The Whisperers strike back as The Walking Dead delivers a devastating, game-changing episode. Fans of the comic knew this slaughter was coming. The infamous piked heads made their appearance here, but with different characters killed. "The Calm Before" begins optimistically with the four communities reuniting at the fair after years apart. Joy turns to terror and heartbreak as Alpha (Samantha Morton) exacts her gruesome revenge.
The Calm Before opens in the past with Miles (Brian Sheppard) and Hilde (Caroline Duncan) finding the Hilltop after escaping from walkers. They make a life there. Hilde fashions the "H" coins out of wood that were used for a time as currency. In the present, the couple loads a wagon for the Kingdom's fair. Hilde has made a bunch of new coins to trade. The next scene shows the wagon overturned and everyone murdered. Alpha leans over Hilde and starts to cut away her blonde hair.
At the fair, King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) makes a speech to everyone. He thanks Rick and Carl for inspiring this moment. The four communities are together again. Jerry (Cooper Andrews) chimes in with a goofy acronym for "fair", first annual intercommunication reunion, but Ezekiel says it's just a new beginning.
Ezekiel hugs Carol (Melissa McBride) before she and Tara (Alanna Masterson) leave. They've organized a group to search for Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Henry (Matt Lintz). Her prayers are answered when the gates open to Daryl's group. As Carol and the King embrace Henry, Tara is stunned to see that Lydia (Cassady McClincy) is with them. Carol is happy to see how much Judith (Cailey Fleming) has grown. She remembers her Aunt Carol, but with shorter hair.
In the theater, the leadership of the communities recap events. Michonne (Danai Gurira) has granted Lydia asylum in Alexandria. Tara is against this. She knows her mother will attack the Hilltop in retaliation. Michonne reminds everyone how Rick allowed her into the prison. And that Tara stood with the Governor when he attacked. They agree to work together for security. Ezekiel brings out the charter Michonne wrote years ago. She's shocked to see it. Tara tells her she took the charter when she left for the Hilltop. Each leader signs the charter. Carol signs as the "Queen". Michonne asks Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) to sign for Alexandria.
Henry and Lydia walk around the fair together. It is a joyous celebration. Eugene (Josh McDermitt) is the clown in Oceanside's dunk tank. Siddiq (Avi Nash) and Enid (Katelyn Nacon) have a booth teaching CPR. Ezekiel and Carol have a tender moment watching Henry with Lydia. Enid and Alden (Callan McAuliffe) officially declare themselves a couple. Luke (Dan Fogler) wants Alden to sing with him later.
Kelly (Angel Theory) is upset at Connie (Lauren Ridloff) for leaving without saying goodbye. She apologizes, but had to try and save Lydia. Addy (Kelley Mack) apologizes to Henry for letting everyone know he went after Lydia. As they talk, the other Hilltop teens accuse Lydia of making trouble. They tell her that Addy loves Henry, and he feels the same about Addy.
Tara decides to separate into groups to search for the Whisperers. She'll leave the next day. Daryl, Diane (Kerry Cahill), Michonne, Carol, Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), Magna (Nadia Hilker), and several others will go first. Daryl asks Connie to feed Dog while he's gone. She writes a note telling him to be safe.
Near the road, the Highwaymen are clearing walkers with DJ (Matt Mangum). Daryl and the others come up to them. Ozzy (Angus Sampson) shows them the remains of the Hilltop group. Daryl decides to split up. He, Carol, Michonne, and Yumiko will search for the Hilltop people, the others will go to the Hilltop to warn them. Yumiko and Magna share a passionate kiss goodbye.
That night, Daryl and the others kill a bunch of walkers. They are then surrounded by the Whisperers. Beta (Ryan Hurst) orders them to drop their weapons. He hisses at Daryl, all they wanted was Lydia. Now that deal is broken. Back at the fair, we see Henry and Ezekiel watch Carol leave. As Jerry and his wife walk around, Alpha is behind them in disguise. She is wearing Hilde's blond hair. The Whisperers have infiltrated the fair.
