The Whisperers’ Not So Triumphant Return

After a rough start for its crew of zombie survivors, The Walking Dead heats up as multiple storylines take shape in season eleven. Episode five, “Out of the Ashes”, begins with a dream sequence. Aaron (Ross Marquand) is in the woods with Gracie (Anabelle Holloway) on a dark night. He hears growling and whistling. He stands in front of Gracie as a Wolf, Whisperer, walker, and Reaper surrounds them. Gracie vanishes before Aaron is stabbed to death. He wakes up with a gasp in bed with Gracie sleeping beside him.

Jerry (Cooper Andrews) gets out of bed and steps over his sleeping children. As he uses the bathroom, he sees walkers roaming in Alexandria through the window. The wall has been breached. Jerry sounds the alarm. Aaron tells Gracie to hide in the basement with her whistle. They see a walker munching on the guts of a man. Everyone races to the fallen wall and tries to lift the panel. Aaron holds back a walker as it’s secured in place with a metal beam.

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In the Commonwealth, Yumiko (Eleanor Matsura), Princess (Paola L├ízaro), Ezekiel (Khary Payton), and Eugene (Josh McDermitt), watch a cheesy, 80s-esque introduction video. Director of Operations Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton) walks through the fifty-thousand member community. He narrates children getting ice cream, senior citizens in the park, and people receiving medical care while white-armored security guards monitor. The video ends with a banner that says “Fight the Dead, Save the Living” and “This Message was Approved by Pamela Milton.”

The Alexandrians watch in amazement. They are given letters with their “work details.” Eugene is assigned as a high-school teacher, Princess in retail, Ezekiel animal care, while Yumiko’s remains vague. Princess gets her two dollar bill back and hopes they have a mall. Eugene protests, they weren’t looking for “permanent residency.” He’s ignored by the bureaucrat who tells him to talk to his case worker. But when Yumiko shows him her letter of “opportunities in the community”, he shows her great deference. She asks about her missing brother.

In Alexandria, Aaron, Jerry, Carol (Melissa McBride), Rosita (Christian Serratos), and Lydia (Cassady McClincy) take stock. They “need a long-term fix” to their many problems. Rosita wants “other options”, but Aaron refuses to abandon Alexandria. In the woods, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) fight through walkers on their way to the meeting point. Negan wonders why “she hasn’t put him down” yet. Maggie throws a knife. Negan ducks and it kills a walker behind him.

Aaron, Carol, Jerry, and Lydia arrive at the burnt Hilltop. They’re searching for tools and anything useful. They see charred walkers in armor that used to be their friends. Everyone solemnly goes around killing them. In Alexandria, Judith (Cailey Fleming) trains the other children with wooden swords. She sees a bunch of teenagers baiting walkers at the breach. When she chastises them, a boy pushes her down. She draws her sword before being held back by Gracie. The boy crudely taunts that her mother “abandoned her.” Judith walks away in tears.

Negan and Maggie reach the meeting house. Maggie collects a stash of hidden supplies. Negan thinks “they should cut their losses” and take what they have back. Maggie refuses, it’s not enough. He tells her they should only wait until sunset. At the Commonwealth, Yumiko enters a bakery. She marvels at the delectable treats. Her brother, Tomi (Ian Anthony Dale), comes out of the kitchen with a cake. He drops it on the floor when he sees her.

At the Hilltop, they find nothing but ruins. Lydia sees walkers ambling and realizes “they’re being herded.” They race to attack and find a Whisperer. Aaron knocks him down and rips off his skin mask. Lydia recognizes him as Keith (Brad Fleischer). In the Commonwealth, Eugene and Stephanie (Margot Bingham) get ice cream cones from a truck. A worker takes a tray of Rocky Road for Pamela Milton. Eugene tells Stephanie “he can’t stay.” They look up and see the radio tower with a knowing glance. Stephanie offers to help him contact his friends. Ezekiel and Princess approach. It will take weeks to meet their caseworker. They walk towards the radio tower with Mercer (Michael James Shaw) watching.

