Full Episode
56 days left
Full Episode
56 days left

Season 9, Episode 8

Evolution

A small rescue mission braves a dangerous herd in their hunt for a missing comrade, only to discover a surprising threat that could doom them all.

Show Full Recap

Full Recap

Walkers mill about in an open field. From a distance, Jesus, Aaron, and Daryl observe them, accompanied by Daryl’s dog. Daryl counts about 130, maybe 140. Jesus asks Aaron if he ever saw them do this before. Aaron says, “No. Never.” Daryl states that Rosita’s trail goes straight through them, and that they’ll have to get the horses and circle around them. Jesus notes that this herd milling around is not normal. Daryl agrees it ain’t, and senses a storm coming. As the group and Daryl’s dog move off, a female walker from the herd sneaks a look over its shoulder.

In Alexandria, the windmill turns, as children run down the street, laughing and playing. In the cell, Gabriel facilitates a meditation with Negan, but Negan is too distracted by the children’s noises outside. He gives up and proceeds to continuously bounce a tennis ball off a wall and catch it with his baseball mitt. Gabriel wants to understand him. “You don’t feel like you’re getting any benefit from our sessions?” he asks.

“It reminds me that another week’s gone by, but other than that…” Negan says. “I know I’m never getting out. And I appreciate how you came down here and helped me while I was touch and go with that. But I got everything I need now. That little window up there? Hell, that’s as good as TV…”

“Acceptance is an important first step,” Gabriel tells him calmly. “But a life needs to have meaning. A life needs purpose –"

“Funny thing about this window here,” Negan interrupts, “People stand out there and they talk like they don’t remember I’m here. That’s when I get the really good shit. Just the other day, I heard Rosita out there chattin’ up a storm. She said some interesting things you would find very interesting.”

Gabriel smiles mildly. “I don’t need you to tell me how Rosita feels about me.”

“Now, who said she was talking about you?” Negan says, grinning.

Gabriel ends the session and walks outside, shaking his head. He sees two Hilltop riders in the distance and asks Barbara who they are. “Messengers. Came all the way from Hilltop. They found Rosita. She’s hurt.” Gabriel takes that in, alarmed.

At Hilltop, a scout on horseback shouts, “Riders! Riders are coming!” The Hilltop workers outside drop their work and run back inside. Michonne is the rider on horseback, along with Siddiq, DJ, Luke, Yumiko, Magna, Connie, and Kelly, approaching with caution. From inside, Tara, Enid, and Alden rush to the gate, armed with guns and a sword. From her lookout post, Dianne sees Michonne and her group.

“What’s not to like about us?” Luke says to Magna. “We’re a solid looking bunch. Scrappy.”

Dianne demands Michonne’s party to state their business. Michonne states, “We’re here for Rosita.” Siddiq states they met Hilltop’s messengers on the road, who told them what happened. As for the others in their party, Michonne states, “They’re good people looking for a home. I told them Hilltop would consider taking them in.”

Dianne remains silent. Michonne drops her weapons. Siddiq and DJ follow suit. Luke, Yumiko, Connie and Kelly toss their weapons to show cooperation. Magna reluctantly says, “Just got these back,” before dropping her knives.

Inside the gate, Michonne and Tara exchange dark looks. Michonne asks where Jesus is. Tara tells her he’s out with the search party looking for Eugene. Blindsided, Michonne asks, “Eugene’s missing? Since when?” Tara doesn’t know, thought Michonne would, and guesses Eugene went out with Rosita, but he wasn’t with her when they found her. Siddiq asks Enid how Rosita is. Enid tells him she was unconscious, with dehydration and heat exhaustion, but she’ll be fine and should wake up soon. Michonne asks Tara, “If she’s been out this whole time, how’d you know Eugene was with her?”

“Aaron told us,” Tara reveals. Michonne raises her voice, blindsided again. Tara tells her he’s with Jesus and Daryl. “Daryl came down from his mountain with Carol and Henry… It’s like the old gang’s back together.” Michonne asks where they’re headed. Alden tells her she could pick up their trail but won’t catch them before nightfall. Tara tells Michonne she can have her weapons back when she leaves tomorrow. “As for the rest of you,” Tara says to the newcomers as Kelly interprets for Connie, “You’re gonna have to wait until Jesus gets back. If you want to stay stay, I’m gonna have to talk to him. And you’re gonna have to earn your keep.” Connie steps forward and signs a gesture at Tara.

