So if last week's "Home Sweet Home" set a strong foundation for the return of AMC's The Walking Dead as it heads into its 11th and final season, this week's episode "Find Me" built a bridge to the long-running drama series' final act that proved impressive on many levels. Directed by David Boyd and written by Nicole Mirante-Matthews, this week's story finds Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride) out on a routine mission that leads to some deep insights into Daryl's time alone searching for Rick, the growing tension between the long-time friends that's been growing throughout the 10th season, and the role Leah (Lynn Collins) plays into all of this. Now just in case you haven't been able to tell by now, this is the point where we have to throw on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign and meet you on the other side of this image spoiler buffer.
Let me start off by clearing away the obvious questions and issues some folks are going to have about the episode. First, the introduction of Leah into Daryl's backstory made sense and was blended into the overall canon narrative impressively (with having Carol know already a particularly smart decision). Second, I'm glad the debate about Daryl and sex was answered and done so in a manner that wasn't cheesy. Leah and Daryl had sex, folks- and probably a lot over those ten months. Third, I appreciated that this was just one of many, many factors that contributed to Daryl and Carol's issues. Fourth, I appreciate that Leah's story was left open-ended with the possibility of a return during the finale season- and yes, I hope she arrives with Daryl's kid. Finally, the Daryl/Carol conflict makes much more sense now and shows that their conflicts don't necessarily stem from finger-pointing and blaming so much as two people trying to get control of their lives and realizing that might put them on separate paths.
Okay, as for the episode itself? "Find Me" was an episode where Mirante-Matthews' went above and beyond the writer's responsibility by crafting a story that was not only emotionally impactful and all-too-human but also one that bore the responsibility of shining a light on a time jump time period fans have been clamoring to know more about. Boyd's directing presenting us with a tapestry woven with isolation and intimacy, painting a portrait of a character that fans thought they've known for a decade that shows layers previously unrevealed. But at the end of the day, "Find Me" rises and falls based on Reedus, Collins, and McBride- and the trio more than rises to the occasion.
For Reedus, we have what might be his best performance yet- coming at a time when most actors would be shifting into "coasting mode," Reedus more than demonstrates why AMC was right to have him take a lead role moving forward with the post-Rick Grimes era. You don't think Daryl can get angry? His primal scream in the midst of the storm and his glaring anger at Carol when Connie's name is brought up are two perfect examples. Don't think Daryl's got swagger? Look how easily Reedus shifts Daryl into "flirty dude" mode early on with Leah. Reedus was served up an opportunity for a defining episode, and he crushed it.
Of course, he wouldn't have been able to do that without an equally-capable dance partner in Collins. The best compliment I can give Collins' Leah is that she feels like an "Amy/'The Big Bang Theory'" character- someone who wasn't there from the beginning but who makes such an amazing first impression that you feel like you've known them forever. In an episode of standout moments, I have to highlight the moment when she has the gun on Daryl as he's tied up- study her face to see how she portrays Leah's entire backstory through her expressions in mere seconds- without uttering a word. I'm keeping fingers, toes, and various other body parts crossed that we'll be seeing more of her in the near (Season 11 and spinoff) future.
And let's not short-change McBride, who not only served as an effective means to get Daryl's backstory told but also presented a Carol who is still running away in so many ways. But while Daryl focused on her running away by joining him on a routine mission and wanting to move on from Alexandria, McBride impressed by giving us a Carol who was trying to run away from dealing with the truth about Daryl's issues with her by trying to approach their journey as if it was just another day in the walker apocalypse. That's why the opening minutes stuck with me so much- it felt like you had two people completely not on the same page, making the exchange effectively awkward.
As for some other standout moments, wow- even Dog gets a tragic backstory? Mother Nature sure knows how to whip up some serious symbolism and force-feed it to Daryl. And apparently, fish is an acceptable anniversary present in a post-walker world. A little something for everybody, but there was nothing little about "Find Me"- yet another step in the right direction for the franchise.