So I usually start off my reviews of AMC's The Walking Dead with a brief overview of what happened, throw in a couple of cool-sounding adjectives to sell my point, and then top it off with a tease or two before leading into the MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! warning.
Then "Walk With Us" happened, and… wow.
This week's Greg Nicotero-directed, and Eli Jorné/Nicole Mirante-Matthews-written episode is not only the hands down best episode of the season, but also one of the best reminders of what's made this show last as long as it has – continuing a "renaissance" that took shape under the leadership of showrunner/executive producer/writer Angela Kang.
This was the "perfect storm" of an episode that had a little bit for everybody – with all of those bits coming together for an excellent chapter in "The Whisperers War".
Looking for shocking, meaningful deaths? How's Alpha (Angela Kang), Gamma (Thora Birch), and Earl (John Finn) for 'ya?
Looking for the kind of brain-blasting twist that even knowing the comics couldn't have prepared you for? How about that end scene between a clearly-in-cahoots Carol (Melissa McBride) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan)?
Looking for fight scenes of the "summer blockbuster" variety? How about the ending to the Hilltop battle and even Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) getting a good one in on Carol?
Looking for your heart to break a thousand different ways? How about Cailey Fleming's career-defining turn as Judith – whether confronting her first human kill face-to-face, being a source of grace for a dying Earl, or being comforted by Daryl in the biggest heart-crushing moment of the episode?
"Walk With Us" is that rare example of an episode that not only met episodes-worth of expectations, but blew past them by a mile.
Okay, since there was a decent amount of ground covered this round? Let's dive right in with our thoughts:
● As much as I've known for awhile now that Nicotero knows TWD like the back of his hand, he always finds a new signature to add to each of his directing efforts. With "Walk With Us", he delivered an episode that took us inside the war – from both a physical and psychological perspective – that found a way to be disturbingly intimat while never letting us forget the enormity of situation.
Jorné and Mirante-Matthews's words were true to each of the characters, while also giving each actor a moment to shine by offering new layers to characters we though we knew. Beyond the words, credit should be given to the their scripted pauses and silent moments – allowing what came before to breathe, and for the viewers to truly appreciate.
● Watching Hilltop fall was heart-breaking, and I really need Ezekiel (Khary Payton) to get hit with a bolt of serious good luck – because damn it's beena rough two season for our "King".
● How good was this episode? It actually has me feeling for the Eugene (Josh McDermitt)-radio storyline…
● Okay – can we let Aaron (Ross Marquand) tee-off on someone… please? He's been looking for a major face to bury that mace in – and I think he's earned a swipe at Beta (Ryan Hurst). Hell, even Negan didn't want a part of him – and there was definitely no reasoning with him.
● Props to Nictotero and his team for the dueling scenes of Alpha and Lydia (Cassady McClincy) at the cabin – that turned out to be "cabins". The double-dealing Negan pulls off was a classic switcheroo, and even though we knew from the comics what the overall end would be – Negan situating Lydia in a false cabin to set up Alpha's execution was so well-played that we found ourselves what we thought we knew.
● The conversation between Negan and Alpha as she unexpectedly walked "The Green Mile" opened up the ex-Saviors' psyche even further, telling her about his late wife and how he can't but into her "no emotions" philosophy. But even as his anger grows, we still see him almost offering her up an "out" – though both know that isn't going to happen. Negan sliting her throat and kissing her as she dies was a true "mercy killing" – but more out of mercy for those who would've suffered under Alpha than for the Whisperers leader herself.
● We're glad that Gamma got a chane to hold her nephew Adam before she shuffled off the show's mortal coil – but damn was that a brutal death. If there's any silver lining, it's that Beta was deprived the "honor" of having Gamma as part of the horde thanks to a well-aimed arrow from Alden (Callan McAuliffe). Even more heartbreaking was that she was grabbed by Beta defending some of our folks.
● Looks like that Beta/Fear the Walking Dead connection just got a little more confirmed…
● I like both Yumiko and Magna (Nadia Hilker) – which is why I'm glad they broke up. It wasn't the relationsip – on fact, it would be nice if they found their way back to each other down the road – but their backstory was so heavy-handed that it suffocated their short-term potential.
● In less than a day, Judith's killed two humans – a Whisperer when she was unaware, and the mercy killing of Earl after he turned. In those moments, any aspects of her childhood that still remained were lost. When Daryl finds her after she's put down walker Earl, he does the best thing by quietly holding her – being there for her so she doesn't go through this alone.
● HOLY S**T! THAT TWIST ENDING! So Negan's taken Alpha's head as proof that he's done the job… the kind of proof Carol would want to see (even if she does hit him with a "Took you long enough" line). So with Carol and Negan apparently in cahoots to take out Alpha, a ton of question arise – and one answer, since now we know how Negan got out of jail.
So how long has this plan been in action? Did anyone know beyond those two? Were some of Carol's questionable past actions part of this plan? How will Daryl and the other community members respond when they find out? Is Beta leading the Whisperers an even deadlier proposition?
And we still have Michonne's (Danai Gurira) farewell episode to get through, with next week's "What We Become".
"The Walking Dead" Season 10 Reviews
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, Hurst, and 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 McBride continues delivering an award-winning performance (that review's here) – while "Silence the Whisperers" proved once again why it's "In Cudlitz, We Trust" (review here).
"What It Always Is" had a now-free Negan beginning his redemption arc (???) while Alpha raised the stakes against our survivors (review here).
"Bonds" had Negan being tested, Carol and Daryl possibly making matters worse for the community by "picking up" a Whisperer, and Eugene reaching out… and getting a response.
"Open Your Eyes" (review here) saw our theory about Siddiq (Avi Nash) completely, totally, and tragically put to rest. That brought us to midseason finale "The World Before" (reviewed here), as the drumbeats of war grew louder.
After a mideason break, we learned that those drumbeats had turned into thunder, as "Squeeze" (review here) and "Stalker" (review here) turned up the heat on what was once a stealth "cold war" back-n-forth between Alpha and our heroes. Then with "Morning Star" (review here), that heat caught fire… literally.