It’s been a fairly sleepy season as far as shocking developments are concerned: Negan killing someone wasn’t exactly out of character, nor is his plan to shake things up by joining the Whisperers or Carol’s lust for revenge. But this episode takes a few unexpected turns. The first surprise is a smart attempt to undermine Alpha’s authority. But the big payoff is the conclusion of the Siddiq PTSD storyline, which is something of a jaw-dropper — not in that he bites the dust, but how. And for everyone who felt something was a little off with Dante, we now (sort of) know why.
The opener is Sid’s nightmarish montage of the Whisperers during the massacre — there’s Alpha and a bloody blade, punctuated by a voice growling “Open your eyes.” My first thought was that it was a creepy way to begin the show. My second thought was that this plot was getting old. Yes, we get it, Sid is deeply scarred by what he’s seen. How many times can we watch him work up a sweat and submerge himself in water? (Only a couple more times, as it turns out.) What eventually holds greater significance is the final image of arms wrapping around him and a hand covering his mouth — an eerie premonition of what’s to come.
Aside from Sid’s struggle to keep his head together and make endless water deliveries, the A-towners make two big plays to sow discord within the Whisperers — a wise choice, given their chances of surviving an encounter with the horde. Aaron takes the direct route by trying to bond with Gamma, who’s awfully curious about his daily bread supply and the existence of children. Her nuanced take on kids: They hold you back and make you weak. Fair point. Gamma could also add that they indirectly lead you to sacrifice your sister in the name of a homicidal cult leader.
Carol, however, doesn’t embrace the subtle art of sabotage so easily. She’s ready to put the screws to her captive, whom Lydia reveals as one of the horde wranglers and thus a trusted Alpha lieutenant. Forcing him to talk won’t work, so the kid suggests a different tactic: Let the captive see what life is like on the other side, that there’s another way. “An idea like that is dangerous,” Lydia says. “It would spread and there’s nothing my mom can do to stop it.”
Just when it looks like Carol is about to ignore the kid’s advice and reveal a platter full of torture tools, she whips out a tray of bread and jam. (Seriously, Gamma, I feel you: Where’s all this bread coming from?) The Whisperer wrangler looks like he’s going to cry as that food hits his lips — until he spits it in Carol’s face, prompting both her and Daryl to go full Guantanamo. But a lightbulb flickers when Carol hears him praise Alpha for sacrificing her own daughter.
That’s basically when everything goes to hell. Daryl was already questioning his BFF status with Carol — not even their twin acorn can cheer him up. He asks her not to use Lydia as a pawn to manipulate Alpha, but Carol’s play seems like their only option. Luckily for her, she happens upon Aaron just has his own manipulation scheme and endless yammering about his feelings goes south: Gamma, with knife to his throat, wants to cut the warm fuzzies and hear some useful intel. When she sees Lydia is alive, Gamma freaks out. Lydia, feeling used, also freaks out and runs off into the darkness in a huff. (Teenagers, right?) Two things are certain: Daryl will be pissed when he hears Carol drove the kid away, and Lydia will have a reunion with the Whisperers and her new guardian angel, Negan.
We skipped one significant development, of course: Carol had little choice but to use Lydia because the wrangler done died. Poor Sid packed the med kit with hemlock instead of yarrow, which sounds like a reasonable mistake to me given the pressures of an overflowing triage and his visions and lack of sleep and also existing in a living nightmare every minute of the day. Sid upgrades from dunking his face in a bowl of water to attempting to drown himself, only to be saved by his feverish-but-fabulous baby momma. After some soul bearing, Sid sees the answer to the mystery illness is literally right in front of him — they’ve been drinking contaminated water thanks to him.
There’s a different sort of waterworks at the end, starting with Gamma. Despite being scolded by Alpha for killing a walker (“One less gaw-dian for our whored”) and getting the switch as punishment, Gamma was loyal — until she saw Lydia was alive. Where will her allegiances lie now? Carol’s plan might have worked after all, but at the cost of losing Lydia and pushing her acorn buddy even further away.
Sid also sheds a tear, thanks to his strange bro Dante, who’s unnervingly intense even when he’s trying to be funny. His “it takes a village” speech doesn’t quite land, but when Sid says “You don’t even know me, man,” Dante plucks those heartstrings: “Sure do,” he says. “You’re my friend.” A tear rolls down Sid’s cheek. Dante puts his hand on Sid’s shoulder, and for a second, I thought the big reveal was that Dante wanted to play doctor, thus adding another side to the Sid-Rosita-Gabe-Eugene polygon of love.
Then Dante makes a clicking sound, some sort of tic he’s never displayed before. It triggers another flashback — the Whisperer who said “Open your eyes” and forced Sid to watch as Enid and the others were beheaded made the same clicking noise. Sid and Dante lock eyes, and Dante knows he’s been made. Cue a loud wrestling match that apparently doesn’t alert anyone else, and as Dante applies a sleeper hold, he says, “I didn’t want this. Not you. Not like this. Close your eyes.” (Get it? “Close your eyes,” like “open your eyes,” but the opposite? #fullcircle) The grim music and Sid’s revelation suggests Dante did more than just choke him out MMA-style.
We’re left with a fairly major question: What is the effing deal with Dante? Is he a double agent, a Whisperer plant sent to gather intel and wreak havoc? Perhaps he was under orders to cause trouble but then fell in love with that A-town baller lifestyle and genuinely wanted to be one of them. Or maybe he was a Whisperer defector, someone who was thought to be dead but for some reason decided to flee Alpha’s cult of wackjobs. But why wouldn’t Lydia have recognized him? And what’s he going to do now that Sid is dead? Hopefully some answers will come with next week’s midseason finale, along with some insight into Negan’s motivations and what ever the hell is happening with Michonne at Oceanside.