Yes, the episode title “Warning Signs” begins with a shot of actual warning signs attached to an overturned fence that lies in front of an outreach recovery center. Those warning signs also point to the more proverbial warning signs of a society falling into chaos. The Walking Dead has always been a bit heavy-handed when it comes to nuanced conversation, but even this week’s chapter, one that falls into a familiar and at times dull rhythm, brings about surprising revelations.
After the disappearance of Justin, who was seen getting attacked by someone he knows at the end of last episode, Rick can’t afford to put off addressing all the missing Saviors any longer. It takes a while for the gears to get moving, though. The episode begins with more drawn-out footage of Rick enjoying a morning stroll through his garden at Alexandria, praising Michonne’s work with the charter, suggesting they conceive a little mini Michonne together, and have a family fun day with Judith after bringing her to Dr. Saddiq to check her cough. This idyllic day is disrupted when Justin’s walker body is discovered.
Maggie and a member of Hilltop are driving the wagon carrying food supplies to the bridge site when a group of Saviors stops them in the road while out looking for Justin. Old habits seem to die hard as one of the men, Judd, the main agitator, questions Maggie about it and takes a tomato from the supply. Tension builds as he lies about his name and calls Maggie “The Widow,” the nickname Negan gave her. But Laura, who has risen with Arat to be one of the more cooperative members of the Sanctuary, squashes the situation and thanks Maggie for the food.
The missing Saviors have only exacerbated this brewing animosity. Then comes walker Justin hobbling onto the road and things fall apart pretty quick.
Rick hears about the discovery of Justin’s body and arrives at camp in time to break up a massive brawl between the Saviors and everyone else. Fingers were pointed, guns were raised, punches were thrown, and the Saviors called for weapons that Daryl and the others refused to give them. So now Rick has to find out what happened to the other Saviors before the conflict escalates even further.
He first goes to Gabriel, who lies when asked about Anne. He says he was with her on watch all night, but really Gabriel left earlier. The priest confronts Anne about this later on, but she doesn’t mention the helicopter. Instead, she mentions how out of place she feels, especially after being called “The Garbage Lady” and accused by the Saviors of killing Justin herself. Rick then goes to Daryl. He doesn’t believe his friend would actually kill Justin despite their very public squabbling, but he wants to be sure. They debate, again, about all the groups living with each other and although Daryl is still fuming, Rick reminds him he once took a chance on a strange policeman who left his brother Merl on a rooftop to die.
Groups of two pair off and canvas the area in search of clues. Most of the sectioned off grids are clear, but Maggie and Oceanside’s Cyndie see movement. Cyndie reveals the area is where Oceanside used to live before they were first attacked by the Saviors, and she mentions a house nearby that could be attracting walkers. They find the house and it does have dead surrounding it. The two work together to clear them out and take off the clamoring metal sheet dangling off the roof, but not without a few scratches. Rick and the others arrive in time to save Cyndie, whose hand wound opened up again and, oh yeah, she hurt her hand before, claiming it was peeling potatoes or something. Curious. Another sign of the reveal in the final moments is when Beatrice and Arat are missing. The group finds Beatrice seemingly unconscious. When she comes to, she claims to have been attacked from behind. Arat’s things are nearby, but no Arat. She’s been taken.
The necessary parties (i.e. no Saviors) reconvene in a tent and decide to pair off again with those they trust absolutely. Jerry chimes in to ask what the protocol should be if and when they find the culprit: “Is it gonna be a Gregory [meaning the person is executed] or a Negan [meaning the person is imprisoned]?” The effects of Rick’s actions are clear, and it’s something he discusses when walking through the woods with Carol. He admits he’s tempted to just go down and kill Negan, but remembers everyone they’ve ever lost and realizes every life in the true war against the dead has value. Maggie and Daryl’s trek is more fruitful. They come across splayed out walkers on the ground, one of which has a harpoon dart jutting out. That alone tips off Daryl to who’s behind the missing walkers.
(Recap continues on the next page.)
Before the big reveal, we circle back with Anne, who returned to the junkyard to retrieve a hidden walkie. She messages someone on the other end and mentions she saw their helicopter the other night. The conversation that ensues is cryptic. “What do you have, an A or a B?” asks an unknown male voice. “Neither, it’s just me,” Anne says. She then tries bartering her entrance into the man’s group, but he says only if she delivers an “A” will that happen.
I want to say this group is The Whisperers, and I based that mainly on the fact that the unidentified male voice sounds like actor Ryan Hurst, who we know is playing a prominent member of The Whisperers this season. A and B could also be references to Alpha and Beta, the two main leadership roles maintained in the group. On the other hand, The Whisperers were a feral group in the comics, so the fact that this group uses a helicopter makes me think otherwise. So… the Commonwealth, maybe? When Gabriel shows himself to Anne, having followed her from camp, she mentions she traded people to this group, who apparently live far from the junkyard, for supplies. They can both gain entry to this society, she says, but Gabriel can’t tell anyone about them and he must help Anne secure this A. He doesn’t agree and threatens to inform Rick. As a result, Anne mentions that she once thought Gabriel was a B, so does she now believe he’s an A? In any case, she knocks him out.
Tension continues to rise in the rest of the camp when Carol is set upon in the woods after nightfall by Judd and his Savior buddy. Judd holds her at knifepoint and demands Rick fork over his gun. They claim to want weapons in order to safely head back to the Sanctuary. Talking them down isn’t an option; Judd claims it’s impossible to live peacefully with each other after Justin. Rick warns there’s no going back if he kills Carol, who’s already pulling a knife. She strikes and subdues Judd without killing him, echoing what Rick said about every life meaning something.
At this point, Maggie follows Daryl to where the culprits are revealed, at the same recovery center where Justin first turned into a walker. They find Arat on her knees and held at harpoon point by a small group of Oceansiders, including Cyndie and Beatrice. They are the ones killing Saviors — not all of them, just the ones who killed their friends and family when they first lived at the recovery center. Justin killed Beatrice’s husband and Arat killed Cyndie’s brother. They were inspired to take action, they say, by Maggie when she had Gregory hanged. Maggie and Daryl initially seemed like they would stop this, but after Cyndie told them the story of how Arat killed her 11-year-old sibling, of how Arat smiled when did it and replied to Cyndie’s begs with “no exceptions,” Maggie and Daryl turned their backs and walked away, leaving the Oceansiders to execute Arat.
The next day, Rick is watching the Saviors file away from the campsite — still without weapons of their own. Maggie and Daryl walk out on the road and make another decision: she says they gave Rick’s way a shot, but it doesn’t work. It’s now time for them to meet Negan. This is something Maggie first warned in the season 8 finale. Rick may not feel it’s wise to kill Negan, but it now seems she’s ready to show Rick the error of his ways.