Re: dead bees
It is not normal for the bees to die, but it is common. There are numerous posts on this site that reference Thanksgiving as a key date in hive mortality. Hives that die this early typically do so due to viruses transmitted by the varroa mite. I saw that you did not start treatment until October, at which point it was probably too late for a treatment like Apivar. Keep the strips in the surviving hive, clean out the dead bees, and give them the fondant. Then cross your fingers. Next year you will know to start treating earlier. All good winter prep starts in the middle of summer.
Thankfully, the bees are smarter than I am. They are doing well, in spite of my efforts to help them.