“This wasn’t a normal herd. They were whispering to each other.”
Ironically, “The Walking Dead” just made zombies scary again by making them… human.
It’s been a long time since “The Walking Dead” has even tried to be scary, as the show has primarily focused on human drama rather than genuine terror these last several years. The main threat to our group of heroes has almost always been another group of humans, with the actual walking dead amounting to little more than an easily-dispatched nuisance.
Sure, a massive herd of walkers will always pose a threat, but for the most part, the show’s zombies (no matter how creepy they often look) are killed far more often than they kill.
But “The Walking Dead” has a fresh new trick up its sleeve for the back half of Season 9, put on full display in tonight’s mid-season finale, “Evolution.” The show had spent the past couple weeks teasing the arrival of evolved zombies, which have not only gotten smarter but they’ve also developed the ability to speak. (Of course, those zombies aren’t truly, well, zombies.)
Readers of Robert Kirkman’s comics were well aware going into the mid-season finale that the “evolved zombies” are actually The Whisperers, a new group of villains who essentially cosplay as zombies in an effort to blend in and avoid detection. The group’s members quite literally wear the faces of skinned zombies, Leatherface style, and shamble around in large packs. It’s one of the most downright creepy concepts that “The Walking Dead” has ever introduced, and if tonight’s episode was any indication, the show is about to get scarier than ever before.
“Evolution” spent much of its runtime teasing a new herd of walkers quite unlike any the characters have ever encountered before – a shaken Eugene’s account of what he saw (and heard) before being separated from Rosita perfectly conveyed how chilling the whole thing is, as he was more scared than we typically ever see characters on the show – culminating in a dark, foggy battle in a graveyard that was one of the show’s most downright terrifying sequences to date. Zombies in a graveyard. At night. A foggy night. With a storm brewing.
Atmosphere. Suspense. Dread. HORROR. Go you, “The Walking Dead”!
The episode ratcheted up the tension with these not-quite-zombies in pursuit of Jesus, Aaron and an injured Eugene in the graveyard, for the first time in a while reminding us that “The Walking Dead” is, at the end of the day, a horror series. Michonne, Daryl, Magna and Yumiko eventually showed up for the save, but that’s when things got *really* creepy.
After handily slaying a handful of the graveyard “zombies” (in a slow-mo sequence that was insanely cool), Jesus took a swipe at another with his sword but the zombie ducked out of the way, stabbing Jesus in the back and whispering into his ear, “You are where you do not belong.” Perfectly timed, lightning flashed as Jesus’s (possibly dead) body fell to the ground.
As I was watching “Evolution,” I couldn’t help but think how much more unsettling the episode would’ve been for me had I gone into it with no knowledge of The Whisperers, and that makes me pretty damn jealous of those who were able to be genuinely surprised by what was a CRAZY, surely unexpected twist. At the very end of the episode, after squaring off with this new group of “evolved zombies,” Daryl quite literally unmasked one of the “zombies” to reveal that it wasn’t a zombie at all. Rather it was a living human being wearing a zombie’s face as a mask, which had to be one of the creepiest moments in the show’s history. Even knowing what was coming, the characters did not, which made the reveal truly chilling all the same.
These characters have been honing their zombie-killing skills for nearly ten years, by now so comfortable sharing the world with undead monsters that they’re hardly even terrified of them anymore, but now they’re faced with human-zombie hybrids that are different beasts entirely. Now THAT is some scary shit. The Governor and Negan seem quaint in comparison.
The final moments of “Evolution” were horror movie perfection, leaving us with Daryl, Michonne and friends surrounded by both a thick fog and whispering “zombies” in a graveyard. Greg Nicotero recently promised that The Whisperers would be reintegrating scares back into “The Walking Dead,” and that has us very much excited about what’s coming next.
What else did “Evolution” set up for the future? Most notably, Negan managed to escape from Alexandria’s prison, presumably thanks to the help of an unknown ally who unlocked his cell. The episode also touched a bit more upon the strife between communities, again teasing that something major happened that divided Alexandria, The Kingdom and Hilltop, some time in the six years we weren’t following the characters. Does whatever happened between the groups have anything to do with those nasty “X” scars that both Michonne and Daryl are rocking?
And what the hell happened between Michonne and Maggie?
One thing we know for sure is that the “Whisperer War” is coming, and it very well could prove to be the most terrifying, devastating chapter in the show’s history. Here’s hoping.