The Walking Dead closes an epic season nine with foreshadowing of more changes to come. The show portrays a brutal winter for the first time. "The Storm" takes place weeks after the cruel beheadings of Henry, Tara, and Enid. King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and his followers abandon the Kingdom. They make a dangerous trek in the blizzard to the Hilltop. Lydia (Cassady McClincy) is overcome with guilt for her mother's actions. The Alexandrians try to hunker down, but Judith (Cailey Fleming) makes a foolish decision. Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) continues his path to redemption. Eugene's (Josh McDermitt) radio becomes a pivotal tool.

"The Storm" begins with a montage and voice over from Ezekiel. He's speaking into the radio. The struggle to keep the Kingdom viable has failed. The pipes have burst, causing a fire. The Kingdom's people load up wagons to leave. Daryl makes Lydia eat a meager meal before the trip. Carol (Melissa McBride) sadly looks through a box of Henry's things. Ezekiel wraps up the charter, running his fingers over Tara's signature. Daryl, Michonne (Danai Gurira), Aaron (Ross Marquand), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), and Magna (Nadia Hilker) lead the wagons outside. Carol and Ezekiel lock the gates to the Kingdom.

The caravan goes slowly down a desolate road. Whisperers are in a field shadowing their movement. Alden (Callan McAuliffe) bitterly rebukes Lydia, but is shut down by Daryl. She says he doesn't have to protect her. Daryl responds that they don't get to "talk to her like that". Jerry (Cooper Andrews) tells Ezekiel the barometer has "taken a nosedive." A huge storm is coming. Ezekiel looks disapprovingly as Carol and Daryl walk together.

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In Alexandria, it has already started snowing. Rosita's (Christian Serratos) heater has lost battery power. Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) hugs her. They can keep each other warm. Eugene enters with news that the solar array is dead. Father Gabriel decides they must shelter in buildings with the largest fireplaces. Negan will freeze in his cell. They need to let him out.

On the road, Daryl puts down several walkers with Carol. He and Ezekiel go off to clear them. Lydia slips away by herself. Alone together, Ezekiel asks Daryl to leave once they get to the Hilltop. He wants to reconnect with Carol, clearly blaming Daryl for Henry's death. Lydia finds a walker frozen in the snow. She pulls up her sleeve and offers her hand to get bitten. Carol catches her and kills the walker. They rejoin the others on the road. They'll never make it to the first waypoint in the storm. Michonne takes them to the decrepit Sanctuary.

In Alexandria, Rosita shackles Negan in the council room. The fire blazes as Negan mocks Father Gabriel, Siddiq, and Rosita for their baby situation. Judith is told to stay away from the window. Daryl asked her to take care of his dog, but it's lost in the raging storm. Negan smells something. Eugene grabs the others from the fireplace as it explodes. The chimney is clogged. The group decides to go to Aaron's house. They bundle up, then hold a rope to keep together in the blizzard. Negan reminds them not to leave him behind.

At the Sanctuary, Daryl sits with Carol. She wonders what Ezekiel asked him. Carol is distraught. Ezekiel blames Daryl, because he won't blame her for Henry. Daryl tells Carol he can leave with Lydia, but he doesn't want to go. Lydia is below them listening to the conversation. Michonne and Ezekiel realize they must abandon the wagons and leave that night if they are to survive. They review the map with the others. The only way is through the Whisperers territory. Carol says they can walk across the frozen river. Alpha's boundaries are not there's. They decide to proceed and take the risk.

Ezekiel laments his failure to protect his people and the loss of the Kingdom to Michonne. She bitterly replies that the years of separation allowed Alpha to infiltrate them. They didn't know each other and paid the price. Michonne comforts, the people survived because of Ezekiel. She points to the group. The charter meant something. These are now our people. We will get them home. They walk the snowy night to the pike barrier. Lydia looks at where Henry was staked before they cross into Whisperer territory.

In Alexandria, the storm rages as the group trudges together; holding the rope. Judith hears the dog barking in the distance. She runs to find him as the others scream for her to stay. Negan drops the rope and chases after her. In the woods, Ezekiel and Daryl take their group through the snow. They smash the heads of frozen walkers. Daryl comes to the river. It's frozen solid and safe to cross. He notices that Lydia has vanished. Carol goes after her again. As Daryl beckons the others to cross single file, walkers start popping up under the snow drifts.

Michonne grabs her sword and starts to clear a path. Ezekiel leads them across the river single file. Jerry huddles on the other side with Nabila (Nadine Marissa) and their children. Carol catches up with Lydia under a shed. Lydia begs for Carol to kill her. Her mother was right. She is weak. She is responsible for Henry and the Hilltop deaths. Carol gently replies that she is not. She takes Lydia by the hand and leads her back. Daryl stakes a walker through the eye with an icicle.

Negan screams for Judith in the blinding storm. A piece of flying debris cuts his left thigh. He hears the dog barking and soldiers on. He finds Judith putting a rope around the dog. Negan picks her up, but she begs him not to leave the dog behind. He carries her to shelter behind a wall; then wraps her in his coat. A freezing Judith comments his leg looks like "shit". He tells her that dog "better poop golden nuggets".

The Kingdom group reaches the Hilltop's gates. Daryl smashes another frozen walker. Inside the mansion, they all warm up by the fire. Lydia looks at Jadis' paintings. Jerry says they could combine the names of their new home to "Kingtop". Daryl tells Lydia they will leave for Alexandria in the morning. At the window, a solemn Carol breaks up with Ezekiel. She will leave for Alexandria as well. Carol sadly says she will "never regret the fairy tale." She tries to return Ezekiel's ring, but he leaves it in her hand. He knows that she has to go.

They finally make it to Alexandria. Judith runs into Michonne's arms. Carol looks around at the place she left long ago. The entire group plays in the snow with Judith and RJ. Even Daryl and Lydia join the fun. Michonne visits a recuperating Negan. She thanks him for saving Judith. He dryly comments that Rick had just slit his throat the last time he was there. He lovingly calls Judith a "spitfire". Negan laughs when told they sheltered at the Sanctuary. He knows what it's like to lose a kingdom. He and Michonne have a moment of understanding over their escape through the Whisperer territory. Negan tells her that "common people, have a common goal." No one thinks that they are evil. Michonne looks at him with a newfound respect.

In the Whisperer camp, the snow has melted. Animal hides are being stretched. Beta (Ryan Hurst) takes off Alpha's (Samantha Morton) mask. He says she is strong. She replies, "I need to be stronger for what's to come." She fashions a switch from a tree branch and holds out her arm. Beta begins to lash her.

Ezekiel is back on the radio speaking to Judith in Alexandria. He's optimistic about life at the Hilltop. The winter will end, the snow will melt, and the summer will offer a new beginning. Judith radios back that maybe they will return to the Kingdom one day. She signs off and heads to do her homework. When Ezekiel leaves the radio room, it crackles back to life. A mysterious woman's voice says, "Hello? Is their anyone out there? Calling out live on the open air..."

Season nine certainly delivered monumental changes. Rick's departure, the time jump, the beginning of the Whisperers conflict. The deaths of Jesus and Tara were a blow. Henry's demise was welcome. The Kingdom falls, Daryl becomes the primary character, and Carol is now back in Alexandria. Alpha is primed to move against the resolute communities. Lydia looks to be a central focus. Young Judith is every bit a bad-ass. Her relationship with Negan has changed his stripes. Fans of the comic know his destiny is against the Whisperers. Who was the voice on the radio? Does the "New World Order" of the Commonwealth await in season ten? What the hell happened to Maggie? We'll find out when The Walking Dead returns this October on AMC.

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Julian Roman