In Alexandria, Judith returns home to a hurtful act. Someone has broken the wooden planks with her and Carl’s handprints. She fiercely accuses the teen from earlier. He denies culpability and walks away with his friends snickering. On the porch, Judith weeps bitterly holding the pieces. Rosita sits beside her. Judith asks “if it gets easier.” Rosita honestly replies that it doesn’t. She tells Judith that she lost her father as a baby, and her mother when she was Judith’s age. But her mother prepared her to fend for herself, just like Carl and Rick did for Judith. She offers to help repair the planks.

Aaron interrogates Keith. Who swears he “snuck food” to Lydia during the cold winters, and that he’s alone. They decide to hold him in the cellar. They find other Whisperer women hiding. Aaron is furious. Jerry discovers a scarf that belonged to Nabila. They were in the raid on Alexandria. Aaron screams, “How many more?” Lydia begs for mercy. The Whisperers nod to each other. Keith grabs a knife and swipes at Aaron. The Whisperers flee up the steps. Aaron grabs the knife, “My turn!”

Stephanie and Eugene enter a train depot that holds the communication room. They go upstairs toward it while Princess and Ezekiel provide cover. Yumiko and Tomi sit outside to catch up. He fled Chicago, but was lucky enough to meet other survivors near the Commonwealth. He’s been there from the beginning. Yumiko can’t believe he’s a surgeon who’s baking cakes. Tomi calls the Commonwealth paradise as long as “you follow the rules.” He’s happy baking bakes.

Princess sees Mercer and his men entering the building. She thanks him for returning her lucky money, and then tries to flirt with him. Mercer doesn’t buy it. At the Hilltop, Keith is strung up by Jerry with a rope. Aaron holds a walker speared by deer antlers in front of him. When Keith doesn’t talk, Aaron lets the walker tear into his hand. Keith screams in agony. Aaron will cut off his hand and stop the pathogen if he talks. Keith swears he knows nothing. Carol shoots the walker in the head.

Aaron lashes out at Carol. She cries and tells him that he’s going down a dark path. Carol recounts her anger after losing Henry. She begs Aaron to let Keith go. Aaron relents and Jerry drops him. Aaron throws the knife in front of Keith. He can cut off his own hand.

In Alexandria, Rosita glues back together the planks. Suddenly the radio crackles to life. Eugene contacts them. They try to tell him that “Beta and Alpha are dead”, but there’s too much static. In the Commonwealth radio room, Mercer and his men burst in. Eugene and Stephanie are arrested.

At the meeting house, Negan starts putting the supplies in his pack. He’s heading back to Alexandria. Maggie pushes him back. Negan stands before her. She knocks him again. The front door opens. An injured Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) and Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari) arrive. Maggie tells them that Agatha, Cole, and Duncan are dead, while “Alden is holed up in a church.” She doesn’t know what happened to Daryl and Frost. Gabriel says “they will wait.” Negan sits down dejectedly.

Eugene paces as he, Princess, and Ezekiel are held by Mercer’s men. He asks what happened to Stephanie. A bureaucrat hits them with a litany of charges from the Commonwealth. They “have been granted a hearing before a judge.” If found guilty, they will be banished from the Commonwealth. Princess demands that they see their lawyer. They are told that “rights are for citizens.” Lance Hornsby walks in with Stephanie behind him. He orders to “let them go” and “do not move them.” He goes to find Mercer. Stephanie tells them they will “have to pay for what they’ve done.”

At the Hilltop, the group packs up supplies on a cart. Lydia sits with the handless Keith. Carol leaves him with a bag of mushrooms. Keith apologizes and says they weren’t all like Alpha. He drops a bombshell. He saw one of them, the missing Connie, escape the cave with the horde. Carol is stunned. Jerry looks at Aaron, “It’s a good thing you didn’t kill him.” Carol wants to start searching for Connie immediately. But Aaron tells her they need to return to Alexandria first. As they leave, the other Whisperer survivors come back to help Keith. The Walking Dead returns every Sunday night on AMC. The following week’s episode is available immediately after on AMC+.

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