7:15am PT by Josh Wigler
'The Walking Dead': What to Expect From the Whisperer War to Come in Season 10
[This story contains spoilers for the season nine finale of AMC's The Walking Dead, "The Storm," as well as major spoilers from the Walking Dead comic books on which the show is based.]
Alpha (Samantha Morton), Beta (Ryan Hurst) and their feral minions have already savagely butchered several main Walking Dead characters, but the Whisperer War has only just begun.
In the penultimate scene of "The Storm," the Greg Nicotero-directed season nine finale, Alpha and Beta conspire in the woods, several months after murdering Henry (Matt Lintz), Enid (Katelyn Nacon) and Tara (Alanna Masterson) in the now-infamous heads-on-spikes scene. They deliberate the next moves for Whisperer nation, suggesting their tensions with the Alexandria Safe Zone will soon escalate beyond the current level of bloodshed.
Of course, Walking Dead fans who have read Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's comic book series on which the show is based are already well aware of just how badly things will escalate between the two communities. In the comics, the mass beheadings trigger an event known as "The Whisperer War," which includes the deaths of several main characters — a few of whom are still alive in the televised version of events. Spoilers from the comics are ahead.
In the comics, Alpha's attack on the Alexandrians slightly differs from the show's version of events, in the form of the key beheaded victims: Rosita (Christian Serratos) and Ezekiel (Khary Payton), both of whom leave behind several grieving loved ones in their wake. In addition to the individualized pain, the deaths also trigger an existential crisis within the communities. People are torn on how to respond to the Whisperers' act of terrorism. Should it be seen as an act of war, and should it be met with an equal response? Does it make more sense to slow-play the response, building the community's inhabitants up as soldiers ready to fight such a deadly battle? The internal debate is nearly as fierce as the external conflict, leading to acts of in-fighting as well as a rising tide of rebellion. Expect to see those tensions boil over in season ten, according to what showrunner Angela Kang tells The Hollywood Reporter.
"There's some stuff from the comic books that has to do with the idea of Whisperers and whispering and propaganda," she says. "We're very interested in what a war with people like the Whisperers looks like. What is a cold war like in The Walking Dead? We're looking forward to exploring that next year."
The conflict eventually spills over into all-out war thanks to the architect of a previous all-out war: Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who escapes his Alexandrian prison cell, infiltrates the Whisperers, cozies up to Alpha, and eventually assassinates her in brutal fashion — via beheading, ironically enough. Negan returns to Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) with Alpha's head in tow as a sign of renewed allegiance to Alexandria, but in the process, he unwittingly unshackles the already unstable Beta into a full-on assault.
Will Negan kill Alpha in season ten? If the series follows the comic book script to the letter, definitely. But how often does the series follow the comics to the letter? Even the mass beheadings were meaningfully different as far as specific victims were concerned. As Kang puts it: "The interesting thing is, we have rarely killed the same people from the comic books in the same iconic [manner]. Glenn (Steven Yeun) is one of the exceptions." It's easy enough to imagine a scenario where Negan tries to kill Alpha, only for the tables to turn, with Alpha killing Negan and using his failed attempt as a catalyst to go all out against the Alexandrians.
No matter the trigger, the Whisperers eventually wage war against the communities, burning the Hilltop to the ground and killing some key characters along the way — including Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), who dies at the hands of Beta, disemboweled while hanging upside down from a ladder. It's a disturbing death scene, one that Gilliam is keenly aware of already. As Kang mentions, however, iconic deaths are rarely given to the same main character between the comics and show; perhaps Gabriel will avoid his gutting fate after all… though another person will almost certainly take his place, in that case.
The war ends when the Whisperers, badly defeated in battle, resort to the nuclear option, unleashing their stashed herd of walkers on the communities. The Alexandrians eventually beat back the herd, but not without a huge casualty: Andrea, long since dead in the television series, but still a very important character up until this point in the comics as Rick's wife and most trusted confidant. Could this be the way out for Michonne, given Danai Gurira's impending exit, and her association with Rick on the show? Perhaps this death is being reserved for King Ezekiel, since he was spared from the beheadings, and would end up galvanizing the Carol (Melissa McBride) storyline through a Whisperer War death? However it plays out, it's worth getting ready for someone to die while wrangling the Whisperers' herd, as it's such a major point in the Whisper War endgame from the comics — it's just a matter of who.
There's yet another death in the offing, though it occurs considerably later than the Whisperer War proper: Beta. After the dust settles on the main conflict, Jesus (Tom Payne) and Aaron (Ross Marquand) encounter Beta in the wild. They kill the man in a brutal two-on-one battle, and then wipe out the rest of the Whisperers still lurking as part of Beta's pack. Since Jesus is long since dead in the comics, a different couple will have to take on Beta, should the show move forward with a similar death match. How about Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Connie (Lauren Ridloff), potentially a couple-in-the-making, and certainly two of the survivors with the clearest grudge against Beta thus far? The idea is free of charge, Kang and company!
All while the Whisperer War rages on, a different story bubbles beneath the surface: Eugene (Josh McDermitt) making contact with a new community via radio. No need to rehash that storyline any further; we've already laid it out here. Needless to say, the growing world of Walking Dead is set to expand even further in season ten, even as the war with the Whisperers looks to take some major players off of the field.
Follow THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage.