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The Ending Of The Walking Dead Season 9 Explained

The Walking Dead has been a television staple for years, but when season 9 started in October of 2018, it was clear that things were about to be shaken up. The show had been struggling with falling ratings ever since they peaked in season 5, but network execs announced a whopping ten-year extension to their Walking Dead universe plans. Within the storyline of the show, the war with Negan and the Saviors had just wrapped up, and it was widely known that the season would include the departures of Rick Grimes and Maggie Greene.

With so much in flux, one positive sign was the introduction of Angela Kang as the new showrunner. The longtime Walking Dead writer took the helm and steered everyone into unsure waters, and she didn't disappoint. On the contrary, season 9 felt like three or four seasons all packed into one, with nearly all of the countless moving parts managing to come together into a fantastic pair of closing episodes that left fans stunned and eager for more. Without further ado, let's break down the end of season 9, see what it gave us, and look at what Walking Dead fans might see next.

The calm before

While "The Storm" is officially the last episode of the season, Episode 15, "The Calm Before," is when everything really hit the fan. Ever since the middle of the season, the action with the newly arrived Whisperers had been heating up. They killed Jesus, threatened the Hilltop community, and endangered various protagonists as they came up against the masked opponents and their herds of walkers.

The tragic penultimate episode was highlighted by Alpha's visit to the fair where she carted off ten unwilling victims to help create her gruesome border marking. The culling ranked amongst the most horrifying and destructive events in the show to date — but the episode included some positive elements, too. Chief among these was the long-awaited fair itself, which finally saw the coming together of the various communities after years spent apart. The momentous occasion not only allowed the citizens of Alexandria, Hilltop, Oceanside, and the Kingdom to finally come together to trade, it also marked a renewal of old friendships and a reforging of an alliance that had been dormant for years.

Scars, a charter, and reunions, oh my!

Hopping back just a tad farther, Episode 14 helped shed some light on how Michonne and Daryl got the painful-looking X-shaped scars that the pair have been sporting since Episode 6. The gory details of that event were horrifying enough to explain any erratic behavior. "The Calm Before," which followed immediately afterward, saw Michonne finally let her guard down after so many years of PTSD, and accept that the communities really were better off working together.

This finally re-established friendship found expression when everyone signed the charter that Michonne herself had penned years before and King Ezekiel had kept safely tucked away in storage. This union was immediately put to the test by the rest of the events of the evening, but it held up under the stress. During the finale that followed it was none other than Michonne herself making the point that the Kingdom's people weren't on their own — they were her people as well. Here's hoping the new alliance lasts, especially with everyone living in such close quarters now that the Kingdom's residents have moved into the Hilltop Colony.

Let it snow

Snow was certainly a huge factor in the season 9 finale, as a full-blown blizzard of the fluffy white stuff finally came crashing into the Walking Dead flagship series for the first time. Not only did the snow make for a beautiful backdrop for zombie killing, it was literally the centerpiece of the episode — a "guest star on the show," as the director put it. The snow effects were put on by a company called "Snow Business" which has a history with other big-budget productions — including Star Wars — and they delivered in spades.

From smashing crystalized zombie skulls to impaling them with icicles, the episode capitalized on its apocalyptic winter wonderland theme to the hilt. The pièce de résistance of the episode came with the crossing of the frozen river, a harrowing adventure that marked the biggest production design that the show had undertaken to date. The team built a massive frozen riverbed set right at Pinewood Studies in Georgia — the same studio where they've made countless Marvel films — during one of the hottest Georgia Novembers that the show's production crew has seen while working on the series.

The crumbling King and Kingdom

Of the five communities mentioned in the Charter, Alexandria and Hilltop faired fairly well throughout the season. Oceanside, while still around, ended up being primarily left on the sidelines as season 9 played out. The Sanctuary fell back in season 8, and after the fiasco with the bridge in season 9, the rest of their crew were killed or scattered. That leaves the Kingdom.

They were arguably the most prosperous of all the communities when initially introduced, but the Season 9 finale opened on a scene that showed the once-thriving town as little more than a pile of rubble. The long-rotting boiler had finally given out, the apparently consequential fires it caused left large portions of the community damaged, and the inhabitants were relocating to Hilltop.