Kelly translates, “She says ‘thank you.’ We all do.”

The Hilltoppers disperse. Siddiq says to a seething Michonne, “It’s good we’re here.” She then sees someone in the distance who makes her smile – Carol, standing on the steps of Barrington House, watching from a distance. Michonne’s smile fades as she watches her go back inside.

At the horse barn, Magna and Yumiko unpack their gear with Connie. “So the guy running things here calls himself ‘Jesus.’” Magna says. “Sounds like a cult to me.” Connie is pretty sure it’s just a nickname. Yumiko says that if they plan on staying a while, they should be thinking about how they’re going to prove their worth to them. Michonne and Siddiq pass by as they quietly argue, with Siddiq telling her that he didn’t know anything about Eugene and Rosita. Michonne argues that he knew Aaron was working a backchannel.

“Hilltop is not a backchannel, Michonne.” Siddiq argues. “We’re talking about our friends…” They stop their conversation to greet Carol, who’s packing a wagon.

“I didn’t expect to see you here,” Michonne says to Carol. Carol says, “Same,” and asks about her friends.

“We’re not friends yet,” Magna says. “I’m Magna. This is Yumiko and Connie.” Carol introduces herself and surprises everyone by signing the spelling of her name for Connie. Connie signs back, “Nice to meet you,” but Carol says, “Sorry. That’s all I know.” Siddiq offers to help the newcomers figure out where they’re staying, leaving Michonne and Carol alone.

Carol asks Michonne about Judith and RJ. Michonne tells her they’re good and that RJ’s gonna be as tall as Judith any minute. She asks if Ezekiel is here, too. Carol says it’s just her dropping off Henry, who’s apprenticing with the blacksmith. She adds, “He’s a good kid. He’s got a big heart. He sees his home falling apart and he wants to help out.” Michonne tells her she read Ezekiel’s letter and was sorry to hear about their troubles. “You could still help,” Carol says. “We need this fair. If Alexandria would send a delegation –”

“I’m sorry,” Michonne interrupts. “I am. I didn’t want to turn you down. You of all people. But we’ve had our troubles, too. You know that.”

“I know what you went through,” Carol says. “And I get why this is hard for you. But we’ve all lost something. You and me, we both lost children. And we kept going. For each other. We’ve always been a family.”

“And we still are. But Kingdom is Kingdom, Hilltop is here, and Alexandria is there. And in-between there’s a whole lot of broken world and we cannot pretend otherwise. We’ve got to take care of our own now. It’s just the way it is.”

“It’s a shame,” Carol says.

“It is,” Michonne says sincerely. “It was good to see you. Give Ezekiel and Henry my best.”

At a clearing, Jesus and Aaron follow Daryl and his dog as they track Rosita’s back trail. Aaron brings up Daryl trading with Hilltop. Jesus tells Aaron that Daryl used to come to Hilltop a couple times a year, never stays, and the gaps between visits started getting longer. He supposes Daryl prefers to be out here. Aaron notes that sounds like someone else he knows. Jesus explains himself, “We used to be explorers. The whole world was ours to rediscover…”

“We were out looking for people.” Aaron argues. “Offering them a chance to be a part of something bigger. Because of you, we were able to find each other. Maybe showing those people a way forward is the next step in that.” Jesus begins to say something reluctant, but Aaron asserts, “I think you’d be a damn good leader if you’d stop fighting it.” Jesus asks if that’s what he thinks he’s doing. Aaron says about Daryl, “He’s spent a long time keeping people away, but finding them…it’s kind of his thing. Maybe one day he’ll stop fighting it, too.”

Daryl and his dog sense something. “The herd’s after us,” Daryl says as he listens carefully. “Wind’s carrying the sound.” He winds up an alarm clock and throws it in a direction away from their trail. “C’mon. Let’s put some ground between us and them.”

At the Hilltop gate, Dianne asks Carol for a ride back home to Kingdom, saying that Kingdom needs her more than Hilltop does. Carol says she’d love the company. Alden and Henry load heavy boxes onto the wagon. Henry tells Carol that he talked Mr. Sutton into an advance on his pay and got nails and screws for her to take back home. Carol tells him he didn’t have to do that and gives him a tight hug. Alden reassures her that they’ll take good care of him. Henry sees her tear up and assures her, “I’ll be back for the fair. I’m gonna make you proud.” Carol says he already has. They wave goodbye to each other as the wagon exits Hilltop, leaving Henry alone.

