So by the time the credits rolled on the 11th & final season opener of AMC's The Walking Dead, our folks were left in some pretty precarious situations. Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), Ezekiel (Khary Payton), and Princess' (Paola Lázaro) attempted escape from Commonwealth "assessment" was stopped cold by the revelation that Yumiko's brother might still be alive- and in the Commonwealth. Meanwhile, Daryl (Norman Reedus) learned that as much as a dog may be a man's best friend, Dog is really starting to test that theory with all of that running away he's been doing.
And then we have Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), with Maggie not exactly denying that she brought Negan on the mission for him to be killed. Looking to return the "favor", Negan played a weird form of "Whack-a-Mole" by popping his head up long enough to see Maggie needed saving from the walkers below- and then popping his head back down, leaving her to fall into an oncoming herd of walkers. And that was just the first part of the two-part season kick-off! So was "Acheron: Part II" (directed by Kevin Dowling and written by Angela Kang & Jim Barnes) able to keep the momentum going? Here's where we threw on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD" sign and throw down an image spoiler buffer, because this review will definitely be spoilery.
Okay, let me start things off with a negative about not just "Acheron: Part II" but last week's episode, as well. Did it really need to be broken into two parts? Not that I didn't appreciate the cliffhangers, but these two episodes are screaming to be edited together into a two-hour premiere. So while that might be negative, it's also a compliment to Dowling, Kang, and Barnes because these two episodes moved fast and flowed consistently. If anyone ever had any doubt that TWD could work as a feature film, here's all the proof you need (the gauntlet's been thrown down, Rick Grimes films. And can we talk about how these episodes brought the "horror" back in a big way? Not that it's ever been gone, but these two chapters have felt like a well-crafted horror film with a level of creepy vibes we haven't felt in some time (Ryan Hurst's Beta breaking into Alexandria is a close second). It looked like a tribe of Jason Vorhees was ready to take out our heroes at the end of the episode, and we're all-in on it.
But before we get to our bullet-point takeaways, there are three MVP performances that need to be highlighted. Not only has Cohan eased back into the role of Maggie as if she never left, but she's also brought brutal, heartbreaking & disturbing layers to a character we're only now just realizing we know so little about. The decision she makes and the story she relates show that Maggie's lived two lifetimes since we last saw her and while she may have gained some worldly knowledge along the way? She also understands that she lost some parts of herself, too. The Maggie who left would've never let Negan live. The Maggie we have now? After this episode, after just a small glimpse into the tragic world she's lived in over all these years, we're not so sure. And neither is she.
Matsuura's Yumiko proved to be as lethal with her words & mind as Michonne is with her sword. That "Sherlock Holmes" move that she pulls on her Commonwealth questioners to make sure they knew exactly who it was they were dealing with is required repeat viewing. Introducing a potential reunion with her brother and Yumiko implying that their relationship wasn't too strong before everything went to Hell adds a better personal story to Yumiko and one that directly ties her into the Commonwealth.
And then there's McDermitt, who continues to impress week in and week out. If McDermitt needs material for his Emmy nom reel, he needs to look no further than his questioning scene with Mercer (Michael James Shaw) where he spills his heart out about Stephanie (Margot Bingham). The beauty of that performance is that if it came from any other character on any other show, it could've been too much and over-the-top. But McDermitt has allowed us to get to know just how heart-on-his-sleeve his Eugene is, for better or worse. So our hearts bled for Eugene, and then McDermitt executed that nice bit at the end. That moment where he pokes-slams his finger on the table and gets a bit of nastiness in his voice to remind Mercer that he's been open & honest about everything else the entire time resonates in a big way with everyone in the room and watching in the real world.
Random Thoughts: Daryl's tour of the wall paintings and what it spoke about the fall and how class warfare doomed survival well before the walkers did was both tragic, disturbing, and foreboding. I'm also sensing a shift in Daryl's mindset in all of this, with a much more militant approach to creating a society that lasts. After what went down during the extended 10th season, Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) is pretty much a functioning sociopath just looking for an excuse to kill. Was it just us or did he not seem to care nearly as much about Maggie being missing as we were expecting him to be about an "old friend." Maggie pulling a "Glenn" with the way she escaped the walkers was a particularly nice touch, and props to Morgan for the great facial reaction when he realized very quickly why it was underneath the subway car trying to get in. There's a tie for "Episode Guilty Pleasure" between Daryl using a mace to take out walkers seeing what a subway car filled with walkers looks like when you drop a grenade into it.
Which means we'll be looking at "Hunted" (directed by Frederick E.O. Toye and written by Vivian Tse) next week, a title that fits a little too well with where things were going just before the credits rolled Sunday night. See you then!
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