As if that wasn't enough, King Ezekiel was also clearly in crisis. The king spent the majority of the episode wallowing in discouragement and self-doubt, and told Daryl he wanted him to stay away from Hilltop and Carol. While he ultimately let Carol go, it'll be interesting to see where they go with his story from here. He was originally a character that should have shown up on the pike wall, but it's been made clear that his survival isn't accidental. The show has a plan for the King going forward.

Queen no more

Season 9 was tough on longstanding characters, especially after the events of the penultimate episode, so the fact that Carol — a season 1 veteran — is still around is pretty astonishing. Not only that, but her character arc took a heck of a twist throughout the season. While she's been the same ol' tough as nails character for years at this point, her shift into the role of King Ezekiel's queen and her temporary turn through what amounted to a post-apocalyptic fairytale ending was a fun change of pace.

Of course, things all came crashing back down to reality when she saw Henry's head on a pike. Carol went on to play a fairly prominent role throughout the finale: She shared with Daryl that she was losing herself again and broke things off with Ezekiel, and she also found a kindred spirit in Lydia, whom she twice stopped from killing herself before taking her under her wing. With Ezekiel in the rearview mirror, Lydia by her side in Alexandria, and the age-old "Caryl" romance back in the cards yet again, it'll be interesting to see where Carol goes from here.

The reluctant hero

Speaking of "Caryl," Daryl Dixon has certainly done a good job of co-stepping (along with Michonne) into Rick Grimes' shoes. After initially being shipped off into a sort of hermit exile after the mid-season six-year jump, Daryl has slowly re-emerged not just as a fun support role, but as a heroic character in his own right.

By the season 9 finale, in particular, it became apparent that Daryl had been fully pulled out of retirement as he helped the communities deal with the shock of the border pike wall incident. He was already with the Kingdom's refugees as they made the trek to Hilltop, and his increasing role as a "guardian in the shadows" to Lydia has been endearing. Even if Carol wasn't about to get back into the dating game — as seems likely at this point — there would still be loads of material left for the Daryl Dixon storyline going forward into season 10.

Lydia, oh Lydia

One of the newest additions to the Walking Dead protagonist column is Lydia, who is also, ironically, the estranged daughter of the communities' greatest threat, Alpha. Lydia's story arc may be fresh, but it's already gone through a lot. From the moment she was taken captive in the mid-season premiere, Lydia has been slowly coming out of her shell. Her abusive past and her new friendship with Henry (a role played by the still-living Carl in the comics) made it easy for her to switch sides, a choice that culminated with her fearless rejection of her mother in "The Calm Before."

As the finale played out, we saw a Lydia who had taken a step back in the aftermath of seeing Henry pay the ultimate price for her freedom. She toyed with suicide as she felt the intense disapproval of Alden and even Carol as they processed their grief. Ultimately, though, Carol came through with flying colors and helped Lydia pull herself out of the depths of despair just in time to join in a snowball fight in Alexandria. Nice. With "her people" still very much involved in the story, Lydia's role as Carol's new apprentice will be very interesting to watch.


From losing Rick to everything that followed, Michonne has been between a rock and hard place for quite a while. Happily, she managed to come out of her shell a bit toward the end of the season... just in time to run into Alpha. Nevertheless, the season finale was refreshing, as Michonne stood out as a voice for good and unity. Her mentality helped get the Kingdom refugees to safety, and we even saw her semi-patch things up with Negan.

In fact, the mirroring of the scenes from the season 8 and season 9 finales — with Negan in bed and Michonne talking to him — was an especially nice touch. In the former, the bat-wielding Savior had just been put in his place by Rick. In the latter, he had finally, officially turned a corner and won at least a smidge of Michonne's respect.

Michonne's future is going to be interesting, especially since actress Danai Guirira has announced that she's leaving the series soon. She'll be doing so in a similar fashion to Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan, as she'll be appearing in a handful of episodes in Season 10 before taking her leave. That doesn't mean she's going to be inconsequential in the interim. On the contrary, showrunner Angela Kang has already dropped hints about at least one episode that will be focused on Michonne before she makes her exit.


