Can characters escape their past or are they defined by them? The Walking Dead seems to be asking that question on “What It Always Is”. Here’s our recap!
“What It Always Is” follows different characters through situations that push the story forward and set up the coming action in the season. Since I can’t help myself, I’ve separated them instead of giving you a truly linear recap.
Spies on the Inside
During “What It Always Is”, Aaron spends his time on the bridge, very close to the Whisperers boundary line.
Here, he sees Gamma killing walkers and pushing them into the water. Not only is she contaminating the water, but she’s also seems to be creating a dam of sorts to block off water flow to the ASZ and Hilltop. Of course, it’s on the Whisperers side, so no one could cross and fix it.
Gamma doesn’t see him the first time, and she goes back to camp. During her time there, another Whisperer speaks up and says that they should just send all the “guardians” to attack their enemies instead of sending just a few and losing them.
Alpha gives a very convincing speech about how nicks can hurt a human while demonstrating on the Whisperer who dared challenge her plan. When Beta slits his throat, Gamma gets another Guardian for her project.
This time when she visits the creek, she experiences flashbacks of her sister’s death, and she accidentally cuts her hand. Aaron pops up and offers some gauze for her hand. She takes it, but leaves quickly, cutting off Aaron’s attempts at conversation.
At the Whisperer camp, Gamma goes to Alpha and tells her what happened. At this point, Alpha says:
“The man with the metal arm could prove useful. You might just have to wear a new mask.”
So, maybe Gamma will try and infiltrate the ASZ from the inside for the Whisperers?
After Ezekiel tells Daryl that he doesn’t want to know about Carol, Ezekiel and Saddiq go inside the mansion at Hilltop. Ezekiel accidentally drops the metal tiger that Henry forged for him, and Saddiq picks it up.
There’s a moment of pain as Ezekiel explains he found it among Henry’s possessions. It was a gift that he never got to give before his death.
As he finishes his story, he has a coughing fit, and Saddiq explains that it could be smoke inhalation.
“It’s nothing. Just the regular slings and arrows.”
As Saddiq reaches out to touch him, Ezekiel smacks his hand away and tells him no. On his own, Ezekiel reveals a mass at his throat. It’s been there a month, and it’s grown since then.
“I know what it is.”
“Without proper testing…”
“I know what it is. Growing up, my grandmother went through it, and then my father. The pain, coughing, swelling. I saw them fight it and win. Did you know that thyroid cancer had a 98% survival rate. Different times. A time for sorcery and witchcraft. Chemo, iodine radiation therapy, thyroid-extort. Now we both know what it means.”
Saddiq tried to tell him that they have options, and they need to be able to lean on each other during the trying times. Later, Saddiq tries to get Ezekiel to talk to Carol over the radio, but right before she comes on, Ezekiel turns off the radio.
He’ll have to tell her soon, but he’s not telling her now.
I have to say, I’m very disappointed if this is how they kill off Ezekiel. I’m holding off judgment for now, but prepare for my extreme side-eye if this is it.
You’re family, too
“What It Always Is” begins with Kelly on a hunt. She gets lost in the woods because her hearing fails her, and she’s attacked by walkers.
At Hilltop, Connie asks around about her when the rest of the hunters come back, but they thought she’d be back by now. They don’t know where she’s at.
At this point, Daryl and Saddiq arrive at Hilltop. Saddiq is there to treat the people who were hurt when the tree fell, and it seems like Daryl is there to protect him on the journey, but also speak to Ezekiel and Connie.
Daryl and Saddiq approach Ezekiel, and he asks if they found Negan. He tells them that Alexandria deserved better. When Saddiq goes inside, Daryl asks if he’s going to ask about Carol.
Daryl stares for a moment then goes toward Connie and the group of hunters. He goes out to look for her with Connie and Magna. He can see that Connie’s very stressed, so he breaks the tension by telling her a story about Merle.
They took a stolen boat out onto a private lake to fish, but Merle was super drunk and fell off the boat. Daryl jumped in and swam him back to shore. Of course, Merle didn’t say thank you. He said:
“Dummy, go get the beer.”
P.S. There’s no better moment than Daryl Dixon pretending to Superman his shirt to explain how he “saved” Merle’s life. If I were Connie, I’d be smitten, too.
That makes her laugh, and Connie takes his hand. He tells her that it’s going to be okay. Dog barks and leads them to a place where a pig has been eaten by walkers. Suddenly, Magna appears and joins them as they search.
They eventually find Kelly with the help of Dog. She’s severely injured, and Daryl says that she may need to go somewhere closer than Hilltop for treatment. Magna says:
“Or somewhere closer.”
The group is led to a truck with loads of supplies in the back. It appears that Magna has been stealing supplies to make a “go bag” of sorts. Daryl and Connie are shocked by what they’ve found, and Connie tells Daryl they’ll tell everyone when they get back.
That doesn’t stop Daryl was telling Magna she’s only good for talking shit.
They manage to get Kelly to Hilltop after they fix her up, and they carry all the stolen supplies, too. Later that night, Miko approaches Magna about the supplies that were found.
