The Walking Dead
The news broke this week that The Walking Dead season finale will be delayed due to the impact of the coronavirus on post-production. How horrifically fitting that the only thing stopping the fake zombie apocalypse is a real viral one. Granted, on a scale from “death” to “I can’t eat at the Cheesecake Factory,” pushing back the TWD conclusion should be pretty low on our list of concerns. But dammit, it still stings, especially given how good this season has become. After yet another excellent episode with some surprising twists, waiting untold months for the Whisperer War conclusion feels especially cruel. So as we head into next week’s fake finale, we’ll just have to take comfort in Negan’s dickish redemption, the introduction of what appears to be a manga character come to life, and finally getting to know the real Beta.
Let’s begin with Carol, who has endangered every child she’s birthed, adopted, babysat, or talked to for five minutes. I’ve really loved to loathe her this season. Carol’s single-minded pursuit of revenge concludes with a flashback to the moment when she made a pact with Negan to bring her Alpha’s head; if that was a deal with the devil, which one of them is Satan? Consider that when Carol presented her plan, it was Negan who warned that this whole scheme could put everyone’s lives at risk, and that was something he wasn’t down with. Carol’s ice-cold reply: “I need this done.”
Negan held up his end of the bargain; now all he wants is for Carol to clear his name so he can build a new life at A-town. But the only thing Carol is more obsessed with than Alpha is how long it took to dethrone her. Granted, Negan did seem to be working at a rather casual pace, and he later admits that he enjoyed feeling valued again. But he also couldn’t just chop off her head and sprint out of Whisperworld. That’s not good enough for Carol, though, so she leaves him with Alpha-on-a-Stick © and wanders off to be alone.
That leads to two of the more interesting storylines, as Carol and Negan both try to find their way far beyond the walls of A-town. Alpha may be dead, but she’s finally found a home inside Carol’s head. She’s the embodiment of Carol’s deepest fears and regrets, and she wastes no time bringing out the big artillery: Sophia, Lizzie, Mika, abusive ex Ed, abandoned Zeke, possibly dead Connie (and how about Sam, who wanted a cookie and got a death threat?). Alpha does a cruel but dead-on Carol impression (“Please don’t be mad at me!”) and when Carol gets herself trapped by a cave-in she caused (irony alert), Alpha calls her a filthy name that would make even Negan blush. I’ll give Carol points for dislocating her shoulder to escape, but I would have been fine if that zombie finished her off.
Meanwhile, Negan is a man without a country. Luckily for him, Daryl decided to hide out in the Lydia shack for hours, waiting for Negan to return. It’s a rough reunion, despite Negan explaining the entire plot in detail. You can tell that Daryl had his suspicions about who really freed Negan from jail. Still, it wasn’t long ago that Daryl saw him fighting with the Whisperers at the Battle of Hilltop. That raises a question: If Negan was so concerned about protecting the good guys, why didn’t he kill Cue Ball before she went ahead and destroyed an entire community? He admits he was a bit drunk on power again, but if his “no killing kids or the undeserving” rule was a red line, he should have offed Alpha on day one. But there’s a whole season to fill here, folks.
Things get really interesting when the pair looks for Alpha’s head, but find only the bloody stick and a few Whisperer goons. Instead of executing Alpha’s killer, they take a knee and honor Negan as “the new Alpha.” (Daryl’s face upon hearing this: You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me. Negan: Well ain’t this some delightful shit right here!) Negan takes his “sweet ass time” watching the skinfaces tie up Daryl — gotta admit, he earned a victory lap — and lets Daryl sweat it out for a few tense moments. After Neegs takes out the Whisperers, he can’t help but chuckle as Daryl says, “Untie me, asshole.” It’s such a perfectly Negan way to gloat in being vindicated.
Back at the Hilltop refugee camp, Eugene provides yet another excuse to split the party when he admits to having a secret radio girlfriend. Instead of a riot over Eugene’s reckless behavior, Zeke urges compassion and offers to join ol’ mullethead on a trip to meet his lady. The key takeaways from their journey: Zeke’s illness is catching up with him; I’d trade both Miko and Magna to save one horse; and it is still a very bad idea to enter a city where thousands of zombies likely await. (Note the zombies in period garb, tied to chairs and moving around like some alt-universe Disney World where walkers replace animatronic puppets.) The big surprise comes when they stumble upon a woman with pilot goggles on her head, a purple boa, and a very large rifle. She’s thrilled to see them; Eugene and company look dumbfounded. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait months for a proper introduction to this piece of work.
Then there is the terrifying and deliciously bizarre tale of Beta. I’d rather be in charge of Whisperer latrine cleanup than be one of the two toadies at Beta’s side when he found Alpha’s groaning dome. One of them tries to score points by suggesting Beta has earned a promotion; that guy’s reward is becoming the first ever victim of murder by severed head, then being stabbed and eaten alive for good measure. And was there any doubt Beta would do something freaky with Alpha’s head, such as cradling it like a baby?
We finally learn Beta’s identity and the reason why his voice was so recognizable. He heads into an old-timey saloon, which appears to be both the scene of a massacre and a good spot for live music. There’s a lot to take in here: A note that says “These 2 eyes see 1 truth” and suggests Beta is a Prince fan; a concert poster announcing “Half Moon … the legend himself for one night only”; and Beta carrying a Half Moon vinyl wherever he goes. He tears off more of his mask, and we see Half Moon’s face on the album cover, which matches Beta’s face quite identically. Yes, this menace is a former singer-songwriter who apparently went to rehab and is now hoping to make a comeback. Beta pumps up his own jams, draws a sizeable crowd to his reunion show, and tells his woman he’s gotta hit the road (in this case, said woman is a severed head and going on tour means killing her, er, it).
The conclusion to Carol’s story is the least satisfying: She gives up on going it alone and limps back to A-town, where Daryl happens to be the one to let her in. We’ll see how both she and Negan are welcomed by the community, given that their scheme’s success came at a steep cost. Eugene’s posse has found one of those characters who seems to straddle the line between ally and threat. And now that Beta has his undead band back together, they all might regret replacing one maniac with another.