Sunday night saw the return of AMC's The Walking Dead (humor us, AMC+ subscribers) for the first of six "extra" under the banner of 'Season 10C." Filmed under COVID production protocols, these chapters are meant to bridge Seasons 10 and 11 as well as answer some questions viewers have about what went on during the post-Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) time jump. And with the upcoming extended 11th and final season expected to debut later this year, to say there are some heavy expectations on these half-dozen adventures would be a dramatic understatement. So did "Home Sweet Home" set a high bar for the five following episodes to clear? Absolutely- except now? This is where we throw on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign because as the sign reads, there's no way of going any further without doing a deep-dive. See you on the other side of this spoiler buffer image…
Written by Kevin Deiboldt and Corey Reed, and directed by David Boyd, "Home Sweet Home" finds Maggie (Lauren Cohan) returning to Hilltop only to come to the shocking realization of just how much has changed. But there's little time to catch up on the past- not when something much deadlier from Maggie's past comes calling, putting hers, Daryl's (Norman Reedus), Kelly's (Angel Theory), Elijah's (Okea Eme-Akwari), and Cole's (James Devoti) lives at stake. From that description alone, it would seem that there was a whole ton of stuff going on- and there was. Except, there also wasn't. And that's the reason why Deibolt and Reed's script works so well.
At its action core, it's essentially a Full Metal Jacket-like narrative in which a group is trying to take out a hidden assassin picking off the group one-by-one. That was a perfect approach to take for the first episode back, a nerve-wracking tension burner that burns quietly but works because it's a constant threat. It also keeps the "noise level" from overwhelming what the real action was this round: the slow unraveling of Maggie's backstory since she left Hilltop, both her and her old friends going through a "feeling out" stage, and moments that told more about characters than entire episodes could. Here's a look at some thoughts on what went down- and what it could all mean.
Cohan's early exchanges with Judith (Cailey Fleming) and her death-glare moment with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) can be seen as contrasting aspects of her personality, but I think it represents a merging of the two sides since she's been gone. Look, Negan killed Glenn (thanks, Daryl). There's no getting past that. But as we see here and is further exemplified in later scenes, Maggie's learned from the rough shit she's been through- having lost how many attempts to start a new community? So when Maggie says she understands Carol's decision to make a deal with Negan, she means it- as much as part of her may be screaming inside. It's a "bigger picture" thinking- and one that Cohan portrays amazingly. When Maggie says, "the only thing that matters is Alexandria" at the end of the episode, it's important to also keep in mind what she says after that- that she'll deal with Negan if she has to. This is a Maggie driven by a leader's need to save her people- not by revenge. But will it stay that way?
In fact, Cohan's performance deserves special attention for her ability to present viewers with a Maggie they both know and are discovering again for the first time. This Maggie's seen enough to know just how much gray there is out there. Think back to the exchange between Maggie and Daryl, and just how painful it was for her to say "not now" when the memories of what she lost started to become too much. Contrast that with her exchange with Kelly (another highlight), where we see a generational bonding over the tragic loss of sisters that establishes a trust between the two.
Maggie's people also bring an interesting dynamic to the overall group. With Cole, we're not sure if we're going to end up loving him or hoping for his early demise. For someone who's coming from a situation even worse than our Alexandria folks, he sure does seem awfully pushy. Then again, he seems super loyal to Maggie so that earns him some bonus points. Elijah's arc in this episode actually made me smile because it was so pleasantly and heartbreakingly not what I expected. Assuming he would be Maggie's masked badass, that all changed when Maggie told Kelly part of his backstory. The exchange between Kelly and Elijah when he freezes up told us so much about both characters in such a short period of time.
As for this new group of "big bads," the Reapers? So do we add them to the list that includes Commonwealth, CRM, Virginia's (Colby Minifie) group, "The End is The Beginning" folks (both from Fear the Walking Dead), and any other "big bads" that are still in play in the TWD universe? That said, this is clearly a group that shouldn't be underestimated considering the damage they did to Maggie's people- and the death toll just one Reaper wracks up in this episode. And someone willing to blow themselves up in the name of their cause is not someone you can negotiate with- and bonus points for having Maggie go with a line of questioning that would fit every "big bad' in the series' run.
So our overall thoughts on the TWD's return? Amazing writing, an overall look that felt both epic and intimate at the same time, nomination-worthy performances, and the foundations for future storylines that have now been lain make for a welcome return for a franchise that continues to find ways to reinvent itself without losing its core sense of self. Do we think Georgie (Jayne Atkinson) is gone and won't be a part of the Commonwealth? Nope- and we also think Corey Hawkins's Heath is one of the Commonwealth soldiers and that's why we haven't gotten many images (but you didn't hear that from us).