While the cast and crew of AMC's The Walking Dead roll along with the tenth season, life in the franchise's universe has become a lot like the NFL: neither have off-seasons anymore. With a strong ensemble cast (and a "Big Bad" fronted by Samantha Morton in an award-earning turn as Whisperers leader Alpha) and richly layered writing, showrunner/executive producer Angela Kang did the near-impossible: made the show feel fresh and dangerous again.
We didn't mince words over how impressed we were with season opener "Lines We Crossed" (check out our review here). Then we had Morton, Ryan Hurst, and Thora Birch raising the bar even higher with "We Are the End of the World" (check out our review here), – offering up some Whisperers backstory.
"Ghosts" elevated the paranoia as Melissa McBride continues delivering an award-winning performance (that review's here) – while "Silence the Whisperers" proved once again why it's "In Michael Cudlitz, We Trust" (review here).
Which brought us to last week's "What It Always Is", where a now-free Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) began his redemption journey into his own "heart of darkness" while Alpha raised the stakes against our survivors – which we shared our thoughts on in our review (here).
But since there's no rest for the wicked, we find ourselves already at the season's sixth episode "Bonds" – which finds Negan facing a test, Carol (McBride) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) possibly making matters worse, and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) going Rage Against the Machine… and getting a response.
"The Walking Dead" season 10, episode 6 "Bonds": Carol and Daryl go on a mission together while Siddiq struggles to solve a mystery. Directed by Dan Liu and written by Kevin Deiboldt.
Huge thanks to Dan Liu and Kevin Deiboldt for giving Morgan an opportunity to blow the dust off of "old Negan" in this episode, because "Bonds" rests a ton of responsibility on his and Beta's (Ryan Hurst) shoulders – and they are more than up to the challenge.
Because for everything the Whisperers claim to be, there's one thing Negan is that they lack: a true "alpha". With a wink, a smile, and a nonstop barrage of amazing verbal assaults, Negan owns Beta the moment they meet. "Mr. Frowny McTwoKnives" only way to hold his own against Negan is to convince Alpha that Negan's not strong enough to be part of their group.
Unfortunately for Beta – and further proof that Negan's playing chess while they're playing checkers – our ex-Saviors leader knows how to read a room and who to piss off… and who not to.
So when he's with Beta, we get lots and lots of this:
But when it involves being back at Whisperers' camp and being within earshot of Alpha? Well, he's playing to an "audience of one" with boasts about crotch size and skin suit-worthiness… but never forgetting that making himelf look good doesn't have to come at making Alpha look less "alpha".
Even if that means kneeling before her and offering himself and "Lucille" up for her cause: "Whatever you want… whatever I got… it's yours."
You never stood a chance, Beta… Alpha just shifted you into the "creepy friend-zone"…
● As for the Daryl/Carol dynamic in this episode, I'm not sure which side of the fence my opinion lands on. For someone who holds Daryl so close to her heart, I was little turned off by how Carol seemed to be playing him for an idiot. From searching for Negan to wanting to take out a walker herd to taking a Whisperer hostage, Carol's excuses and reasonings never convinced me that Daryl would buy into them – at least as much as he did.
On the other hand, I feel like I still need to wait to see how Carol's entire story plays out. As easy as it would be to criticize her decision-making, we can't forget that not only did she lose Henry (and have to see at least part of him as a walker) but she's most likely dealing with the loss of every person she's been carrying guilt over for years. So what could be seen as selfish and narrow-minded also looks to be someone who is going through stages of grief and anger – my only concern? That she can get her revenge on Alpha before it consumes her.
● Does Eugene not suspect something's a bit off when his radio friend doesn't want him mentioning her to anyone in the community? Shouldn't that pretty much be a ten-ton hint? I know Eugene's in all sorts of a physical and emotional spiral, but damn… and yet? I appreciate and empathize with his loneliness, and his wanting to have someone to call his own.
● Wait, all of those people getting sick that Siddiq's (Avi Nash) concerned about? I thought it was a result of the Whisperers contaminating the community's water supply…???
● Dammit, Daryl! Even Carol sees the chemistry you have with Connie (Lauren Ridloff). You've been holding hands with her, telling her stories about Merle- hell, even Dog love her. As much as "Caryl" fans will head reading this, time to shift Carol to "big sister mode" and start repopulating the planet with Connie.
● Speaking of Siddiq… after this episode, I'm convinced now mroe than ever that Siddiq turned on the others to save himself. Hearing Alpha's voice and then finding himself on a balcony of some type, I'm imagining that Siddiq was presented with the scope of the Whisperers' threat, and then given an opportunity to survive and serve as a warning to the others.
Of course, he could also be a kind of "mole/sleeper agent" for when Alpha needs him the most…
● And yes – after much consulting – I can now say that I'm liking Dante (Juan Javier Cardenas) as a character.
The Walking Dead is a story that started 10 years ago with one man trying to find his family. That family grew and gradually communities took shape. They fought and survived, thrived and gave birth to a new generation. It is a tale of humankind and there are more stories to tell.
It is now Spring, a few months after the end of Season 9, when our group of survivors dared to cross into Whisperer territory during the harsh winter. The collected communities are still dealing with the after effects of Alpha's horrific display of power, reluctantly respecting the new borderlines being imposed on them, all while organizing themselves into a militia-style fighting force, preparing for a battle that may be unavoidable.
But the Whisperers are a threat unlike any they have ever faced. Backed by a massive horde of the dead it is seemingly a fight they cannot win. The question of what to do and the fear it breeds will infect the communities and give rise to paranoia, propaganda, secret agendas, and infighting that will test them as individuals and as a society. The very idea of whether civilization can survive in a world filled with the dead hangs in the balance.