Eugene is in a room trying to fix the radio transmitter. Rosita (Christian Serratos) joins him. She thanks him for giving Father Gabriel the gift, then helps him to repair the radio. Enid watches Luke and Alden prepare for their performance. Luke wants to play an up tempo song. Henry rejoins Lydia. She's upset after the encounter with the teens. Henry professes his love for her. He hears a clanking noise in the distance. The pipes are failing. He tells her to meet him in the movie while he fixes it.
Alpha continues to surveil the fair. She sees Tammy Rose (Brett Butler) and Earl (John Finn) with the Whisperer baby. Alpha then strikes up a conversation with Ezekiel. She says her name is Debbie from Alexandria. She wants to know where are the clothing booths. She has a feeling it's "going to be a long, cold winter."
Judith is seated in the front row of the theater. Everyone claps as a cartoon starts to play. Lydia is sitting and waiting for Henry, when Alpha plops down beside her. Back in the woods at night, Alpha confronts Daryl. He tells her that she won't be getting Lydia back. Alpha says he's in no position to demand anything. Lydia was weak. She will no longer be a concern. Alpha frees Daryl and leads him away.
The sun rises as Alpha marches Daryl to an overlook. Thousands of walkers are contained in a valley. Her people control them. She let Daryl and his people live. She walked their streets. Daryl's world is a joke. Her people live as nature demands. She has released Daryl's friends. He will see them on the road. She's left a sign to mark the border of their territory. Daryl asks if she's killed Lydia.
Alpha argues with Lydia outside the theater. Lydia begs her mother to leave. She shows her mother the scars left on her arm. Lydia is with these people now. Alpha says she was only trying to protect her, but that time has passed. Lydia is not one of them. Back at the Whisperer camp, tears roll down Alpha's cheek. She orders Beta away from her. A Whisperer sees her crying. She beckons him to come, then stabs him in the head.
On the outlook, Alpha hopes that Daryl can protect her daughter. She releases him. He finds Carol and the others on the road. As they head back to the Kingdom, they walk up a hill. A bloodied Siddiq is found tied to a tree. They cut him loose and he stumbles forward. To their horror, Alpha has left decapitated heads on pikes as a warning and marker to their territory. The Highwaymen, Ozzy and Alex (Jason Kirkpatrick), DJ, Frankie (Elyse Dufour), Tammy Rose, Addy, Rodney (Joe Ando-Hirsh), Enid, Tara, and Henry are dead. Daryl begs Carol not to look at Henry as everyone breaks down in tears. A montage follows of various people in the Kingdom looking for their missing friends. Lydia races to tell Ezekiel that her mother was there.
At the Kingdom, a bandaged Siddiq eulogizes those killed. He preaches that they must come together in the face of evil. Alpha let him live to tell the tale. But he tells a different story, the Highwaymen and DJ found them tied up. They fought valiantly for their lives as the Whisperers overran them. The final scene of his story has Henry turning to face Alpha. They were heroic in the end. Sometime later on a cold day, Daryl takes Lydia to the pikes. They remain as a marker. She goes to the last one that held Henry's head. She gently places down a necklace, made from the yo-yo thread and Hilltop coin that he gave her. Snowflakes fall on the "H" as the episode ends.
Whew! The piked heads were a gut punch. Losing Tara, Enid, and Henry in such a horrific way was brutal. It's a big change from the comics where Rosita and Ezekiel were piked. The death of Tara sets up Daryl as the leader of Hilltop. Obviously the communities will seek vengeance for Alpha's massacre. If there's one thing we've learned on this show, never underestimate Carol. She's certainly getting payback for Henry's murder. I didn't like his character and am glad he's gone. Tara, much like Jesus, was written off too soon. She was the only humorous character. The war with the Whisperers has officially begun. The Walking Dead's tumultuous season nine finale is next week on AMC.