Two beloved Walking Dead characters met violent deaths in two consecutive episodes this season, with Beth taking a bullet to the brain in the midseason finale and Tyreese getting bit in the show’s midseason return. So for the sake of 15 million-plus viewers’ collective blood pressure, Sunday’s episode “Them” dialed things back. Way, way back.
The group searches for food and water. Daryl eats a worm. Maggie finally gets a damn minute to mourn her dead sister onscreen and Sasha goes on a rage-fueled, walker-killing rampage. Father Gabriel continues sweating his guilty Christian heart out and, at one point, the group finds itself trapped in a barn under siege by waves of the undead—though good ol’ divine intervention solves that problem when a monster storm rips through every zombie (and half the trees nearby), miraculously missing the barn.
It’s all looking pretty humdrum when, in the final minute or two of the episode, a new face pops up: Aaron, a character straight out of Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead comics and the best sign yet that the Alexandria Safe-Zone, the show’s most anticipated story location, is on the immediate horizon. Rejoice!
Aaron shows up in the aftermath of the devastating storm like some kind of wizard, looking well-fed, dry, and inexplicably chipper. He mumbles something about “stranger danger” but assures Maggie and Sasha—both standing ready to shoot his brains out—that he comes as a friend with “good news.” He asks to speak to Rick, whom he (alarmingly!) knows by name. And Maggie’s music box, which had stopped working again, strikes up a tune once Aaron stops talking.
Despite the creepy, Ethan-from-Lost-type vibes, however, Aaron is actually a good guy—at least as far as Kirkman’s Walking Dead comics go. In the show’s source material, Aaron and his partner Eric (as a few have pointed out, Aaron would be the show’s first gay male character) were recruiters for the Alexandria Safe-Zone, a walled-off community that our survivors have called home for several years now. He scouts potential new groups of survivors, watches them for some time, then invites them back to Alexandria if he deems them worthy.
This is exciting enough in itself, but Aaron’s arrival is also reminder of a darker turn the story could take, one which the show hinted at heavily in the last episode. (Walking Dead comic book spoilers ahead!) Rick and the group’s arrival at the Alexandria Safe-Zone could mean that Negan, the sadistic leader of a violent group of survivors called the Saviors, is not far behind. With Negan comes his weapon of choice, a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire affectionately nicknamed “Lucille.” In one particularly traumatic scene, Negan uses Lucille to bash in Glenn’s head, killing him in front of Maggie and his friends.
In last week’s episode, “What Happened and What’s Going On,” Glenn found and picked up a baseball bat outside a house in Noah’s old gated community, Shirewilt Estates. We caught brief glimpses of blue spray-painted slogans in the background a few times, which warned, “Wolves Not Far”—an ominous sign considering the obviously human-caused devastation in Shirewilt, the gaping hole in Noah’s mother’s head, and the dismembered zombies with carved “W”s on their foreheads. Observant fans are already wondering: Are the “Wolves” the TV series’ version of the Saviors? And when they inevitably show up, is Glenn doomed?
Of course, these hints could all be red herrings designed to pique comic readers’ interest. Kirkman himself tossed out “Negan kills Glenn” as a “fake spoiler” during a recent appearance on Comedy Central’s @midnight, so maybe Glenn is safe after all. (Or maybe Kirkman is playing off a technicality, like a name change for Negan, or another character’s cranium being crushed in Glenn’s place.)
In other news, Aaron’s arrival was the second big moment straight out of the comics in “Them.” Earlier, Rick finally delivers the iconic line, “We are the walking dead,” in an emotional speech about his grandfather, who fought against the Germans in World War II.
“Every day he woke up, told himself, ‘Rest in peace, now get up and go to war,’” Rick explains to his soggy, downtrodden group inside the barn. “Then after a few years of pretending he was dead, he made it out alive. That’s the trick of it, I think. We do what we need to do and then we get to live. But no matter what we find in D.C. I know we’ll be okay. Because this is how we survive. We tell ourselves that we are the walking dead.”
Let’s hope that doesn’t translate to “dead man walking” for Glenn.