Like dozens of other productions across the pop culture landscape, AMC's The Walking Dead found itself in a tough situation heading into its tenth season finale. Originally, Beta's (Ryan Hurst) final move against our heroes was meant to take place on April 12 with "A Certain Doom" which means this week's episode "The Tower" was in the penultimate episode position. As the fates will allow, plans changed and now "The Tower" went from being the "build up to the finale" to being the season's unofficial finale (with "A Certain Doom" set to air some time later this year).
Which means that director Laura Belsey, along with writers Kevin Deiboldt and Julia Ruchman, were working up more of a "build-up" episode than a season wrap-up. Makes sense, and that's exactly what it feels like. The problem from a reviewing standpoint is that it feels like a "work in progress" even as it stands as its own, complete effort. I know that reads confusing, but it's probably the best way for me to explain it.
If I was giving this episode a grade, it would be "INCOMPLETE" because of what we don't get. Connie's (Lauren Ridloff) fate is still unknown, we still never get to meet Eugene's (Josh McDermitt) "Stephanie," Judith (Cailey Fleming) still hasn't clued everyone in on Michonne's (Danai Gurira) mission, we don't know what the reation will be to Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) after news gets out that he killed Alpha (Samantha Morton), and we still have no signs (though a heavy reference made to) Lauren Cohan's return as Maggie. Pile those on top of the mini-cliffhangers that came our way during "The Tower" and you can't escape the feeling that something's missing that would take care of at least a few of those topics, that there's a little too much unanswered.
Again, that's not Belsey, Deibolt, Ruchman, or showrunner/executive producer Angela Kang's fault. If anything, they've done some admirable work in the face of a once-in-a-lifetime situation. I also want to make it clear that this was a strong episode in its own right, doing a fine job setting up what should be a following-week season-ender. If I was grading this on a "1-10" scale, I'd have this at "7.5" with an asterick next it so I could revist my review after sreening the 16th episode. Here's a look at some of my reasons why:
I'm glad to see that (at least for now) they're not going the comic book route with Negan's character. Not going to lie, it felt both cool and weird to see him walking around freely among our folk – even though he doesn't have a lot of interaction with the others this round. That said, his exchange with Lydia (Cassady McClincy) was meaningful and real, and offered a softening to his character without weakening him. Even with emotions, he wants to be the controller but he's also evolved enough to recognize it and dial back from it. Lydia still seems to be playing a number of cards close to her chest, and I'm still not quite show how to read the exchange between Judith and her.
As impactful moments go, I'd have to say that there were two that stood out for me. Carol (Melissa McBride) and Kelly's (Angel Theory) exchange while hunting for wiring was important and necessary. For Carol, it feels like the start of her trying to find her way back to a place where she used to be though with the understanding that thinsg can never go back to how they were.
For Kelly, it was an affirmation of the love she has for Connie and the bond she shares with her sister. The other scene that stood out was a no-brainer: Daryl finding Judith, and the conversation resulting in a new "Dixon/Grimes" tag team. What made the scene even more meaningful was knowing that it was Judith keeping that promise she made to her mother. For Daryl, it's a chance to do right by Rick's "memory" while mentoring a future leader in her own right.
As for Beta and the Whisperers, I appreciate that the new leader is being portrayed as both righteously insane and a skilled planner/tactician. Think he's going to make a move on Oceanside after Alexandria is left empty? Feels like the logical choice, which is exactly why Beta won't take it. His instincts are strong, and have me hoping that I'm missing something or they have a sweet "Plan B" ready to go. To say Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Alden (Callan McAuliffe) are hoping more than we are would be a massive understatement, however.
Our love for Princess (Paola Lázaro) grew by leaps and bound this week, especially with how endearing it was to watch her try to impress Eugene, Yumiko, and Ezekiel. It was almost as if she was auditioning to be part of their group, and we're glad she passed because her energy and vibe are infectious. It was a particularly nice touch having Yumiko be the one who who invites her to join them – a nice sign of growth in her character, too.
So where does that leave things for us? Aside from what could be a very long wait, I mean? Hard to say, but I can't see the season finale heading our way before August (and that's being painfully optimistic). When it does, we're certain that it will be paired up with the delayed premiere of The Walking Dead: World Beyond – and "The Tower" will be remembered for the strong finale build-up it was meant to be.