If anyone was to get an award for the biggest about face in the history of television characters it would arguably be Negan. In three seasons, the man went from bashing brains in with a smile on his face to voluntarily remaining in confinement and then running off into a snowstorm in order to save a little girl. Talk about a 180.

Season 9 saw the ex-Savior out of his cell for the first time in a half-dozen years. Even if he had changed his ways, he still couldn't resist stirring the pot as he heckled the "love quadrangle" and kept the good times rolling with his incessant monologuing. But the truth is, he genuinely chose to save Judith and remained under the thumb of his captors throughout the entire season. For all intents and purposes, he really does appear to be both defeated and reformed.

But the thing with Negan is, the guy is incredibly complex. As Angela Kang put it, "Negan is complicated: there's the dangerous Negan, the jerk Negan, the really smart and strategic Negan. All of that is part of who he is." The question is, how long can all of that stay under the surface?

That woman

While everyone expected to see a lot of Whisperers in the finale, especially after the fair episode, the masked antagonists ended up missing the roll call. But even if they weren't actively involved, we did get some juicy info on their whereabouts. While the Kingdom crew was terrified to step foot on their land, even when it was a life or death scenario, it turned out that they had nothing to worry about. The entire Whisperers clan was actually off on a holiday, as Alpha led her nomadic people elsewhere during the storm.

Of course, once they got back, we were treated to another scene just to remind us all that Alpha's far from done. As the season 9 curtain fell on the Whisperers, we saw the coldest, most brutal antagonist that the show has ever seen toughening herself up for the next step by having Beta mercilessly whip her arms. The question is, what on earth has she got up her sleeve?... apart from some pretty nasty looking whip marks, that is.

Communications up and running

The finale ended with a pair of radios finally up and running — thanks, Eugene! — and Ezekiel and Judith chatting over the airwaves. But then... "Hello? Hello? Calling out live on the open air. Is anybody out there?" The words were abrupt and frustratingly open-ended. The voice was hardly recognizable, but it's almost certainly not the Whisperers. Could it finally be the helicopter people? Jadis, perhaps?

The only thing for certain at this point is that Angela Kang is playing coy. In an interview with EW, all the showrunner would say on the matter was that "people are free to speculate." While it might be rampant baiting of the highest order, Kang has done enough good in turning the show around this season to be allowed to leave a cliffhanger of this magnitude. As things currently stand, we'll have to wait until they resume the story in season 10 before we get more information.

Leaving too soon

While it's easy to hype up Angela Kang's success as far as reviving interest in AMC's flagship series, the acknowledgment hasn't just been coming from the superfans in the audience. None other than Andrew Lincoln himself seems to be appreciating the show's renewed storytelling acumen from afar. According to Norman Reedus, Lincoln told him that he "picked the wrong time to leave the show, because it's so f***ing good right now." Of course, Reedus' response was all Daryl. "Yeah you did, dude. You picked the wrong time."

Timing aside, there were multiple moments in the season 9 finale that seemed to hint at a return for either Rick Grimes or Maggie Greene. Nothing was openly said, but Rick's bridge was mentioned and Maggie was brought up as a possible help for Hilltop. With Rick reappearing in three future movies and both Grimes and Greene clearly kept alive in the Walking Dead universe, it's hard to resist speculating a return from either character. Especially since Kang teased in an interview with Deadline that so many of the characters still don't have closure with Rick, and it "remains an open question and may play into the story going forward in certain ways."

Pulling out the stops

Whether Andrew Lincoln, Lauren Cohan, Danai Guirira, or any other actors stay or leave, AMC isn't slowing down the pace. Season 10 was set to start filming a month after the season 9 finale aired, with Angela Kang sharing that we're in store for another jump forward in the timeline, albeit a smaller one this time around.

One interesting issue revolves around ratings. While the show's impressive renaissance with both the viewers and the critics has turned some heads, it still hasn't been enough to stop the hemorrhaging of the live audience. In the wake of "The Calm Before," the ratings dipped to a new all-time low in spite of all of the buzz. Of course, even the all-time low number is still a large enough crowd to beat out most, if not all, of the competition. Nevertheless, while Angela Kang and company have clearly reignited the dying embers of The Walking Dead throughout the show's ninth season, it will be interesting to see if they can do something about the ratings as they barrel forward into the tenth season and beyond.