If you were writing a TV series for maximum compelling-ness, you’d probably never let the impending death of a main character slip a year in advance, but given that The Walking Dead was seemingly unable to avoid this, they’re making the best of what they’ve been given. As the exits of both Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan approach, it’s hard to deny that the feeling that the heat has subtly been turned up. “Warning Signs” does a particularly good job of leading the audience in one direction through most of its run time, before ending in a switcheroo that makes it clear exactly how much trouble is on the immediate horizon.
But wait, let’s catch up for a second. After we witnessed the apparent death of Saviors member Justin (Zach McGowan) at the end of the last episode, it seemed pretty clear that the show was establishing its next reported antagonist group from the comic, The Whisperers. The truth, however, was ultimately more intriguing—both Justin and the other members of The Saviors to recently go missing were killed off by none other than the contingent of Oceanside women, who were completing a long-contemplated revenge plot in payback for the massacre of their men. The writers were even smart enough to tie the Oceansiders’ reasoning into recent events—Cyndie tells Maggie that she felt emboldened to seek justice after word spread of the Hilltop’s execution of Gregory. If old scores can be settled, reasons Cyndie, then why not the massacre of Oceanside’s men?
It would be prime Walking Dead for Maggie to argue against Cyndie’s decision and prevent the execution of another Savior, but for once, a character feels bound to their own internal logic. And so, we get the oddly satisfying ending of Maggie turning her back and allowing the execution to happen, although how they’re going to eventually explain all this to the surviving Saviors, I have no idea. More importantly, though, witnessing such a satisfying dose of justice has only made Maggie thirsty for more. As she says to Daryl, “We gave Rick’s way a chance. It’s time to see Negan.”
And there we have it—the beginning of the conflict that will presumably lead, directly or indirectly, to the deaths of both Rick and Maggie. For death it must be, in order to leave The Walking Dead—it’s not like either of these characters is just going to strike out on their own and walk away. Both are the leaders of their given communities. They’re in too deep.
That payoff at the end of the episode, and the ominous tone it strikes, manage to largely save 60 minutes of television that weren’t among TWD’s most interesting … with one exception involving Jadis that we must discuss.
Because lord oh lord, what the hell is going on with Jadis?
I complained last week about the Jadis connection with the helicopter people. Let’s refresh: Both Negan and Rick should be completely aware that Jadis has had direct contact with the helicopter people in the past. If she’s living as a member of Rick’s community, it’s only natural that he would have interrogated her at some point and would obviously have demanded to know the significance of those helicopters. So why is the show acting as if she’s the only one in possession of this information? It simply doesn’t make sense.
Regardless, “Warning Signs” marks the first time we’ve heard some kind of radio communication from the helicopter owners, and suffice to say … it honestly wasn’t what I was expecting. It seems that in the days of her Trash People reign, Jadis used to trade people to the helicopter folks in exchange for supplies—this is presumably what she was doing with Negan when she called the helicopters to her last season. Additionally, we hear from their communication that the helicopter people apparently separate potential human offerings into “B” and “A” castes, although what these distinctions mean is completely unclear. The one thing we do know is that it sounds like poor, naive Gabriel is next on the menu. It’s all in service of Jadis getting to “Another place, far from here,” suggesting another civilized community we’ve never met.
It begs the question: How exactly are these helicopter people going to bear into the conflict as a whole? They can’t be The Whisperers, if The Whisperers are anything like their comic book equivalents. I can’t help but suspect that here, in their first appearance, the helicopter people are being made out as more sinister than they will truly be in reality. But in what way will this cross paths with the impending showdown between Maggie and Rick over the fate of Negan? Or is The Walking Dead simply planting some seeds that won’t bear any fruit until the second half of the season, in the post-Rick epoch of the show’s existence?
There’s a lot we don’t know, in this moment—and that may actually be a good thing. Any reason to want to tune in to next week’s Walking Dead is a good thing at this point. I think I probably speak for a lot of the remaining viewers when I say we’ll take the intrigue where we can get it.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident horror guru. You can follow him on Twitter.