Half of Tonight's Walking Dead Was Fantastic, the Rest Was a Saved by the Bell Episode

Carol (Melissa McBride) has problems beyond Whisperers and zombies.
Image: Jackson Lee Davis (AMC)

And if that craziness doesn’t make you want to check out this damn show again, I don’t know what will.

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In only two episodes, the 10th season of The Walking Dead has given us a satellite crash and an explanation why someone would voluntarily choose to wear zombie masks made of actual zombie faces. In “Ghosts,” the show presents something I don’t believe we’ve ever seen before (and if we have, never done nearly so well): a long-term zombie siege.

In a wonderfully edited opening, we see snippets of 48 hours of life in Alexandria as zombies approach the colony…then more zombies…then even more. Overall, the inhabitants fight for two full days straight to defeat the hordes threatening to destroy their home. The quick flashes of scenes tell us all we need to know, as the Alexandrians defeat their foes, only to see increasingly large groups of zombies, and get increasingly exhausted. (It’s as much a device as those gauzy visions of the future Rick and Carl used to have, except it’s not nonsense and it’s very, very exciting to watch.)

When the onslaught seems to have ended, Gamma shambles up to Michonne and Daryl at the walls of Alexandria to tell them Alpha demands a meeting at the stakes the Whisperers used to mark their territory in such memorable fashion. While the presence of Gamma would imply Alpha is behind the attacks, Lydia promises her mother would simply send her nuclear bomb/zombie horde at them all at once, and, Eugene points out, the crash of the satellite could have easily drawn massive numbers of zombies their way. Either way, while plenty of people think the meeting is a bad idea, or that they should go to kill Alpha, Michonne reminds them that until someone figures out how to defuse the Zombie Bomb, so to speak, they’re at Alpha’s mercy.

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Meanwhile, even more zombie herds are coming, so we end up with three groups with three objectives. The first is Gabriel, Rosita, and other Alexandrians who need to fend off the dead approaching from the north at the gates of Alexandria. The second is for Aaron to lead a team to deal with the zombie group approaching from the south before they reach the colony; Gabriel demands Aaron bring Negan, the one fighter who hasn’t been fighting for two days straight (neither Aaron nor Negan are at all happy about this). The third group, consisting of Michonne, Daryl, Carol, and a few others, head out to meet Alpha.

Daryl (Norman Reedus), Michonne (Danai Gurira), and Carol take a late-night meeting.
Image: Jackson Lee Davis (AMC)
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It’s the first time the two groups have made contact since the border was declared (other than the Carol-Alpha eye contact in the season premiere), and it’s obvious who holds the power in this relationship. It also proved what we’ve all guessed, which is that Alpha knows exactly when our heroes haved crossed into her territory: The winter march, Aaron’s needlessly dumb incursion, and their attempts to stop the fire caused by the satellite. “You have to be punished,” she drawls. “But I consider context!” She states there will be no bloodshed, but the Whisperers are extending their territory—into most of Alexandria’s hunting grounds.

Carol is pissed, even more so when Alpha taunts her by recounting how Henry called his adoptive mother’s name as he died. It’s all Carol needs to pull out a gun she’d hidden behind her back and try to shoot Alpha, although Michonne stops her at the last second. Even after the near-murder attempt, Alpha considers the context. “I forgive you, mother to mother,” she says, almost kindly. “But this is my land now. You better run.” And run they do. Alpha’s blend of aggression sprinkled with a weird type of reasonableness continues to make her one of TWD’s most interesting villains, if not characters overall, and she remains a significant portion of why The Walking Dead has been so good since her debut last season.

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This is the point things take a turn into Saved by the Bell territory, very specifically the show’s infamous “Jessie’s Song” episode. For those unfamiliar, the episode features high schooler Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) developing a crippling addiction to over-the-counter caffeine pills—equivalent to No-Doz, where one pill equals a cup of coffee—to keep up with the grueling schedule of her schoolwork and the new band she’s joined. It ends with her having a complete emotional breakdown and going to whatever the caffeine-equivalent of drug counseling is.

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If you’re wondering what on god’s green Earth this has to do with The Walking Dead, it turns out Carol is having the exact same problem, although her pills admittedly come from a prescription bottle.

Carol, seen in one of the episode’s few moments of halfway decent lighting.
Image: Jackson Lee Davis (AMC)
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Carol’s usage began before the siege (since she arrived on land) because she keeps having dreams of Henry, which are so painful upon awakening that she’s decided sleep is no longer on her to-do-list. Her hyper-alertness is useful during the siege, but after her bad decision to try to kill Alpha, Carol starts to crack. As the group runs, she sees three Whisperers chasing them, causing the group to hole up into an abandoned school, where it’s discovered only Carol saw their pursuers. When Carol picks up a Home Economics textbook, she hallucinates herself as the matronly woman serving dinner to her family. When Daryl tries to explain to her lack of sleep causes hallucinations, it turns out she hallucinated that entire conversation as well.

