[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the latest episode of The Walking Dead, "Look at the Flowers." Read at your own risk!]
After sending off Michonne last week, The Walking Dead returned to the Whisperer War for "Look at the Flowers," what is now the second-to-last episode of this part of Season 10, since the finale has been delayed due to coronavirus, along with the premiere of World Beyond.
And it was a great return, with excellent performances from Melissa McBride, Samantha Morton, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, as well as Josh McDermitt, Khary Payton, and Ryan Hurst. The episode moved with fleet-footed energy, providing great character-building for many characters while moving several plot threads along in meaningful ways. As Beta (Hurst) and his horde move the Whisperer War toward its final stage, Eugene (McDermitt) and his traveling party are setting up the next phase of the Walking Dead story.
The episode started with a flashback showing the deal Carol (McBride) made with Negan (Morgan) when she freed him from prison: Bring her Alpha's (Morton) head, and she'll make sure the communities know him as the guy who saved them, not as the man who terrorized them back in the day and was jailed for it. As long as he did it fast.
Back in the present, Carol put Alpha's zombified head on a pike, like Alpha once did to Carol's son Henry (Matt Lintz). She looked at the head with a complex mix of emotion beautifully articulated by McBride's face. She was trying to decide if getting revenge made her feel better, and ultimately realizing it didn't, and all the pain and mayhem she had caused in her pursuit of Alpha hadn't been worth it. She turned to Negan and asked what took him so long. She told him she wasn't going back yet, she needed to be alone for awhile, and that he was free to do what he wanted.
Out in the woods alone, Carol had a vision of Alpha, who taunted her about losing Henry and her daughter Sophia (Madison Lintz), who both died alone and afraid. She was a projection of Carol's psyche, trying to get Carol to admit to herself that she wanted to die. (In the comics, Carol killed herself by zombie bite pretty early in the story; show Carol is very different than comics Carol.) In the midst of her taunting, Alpha mentioned that Carol had written a letter to Maggie (Lauren Cohan) about her, which sets up Maggie's return. Showrunner Angela Kang has teased that Maggie will return "in the nick of time," so Maggie will arrive to save Alexandria from Beta's final attack.
Carol went into a boathouse to get a canoe in order to leave the region, and accidentally pulled a large chunk of the rotted building down on top of her. While trapped under the rubble, she considered letting an approaching walker bite her. "Just look at the flowers, like you s'posed to," Alpha said, referencing what Carol said in one of the most devastating moments in a show full of devastating moments, when she executed Lizzie. But Carol wasn't ready to die, and she pulled herself out and put the walker down. "It's never too late," she whispered to herself. She went back to Alexandria, where Daryl (Norman Reedus) let her in. But she showed no emotion to her best friend. She's too spent right now.
Negan went to the cabin where he'd been keeping Lydia (Cassady McClincy), not knowing that she'd gotten free and found Daryl. Daryl was waiting in the cabin, and Negan tried to explain what had happened. But when Negan and Daryl went to the pike so Negan could prove that he'd killed Alpha at Carol's behest, the head was gone. Daryl, like Carol, accused Negan of not completing the task fast enough, and also of liking being a Whisperer. They got surrounded by a trio of Whisperers, who declared Negan the new Alpha. One of them had Alpha's sawed-off shotgun, which Negan demanded. It was the first time he'd held a gun in many years.
"That feels good," he said, cradling the weapon in his arms. "I never had a kid of my own, but if I did, I would imagine this is what it's like holding your baby for the very first time, except for it turns out my baby can kill people by spittin' bullets at em." The old Negan jumped out. He made Daryl kneel before him, and admitted that he did like being Whisperer.
"You should probably shoot me," Daryl said. "Don't threaten me with a good time," Negan quipped. But instead he killed the Whisperers and freed Daryl.
The next morning, they were sharing a canteen and waiting for Carol to show up. Negan elaborated on what he meant when he said he liked being with Alpha. After being locked up for so long that his memories had bars on them, it felt good to feel important and respected again. "But she took it too far," he said. "You don't kill people who don't deserve it. And you never kill kids."
"Is that supposed to make me like you?" Daryl grumbled, because it didn't.
"What about my winning personality?" Negan joked. Even now, after all this, Negan is still gonna Negan.
In the house where the survivors of the fall of Hilltop were regrouping, Rosita (Christian Serratos) made Eugene (McDermitt) tell everyone about Stephanie and the other community and their planned rendezvous in West Virginia. People were skeptical at first, but after Eugene gave a moving speech about how they needed to have hope in this difficult time, they came around. Newly single Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) and physically and emotionally ailing Ezekiel (Payton) agreed to accompany Eugene on the journey, which led to my favorite character moment of the episode, between Ezekiel and his loyal right hand man Jerry (Cooper Andrews).
Jerry told Ezekiel he didn't think it was a good idea for him to go. "Because I'm sick?" Ezekiel said. "Cuz I'm going to miss you," Jerry answered.
"The Kingdom needs you," Ezekiel said. "Make sure our legacy lives on."
"You got it, bo-" Jerry started, then stopped himself. The Kingdom only still existed in their hearts, and Ezekiel wasn't a king anymore, just a man. "Ezekiel," Jerry finished. It was the first time he called him by his name. They hugged, and I had tears in my eyes just like Jerry.
The trio set off, and on the road they found a cage with walkers inside of it, along with one pigeon, randomly. They had no idea who left it there.
While camped for the night, Ezekiel's horse got sick, and he had to put it down. This caused him to spiral out, because he felt like the same thing was happening to him. He was old and sick and useless. The cancer was making him physically weak, which put his friends at risk. He wanted them to promise to leave him behind if anything happened to him, but they refused. Yumiko told him they were out there to try to find out what was possible, and no one had a better sense of what was possible than the man who built a kingdom in the apocalypse.
They arrived in a city, which was empty, but there was something weird about the walkers there. They were all fastened in place in little scenes. One was siting in a rocking chair on a porch, two more were at a restaurant table. When Ezekiel realized that one was handcuffed to the steering wheel of a car, he began to laugh uncontrollably at the absurdity of the situation. They examined an extremely rotten skeleton wrapped in a purple feather boa, and when they looked up, there was a woman standing there.
"Oh my God, hi!" she blurted, excitedly. She had a big smile, and seemed genuinely very happy to see them. She had purple hair, goggles, a pink jacket, and a big assault rifle in her hands. She was not identified in the episode, but she's Juanita Sanchez, better known as "Princess," who becomes an important character on this journey. She's played by Paola Lázaro.
Alpha's right-hand man found his leader's severed melon. He was with two other Whisperers, and when one of them said that Beta was the Alpha now, he grabbed him and let Alpha's zombified cue-ball head bite him. Beta put Alpha's head in a bag and took orders from it. (Like Carol, Beta's mind was talking to him in Alpha's voice, though we didn't hear her when Beta imagined her talking to him.) He ended up at a hotel wherein his past life as a country singer he once performed. We saw a poster on the wall that revealed his stage name was Half Moon. He smashed his guitar in rage and despair, put on one of his records, and cranked up the volume, drawing walkers from all over to the hotel.
He took Alpha's head out of the bag, thanked it and said he saw now, and stabbed it. Then we saw him, from behind, as he walked out into the middle of the walker swarm. He turned around, revealing that he had sewn half of Alpha's face to his mask. So now his mask is the two most important people to him, his best friend and Alpha. It mirrored the origin of Alpha and Beta's relationship, which was also the origin of the Whisperers and their mask technique, when Alpha said that there was a way he could always keep his friend with him. And his face looks like a half moon. He shuffled off with the swarm toward Alexandria.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.