The Walking Dead review: ‘The Calm Before’ is brutal but beautiful storytelling


We cried more than we’d liked to admit during “The Calm Before.” Maybe it was the tension. Maybe it was just ~that! scene, but there was a lot for us to take in.

WARNING: This contains spoilers for last night’s episode of The Walking Dead, “The Calm Before.” If you’ve seen it and you’re ready to relive last night’s pain via our review, grab some tissues and your favorite comfort food just in case.

Commemorating a past era and the current one, The Walking Dead‘s most recent episode was fixated on the generations of the series and all its milestones. Since the second half of the season started, we recognized which comic book moments would come to life, and this episode was the juncture for the Whisperer War.

The shocking plot points and the start of a new rising conflict weren’t without sentimental values. In an episode building toward the pike scene during the fair, “The Calm Before” not only reads like a eulogy to the fallen characters in this episode, it pays respect to some living characters on and off screen.

Family is the central point of the episode. After Michonne lamented Rick’s loss in realtime and through flashbacks during last week’s episode, “The Calm Before” honored his longstanding contributions to protecting all the communities. Much of the episode focuses on our two favorite families, the Grimes and the Royal family, and we’re given bittersweet moments that show how far they’ve come. It’s unfortunate we can’t revel in these moments for too long, but that is the way of The Walking Dead — happy moments are almost aways followed by danger and death.

Another reminder of “The Calm Before” is that brutality is terrifying, but psychological warfare is much worse. We’ve seen this proven time and time again on the show, from early villains like the Governor to brutes like Negan to now seemingly the worst adversary of all — Alpha. There was plenty of violence this episode, but the storytelling focused more on how one can win over another group with fear more so than physical violence.

Beyond the torment the writers and director Laura Belsey put us through, the episode redefines Alpha’s abuse of power. Even when she lets Lydia go from her abuse, she kills Henry in an unexpected twist to the anticipated beheadings. Right after Lydia found someone she earnestly cared for her, Alpha scars her daughter one last time by taking him away.

Belsey definitely toyed with those of us who have read the comic. Implementing cunning edits between scenes, the episode uses Alpha’s gaze as a way to make the audience anxious about the impending pike scene at the end of the episode. For example, comic fans remember Rosita and King Ezekiel died in the comic iteration, and it used that nerdy knowledge to build tension beyond the ominous scoring and physical altercations.

We were precariously grabbing some tissue as a camera panned from Alpha back up to Rosita. Even worse — watching Alpha stare intensely at a portrait of Ezekiel and Carol, then actually chat and stroll through the Kingdom with him. Admittedly, we wonder how the King didn’t pick up on her strange mannerisms and eery voice — but it’s too late to question that fully now.

Using deceptive frames to build momentum, “The Calm Before” made the ending so much harder to get through. The scene before Siddiq’s concluding monologue was a journey on its own — as we watched in horror as it was revealed the following were taken and killed by the Whisperers: Ozzy of the Highwaymen, Earl’s wife Tammy, Ronnie, Addy, Enid, Tara, and Henry (as well as a few unrecognizable faces).

The entire community will hurt from this, but our hearts go out to Carol especially. Daryl acts as a supportive friend once again in one of Carol’s most vulnerable moments: losing another child, Henry.

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The Walking Dead did it again, knowing just where to hurt us, while reminding us there’s still a long way to go before this battle is over. This sting is going to be difficult to get over, but we’re ready for the fight.

Some may argue the communities need Negan to help in taking out Alpha (as he does in the comics). However, there’s an argument to be made that we’d much rather see those impacted by Alpha’s tyranny fight and win against her in the impending Whisperer War.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 8 p.m. CT