Magna’s been struggling with Miko being in a leadership position the last two episodes, and it boils over in “What It Always Is.” The argument starts with Yumiko lowkey hinting at Magna stealing the supplies, but it goes to a place they started:
“Since the day you showed up. Your fancy suit, with all your fancy…”
“You really want to know what I really thought that day? I thought ‘Here’s a person, an innocent person, who’s been locked up for a crime they didn’t commit. Someone who’s never trusted anybody because no one has trusted her. Someone who’s good and yeah, mad. Mad at everyone. Mad at the world.”
“My cousin! She was a little girl, and he gets to go on living his life? No way. No one came for him, so I came for him. And there it is. Now that we’ve both killed. How many people have we killed, Miko? And still that look right there.”
“I think you should find another place to sleep.”
I understand the need to flesh out these characters, but it almost feels too late? I’m not sure how to explain it. The backstory is getting caught up in all the other drama that seems more important.
While this is happening, Daryl’s getting packed up in the barn. Connie finds him and thanks him for his help and for asking him to lie about Magna and Kelly. Daryl signs that it’s okay. Kelly is her family.
The scene gets super sweet when Connie taps Daryl’s arm then signs:
“You’re family, too.”
Be still my shipping heart. This episode gave us so many sweet moments between these two.
What is a legacy?
“What It Always Is” follows Negan as he navigates the world outside the ASZ with Savior groupie, Brandon, as his travel companion.
As they walk through the woods together, Brandon goes on about the legacy of Rick Grimes and how he preached community but destroyed theirs. Brandon is very excited as he talks about how Negan killed Carl right in front of his father. This hits a nerve with Negan because he tells Brandon:
“I would never kill a kid.”
“Oh, yeah. Definitely. I’m with you obviously. We’re both Negan.”
That causes Brandon to chill out a bit, but then they see the new boundary that Alpha has made with sticks and barb wire. Brandon asks about if they’ll cross.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Negan says no, but file this line away for later because I feel like it will be important. Negan’s attacked by a walker, and Brandon doesn’t help at all. That’s because he was preparing a gift for Negan.
He wrapped a bat in barbed wire, and he also brought Negan’s leather jacket. Negan tells him to put the things back in his backpack.
“I don’t want to be recognized.”
In telling moment, Brandon asks him if he likes it, though. He’s desperate for Negan’s approval. In true Negan fashion, he responds:
“Does pig shit stink?”
They move along and eventually come to a woman and her son being attacked by walkers. Of course, Negan saves them. Afterward, the woman is talking about how she and her son were part of a group that was attacked. In end, she and her son are alone again. She says she’s going for a walk and takes her son with her, and when they’re off the bus, Brandon asks:
“What do you think we do? Follow them and see where they’re hiding it?”
“Their stash. Food. Probably weapons.”
“It’s a chick and a kid. People are a resource.”
Brandon picks up a tire iron and moves to follow. Negan yanks him back and tells him that it’s time for him to go home. Things will only get more dangerous from here, and he’s not prepared for that.
Shocked, Brandon wants to know what he’s supposed to say when he gets back. He says he’s a bad liar.
“New plan then. You go wherever the hell you want. You go back to Alexandria. You tell the whole world exactly where I am. You see, I don’t give a shit just as long as I don’t have to see that pasty ass creepy face of yours again.”
“You’re just like all the others.”
After Brandon takes off, Negan goes and talks to Milo while his mom packs up their stuff. He reassures him that there’s a place that will let them in with high fences and a mansion inside. It’s nice that Negan is going to lead them Hilltop, but he proceeds to talk to the kid about the joys of ‘nut-tappin’ and how he’s missing out on things. He even explains it, and how to do it.
It’s just a weird scene.
Negan tells the kid that he needs to get wood for a fire, and he sets off to do that. In his absence, his superfan comes back. As Negan approaches the bus, he hears Brandon attempting the Saviors whistle. He still hasn’t gotten it right.
When he sees what Brandon has done, Negan drops the wood he’s gathered and stares.
“You almost had me. Back on the bus, when you kicked me out. Then I remembered this is Negan. He’s always messing with people, keeping them in line, so I realized it was a test. ‘It’s gonna get a lot more dangerous from here on out.’ That’s what you said to me. You wanted to make sure that I had the balls to do what had to be done. What do you think?”
The woman and her child lie dead at his feet. Negan walks toward Brandon, picks up a rock, and beats him to death with it.
I think the word choice here is very deliberate.
What had to be done.
Negan used the same words to Aaron in “Ghosts” when Aaron asks him about his past. Negan told him he did what needed to be done. Now that Negan sees his philosophy played out in front of him, it jolts him.
This is a Negan concerned with his legacy and how people will think of him later. He doesn’t want to have Brandons. He wants the mythology of Rick Grimes and the “good guys”. He doesn’t want people to kill women and children in his name.
After he kills Brandon, he takes his jacket and Lucille 2 before he sets off into the woods.
At the end of “What It Always Is”, Negan has crossed the boundary line and starts his “Little Pig, Little Pig” chant. This gains the attention of the Whisperers, and Negan kills several walkers before Beta lays him on his ass.
Let’s go back a little, though.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
I feel like this is spring-boarding Negan’s arc into what is it in the comics, and that should be interesting to say the least.
With Gamma potentially changing masks and tricking Aaron, could Negan be putting on an old mask to trick the Whisperers?
What did you think about “What It Always Is”? Let us know!
The Walking Dead airs Sundays on AMC at 9/8c