The Walking Dead
Well, here we are, folks — the first episode of the final Walking Dead season, or as the promos have declared, “the beginning of the end.” Given there were six bonus chapters in season ten, and we’re kicking things off early in the very un-TWD month of August, gone is the usual long wait from finale cliffhanger to premiere. Sort of feels like it’s all blending together: the slow end of the Whisperers, the introduction of Camp Stormtrooper, a bunch of side stories, and now the Reapers, who are somehow scarier than all of the psychos who came before them. This episode serves as a fitting place-setter to establish where things stand and what horrors lie ahead.
Not to take too deep a dive into the episode’s title, but it carries a heavy symbolism. In Greek mythology, the Acheron is one of the rivers used to carry dead souls to Hades. That appears to nod to Maggie’s plan for taking the fight to the Reapers instead of sitting back and waiting to get reaped (or starve, or end up as zombie food in the run-down A-town). It’s a dangerous path, littered with walkers of all types — bagged, bloated, standard-issue — and from the way she describes this new gang of killers, it sounds like hell awaits on the other side of the train tracks.
The opening sequence establishes just how dire things at A-town have become. With the merger of the remaining survivors and their home in shambles, food is scarce. Luckily, there happens to be a military base that’s loaded with MREs for the taking — assuming you can slip in without attracting attention from a mess of new, dormant zombies. It seems that when enough time has passed without feeding, the walkers out-groan themselves and fall into a warm-flesh-deprived slumber. Maggie and her team quickly learn that all it takes is a fresh drop of blood to put a swift end to nap time. Her hit squad actually makes a fairly clean escape until Carol decides a few more rations are worth risking her life. Good thing Daryl is also a world-class knife-thrower. How many times has he saved her bacon?
Back at A-town, there’s a spirited debate over what to do now that they’ve got about a week’s worth of food for all their trouble at the base. We also meet Maggie’s home peoples: Duncan, Agatha, and Frost, who are the best fighters from her old gang and also game for giving li’l Hershel shoulder rides. They lived somewhere called the Meridian until they were slaughtered by the Reapers. Maggie’s frustratingly low on intel, though, saying she knows only two things about these new foes: “They come at night, and by the time you see them, you’re already dead.” (Not so helpful, Mags.)
As Maggie’s assault team heads to the mysterious Meridian to kill these mysterious killers, some key tensions arise. Rosita is not in favor of the decision to take the offensive and is particularly miffed that Gabe is so eager to volunteer. Then there’s Negan versus everyone else. He joins the Reaper hunt but gets a verbal smackdown whenever he pipes up. They enter an old DC Metro station and Negan, who knows the area, is little more than a human Google Maps. Sacks of discarded bodies, water damage indicating flood danger, ominous sounds like metal straining under the weight of something awfully heavy — none of this keeps Maggie from pressing on.
Negan finally has enough and calls Maggie out for leading a “death march” and plotting to kill him one way or another out here, far from the judgment of the A-towners. Her lack of a rebuttal speaks volumes; even Daryl looks shocked that Negan is speaking the truth. But as Negan tends to do, he pushes just a little too far. After saying Maggie can’t think clearly because he’s “living rent-free” in her head, he adds that he didn’t come all this way to die like a dog, “like Glenn.” Daryl gives Neegs a shot to the chops, and Maggie delivers both an admission and a threat: There’s only a tiny sliver of the old Maggie from six years ago left inside her, and it’s all that’s keeping Negan alive. “So keep pushing me, Negan,” she says. “Please.” It’s the kind of Dirty Harry-style speech Rick used to give, looking down the barrel of his Python. Now it’s Maggie doing the talking and Negan who’s at gunpoint, utterly vulnerable.
Lest we forget about the other major plot, the Princess posse is still held captive by the troops of the Commonwealth. Their interrogation continues at the hands of some of the scariest post-apocalyptic characters yet — a couple of clipboard-carrying lawyers who are in charge of “assessment.” No question is off the table, including those related to bowel movements and toilet paper preferences (could the Commonwealth be a front for the corporate overlords of Big Paper?). Of note: Zeke lies about his cancer, then seems to blow his cover by coughing up a lung; Eugene was straight-edge in high school; Princess did time at a music store and a pizzeria; Yumiko is smart af. The quiz seems rather harmless unless you fail and are sent for “reprocessing,” some mysterious assignment that strikes fear into the hearts of their fellow captives but may just be the Commonwealth’s equivalent of the DMV.
Princess also has an uncanny knack for eavesdropping and body-language reading, which leads to a highly implausible escape involving Yumiko and Eugene stealing bespoke body armor. All goes well until they find the “Wall of the Lost,” a collection of photos intended to provide “expedited assessment and admittance” for missing loved ones. One snapshot stands out — it’s Yumiko, along with a note from her brother Tomi. So much for sneaking out of this joint, at least for her. At least one of the others should flee, but smart money says they’ll all stay put.
There’s even less light at the end of the tunnel back in the actual tunnel, as Maggie’s standoff with Negan segues into a Scylla and Charybdis moment — on one side, a locked-down train surrounded by rubble, and an approaching mini-horde of undead on the other. Dog-dad Daryl proves the unwisdom of bringing his pet to work and ends up crawling through a crack in the rocks to chase his pup. The rest of them head up and over the train, save for Maggie, who ends up with a leg in the grasp of a groaner. Negan appears on the roof, gazing down as she cries out to him in a panic for help. Instead of extending a hand, he vanishes.
We see a look of sheer terror on Maggie’s face as she loses her grip. It’s a virtual certainty that Negan returns to save her, thus setting up a season-long tug-of-war as these two wrestle with trust, forgiveness, and the urge to murder each other.