Warning: This post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for The Walking Dead episode “The Calm Before,” as well as for  Game of Thrones.

The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are often mentioned in the same sentence, mainly for the fact that both shows are willing to kill off major characters to put an explanation point on a given episode. But until this week, The Walking Dead had never yet had its own Red Wedding; Abraham and Glenn meeting Lucille up close was as similar as things got. [mpx_video type=”alpha” guid=”NubU_rTpPNKNcmTIjLTo8S5WzsU6qzid”] But the time was right in tonight’s episode for a big, shocking palate-cleanser. And even if you knew what was coming from reading the comics, chances are you were surprised at exactly whom it happened to, since the individuals involved were not the same. And it was what the storyline needed.

Hush, hush, Whisper, who dares?

First off, giving the Whisperers a new and deadly talent was the best development for the season’s new villains since they killed Jesus. Dirt-faced Alpha is nowhere near as frightening as undercover, fake-friendly, bless-your-heart Alpha as Deborah. Samantha Morton is much better at playing devious than blunt-force hostile, and her interaction with an entirely unwitting Ezekiel was her characters first time to really shine.

Plus, now that we know the Whisperers can infiltrate a group and silently make off with several key members of said group with nobody noticing? Way scarier than a bunch of Halloween masks. Notice this week how Daryl, Michonne and company never felt overmatched in their fight with the costumed creeps until one pulled a gun. They’re no more intimidating than regular humans when they come head on, but now that they can sneak around, they’re lethal.

Comic, stripped

We thought (at least I did) that we knew, more or less, how this storyline was going to follow the comic. Carl Grimes might be dead, but Henry was plugged into that slot and seemed to be working there pretty well, showing greater smarts and compassion than his elders and bringing Lydia into the fold.

And then he wound up as a severed head on a stake. So long, Henry. Say hi to Carl.

There isn’t any other significant young male character to be Lydia’s love interest from here, unless the show takes some real effort to build one of the other annoying teens into something. But the point is they’ve managed to keep us guessing.

The Joe Bob rule

Drive-in movie critic and cult horror TV star Joe Bob Briggs has one primary rule for good horror: we need to believe anyone can die at any time. Granted, there was a long time where we didn’t think Rick Grimes could die, but then there was an entire season in which we fully expected it. Fans are prepared to lose it if Daryl Dixon is ever killed off, but for the most part when a big name gets snuffed, we’ve had some degree of heads-up that the actor is leaving the show.

Not so for Henry. This was his big season…and his last. And while I’m not going to spoil every single one of those heads on posts here…yeah. Definitely a few surprises.

A cross, missed Carol

Look, if Carol were a real person, we’d root for her happiness. We’d want her to keep that long hair that shows she feels safe, raise some kids, screen movies to random strangers, and live happily ever after.

But this is The Walking Dead. And that’s not the Carol we fell for. That Carol was the one who’d threaten kids with severe bodily harm over cookies. Who became a hermit because of how scared she was of her own killer instincts. And who caught the eye of Daryl because of how dangerous and utterly self-reliant she was.

Nice Carol just saw her son’s decapitation. Crazy Carol is likely to be back with a vengeance.

Family matters

It’s not just characters that can be abruptly killed on The Walking Dead. Entire subplots can too, as this week’s opening—which played like a seriously messed-up version of the intro to Pixar’s Up—set out to prove from moment one. More new relationships were established, just to be trashed by the final kills. Subplots that never seemed quite as important as they should have, like Tammy and Earl’s baby, or the Highwaymen, got wiped clean off the slate. It all lets us get back to where the show should be: focused on the core group of characters. Michonne, Daryl, Judith, Carol, Ezekiel, Gabriel, Eugene, and we can probably throw Luke and friends in there now too. These are the ones we want to see make it out somehow.

Oh, and there’s one more we should mention…

Down on one Negan

When you’re under attack by ruthless killers who all have a group identity, it might help to unleash the guy who knows more about that than anybody else on the show.

Batter up.

Winter is coming

A threat from Alpha that the winter will be long and hard. A large, guided army of the dead behind a vast wall of stone. The first snowflakes of the year. If you doubted that this was The Walking Dead‘s Game of Thrones episode initially, you could hardly miss the fact that that it concluded with the threat of an upcoming seasonal weather change. With implied violence to follow.

We just look forward to seeing who the metaphorical dragon is.

Images: AMC

Luke Y. Thompson is only a winter person when it comes to TV show scenarios, in which case, he’s all in. Follow him on the social channels for more season-unrelated fun.