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[This story contains spoilers for season nine, episode seven of AMC’s The Walking Dead, “Stradivarius,” as well as the comic books on which the show is based.]
Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) narrowly avoided death, but some of the men and women he left behind won’t be so lucky as The Walking Dead continues marching forward through its ninth season.
Indeed, one of the bloodiest events from the Walking Dead comic book series was teased during “Stradivarius,” the most recent episode of the AMC adaptation, directed by former star Michael Cudlitz (who played the late and great Abraham Ford). Several incidents of violence occurred throughout the episode, including Michonne (Danai Gurira) savagely butchering the titular violin, the new group led by Magna (Nadia Hilker) showing their abilities on the battlefield and even Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) rescuing his dog named Dog (seriously?) from certain doom at the jaws of the undead. But the scariest moment of the entire hour came right at the top, filled with foreboding dread, utterly unmistakable for fans of the illustrated Walking Dead.
Final warning: major spoilers are ahead, as the gruesome incident in question refers to a certain character’s fate …
… Rosita Espinosa, played by Christian Serratos since season four of the zombie drama. In the cold open of Sunday’s episode, titled “Stradivarius,” Rosita is seen running through the forest, bloodied and muddied and dazed as she tries to flee from an unseen threat. Unseen, but not unheard. Whispers whip through the air like bullets in wartime, stinging Rosita at a dizzying pace. The camera is glued to the character, locked in on Rosita from the shoulders up, closed in on her head, bringing the viewer into her heightened state of anxiety and terror. The sequence lasts 47 seconds before a tired, terrified, dehydrated Rosita collapses in a heap, bringing the episode smashing into the opening credits sequence.
On its own, the “Stradivarius” cold open is a tight tale of terror. In the context of the Walking Dead comic books from Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard, it’s even more menacing, as it speaks to Rosita’s eventual death: butchered off-page at the hands of the Whisperers, the monstrous new enemies who made their Walking Dead debut in season nine’s “Who Are You Now.” In the comics, the Whisperers (a group of survivors who wear skin suits in order to blend in with the dead, in addition to other cultural ways in which they emulate the walkers) eventually declare war against the Alexandrians by capturing and killing several members of the communities. They then place the victims’ severed zombified heads on spikes as a means of marking a border between Alexandria and the Whisperers’ domain.
Among the victims — you guessed it — Rosita. In the comics, she’s pregnant at the time of her death, allegedly with Eugene’s (Josh McDermitt) child. The show has made no strides toward a Rosita pregnancy storyline (unless a future doctor’s appointment at the Hilltop reveals otherwise), and what’s more, the TV version of Rosita is in a relationship with Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), not Eugene. In any case, the Walking Dead comics and TV show have diverged from one another on several occasions when it comes to major character deaths, including but not limited to the “Stradivarius” director himself, Cudlitz, whose Abraham died during Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) debut on the show, instead of his spontaneous arrow-through-the-eye fate from the comics. It’s entirely possible Rosita will survive the Whisperers’ war declaration in AMC’s version of events, but even so, it’s impossible not to think about the grisly occasion when viewing the most recent cold open.
Whether or not Rosita’s death was just teased, there’s no doubt that the Whisperers will strike out against the Alexandria Safe-Zone at some point in season nine the same way they do in the comics. It’s one of the most iconic images from Kirkman and Adlard’s series, as Rick and his allies gaze upon the dead faces of so many loved ones:
Along with Rosita, King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) is the other marquee name on the list of the men and women beheaded by the Whisperers. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter previously, Payton expressed his preparedness for such a demise, should it come to pass on the show: “I am aware of what happens in the comic book. But it’s an alternate universe, No. 1. No. 2, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m having a ball playing Ezekiel. If and when he reaches his demise, that’s just the way this show goes. I don’t take anything that is written as anything more than something on the page, until they tell me that my head is dissected or I’m killed in a different way from the comics. Or I might just hang around as long as Morgan (Lennie James) and Carol (Melissa McBride), you know? You never know.”
As Payton mentions, it’s entirely possible The Walking Dead will veer off course for the brutal act. Fans should certainly be worried about the fate of Eugene, for instance, as the man is currently missing in action, last seen with an injured ankle as Whisperers stalked nearby. Could his next appearance come in the form of a severed head on a spike?
Another possible victim to watch out for: Father Gabriel, who has been elevated to a new leadership position in the time-jumped era of The Walking Dead, not to mention his romance with Rosita. Gabriel has a very memorable death in the Walking Dead comics, though that death was already used on another character in season eight. Could Gabriel, much like Abraham, find himself leaving the zombie apocalypse in an even more impactful way than his comic book counterpart?
However the mass beheadings play out, it’s likely a future problem. The midseason finale looms next, and without much further elaboration on the Whisperers, it doesn’t feel like a likely point in which to make this game-changing declaration of war. In fact, in the comics, the beheadings occur following the community’s big fair, which is being teased on the show right now, looming in the distance. It’s a good bet to expect the “heads on spikes” scene as a landing point for the full season nine finale — and as a result, a good bet for when to expect the full realization of Rosita’s present terror, too.
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