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The Walking Dead's Decision Behind Those Three Big Deaths

Contains spoilers for season 9, episode 15 of The Walking Dead, "The Calm Before," as well as The Walking Dead comics

Not everyone makes it out of The Walking Dead alive — the title of the popular zombie drama could tell you that. But the most recent episode of The Walking Dead, the penultimate installment of season 9, featured grisly deaths that shocked viewers everywhere. 

Spoilers are ahead, so turn back now if you aren't caught up on The Walking Dead or the comics upon which the show is based.

Entitled "The Calm Before," the March 24 episode of The Walking Dead revealed that the Whisperers and their leader Alpha (Samantha Morton) killed 10 characters by decapitation, then stuck their heads on spikes and organized them in a single-file line. The murdered men and women were Highwaymen leader Ozzy (Angus Sampson), Highwaymen member Alek (Jason Kirkpatrick), Hilltop resident Tammy Rose Sutton (Brett Butler), Alexandria Safe-Zone member D.J. (Matt Mangum), a former member of the Saviors and one of Negan's "wives" Frankie (Elyse DuFour), Hilltop teens Addy (Kelley Mack) and Rodney (Joe Ando Hirsh), new Hilltop leader Tara Chamblers (Alanna Masterson), King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Queen Carol's (Melissa McBride) adopted son Henry (Matt Lintz), and Hilltop doctor Enid (Katelyn Nacon). 

All 10 deaths were brutal, making "The Calm Before" to The Walking Dead what "The Rains of Castamere" is to Game of Thrones. But the three murders that dropped more jaws and drew more gasps from viewers than the others were those of Tara, Henry, and Enid, both because their deaths proved just how ruthless Alpha really is and because those characters didn't die in the original version of this storyline as seen in the Walking Dead comics — Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) did.

After the episode aired, The Walking Dead director and co-executive producer Greg Nicotero opened up to The Hollywood Reporter about the decision to kill Tara, Henry, and Enid and the choice to deviate from the comic book source material. 

"When we break the story, and when the writers are in the writers room, we don't always know when an event is coming. A lot of times, we'll find out at the very beginning of the season where some of the landmarks are. But we had no idea who it was going to be or when it was going to be until probably two or three episodes before we shot," Nicotero explained, agreeing that the tragedy of the deaths in "The Calm Before" is that they were so random. Alpha didn't chose to kill people based on any personal vendetta against them — she killed to kill, to send a message to the people of Alexandria, the Hilltop, the Kingdom, the Sanctuary, and Oceanside.

"First of all, the deaths are at the hands of a human being instead of walkers, so that immediately makes it different. In a world where you struggle to survive in this upside-down world of the undead, you figure, 'OK, that's how I'm going to go.' But with the introduction of the Governor (David Morrissey), Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and then the Whisperers, you're constantly reminded that man's inhumanity toward man is the most horrific thing that can occur," said Nicotero. "There's a real brutality to it. I loved in the script how Siddiq (Avi Nash) talks about how the [victims] all fought until the end. There was no fear. They were willing to band together and fight for each other in unsurmountable, unbeatable odds."

He added, "There's a randomness to it. That's part of what makes it so tragic. It has that Glenn (Steven Yeun) feel, where it's random and uncontrollable. You don't expect it. You don't see it coming. And then you get this one-two punch."

What wasn't random, however, was choosing Tara, Henry, and Enid to be three of Alpha's victims. 

Nicotero revealed that the creative team had to think about how the deaths in this episode would affect other characters — and that pushed them to pick Tara, Henry, and Enid. As he explained, there is a "very specific reason to lose" Henry due to his relationship with his adoptive parents Carol and Ezekiel, as well as with Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus). As far as Tara is concerned, her growing power influenced the decision to kill her off. And in a somewhat similar vein, that Enid was developing a relationship with Alden (Callan McAuliffe) motivated the choice to have her murdered as well. 

"There's so much behind the decisions of who goes and who doesn't go. Even at the beginning of the season, when we knew the sequence was coming, everybody was always saying to Christian [Serratos] and Khary [Payton]: 'Heads on spikes are coming! Here it comes!' But it's always about what these moments and these deaths do to other characters that catapults them forward," said Nicotero. "In regard to Henry and his relationship to Carol, Daryl, and Ezekiel... there's a very specific reason to lose him. In terms of other characters? Tara stepped up as a leader once Jesus (Tom Payne) died. She was showing some real authority and leadership at Hilltop. Ultimately, it's an organic decision, the way it evolves, like the relationship between Enid and Alden (Callan McAuliffe). You see a budding relationship and a budding romance, where people are rising to what makes them the best person they can be, like Tara."

Nicotero summed up the thought process behind killing Henry, Tara, and Enid with two heartbreaking sentences: "In many instances, some people find those realizations. In other instances, it's brutally torn from them."

Many Walking Dead fans are calling "The Calm Before" a "stellar exercise in taking a television show and making it look like an event," and "easily one of the best episodes of what's become one of The Walking Dead's best seasons" thanks to the heads-on-spikes sequence, which is bound to impact the future of the show in a massive way. Like Den of Geek's Alec Bojalad said in his review of the episode, "The events of 'The Calm Before' ... will have a serious ripple effect in a way that will make the death of Carl seem like a sneeze in a glass of water."

Nicotero couldn't agree more, as he shared with The Hollywood Reporter that what took place during "The Calm Before" is another landmark of The Walking Dead that will "change the direction of characters," much like the introduction of Negan in season 6 and the prison destruction in season 4. He also noted the poetic nature of the event, which he feels The Walking Dead comics creator Robert Kirkman "wrote so brilliantly and so beautifully." Nicotero commended Alpha actress Samantha Morton on her chilling performance on the episode as well.

"The idea that there's this divide ... Alpha has said: 'You can exist there. We exist here. If you cross our border, you're in trouble.' The fact that she makes this statement, and makes a border that's lined with the heads of their own people? It's such a brilliant notion," said Nicotero. "Without a doubt, it has a very iconic and epic feel to it. Samantha has done such an amazing job this season. She so embodies everything that the show needs and wants. Just to know how there's no coming back from this... it's pretty astounding."

Though these deaths will likely leave a hole in the hearts of many Walking Dead loyals, they do help to thin the very thick cast of the series that isn't going anywhere any time soon. AMC has already ordered a 10th season of the show, with CEO Josh Sapan stating in September of 2018 that the network plans to keep the Walking Dead IP alive for another decade through all sorts of media — from the flagship series to spin-off shows to films and additional comic book issues. Cutting down the number of characters on screen is a necessary evil, as it will allow the show to continue refining its focus moving forward. We know it's difficult to say goodbye to characters — some of whom have been around for years — but perhaps these 10 new Walking Dead victims had to fall so their fellow apocalypse survivors could flourish.