(LOS ANGELES) — The ninth season of The Walking Dead resumed Sunday night, with the action beginning seconds after the mid-season cliffhanger last fall: Jesus, dead in the graveyard, after being stabbed by a seeming sentient walker — the Whisperers.
As a horde shambles through the graveyard, Michonne, Daryl, Aaron, Eugene and the rest manage to escape, dragging Jesus’s body. Yumiko grabs one of the assailants’ masks, made of a walker’s flesh, as they bolt a door behind them.
And then a seemingly undead hand reaches out from the walkers and unlocks the door.
Back at Hilltop, we see Negan beating a hasty escape from his underground prison: his door had been left unlocked in the cliffhanger. He smiles to himself before making his way around the community, helping himself to some fruit. He arms himself with a shovel and enters the Alexandria headquarters, where he steals a compass and a change of clothes.
As he climbs the perimeter fence, he comes face to face with Judith, holding her Dad’s Colt. “You’re not gonna shoot me, kid,” he tells her, but Judith stands her ground.
Negan tries to charm his way out. “You know me better than anyone’s known me in a very long time,” he says. “I promise you I’m not going to hurt anyone…But I gotta go.”
Judith lowers her weapon, before spotting the compass he stole. “You want it back?” Negan asks.
“Keep it,” Judith says. “It’ll help you to find your way. But if I see you again, I’ll shoot.”
“I would,” Negan replies before he climbs to freedom.
Meanwhile, at Hilltop, Luke tries to be useful, eventually joining a search team. There’s hesitation until Alden agrees to have him ride with him.
Elsewhere, Yumiko, Daryl, and the others keep lugging Jesus’s body home, contemplating, while looking at the Whisperer’s mask, who would do such a thing.
At a covered bridge, they face some stragglers but need to determine which are undead and which are Whisperers, only pretending to be undead. Daryl’s crossbow does the trick. A shot to the thigh of one “walker” causes him to scream in pain and the real walkers attack the now-revealed human.
Another breaks rank and tries to attack Michonne. She makes quick work of him, while another, a woman, surrenders. They unmask her and try to find out the Whisperers’ numbers. She lies, and said they’re all dead. With a horde approaching, the heroes take her with her as a hostage.
The team returns to Hilltop with their hostage, and the body of Jesus, to the residents’ shock. They look to Tara to deliver justice and the hostage into a cell for interrogation.
Elsewhere, Negan makes his way into the remains of a store, and its leather goods department. He finds some leather that fits, giving him some of his old moto jacket swagger back.
Meanwhile, Luke and Alden keep searching for their friend who, unbeknownst to the pair, have returned. They find some of Yumiko’s arrows, and a possible trail to their pals.
Back at the interrogation, Daryl gets nowhere with the defiant hostage. Michonne tells Tara she’s heading back to Alexandria to warn her people about the Whiperers.
At Hilltop, Sidiq pops Eugene’s ankle back its socket. The injured man apologizes to Rosita and attempts to share his feelings for her. In response, she runs out and throws up — but not from the near confession. She confides in Sidiq that she’s pregnant with his baby, much to the eavesdropping Eugene’s heartbreak.
Meanwhile, young Henry is given a break from the drunk tank by Daryl; the young man says he’s looking for his place in the community.
Meanwhile, a newly leathered Negan, holding a pipe as if it’s Lucille, reaches Sanctuary. “Home sweet home,” he smiles. He gives his team’s traditional wolf whistles as he surveys the damage that had been done to his once proud HQ.
Negan finds one of his former comrades, now a walker. “Loyal to the end,” Negan smiles. He cleans up as best he can, including dispatching several walkers, but he leaves Big Ritchie alone, for company. That is, until he finds his compass, literally and figuratively, and bashes Ritchie’s head in.
Meanwhile, back at Alexandria, the gang buries Jesus, leaving Daryl to deal with the Whisperer. He interrogates her harshly and threatens to drag her out to face the gallows, until Henry yells from his cell, getting Daryl to stop. She only admits her mother was out there, dressed as a Whisperer, alone, and urges him not to kill her if he finds her. Daryl storms off, telling Henry he’s going to stay in the jail until he wises up.
He leaves and the girl thanks to Henry, and tells him her name: Lydia.
Meanwhile, Negan drives back to Alexandria and faces Judith again. As promised, she fires and he dumps off his bike. He agrees that there’s nothing out there for him, and volunteers to get back into his cell.
Alden and Luke continue following the hunting arrows, thinking they’re on the trail of their compatriots, when they spot a lone walker. Luke moves to dispatch the female form — and the walker freezes.
Then another breaks free, another female, and tosses an arrow at their feet, before raising a sawed off shotgun at the pair. “Trail ends here,” the Whisperer says.
The Walking Dead returns next Sunday, February 17, at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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