Through binoculars, Jesus watches the herd from the edge of the clearing and notes that it has doubled in size. Daryl’s alarm clock goes off in the distance, attracting the herd. “Don’t matter how big it is,” Daryl says, “as long as it’s going the other way.” Daryl confidently moves along into the woods with his dog, followed by Aaron, impressed by Daryl’s alarm clock trick. But Jesus looks troubled as he hangs back for a beat, watching the herd with doubt.

At the Hilltop blacksmith shed, Henry learns to make a spearhead from Alden. Enid visits and asks Henry about his first day. He says he’s good and Alden adds that he’s picking up fast. Enid compliments Henry and takes Alden aside to talk privately. Henry watches them go, as Earl invites him to spend the evening with Tammy and him. Distracted, Henry begins to say, “Oh, I was gonna see if Enid wanted to, um…” and catches Enid and Alden giving each other a quick kiss. Crestfallen, he tells Earl, “I mean, yeah. Sure, Mr. Sutton.”

In Negan’s cell, Gabriel picks up Negan’s bedpan, while Negan stands by with his hands cuffed to the bars behind his back. “I read something fascinating the other day,” Negan says. “You know what a smell is? It’s when odor molecules activate neurons in your nasal passages. So every time you come in here, you change my bedpan, you smell my shit, something that was actually in my ass goes right up your nose.”

“Shut up,” Gabriel says, fed up. “For once in your life, just shut your damn mouth.” Negan is taken aback by Gabriel’s anger. Gabriel steps closer, fuming, “I keep scratching at you. I keep trying to figure out what’s underneath it all because I think if I dig deep enough, I’ll find a person. Someone I can help. But I never do. All I find is more –” Negan asks what happened. Gabriel reveals that Rosita’s at Hilltop, that he sent her out and she got hurt. “The messenger doesn’t know what happened or how bad it is. And I can’t go to help her because I have to be here with you. Because someone has to stay behind to be responsible for you.” Negan sincerely says he’s sorry, he didn’t know. “Don’t,” Gabriel interrupts. “It’s bad enough I have to clean up your shit. I shouldn’t have to listen to it, too.” He slams the cell door hard and storms out. The guard unlocks Negan’s cuffs, as Negan watches Gabriel exit.

At the Hilltop communal dining area, Henry eats his dinner alone. He discards his food in a compost bin when he hears another teenager call to him. He joins Gage on top of one of the trailers, hanging out with Rodney and Addy. Gage recognizes Henry from the war, as the kid with the stick. Addy and Rodney introduce themselves, and reveal they’ve lived here more than half their lives, not getting to go someplace new. Rodney asks if he’s been to Oceanside and if it really is all women. Gage invites Henry to hang out with them tonight -- they have a place in the woods that they sneak out to. Addy’s smile fades. Henry is reluctant but doesn’t want to look uncool. Gage insists, “Come on, whatever’s got you down, it’s not worth it. Keep moving forward. Life’s too short.” Henry sees Enid and Alden holding hands in the distance and accepts Gage’s invitation.

In the Hilltop infirmary, Rosita still lays unconscious, while Michonne and Siddiq sit by her side. Siddiq tells Michonne, “I’m sorry we kept so much from you. You know I’m on your side.” Michonne says it’s not that. Coming here, she knew people would still be angry, but that doesn’t make facing it any easier. “It’s not too late to mend some of those fences,” Siddiq tells her.

“It’s not. But I won’t. Not the way they want me to.” Michonne says. “I didn’t make the choices I made because I thought they’d be easy. At least they’re alive so they can hate me for it.”

Rosita wakes up, groggy and forcefully concerned that Eugene is still out there. Michonne tells her that Daryl took Aaron and Jesus to track him. Rosita pulls off her IV and insists on helping them – she knows where he is. Siddiq tries to stop her. “Whatever’s going on, they can handle it.”

“No, they can’t,” Rosita says as she urgently gets up. “They have no idea what they’re dealing with.”

With flashlights beaming through the misty night, Daryl, Jesus, Aaron, and the dog find a dilapidated barn. The dog leads them to a pile of hay. Aaron calls out, “Eugene? Are you in there?”

