The Walking Dead heats up season ten with a meeting taken straight from the comics. "What It Always Is" has Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) on the run with help from a fawning Brandon Rose (Blaine Kern III). Kelly's (Angel Theory) loss of hearing puts her in a dangerous situation. Supplies go missing from the Hilltop. Ezekiel (Khary Payton) hides a deadly secret.
"What It Always Is" opens with Kelly in the woods. Birds are chirping, but she cannot hear them. She hunts a wild boar. Kelly kills it with her slingshot, but doesn't notice walkers closing on the kill. She escapes but tumbles down into a ditch. Injured and bloodied, she rests on a tree without noticing a walker approaching behind her.
Negan washes his face in a creek. Brandon Rose sneaks upon him with a knife, but laughs. He gives Negan a canteen of water and food. At the Hilltop, Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) is leading the wall rebuilding efforts with Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Alden (Callan McAuliffe). Alden wants to use the extra wood to build catapults, but Yumiko knows the wall must come first. Earl (John Finn) is upset they're not responding to the Whisperers. Yumiko is told supplies were stolen again from the root cellar at night.
Yumiko confronts Magna (Nadia Hilker) about the stolen crate of fish. She was on guard overnight. Magna ignores her completely and listens to a record playing. Daryl (Norman Reedus) arrives on his motorcycle with Siddiq (Avi Nash) on horseback. A coughing Ezekiel asks if they've seen any sign of the escaped Negan. Nothing yet, the gate is opened for returning searchers. Connie (Lauren Ridloff) asks where's Kelly?
Brandon whistles to Negan in the woods. He joyfully tells stories from his father. How Negan would whistle to the other Saviors. An exasperated Negan hasn't told him how he escaped from his cell. Brandon brags about rebuilding the "bad ass Sanctuary." He curses Rick Grimes for killing their parents and dragging them to Alexandria. He gloats, "Carl Grimes, I heard you shot him." Negan has had enough, "Carl was...I would never kill a kid." Brandon apologizes effusively, "We're both Negan."
A walker covered in barbed wire attacks Negan from behind. He struggles at first, then tears its head off with the barbed wire. Negan yells at Brandon for not helping. Brandon has wrapped a bat with the barbed wire, a new Lucille. He also "swiped" Negan's old black leather jacket from Alexandria. A stunned Negan orders him to hide it in his backpack.
Aaron (Ross Marquand) is searching near a bridge. He sees Gamma (Thora Birch) gutting a walker into the river. Meanwhile, Brandon and Negan rate walkers on their "hotness." Brandon continues to be consumed with all things "Saviors." They hear a woman screaming. Negan races to the rescue on an old bus. A woman and her son are being attacked. Negan's knife blade breaks, but he smashes the walkers heads with the bathroom door. Brandon is impressed, "Classic Negan!"
Daryl and Connie search for Kelly in the woods. He tells her a story about his brother Merle. He saved him from drowning while fishing, but Merle was upset he left their beer. Magna surprises them and joins the search. At the Hilltop, Earl continues to rant about the Whisperers bringing down the tree. In the clinic, Ezekiel tells Siddiq medical supplies have also been stolen. Ezekiel coughs dramatically, when Siddiq reaches for him, he slaps his hand away. Ezekiel loosens his collar to show a lump on his neck. His grandmother and father had Thyroid cancer. Ezekiel "knows what it means." Siddiq admits struggling with "his own condition."
On the bus, Amelia (Virginia Newcomb) talks about surviving with her son, Milo (Roman Spink). Their camp was destroyed. They've returned to "what it always is," her and Milo. When the leave for fresh air, Brandon wants to follow them and find their "stash." He grabs a crowbar before being yanked back by Negan. He tells him, "People are a resource. It's best if I go on, and you go back home to Alexandria." Brandon doesn't want to leave. Negan doesn't "give a shit" where he goes, "As long as I don't have to see your creepy, pasty-assed face again."
At the Whisperer camp, Alpha (Samantha Morton) watches as skin masks are made. Gamma returns with news. She's been damming the creek, but needs another "guardian." A Whisperer challenges Alpha's strategy. Instead of little "nicks", why not release thousands of walkers and "cut them down at once." Alpha mockingly calls for a vote. No one speaks up. She slashes his knees and then arms, "Nicks in the right spot will collapse the human body...just like the enemy." Beta (Ryan Hurst) finishes him. Gamma has her needed body.
On the road, Negan talks with young Milo. He admits to telling "Brandon to get lost." Negan sees the boy has a toy plane. He entertains him by describing a flight. Then goes on to instruct him on the fine art of "nut-tapping" guys. He tells Milo to pack up with his mother. He plans to take them to the Hilltop, but they cannot say who brought them. Milo laughs and high-fives Negan.
Back at the creek, Gamma repeatedly stabs the turned Whisperer. She flashbacks to saving Alpha and watching her sister die. She cuts her palm in the frenzy. Aaron approaches her, and tosses a medical bandage. He introduces himself, but she grabs the bandage and runs away.
Dog leads Connie, Magna, and Daryl to Kelly. She's still laying by the tree. Connie embraces her sister. Kelly signs to Magna, "Tell them." Magna takes them to the stolen Hilltop supplies. Daryl is furious at Magna for their betrayal, "All you're good for is talking shit." Connie did not know about the theft. They will lie and say they "found it."
Back from collecting wood, Negan hears Brandon whistling. Brandon has killed Amelia and Milo with the crowbar. He smiles proudly, "This is Negan. What do you think?" Negan picks up a rock and smashes Brandon's face repeatedly to a pulp. Covered in blood, he takes his jacket and the new Lucille. He walks away from their bodies.
Daryl and the others bring Kelly back to the Hilltop. Magna carries the missing supplies. In the radio room, Dante updates Siddiq on Alexandria. Rosita has a "little bug." He asks for Carol, then gives the radio seat to Ezekiel. He hangs up before Carol can answer, looking at a metal tiger Henry had made him.
In their room, Yumiko accuses Magna of stealing the supplies. They argue about how they met, when Magna was locked up in prison for avenging her cousin. Magna wonders how many people have they killed since then. Yumiko asks her "to find another place to sleep."
At the Whisperers camp, Gamma shows her wrapped hand to Alpha. Alpha takes off Gamma's skin mask. "We all have to wear different masks at times, like you sister," Alpha says. The man you met might be "useful." She tells Gamma, "It's time to wear a new mask."
At the Hilltop that night, Daryl and Siddiq are leaving. Connie is upset she asked Daryl to lie for them. He understands "family." She signs back to him, "family." In the woods, Negan is clad in his jacket and holding the new Lucille. He calls out for the Whisperers, "Y'all scared of the big bad wolf?" He smashes walkers until Beta throws him to the ground. Negan smiles, "All right you big ass freak...let's do this." The episode cuts to black on his laughing face.
Fans of the comics have been waiting for Negan to join the Whisperers. But where does his allegiance truly lie? Negan's disgust with Brandon's hero worship and eventual murder shows he's on the hero path. Will Gamma betray Alpha, or befriend Aaron as a spy? The machinations become more twisted with "Bonds," next week on AMC.