The Walking Dead
“What It Always Is”
November 3, 2019
For reasons that are both unclear and very stupid, Kelly is out in the woods, hunting by herself and testing the limits of her diminishing hearing. It goes about as well as to be expected: she’s able to kill a boar, but some walkers sneak up on her, and chase her until she falls down an embankment and is knocked unconscious. And to add insult to actual injury, the walkers eat her kill.
At Hilltop, people are dealing with the fallen tree, and bitching to Yumiko that they need to strengthen their defenses against the Whisperers, but she’s all, “Not now,” for reasons that are both unclear and very stupid. An extra informs Yumiko that supplies are going missing from the root cellar, and that her girlfriend, Lady Gaga, was supposed to be on watch.
Yumiko confronts Lady Gaga about the missing supplies.
Daryl and Not!Dr. Siddiq arrive at Hilltop, after an unsuccessful search for Negan, around the same time the hunting party that Kelly had been on arrives sans Kelly. Connie asks about her sister, and they’re basically, “Dunno,” because they are a bunch of worthless no-name extras.
So Daryl and Connie go out in the woods together to
further their flirtation search for Kelly. There, Daryl assures Connie that it was not her fault that Kelly is missing and begins to tell some story about how he saved a drunk Merle from drowning this one time, only to have his brother yell at him for leaving behind some beer.
Right then, Dog begins barking and leads them to the remains of the boar Kelly killed, but no Kelly. But they aren’t alone: Lady Gaga appears from behind a tree. WELL, WELL, WELL. WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?
A little later, Dog finds Kelly because Dog is the only one doing his goddamned job around here. And though Kelly is alive, she’s in rough shape. They need to get her back to Hilltop, and quickly, but Kelly’s like, “alternatively, we could just go to the nearby stash of supplies Lady Gaga and I have been stealing from Hilltop and storing out here in the woods like some goddamned assholes.”
Daryl Dixon is VERY disappointed in everyone.
They return to Hilltop with Kelly and the “found” supplies and Daryl’s bad attitude, but he does not tattle.
Later Yumiko asks Lady Gaga about their good luck in happening to find the supplies in that remote area, and Lady Gaga is like, “FINE, I STOLE THEM,” before admitting that she did kill some dude and I think what we are supposed to surmise is that in the beforetimes, Yumiko was Lady Gaga’s defense attorney in a murder case, and she believed Lady Gaga was innocent. But she wasn’t.
Anyway, after this revelation, Yumiko and Lady Gaga break up.
Outside, Daryl and Siddiq decide it’s time to head back to Alexandria even though it’s nighttime, which just seems like a terrible decision. So many terrible decisions in this episode! Connie apologizes for dragging him into Lady Gaga and Kelly’s lie about the stolen supplies, and he’s like, “No worries. Family, amirite?” Connie smiles and calls him family, too.
Caryl shippers make another Connie voodoo doll, as the previous ones are too full of pins to be of any further use.
In a Hilltop subplot, King Zeke asks to talk to Dr. Siddiq and reveals that he has … at some point … developed a nasty-sounding cough? DUDE. MASK UP.
In a private office, King Z reveals an alarmingly large lump on his neck and tells Siddiq that his family has a history of thyroid cancer. The good news is that thyroid cancer has a 98% survival rate! The bad news is that the survival rate only applies in the beforetimes.
Siddiq protests that Ezekiel can manage his condition with acupuncture and hypnosis, but King Zeke is like, “Nah.”
Later, Siddiq calls into Alexandria over the radio and asks to speak to Carol, before handing the radio over to King Ezekiel and leaving the room. However, just as Carol picks up the other end, King Z turns off the radio and has a sad. SAD.
Over in Whisperville, Aaron is hanging out in the woods, playing with swords, as one does, when he happens to see Gamma out and about. Hiding behind a tree, he watches as she guts a walker and dumps its innards into a stream — presumably as a means to pollute our protagonists’ water supply.
Back at the Whisperers’ camp, there are some policy disagreements. One Whisperer argues that they should just unleash the hordes on our heroes, and quick dicking around, and Alpha is like, “Listen, this is a democracy! Let’s take a vote. Who agrees with Whisperer Redshirt over here, and thinks that we should abandon my dicking around plan?” No one raises their hand, so Alpha obviously murders Whisperer Redshirt while delivering some over-the-top villain speech. You know, The Usual.
Gamma takes the reanimated Whisperer Redshirt out into the woods where she has some flashbacks to when she killed her own sister and begins furiously stabbing the new walker, cutting her hand in the process. Fortunately for her, Aaron was still spying on her and appears from behind his spyin’ tree, introduces himself, and tosses her some bandages which she accepts before scurrying back to her camp.
Gamma immediately goes to Alpha and reveals her now gauzed hand, but Alpha isn’t mad, she’s pleased: they have to wear different masks at different times, it’s a sacrifice, kinda like her sister. Gamma insists Alpha’s sacrifice of Lydia was the greatest of all. “YES, WELL, HAHAHA, LET’S NOT FOCUS ON THAT. LET’S FOCUS ON THIS AARON GUY. HE MIGHT PROVE USEFUL DOWN THE ROAD.”