“Affirmative” Eugene says from underneath. They uncover a trap door to find Eugene, filthy and cowering, with his knife ready. Aaron and Jesus help him out. His knee is still dislocated, and he tells them that the herd has been here twice, looking for him. They have to get away before it comes back. He adds intensely, “This wasn’t a normal herd.” Aaron asks what he means. Eugene explains, “When they passed us by, we could hear them. They were… They were whispering to each other.”

“You mean they were talking?” Aaron asks.

Eugene whimpers. “I know how it sounds. But Rosita heard it, too. She’ll corroborate.”

Daryl’s dog barks, alerting them to the walker herd approaching. “There’s no way that’s the same herd,” Daryl says incredulously. Jesus suggests Old Route twenty-eight, and they head off.

In a post-apocalyptic teenage clubhouse, the sounds of teenage laughter and foosball fill the room. Henry throws a dart and misses, shattering a window. Addy laughs and pats him on the chest. He grins as she leans close against him. Rodney interrupts, offering them some alcoholic “white lightning.” Addy takes a swig and hands the bottle to a reluctant Henry. Rodney insists for him to “ride the lightning. It’s last laughs.” Giving in, Henry takes a swig, and coughs. They all laugh, including Henry, who sits back on an inflatable chair and says, “Wow, guys. If this is your idea of fun, I hate to see what happens when you get bored.”

Gage takes them outside and opens a sheet of metal roofing on the ground, revealing a walker trapped in a shallow pit. He explains that they dug a hole a few years back, tried using a cat as bait, but didn’t catch anything until six months ago. He and Rodney play ring toss with rope hoops, while Addy walks away, appalled. Gage invites Henry to play, but Henry is also appalled. He sees Rodney peeing on the walker and pushes him aside. With his bo staff, he leaps into the pit, sweeps the walker (already covered by darts and rope hoops), and impales it.

“Hey, asshole!” Gage yells at Henry. “What’d you do that for?”

“If I have to explain it…” Henry replies, “you wouldn’t understand.” Gage storms off, followed by Rodney, leaving Henry drunk and alone in the pit.

At an intersection, Daryl and Jesus carry a hobbling Eugene, and stop at an abandoned car husk to catch their breath. Jesus says, “It doesn’t make sense. They shouldn’t have doubled back like that. And they definitely shouldn’t have followed us all the way to the barn.”

“I do have a theory to posit,” Eugene says. “The walkers are evolving.”

“That’s bullshit,” Daryl says. Jesus argues that they’re dead, not evolving.

Eugene replies, “Being dead hasn’t exactly stopped them from perambulating ad infinitum though, has it? They’re not dead in any sense that makes sense. It takes an impact to the cranium to stop them, which means the brain is alive, degraded as it may be. And if it’s alive, it can change. Maybe they can start to remember things, too. Like how to talk.”

Daryl balks, but Jesus adds, “It’s not any crazier than the dead being alive in the first place. If they can learn to talk, maybe they could learn strategy. How to hunt.”

Aaron runs out of the woods. “They’re right on our asses. We’ve gotta get to the horses fast.” Eugene calculates that he’s slowing them down and that they have to leave him behind.

Jesus tells him, “We came out here to find you, we’re not going home without you.” Eugene says they don’t have a choice. Jesus insists, “It’s not your call. The numbers actually work for us. We can split up. You two get him back to the horses. I’ll wait for the herd to get here, I’ll draw them off in the other direction. Then, I’ll ditch ‘em and meet you back at Hilltop.”
“We’re stronger together,” Aaron says. Jesus says it doesn’t help them and that the only way out is to avoid a fight.

“No,” Daryl interjects. “If anyone stays, it’s gonna be me.” Jesus shakes his head. Daryl tells them, “Go. I’ll probably beat you back.” He takes his dog down one road, while Jesus and Aaron help Eugene head off in the opposite direction.

Meanwhile, as the Alexandria windmill turns and creaks ominously in the wind, Negan bounces his tennis ball from inside his cell, until it rolls outside the bars beyond his reach. He sighs and eventually notices his cell door clanging with the howling winds. He gets up slowly…pushes the cell door -- and it swings wide open. In disbelief, Negan steps out, picks up the tennis ball, raises his eyebrow, and tosses the ball away as he moves out.

