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Review: The Walking Dead 9×16, “The Storm”

Aaron Neuwirth reviews the season nine finale of The Walking Dead, "The Storm" in which our heroes brave some extreme weather.

Well, the weather outside has never been so frightful, and the Whisperers are not so delightful, but with no more episodes of this season to go, The Walking Dead has decided to let it snow (let it snow, let it snow). “The Storm” gives us the opportunity to see the show stretch in terms of visual intensity for the season nine finale. While filming in Georgia certainly doesn’t lend itself to frequent episodes like this, it’s an impressive look for the show to embrace massive blizzards, mounds of snow, and even an icy lake. As a cold way to bring an end to a pretty consistently strong set of episodes (a nice change of pace for this series), The Walking Dead did a lot with this contemplative episode.

Following last week’s noteworthy “major characters died” type of episode, “The Storm” was already set up to be something more meditative. Adding a true disturbance in terms of heavy snow was a neat touch that allowed for interesting ways to zero-in on certain characters, and add to the mood of an episode full of brooding. We check in with a few of the ongoing subplots, such as the Rosita-Siddiq-Eugene-Gabriel baby sitcom (“Lil’ Trouble” coming this fall to ABC), but the focus becomes quite clear. In the midst of seeing how Alexandria and the Kingdom handle the snow, it is most important to follow Carol and Ezekiel, along with Lydia’s guilt, and Negan bein’ Negan.

The most important story is Carol and Ezekiel, primarily because of how relatable it has been made to be. This is a couple who came together thanks to Ezekiel using his ways to show Carol and elaborate fantasy that was working to make this dangerous world seem livable. Taking Henry away ruined that for both parties and the loss of their son has driven a wedge between them. This episode picks up after some time has passed from the Whispers deadly warning, and you can see how things have taken a toll. The Kingdom has fallen in terms of stability, forcing the entire community to pack up and leave, but the damage that’s beyond repair is the King and Queen’s relationship.

It’s frankly quite sad to see this unfold this way, as the actors have great chemistry together, but it’s well-played for a show that has problems making significant events, particularly when it comes to character drama, feel natural. The two communicate in awkward ways, with the episode playing up the distance between them. Ezekiel speaks against Daryl in a manner that is distressing and misplaced, but understandable. Still, even while Ezekiel could hope he could save a sinking ship, Carol knows better, and the two have ended their reign as royalty by the episode’s end.

Lydia is not doing any better. She lost the boy who had a major crush on her, but beyond that, she is feeling real survivor’s guilt. I can’t blame her. It doesn’t hurt that Cassady McClincy has done a lot with a character who could have come off as the worst throughout these past few episodes that have heavily relied on her. With that in mind, I can understand her thoughts of putting herself out of her misery by letting her arm get bit by a frozen walker. Even as she begged Carol to kill her, it’s easy to see a version of this series that would let that happen. By the end of this episode, she’s a part of a happy snowball fight taking place. As this show tends to like having a teenager around for a different perspective, I can only wonder what type of role she’ll have in the seasons going forward.

Checking in with Negan felt promising this week, as the character had more to do than deliver straight talk from behind bars. It builds up to an inevitable situation where he has to become a …savior, but I can allow it. While I haven’t been a fan of his continued presence or the wise-beyond-her-years Judith Grimes, establishing their relationship early on was important enough for it to mean something this week. It also put us on the path to see Michonne eventually deem him rehabilitated to the point of existing outside of a prison cell. I only wish there was a better scenario than a smart little girl running off into a blizzard to be the setup here.

On a technical level, this episode is excellent. However, there’s more to “The Storm” than just acknowledging what a great job director Greg Nicotaro did in making it all look consistent. The cool atmosphere allows for some thematically neat offerings and some structurally fun elements. Season nine began with a mission involving characters carefully moving across a glass floor, and this episode features the ice lake equivalent. Better yet, we get snow walkers.

Sure, we all assumed Daryl would probably kill a walker with an icicle (which was awesome, as one expects any kills involving icicles to be), but there’s a symbolic angle as well. As walkers suddenly popped up out of the snow, one can think of one of the core ideas of The Walking Dead as a whole. Death can come out of nowhere, which is what last week served as a good reminder of. Sometimes it is due to humans, but the undead has no say in this. These zombicles can come at any moment and kill.

Relying on the weather to be the most striking thing about a season finale is a bold movie. Still, I didn’t find this episode to be lacking. Last week was the season’s climax, and this is merely the epilogue. It’s still skillfully done, both in terms of filmmaking and its handling of character. Not every episode needs to focus on how to get back at the bad guys or some other turn in the plot to add a wrinkle to things. Plenty was set up for the next season in terms of character relationships, community location, and the final moment involving the radio. Regardless, this is the sort of episode that shows me a series that has seemingly taken hold of its life and has some exciting paths it plans to travel. Here’s hoping next season continues to have something as intriguing as a weather change to work with.

Dead Bits:

  • Zombie Kill of the Week: Icicle kill!
  • Meanwhile, in Whisperer land, Beta is whipping Alpha’s arm for some upcoming plan that is sure to be terrible. I’ve overall liked how this plotline has been handled and especially look forward to Beta Vs. Daryl: the rematch.
  • That said, the Whispers apparently avoided the snow by going on a vacation? I hope they took pictures…
  • Alden is being a pretty big dick for being a guy who used to be *checks notes* one of the Saviors.
  • “Language” – Judith on the path to becoming Captain America
  • Always check the chimney.
  • Oceanside is probably fine, right?
  • “That woman was able to walk amongst us because we didn’t know each other.” – Michonne laying down some real truth here.
  • Bring on the Kingtop!
  • Radio thoughts? I have some obvious theories if you’ve read the comics, but we’ll see where this goes.
  • Great season overall! Strong start, dropped the ball around the “Rick’s outta here” episodes, but gained a lot of great momentum in the back half. Keep it up season 10!
  • Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what me and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on The Walking Dead TV Podcast.

Written by
Aaron is a movie fanatic and loves talking about such things…a lot. He is from Orange County, California, but earned a degree or two at UC Santa Barbara. He describes himself as a film reviewer, writer, podcaster, video game player, comic book reader, disc golfer, and a lefty. His mind is full of film knowledge and random trivia, but he is always open to learning more, whether it’s through box office stats, reviewing Blu-rays from The Criterion Collection or simply hearing first hand from filmmakers and others about various productions and behind-the-scenes tidbits.

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