Be warned! This review will cover aspects of the episode. Spoilers will lurk like groaning walkers...
Winter has well and truly come to The Walking Dead as the Season 9 finale hits and things are frosty for our heroes. Worse; in fact – aside from a few encounters with frozen zombies, the biggest threat after last week's head-on-stick bloodbath were the blizzards and the chilly weather. And the biggest loss wasn't life, but the Kingdom, which in a giant metaphor for the morale of its people, finally fell. The boiler system failed, starting fires that spread and forcing Ezekiel, Carol, Jerry and the rest to make the trip to Hilltop, which at one point involves them crossing through Whisperer territory. Fortunately, it would appear that Alpha and her lot have migrated south for the winter, as evidenced by their later scene in what looks like less-than-frosty territory, a place where Alpha steels herself for future conflict via the unusual (but fitting for her) medium of being whipped on the arm by Beta.
But the lion's share of the episodes was devoted to the group travelling between the ruined Kingdom and Hilltop and the Alexandrians coping with their own disintegrating infrastructure. We'll say one thing: it's going to be very close quarters for a while.
The Alexandrian portion of the story also featured a journey, albeit just across town in a howling snowstorm that saw Judith blithely ignore safety advice and go off in search of Dog. Now, don't get us wrong, we like Dog and enjoy Judith, but we don't need her inheriting Henry's bad idea habit. Still, at least she had cuddly Unkie Negan to help her out, an act of near-self-sacrifice that finally endeared him to the Alexandrians, or at least Michonne. Well, we say "endeared," but as Negan says, it's more become the "common enemy, common goal" situation. Let's hope they don't forget what a sneaky snake he can be. Oh, and the murdering/assault, etc.
The Kingdom group had to content with a variety of walkers dreamed up by the typically creative team, let off the leash in brand new conditions to conjure up frosty zombies. They certainly brought a frisson of danger to the journey and some stylish undead folk. One of whom even thought to dress warm. Smart!
Overall, the episode was about surviving the harsh conditions and dealing with the emotional fallout of last week. Carol and Ezekiel's fairytale relationship didn't survive the loss of Henry, while Daryl started to consider his place. Michonne learned that she'd been mistaken keeping the communities apart, and Lydia... Well, Lydia really did pick up the slack on the annoying teen front. Guilt-ridden and faced with the idea that no-one will truly embrace her because of her indirect role in the head-loss trauma, she decided to try vanishing twice, only to be saved by Carol in a slightly repetitive subplot about forgiveness.
The finale managed to juggle the various plot-lines without hitting them too hard, and if it deflated the drama slightly by showing how quickly everyone makes it through their different journeys, at least keeping the running time to a more normal length than going for some huge, extended episode worked; it didn't outstay its welcome. There was even time to introduce a new dangling plot strand there at the end with the radio.
This season as a whole has been a tick up in terms of quality and drama. It hasn't suffered from the loss of Andrew Lincoln's Rick (not with the likes of Michonne and especially Daryl picking up the slack of the seemingly immortal hero) and between the time jump and the slow breakdown of the communities' situation, it introduced a few fresh elements. Alpha and the Whisperers too proved to be a more creative villain than some of the previous baddies, even if that's something the show can still fall down on. On to Season 10!
Highlight: The frozen river crossing.
Lowlight: Lydia feeling sorry for herself.
Kill of the week: Daryl icicle stabbing a zombie.
Quote of the week: "You could try to be a little less predictable," – Not The Father Father Gabriel to Negan, some advice the show finally seems to be taking.
Zombie of the week: Snappy the frozen pond zombie.
MVP: Carol. Always the badass, even in the face of an annoying teen.
The big question: So who exactly was the voice on the other end of the radio in that final scene? It was too garbled to be really guessable, and while it sort of sounded a little like Maggie, that's unlikely unless the show has worked out Lauren Cohan's deal to return. COMIC BOOK SPOILER ALERT: There's already talk that it could be someone from the giant Commonwealth community, a place in Ohio that's more of a city than what we've seen recently.
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The Walking Dead aired Sundays at 9pm on AMC in the States and Mondays at 9pm on Fox in the UK.