The Walking Dead
As penultimate episodes go, this is a good one — but knowing we have to wait until at least the summer (or more likely the fall) to see how these dangling threads are tied up is a real bummer. Among the key plotlines that will keep us in suspense until whenever: What will Eugene and company find when they rendezvous with his long-distance girlfriend? What will come of the final showdown with the Whisperers? And will any of them survive what could be the greatest existential threat — the Princess Apocalypse?
Your enjoyment of this TWD chapter mostly depends on your feelings for Juanita Sanchez, the batshit boa-wearing, gun-toting sprite whose antics are, well, something of an acquired taste. Zeke and Miko serve as stand-ins for the audience early on — either you’re bemused by Princess, or you’re ready to put an arrow through her purple-haired noggin. I’m on Team Zeke: The show could use some more comic relief, even if she’s a wee bit over the top. Princess has a solid excuse for acting like a Fortnite character come to life, since she’s been alone for more than a year (given the current global situation, that’s both horrifyingly imaginable and relatable). In addition to her hobby of building full-size zombie dioramas, she’s got a bit of cuckoo in her step and a machine-gun verbal style (which is less problematic than her actual machine gun).
Princess also seems to have been rather extra in her past life, as we learn when she heartbreakingly reveals that someone once said she’s hard to love. That vulnerable moment proves to be a crucial — perhaps even life-saving — icebreaker, as it comes just after Eugene’s crew discovers that Princess led them through a landmine field for quite literally no good reason. Sure, they were treated to a canteen-tossing demonstration and learned firsthand what “cascading” means, thanks to an unlucky exploding walker. But they lost valuable time in finding Gene’s gal and also nearly died; in retrospect, Miko was justified in making Princess give up her weapon.
As it turns out, the “wheels” Princess promised they’d find at the garage turn out to be bicycles. I’m looking forward to the absurd sight of these four apocalypse warriors peddling around the zombie wasteland. And even if you’re not a Princess fan, you have to admit she’s entertaining. Note her excitement when she’s invited to join their mission and she offers to share some goodies: “I’ve got food and clothes and a cool spear and some candy … is there a map? Do I get to hold it?” (The line about not calling herself “queen” because it makes her sound old and pretentious was well placed, too. Even Zeke got a chuckle out of that one — and didn’t mention he’s also a self-appointed royal.)
Meanwhile, the survivors of all three communities have united at “The Tower,” which appears to be a wing in an abandoned hospital, judging by the fitting “EMERGENCY” sign at the entrance. I don’t recall this joint mentioned previously, but here they are, and apparently some master plan to take out the Whisperers is under way: Gabe is learning sign language, Luke is building something out of wires and batteries with the help of Oceansidebabe Jules, and the whole joint reeks of cat pee. Also involved is A-aron and Aiden, who are tasked with tailing Beta and reporting on his movements. Then there’s Carol and Kelly, an odd couple sent to scavenge for Luke’s project. Their alone time allows Carol to ask for teary-eyed forgiveness for what seems like the millionth time; of course, rather than be bitter at the woman who possibly buried her sister alive, Kelly remains optimistic. She even turns Carol’s confessional into a pep talk: Your aura of death and relentless self-absorption is your superpower!
The heart-to-hearts continue with Negan and Daryl, who are weirdly turning into model parents. Neegs is feeling slightly guilty about beheading Lydia’s mom, and his awkward attempt to offer her a possum snack turns ugly. He can seemingly do nothing right — Lydia says that everyone wishes he’d died too (fair) and resents Negan for admitting he liked Alpha, aside from all the heinous, unforgivable murders she did. Their chat ends with Lydia finally letting her emotions go and Negan comforting her tenderly and sincerely. He might become the only Dad of the Year candidate who once beat a man to death with a baseball bat.
Then there’s Daryl and Judith, the future Queen of All Zombieland. Bored, sad, and grossed out by said cat urine, Judith sneaks into the woods for some tracking lessons and Uncle Daryl just can’t say no to that adorable little face. He also exposes her to some new-world brutality after he kills that mumbly Whisperer. The human-on-human violence sends Judith into a sadness spiral — we’re killing people now, her mom is gone, what if Daryl leaves her too? In his speech about the importance of family, Daryl foreshadows the day when all these people will need Judith to lead them, and dammit, I really want to fast forward and see her livin’ large and fully in charge. They share a hug, tender music plays, and I wipe away tears … er, Judith wipes away tears.
Two utterances from Gabe end the Hallmark moment and send them scrambling to the Tower: “get back” and “surrounded.” Beta’s descent into even madder madness has accelerated, based on the decapitation of his leader and the realization that Half Moon has likely recorded his last album. (Memo to the Whisperers: You are advised to stop calling him the Alpha.) Now there’s some creepy (and fittingly growly) voice in his head that’s offering advice on what to do with all the zombies he’s wrangled. No one home at A-town? Let’s head to the coast. That doesn’t feel right either? Let’s think real hard on words like “faith” and “watch” and “learn” and … oh hey, there goes a cat, I bet the Showered Folk all gave up on their respective homes and piled into an old hospital for one final showdown.
That is where the survivors, along with the audience, find ourselves frozen: with Beta’s undead army marching on the Tower and some vague plan that will likely succeed, but at the cost of many lives. Who lives, who dies, and who will the Princess posse meet on their two-wheelers are all questions we’ll have to ponder for a while. Whenever we get some answers, the world is going to look different for them and for us.