group(s) become disorganised and divided. Even though they’ve been living together in peace and harmony for either months or years by point. Magically and all of a sudden people have their own needs and wants they are following through. And oh noes oh noes, there’s a new enemy threatening them all! So naturally they have to unite for the upthousanth time to defeat this troublesome foe. And then they live happily ever after before the new season will shit all over that again. Haven’t we seen enough of this crap already?
And if you’re bothered by the fact that I essentially repeated myself and explored the same content twice, good, because that’s the fucking point!
Now, I will pre-emptively refute one counter-argument I may get: I understand that the show is following the comic series and that these Whisperers make an appearance there as well. But I will also make two refutations:
1) the dynamic between the Whisperers and the Alliance are different. That plays a huge role in the themes and character development, but that’s for another article
2) the show doesn’t NEED to follow this plotline.
Hell, Carl is a major element to the Whisperers arc in the comics and he’s no longer around, now is he? The tv series has definitely demonstrated that they’re willing to make huge, drastic changes (usually when an actor gets a better acting job), so they don’t need to obey everything the comic’s done. So taking a route that would’ve been different for the sake of giving the show something different to explore would’ve been the lifeline it probably needs to go back to the golden days of season 3 to 5. But no, new human cultists, because we haven’t heard enough about divisiveness, teamwork, mercy and the evil nature of humans yet…
I swear, if this weren’t a zombie show I would’ve abandoned it long ago.
- More Than Just Bullies With Guns – Re-imagining the Saviors
- One Step Forward, Twenty Steps Back – Why Hope Mikaelson Has No Character Arc
- A Hopeless Defence – Debunking Common Arguments in Defence of Season 8 of Game of Thrones
Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the TV-series The Walking Dead and its comic counterpart. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. The Walking Dead belongs to Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Image Comics and AMC.