In the Hilltop root cellar, Tara leads Earl down the steps to a cell where Henry is incarcerated. Having told Earl that the guards found Henry outside the gate, shouting to be let back in, she adds that he also threw up on a pig and then on her boots. Henry says sorry about that, and Tara leaves Earl to deal with him. Earl asks Henry who gave him the moonshine. Henry says nothing. “Okay, then,” Earl says. “I offered to take you on and teach you, but if this is how you treat your commitments, you can take your scrawny ass back to Kingdom.” As Earl begins to walk away, Henry tells him to wait -- he knows he screwed up, but people are counting on him back home. His parents are counting on him. Earl says, “I expect better, Henry. What the hell got into you?”

Henry admits, “I saw my mom cry today. She’s so tough, you know? Before that, I was too excited to really think…and I understand this is a huge deal… I didn’t wanna think about that for a while.”

“I’ve been there,” Earl says. “Literally. Right there on that cot. The minimum sentence for drunk and disorderly is two days. When Jesus comes back, I’ll talk to him and see what I can do.” Henry thanks him. As Earl leaves, he tells Henry, “Get some sleep. You’re gonna have a lot of work to catch up on when you get out.”

From the top of a ruined trailer, Daryl watches the herd, now at least 300 strong, approach the abandoned car husk in the distance. He lights a string of firecrackers and watches as the popping noise draws the herd toward him. Daryl encourages his dog to keep barking, until he notices the herd turn away. Alarmed and confused, he watches the herd head away from him, down the road in Jesus, Aaron, and Eugene’s direction.

Through the dense fog, Jesus and Aaron carry a limping Eugene along the stone walls of a cemetery. They find a gap in the wall to use as a chokepoint to slow down the approaching herd. Eugene struggles to get through it with his injured knee as the walkers get closer. Eugene, Aaron, and Jesus eventually make it through, but so do the walkers. They find an iron gate with spikes on top, but it’s stuck in hard-packed dirt, and it’s too high to climb over. The walkers finally catch up, trapping them from all directions, leaving no other choice –
Aaron and Jesus draw their blades, side by side, ready to battle.

Jesus fights the walkers with his expert kicking skills and swordsmanship. Aaron spins and kicks in tandem with him. A walker bites Aaron’s prosthetic arm, granting a moment for Aaron to thrust his knife into its head. Eugene defends himself with the shovel he’s been using as a crutch. And then they all hear it – the WHISPERS. They look around, but all they see are walkers coming through the thick fog around them.

Michonne finds Eugene from the other side of the gate. They struggle to open it. And then Magna joins in, followed by Yumiko. “What the hell are you doing here?” Michonne says.

“Earning our keep,” Magna replies. Together they pull on the gate, while Eugene shovels the dirt to loosen it until it’s open enough for one person to pass through.

Jesus turns to Aaron and shouts, “Get him out of here!” Off Aaron’s hesitation, Jesus adds, “Go, I’ve got this!” Aaron reluctantly obeys, getting Eugene and himself through the gate, while Jesus takes on the walkers.

On the other side of the gate, Aaron shouts, “Jesus, come on!”

Jesus approaches the gate to escape, with only two walkers left shambling his way. He easily slashes one down, and swings at the last one – but it ducks swiftly out of the way and –

STABS JESUS through the back with a long knife –

The walker shoves the knife deeper and pulls Jesus in close to whisper in his ear, “You are where you do not belong.” With that, the walker releases Jesus, who slides off the knife and falls face-first in the dirt. Dead.

Aaron charges back into the cemetery, followed by Michonne, Magna, and Yumiko. Four more walkers quickly emerge from the mist, running with knives. Daryl shoots Jesus’s murderer through the head with his crossbow. Aaron furiously cuts through the lead running walker. Michonne slashes another with her sword, Yumiko shoots the third with her arrow, and Magna uses her knife to take out the last one.

Aaron kneels over Jesus, weeping distraughtly. Michonne examines her blade and finds bright red blood as lightning illuminates it. Daryl retrieves his bolt from the murdering walker and finds a seam on the back of its head. He cuts it open and pulls off what is revealed to be a mask. After holding it up for everyone to see, he turns over the body. Lightning flashes again, revealing it’s not a walker at all – It’s a human being.

They hear hisses, growls -- and WHISPERS all around them. Daryl’s dog barks at the impending threat. With weapons raised, our heroes circle up in the midst of the cemetery’s tombstones, uncertain as they brace to face their mysterious new enemy closing in from the fog.