It ends with Carol believing she’s fallen in an Ewok-style hunting trap and attacked by zombies—at which point Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Zack Morris runs in to tell her she’s too messed up to sing with the Hot Sundaes at their gig that night. Oh, I jest! Instead, Daryl and Michonne find her standing on a table in a complete haze with a nasty gash on her arm.

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Meanwhile, Aaron and Negan’s storyline is another stop on the “Negan’s Road to Redemption Tour” which is arguably necessary even if we know exactly where this bus is heading. Negan didn’t want to hang out with the other Alexandrians while they were scared out of self-preservation, and now that they’re exhausted and surly, he really doesn’t want to go on this mission. He’s still got a point. After they leave, Aaron forces Negan to fight zombies with a wooden spear, even when they find a perfectly serviceable crowbar lying around. Negan is his traditional asshole self while Aaron gets increasingly angry and upset until a pair of vine-covered zombies attack. There’s a struggle, Aaron gets some of the vines in his eyes that cause a rash and blinds him, and Negan effectively disappears.

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In reality, Aaron bumbles around a lot futilely trying to chase down Negan while the ex-leader of the Saviors watches silently. We’re supposed to wonder what Negan is going to do in this situation, whether he’ll murder Aaron himself or let him stumble blindly to his death, but again, this bus has only one stop. Negan saves Aaron from a zombie at the last second, gives him some fun facts about the vine (it’s called hogweed, and since Aaron washed his eyes out earlier they’ll be fine), and then takes watch so the exhausted Aaron can get rest. Aaron is too sleepy to be distrustful, but Negan, of course, is true to his word.

Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Aaron (Ross Marquand) have unresolved issues.
Image: Jackson Lee Davis (AMC)
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It’s a fine B storyline—zombies that effectively have poison ivy growing on them is a fun idea—but it doesn’t tell us anything new about either character. It’s the same problem as a very brief series of scenes starring Siddiq, which serves only as a reminder that he has PTSD from his capture by the Whisperers, in case you’re forgotten from the season premiere. But both plotlines are much better than Rosita being forced to tell Eugene for the umpteenth time that there will be no romantic relationship between them, which isn’t a reminder as much as re-retreading old ground that was never interesting in the first place.

But that’s the only black mark in an episode that otherwise ranged from fine to great. Again, that beginning sequence was outstanding, building tension expertly, which was compounded when they were forced to face the Whisperers again. Melissa McBride did as good a job as possible with Carol’s momentary foray into drug abuse, and I think if she, Kelly Kapowski, and Lisa Turtle actually did start a singing group together they’d make a formidable trio—especially if they’re managed by that sly Zack Morris and his giant cellphone! I just hope Mr. Belding doesn’t put a stop to their antics! Sigh.

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But really, it’s the conflict with the Whisperers that’s been the backbone of this new era of The Walking Dead. Our protagonists aren’t just fighting a group of well-armed assholes, as they usually do. This foe has a weapon that can annihilate them, one that (seemingly) cannot be destroyed. It’s not just that the Saviors won and our heroes need to pay tribute while they formulate their next plan. Michonne and the others can’t afford to piss off the Whisperers at all, because the only thing preventing Alpha from wiping them off the map with her Zombie Bomb is her skewed sense of fairness. Depending on the tolerance of a woman who makes fences out of your friends’ heads is not an optimal situation, to say the least.

The Walking Dead has finally pitted Michonne, Carol, Daryl, and the rest against an unbeatable foe. So seeing how they eventually manage to beat Alpha and the Whisperers should be a hell of a lot of fun.

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Aaron and his mace hand. I would have also accepted a sword hand.
Image: Jackson Lee Davis (AMC)

Assorted Musings:

  • Oh. When Carol wakes up at the end, after another Henry dream, she puts her pills away but later promises Michonne the Whisperers that were chasing them were real. Michonne remains skeptical, but in the episode’s final shot, it turns out Carol was quite right about this, if pretty much nothing else.
  • Aaron has a spiked mace attachment for his metal arm now. I desperately, desperately want more attachments in the future...or at least an Evil Dead 2-style chainsaw hand. Come on, The Walking Dead. You know you want to.
  • Dr. Dante is growing on me. His story about a hunk of a soldier who got PTSD in Iraq was obviously about himself from the first sentence, but I didn’t get any creep-vibes off him this episode.
  • There’s a new leader of the Highwaymen, who happens to be a Highwaywoman. This is only notable because it means that as I feared, Ozzy—their former leader and the post-apocalypse’s foremost Hank Williams Jr. impersonator—was one of the victims of the Whisperers’ border marking. Alas, all his rowdy friends will come over tonight no more.
  • I will be completely shocked if the Carol-pill addiction storyline ever surfaces again.
  • “I’m so excited! I’m so excited! I’m so—scared!”

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About the author

Rob Bricken

Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, and currently writes the column "Nerd Processor" on Medium. It, like everything else he's ever written, is about nerd stuff. https://bit.ly/2OiCVGL