Finally, the A storyline: Negan’s adventures in the woods. He’s washing up in a stream (presumably not near where Gamma dumped all those zombie intestines) when a young man sneaks up on him from behind with a knife, threatening Negan to “not try anything.” But HAHA, it’s actually just Brandon, the large adult son of two former Saviors playing a little joke on Negan.
It seems Brandon’s parents were killed by Rick Grimes (or someone on Team Rick), and he was forced to move to Alexandria and leave the sociopath’s playground that was the Sanctuary. Brandon’s pretty sure Negan is scouting out a new Sanctuary, and he begins burbling admiringly that he heard that Negan killed Carl after he made Rick cut off his hand, and Negan is like, “JESUS CHRIST, NONE OF THAT HAPPENED, YOU PSYCHO.” But Brandon is undeterred and is all, “We’re both Negan.” Negan has a disturbed.
At one point, Negan is attacked by a walker, which he manages to kill without any help from Negan Jr. When he is like, “HEY, THANKS FOR THE ASSIST,” Brandon is all, “Oh, sorry, I was making you a present,” before handing him his old leather jacket that Brandon stole from storage in Alexandria … and a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire.
Actually, this is more accurate:
Sounding almost nauseous, Negan instructs him to put them away: he doesn’t want to be recognized.
Later, the two watch as some walkers shamble around and Brandon begins to rate them on a hotness scale, convinced that this is what the Saviors did to kill time back in the day.
At some point, they hear some screaming coming from a nearby bus, and they run inside to find a mother and her young son being cornered by a small horde of walkers. Negan and Brandon save them, and after, the mother reveals that they’ve been walking for days, ever since walkers attacked their camp and scattered their fellow survivors.
After Mom and Son excuse themselves to take a walk, Brandon is like, “So is now the part where we follow them and see where they’re hiding their stash?” Negan again is like, “DUDE, IT’S JUST A WOMAN AND HER KID,” and Brandon is all, “Oh, I get it: people are resources, too.”
Negan, sick of this sociopath (that he helped create) is like, “You know what, I think it’s time you and I split up. Thanks for the jacket and Lucille Jr., but it’s time for you to go home.” Brandon points out that if he goes back, people are going to have questions about where he’s been, and Negan is like, “Well, then, go back and tell them you were with me, don’t go back there at all, I don’t give a shit as long as you’re not around me.”
Brandon pouts that Negan is just like all the others before stomping off.
Later, Negan is talking to Young Son about what airplanes used to be like, and teaches him “nut-tapping,” which is exactly what it sounds like: smacking someone in the testicles as a means to get revenge or embarrass.
Negan then explains that he’s going to take Young Son and Mom someplace where they’ll be safe: Hilltop, but that he needs to go pack up while Negan gathers some firewood.
But! When Negan returns from collecting firewood, he hears Brandon whistling and discovers that he has murdered Mom and Young Son: Negan almost had Brandon fooled, but then he remembered that Negan is always messing with people, and that when he “sent Brandon away” it was really just a test to see if he had what it takes.
Negan, infuriated, beats Brandon to death with a rock.
Or maybe not, because as soon as he’s done, he puts on his leather jacket and slings Lucille Jr. over his shoulder and wanders off into the woods.
That night, he yells out into the darkness, taunting the Whisperers. Soon he’s fighting off a few walkers when he is suddenly thrown to the ground by Beta. “Alright, you big ass freak, let’s do this,” Negan smiles up at him.
The main story in this episode is Negan’s identity struggle, obviously. He has changed, he has become a “good” person after spending a few years with the Alexandrians. But he can’t escape his past: Brandon represents Negan’s id burbling up to the surface the further and further he gets from “civilization.” By the end of the episode, it would appear that Negan has once again embraced that darker side of himself — a terrifying prospect as he seems to be trying to hitch a ride with the Whisperers.
Or has he? It could be argued that he actually kills the last remaining part of Sanctuary Negan when he kills Brandon, a walking, breathing example of what happens when someone is raised in the cult of Negan’s former cruelty. So is his donning the jacket and wielding Lucille Two the Return of Negan, or is he just putting on a costume to fool someone, much like the Whisperers themselves?
(I should note here that I’ve read plenty of comic spoilers and know where Negan’s story goes at least in that telling. Of course, the show has diverged from the comics time and time again, so we can’t take for granted that the show will unfold in the same way.)
Before I end this, I wanted to put a pin in a small thing that I noticed about this episode and am not sure if it’s foreshadowing or an actual real plot point. But: STASHES. There are three stashes mentioned in the episode:
1. the one Lady Gaga and Kelly hid in the woods
2. the one that Brandon believes Mom and Young Son must have somewhere
3. the purloined Negan items, including his jacket, his scarf, and Lucille Two.
Like I said, I’m not sure what these stashes mean or represent but it feels deliberate, like the writers want us to — maybe even just subconsciously — keep in the back of our minds that people are hiding things from each other, for future, possibly selfish reasons. Just something to keep in mind as we move through the rest of the episodes.
ALRIGHT. ONTO THE NEXT ONE.
The Walking Dead airs on AMC on Sundays at 8/9 p.m.