The Walking Dead
It’s hard to believe we’ve begun the tenth chapter of The Walking Dead — a full decade of zombie mayhem that began with Rick Grimes waking up alone in a hospital way back in 2010. (Life was so different then: Instagram was less than a month old, Meghan Markle was perhaps best known as “Random Girl” on an episode of The League, and Donald Trump’s biggest headline was crowning Poison singer Bret Michaels as the winner of Celebrity Apprentice.) In other ways, though, it feels like we’ve spent approximately 137 years watching these survivors make very little progress toward building a livable society that isn’t constantly threatened by gut munchers, and worse, by some really sick, sadistic people. Yet they, and we, march on. Even at Oceanside, the livin’ ain’t easy — zombies lurk and the human threats, specifically a bald one, loom large. While tonight’s episode sets up a number of compelling questions for what lies ahead, perhaps the biggest one is this: Will the continuation of the Whisperers storyline and the loss of more key characters keep things interesting, or has the show jumped the undead shark?
Kicking things off with a Russian satellite tumbling through space is a surprisingly fresh way to start, though I admit feeling a bit let down by its significance in the end. My thoughts on seeing it: Is help coming from, of all places, Moscow? Is space tech the secret project that Maggie and Georgie are working on? Did Rick end up at the International Space Station? Is this all taking place on some alternate Earth? Turns out the answer to all of the above is no (I think) and the truth is instead something pretty mundane: The satellite happens to crash near Oceanside, sparking a forest fire that compels the survivors to cross into Whisperer territory, something they haven’t done since Alpha put poor Henry’s head and a few others on spikes.
Something else that’s new in this episode is the chapter titles, and after that brief prologue courtesy of the Kremlin, it’s time for “Training Day,” featuring Aaron and Michonne leading a battalion across the beach to practice killing waterlogged ooze-walkers. Highlights include Judith keeping it sassy, and a slow-mo triple head slice courtesy of Michonne that looks like a cross between a video game cut scene and a piece of cinematic art. She tops that by hacking the face of a zombie clean off like a thick cut of deli meat on a slicer. It’s reassuring to see that after all these years, some things — i.e., creative walker kills — really don’t change.
But for all the fun zombie butchery and hearing Aaron very seriously bark commands like “Halt! Archers!,” everyone’s still cowering in the long, dark shadow of Alpha. They’re so terrified of her literal lines in the sand that when the kids find a skin mask on the beach, it sends Aaron into a fury and the other leaders begin debating caution versus action. On a recon mission, Aaron gets a tough-guy moment in which he unwisely takes on three walkers for no good reason at all. “I’m goddamn sick of being nice,” he says, and he’s not alone — I think the word “shit” was dropped three times in total and Michonne nearly spit out an F-bomb at Aaron’s stupidity.
Hard to blame the one-handed man for his rage — he lost his beau and a lot of friends, and he’s joined the ranks of the Single Parents Club with Michonne and Rosita. Let’s pause to consider the latter’s bizarre situation, which is less a love triangle and more of a heavylike rhombus. She’s got Saddiq’s baby, she’s hooked up with Gabe, and torch-carrying Eugene seems to be doing most of the childcare while she kickboxes and Saddiq suffers from survivor’s remorse PTSD. (Eugene’s payment for his services, apparently: creepy breastfeeding boob glances.) I also would like to know what in the hell is up with Dante, the new doctor who less than half jokingly says he and Saddiq are basically gods in this world. Can’t have enough white coats around, but I wonder if Saddiq’s days could be numbered.
Speaking of messy semi-romantic situations, we learn that Carol’s become a “sea dog” in the time since she split from Zeke and saw her adopted son’s head on a stick. (Finally, a smart move — best to keep Carol away from the kids, people.) When her boat docks at Oceanside, Zeke could not be more awkward, while Carol can’t be less interested; surely the former king is a reminder of their dead son, but c’mon Carol, show the guy a little love! By contrast, she’s giddy at the sight of Daryl and wastes no time hopping on his hog for a walker-and-wild-animal hunting trip. There’s a slightly different, fun chemistry between them during the “best friends” scene — Daryl is open and warm, Carol’s the smartass. They’re fully genuine and unguarded with each other. But for anyone pining for these two, I have one word for you: Connie. Daryl is learning sign language for her, people! Make this happen, TWD! When Connie’s sister admits she’s losing her hearing, too, Connie’s response — “It’s not a disability … it’s a damn superpower!” — is just perfect.
Last season, it seemed like Daryl might become a single parent himself, given the way he bonded with Lydia. But that’s on hold for now while the teenager struggles to learn to read and practices her bō-staff skills. Lydia also raps with good ol’ Negan, who enjoys his farming work-release program and giving Gabe some backhanded tips for leadership in the Whisperers Era. (Best line from his Ted Talk to the priest: “Why don’t you just nestle in below me and let me baby-bird a little bit of my wisdom into that pretty mouth of yours.” Runner up: “People are putting their shitting pants back on … because pants-shitting is definitely happening.”)
Negan’s actually a solid source for help on how to topple a psychopathic warlord, and that’s advice they’ll soon need. (I really hope he faces off with Alpha and we’re treated to a verbal battle between her slow drawl and his elaborate, dirty wordplay.) The Russian tin-can crashing in the woods sparks a huge blaze, forcing the survivors to enter Alpha’s land to extinguish it. That leads to a few notable moments: Zeke in respiratory distress, Carol using the ol’ Colombian Necktie move as a creative way to douse the flames, and Eugene stripping the satellite for tech that will undoubtedly not change their lives in any meaningful way.
Swear-we’re-just-friends besties Daryl and Carol slip away to enjoy a scenic view and debate running away to New Mexico. Maybe that would be for the best option for Carol—especially since she can’t spend 24 hours on dry land without locking eyes with Alpha and making it quite clear that there’s done been some tresspassin’. Alpha — in all her Apocalypse Now cosplay glory — gives Carol a look that twists from shock to fury. Better keep practicing those battle formations, folks.