by Transmute Jun
Warning: this review contains multiple spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 10, Episode 17.
It has been a year since viewers have had a new ‘season’ of The Walking Dead, and anticipation was high for the return of the show. And while there was a brief time at the beginning where things seemed ‘normal’, it wasn’t long before we were swept up into the action, with a looming threat from (yet another) group of people.
Is that what actually happened? Or was that just the intention of the episode? To me, it felt as if we were dropped into the middle of Maggie’s story, but without knowing all of the background details, it didn’t have the urgency that it probably should have done. Clearly, we were supposed to be nervous and on edge walking through the woods, and terrified seeing the burned building with two unknown bodies outside. But without any personal connection to any of Maggie’s people, I just wasn’t drawn in. Heck, three of her people died before we could even learn their names (although somehow, Talking Dead’s In Memoriam had names?) and it wasn’t at all compelling for me until the end of the episode, when the ‘known’ characters were directly interacting with the mysterious sniper man.
It felt as if that long walk through the woods and the cleaning out of the campsite should have instead been replaced with a flashback to show what Maggie has been doing. Rather than having Maggie tell Daryl about her grandmother’s cottage, why not show it? Earlier in Season 10, there was an episode where we saw what Michonne’s life would have been like if she had never saved Andrea, and had instead joined the Saviors. It was shown in flashes, but was very compelling. If Maggie’s absence had been described in that way, we would have gotten to know her sidekicks, Elijah and Cole, a bit more, and been drawn in by seeing Baby Herschel grow up. It would have been a better introduction to the Reapers, experiencing them with Maggie.
Now realistically, I suppose this wasn’t possible. There were COVID restrictions on filming this extended season, and perhaps Jayne Atkinson (the actress who played Georgie) wasn’t available. Yet in my opinion, this episode is not as good as it could have been as a result.
All of this being said, it is clear that the ‘threat’ this tenth-season-extension is not going to be the people whom Eugene et al are visiting (known as The Commonwealth in the comics), but instead these Reapers, sandwiched in between bigger plot elements, just as the Termites were in season 5 (a minor threat of cannibals as the group moved between the prison and Alexandria).
Certainly, the one adversary encountered in this episode was well-trained. He had camouflage gear and military/survival training. He was good in a close fight, able to take on both Daryl and Maggie at once, and keep going, even with a crossbow bolt in his thigh. But how many people like that can there be? If this guy ‘Pope’ has an army of people like this, it’s a significant threat. Yet if Pope had an army, why send only one man? It suggests that either this Pope didn’t think of Maggie’s group as a serious threat (unlikely, since Maggie was told that Pope ‘marked’ her) or that he didn’t have that many resources to spare.
‘Pope’ itself is an interesting moniker. Is it actually the person’s adopted name (an affectation like ‘Jesus’ or ‘King Ezekiel’) or is it his title as a leader of some kind of religious cult? I suppose we will have to wait until later episodes to tell.
There were some bright spots to this episode. My favorite scene was right at the beginning, with Judith and Maggie talking about parenting skills. It showed both how they were re-bonding, and highlighted the appealing kid-maturity that Judith has, growing up in the zombie apocalypse. I also appreciated the small focus on Kelly, and how she hasn’t given up on finding Connie. Of course, we know that Connie will return, as she was saved by Virgil in the previous episode, but we don’t know how long that will take.
We haven’t learned too much yet about Elijah and Cole, but Kelly’s natural reaction to comfort Elijah when he was having some kind of panic attack brought some humanity to the character (as did the brief raising of his mask), and I am curious to see if the bond between them develops.
I also appreciated Maggie’s reaction to seeing Negan, particularly at first, when he was wearing his infamous leather jacket. As viewers, we have seen the change in Negan, and how he has focused his life in a different direction. Yet Maggie is frozen in time, still thinking of him only as the man who killed Glenn, simply to show his power. Carol explained why she set Negan free, and Maggie seemed to accept it, but I suspect that it will be some time before she can accept Negan as part of the community.
And this brings us to what may have been the most anticipated part of this episode: our introduction to Baby Herschel (apparently now just known as ‘Herschel’). While we only saw him briefly, it was clear that he embodies Glenn’s innocence and sense of humor, and visually, he is very much a reminder of a beloved franchise character. I am curious to see how he and Judith get along. Will Judith take him under her wing?
I am hoping that the next few episodes will focus on character development, as the new combination of people settle together and regroup before facing the Commonwealth (likely in Season 11). Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to have some introduction to the Commonwealth as well, showing how Eugene’s group interacts with them, now that they have finally met.
For those who play the AMC Walking Dead mobile games, Walking Dead: No Man’s Land will be again showcasing episodes during this extended season, this week showing Daryl fighting the sniper in the woods. Walking Dead: Our World is hosting a special Maggie event, to celebrate her return to the extended season.
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