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The Walking Dead Just Aired Its Most Powerful, Terrifying Scene In Years

Contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 9, episode 11, "Bounty"

When longtime The Walking Dead actor Andrew Lincoln announced that he would be stepping away from his post as Rick Grimes, leaving his co-star Norman Reedus to slide his character Daryl Dixon into Main Man status, many fans of the post-apocalyptic zombie drama worried that the series would no longer be enjoyable sans Rick. Without Lincoln's lead guy — and without Chandler Riggs' Carl Grimes, who was killed off in season 8 — what would The Walking Dead become? The most recent episode of the show addressed that question with a simple answer: The Walking Dead is terrifying again. 

On Sunday, February 24, The Walking Dead aired the 11th episode of its ninth season on AMC. Within it is what many are calling the most striking, surprising, and genuinely scary sequence the series has put forth in years. 

Entitled "Bounty," the story picks up from where the tenth episode of the season left off — with viewers watching as Alpha (portrayed by Samantha Morton), the head of the zombie skin-wearing cult The Whisperers, positions herself directly against Daryl Dixon. 

Alpha and her underlings proposition Daryl to hand over her daughter Lydia (played by Cassady McClincy) in exchange for two men: Alden (Callan McAuliffe), the sarcastic twenty-something and Hilltop construction foreman, and Luke (Dan Fogler), the former music teacher and current member of Magna's (Nadia Hilker) group of survivors. Alpha is holding them hostage, as it turns out, but will happily release them to Daryl if he does the same with Lydia, who previously told Daryl and Henry (Macsen Lintz) that her mother abused her as a child, murdered her father, brainwashed others, and turned her back on her family after the zombie apocalypse due to what she perceived was a "soft" and weak mentality on their part. 

"Your people crossed into our lands. There will be no conflict. Your people killed our people. There will be no conflict. Bring me my daughter, or there will be conflict," Alpha tells Daryl. 

Of course, Daryl isn't going to just fork Lydia over to Alpha without a little hesitation. Conflict does kick up and ultimately leads to a high-stakes trade-off with Luke and Alden being held at knifepoint. While Daryl ventures off to find Lydia (who has escaped Hilltop and headed back to the hideout house with Henry) so that the exchange doesn't turn deadly, Luke spots Connie (Lauren Ridloff) in a cornfield just outside of Hilltop. Since Connie is deaf and wouldn't be able to hear Luke if he spoke to her, he uses sign language to inform her that he's a hostage of Alpha and the Whisperers and that Daryl is negotiating a trade. ("Why is Connie out in a cornfield?" you might be wondering. It's because last episode, "Omega," featured an ill-conceived rescue mission that didn't quite pan out. But that's neither here nor there, so let's move along.)

The hostage situation is already wrought with tension — as we would imagine all negotiations of its kind would be — but there's a twist to the circumstances that no one saw coming: the Whisperers brought a baby to the trade-off. Not only a baby — a crying baby, which Daryl is livid about. 

"You brought a baby out here?" he asks, horrified that anyone would think to involve an innocent infant in such a brutal situation. Alpha, unsurprisingly, doesn't agree. "We're animals. Animals have babies," she reasons.

Which is why it isn't exactly alarming what Alpha decides to do when the wailing baby attracts a horde of walkers to the negotiation. Shrugging and clearly not conflicted about the decision she has to make, Alpha instructs the Whisperer mother to allow the zombies to eat her child, as it's "natural selection" for a child who cannot be quiet. 

Enter Connie, who learns via sign language from Luke that the baby is about to be eaten alive. Connie sprints through the cornfield, shows the Whisperers just how powerful her kicks can be, and saves the child. She then retreats back into the cornfield, where she and the baby are assumed safe. 

"Assumed" is the operative word here, as the most terrifying minute or so that The Walking Dead has aired in years follows after Connie returns to the cornfield. 

The episode cleverly mirrors Connie's deafness by turning the volume down, leaving viewers to hear muffled sounds of cornstalks brushing past her as she runs through the field with the child slung across her chest and stomach. The viewer feels the terror Connie does: she can't hear the baby crying or the walkers and Whisperers trailing behind her, and she can barely see what's in front of her thanks to the thick crosshatching of cornstalks that obstruct her field of view. Her senses are dampened while her adrenaline is pumping, and those who want her dead are quickly closing in on her. Just as the undead and those pretending to be zombies themselves get within an inch of her face, Daryl and some other survivors arrive to rescue her. 

The scene only lasted just over a minute, but it was undoubtedly one of the smartest, scariest, most heart-pounding sequences of The Walking Dead to exist in a long while. It was a powerful testament to how good and truly horrifying The Walking Dead can be when it gets creative and stacks storytelling elements and directorial decisions on top of one another instead of just rehashing old material or doing a hackneyed bait-and-switch fake-out where there aren't any real consequences. 

"Bounty" director Meera Menon recently opened up to INSIDER about how the episode came together. 

"[Showrruner] Angela [Kang], the very first conversations I had with her, they were very interested in playing that sequence in that aversive style, handheld work, kind of close angle, tight-angled on Connie, a little bit frenetic, a little bit disoriented, playing with sound design to really anchor our sense of Connie's point of view in this environment," she said. "All of that stuff was kind of on the page from the very beginning, and then it was up to us to really be able to execute on it."

Menon continued, "The corn maze, the good part about it, if you look in any given direction, you don't necessarily know where you are. So we could shoot in one direction, shoot a bunch of stuff, shoot in another direction, shoot a bunch of stuff, and cut it together. If it didn't necessarily make sense, that was OK as a sequence."

Actress Ridloff, who was born deaf, offered to Menon and showrunner Kang valuable insight to ensure the scene came across as authentic as it did terrifying. 

"We were always checking in with Lauren about what felt right," Menon shared. "There's a lot of looks that connect to Connie throughout the course of the episode once she hides in that field. She's spotting a lot of things. She's putting the puzzle pieces together based on what she sees. In terms of how I was staging it, I was always checking in with her to make sure, like, 'OK, can you really see this? Can you not see this? I want to make sure that it's real ... [Ridloff's] biggest concern, and mine as well, and this would be across the board for any character, is to make sure the character's intelligence shines through. If they've made it this long in this world, those skills are sharp. You're always wanting to make sure that these characters come across in the smartest way possible. We really worked with Lauren to make sure that the staging of everything and how Connie was experiencing this made sense."

The end product was incredible and intense — a scene that has Walking Dead fans craving more top-notch terror moving forward. As Forbes contributor Erik Kain wrote after watching the episode, "I hope we keep getting these scary moments because hey, that's why we started watching this show in the first place, right? For scary zombie stuff." 

Hopefully, The Walking Dead can deliver danger-filled sequences like this one throughout season 9 and into season 10, which AMC ordered in early February. After suffering a diminishing viewer base over the years and sharp drops in ratings recently, the series would do well to continue this trend for as long as it can. Who knows — maybe former fans will give The Walking Dead another go. Perhaps the show can go from one that many people stopped watching to a series that experienced a phenomenal resurgence. We're sure AMC would love for either to happen. 

Fans can find out what dangers await the survivors — and whether more scenes like this baby-saving, Whisperer-evading one are in store — when The Walking Dead returns to AMC Sunday, March 3 at 9 PM ET.