While the cast and crew of AMC's The Walking Dead roll along with their deep-dive production-wise on 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.
Now that the first two episodes established where everyone's at heading into a post-satellite crash season, this week's episode "Ghosts" elevates tensions as the Whisperers make their presence known.
"The Walking Dead" season 10, episode 3 "Ghosts": The threat of the Whisperers return leads to paranoia sweeping over Alexandria; in the meantime, Carol battles with the need for revenge.
Written by Jim Barnes and directed by David Boyd, "Ghosts" is a tension-raising, fingers-digging-into-your-arm-rests-or-partner's-hand chapter that completes a "trifecta" of opening episodes that remind us of the prison arc leading into war with the Governor. In both instances, we had a number of episodes built around pretty much the same time – but from different perspectives.
In just two episodes, Kang & Co. were able to get us up-to-speed on our main players on both sides while not living in the past – there are reasons for seeing what we're seeing, things to be learned. All roads may have been leading to the same exact destination – but it was the stops along the way that made the first two chapters a journey worth taking.
Barnes and Boyd's "Ghosts" took hold of that narrative baton and never looked back – taking those promises of "paranoia" and "Cold War" that were discussed going into the season and putting them on full display. How can our heroes take the fight to the Whisperers when they don't know who to trust within their own ranks – and with Carol (Melissa McBride), you can't even trust your own eyes.
● While it would seem like a logical place to start overall, in this instance the opener really does set the tone for what's to come: a horrific slice-of-life in the Whisperers era, and just a small taste of the scope of the Whisperers' power and influence:
● McBride is presenting an entirely new side to Carol, one who's adopted Daryl's (Norman Reedus) remove-myself-from-society mantra – but with one clear difference: revenge. Carol is in pure "Carol Planning Mode" – driven by vengeance as well as the "ghosts" of the children she couldn't save – the ones who still haunt her.
Her hallucinations at the school were perfectly heart-breaking and disturbing at the same time – fueled by Carol's growing dependency on pills. While adding a possible "drug addiction" storyline might seem forced in other hands, it makes sense here considering what Carol's suffered and what her endgame is – and it adds yet another layer to the growing paranoia and mistrust.
Case-in-point? How quickly she turns on Daryl after he attempts to get through to her via a story about his father – and how the "punchline" to that narrative caught Daryl (and us) by surprise.
● Badass Aaron has elevated to Michonne-Daryl-Carol-Negan status as one of my favorite characters, with Ross Marquand channeling Aaron's internalized rage in some very interesting ways. His exchanges with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) over responsibility and loss are powerful, showing fans that "Old Aaron" isn't completely gone – he just can't afford to "come out and play" anymore.
● Damn you, Jeffrey Dean Morgan! I still can't put my finger on what Negan's "big picture" is here yet: I'm feeling "redemption" yet can't shake that "snake in a screwed-up Garden of Eden" vibe.
● I still don't trust Siddiq (Avi Nash) and can't shake this feeling that he's the "mole" in Alexandria – though I'm starting to come around on Dante (Juan Javier Cardenas): he passed the "let me tell you about my past" backstory test… for now.
● While I know a ton of the "Caryl" shippers out there are going to write volumes of "fan fic" based on Carol's hallucinations, the only thing we took away from it was sadness. As hardened as Carol may seem on the outside, she still hasn't lost an inner sense of hope – even in the face of everything she's seen.
● I need Eugene (Josh McDermitt) to move along to a new storyline and leave Rosita (Christian Serratos) to "Dr. Skeevy" and Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) – as does Rosita (though I'm sounding like a broken record here, and it feels like a set-up for Rosita to get killed and a Three Men and a Baby scenario – hope that's just my bitterness talking)
● The Alpha-Carol confrontation was so insanely intense that it was almost uncomfortable to watch: from Carol's "bullshit" line to Alpha wanting Carol to lower her eyes to Carol's literal shot at Alpha, we were given the "pre-game" to a face-off that's now more of a "when" than an "if" – but damn how painful was it to watch Michonne (Danai Gurira) "apologize" for Carol? Grrr…
● So what is the deal with the wave of walkers from the beginning? If Lydia (Cassady McClincy) and Gamma (Thora Birch) seem sure it wasn't Alpha's doing, then it would seem like maybe the community is being "tested" – but by who? I mean, it's not like there are "clandestine organizations" out there scooping up people and building secret communities… wait, what? There is? Oh…
Of course, it could also have something to do with Eugene's theory that it's all connected to the fallen satellite – but I hope not. Always go with a good conspiracy theory first…
● After this episode, I'm inventing a new genre for The Walking Dead: the "Post-Zombie Apocalypse Political Thriller." Because as much as we're still very much into the horror aspects of the serious, we're not going to lie: the inner turmoil within the groups and the potential for some serious double- and triple-crosses has us just as on-edge as a scene of a late-night walker attack in the woods would – making "Ghosts" 3-for-3 for a season that doesn't appear to be slowing down.
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.