The Walking Dead Semi-Finale Threw Out the Old to Make Way for the New (Craziness)

Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) comforts Lydia (Cassady McClincy), outcast to outcast.
Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) comforts Lydia (Cassady McClincy), outcast to outcast.
Image: Jace Downs/AMC

When we last saw The Walking Dead, our survivors were holed up in an assortment of buildings surrounded by the insane Beta, his remaining Whisperer minions, and approximately four kazillion zombies. How can Daryl, Carol, Judith, and the others survive such an overwhelming onslaught? I’ll give you a two-word hint: Talking Heads.

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It’s been more than five months since The Walking Dead was on the air; the penultimate season 10 episode aired on April 5. Like so much other TV, the arrival of covid-19 delayed the season 10 finale, which, during the interim, ceased being the season 10 finale. As part of AMC’s increasingly byzantine plans for its mega-franchise, The Walking Dead is getting six more episodes added to the current season, currently set to air in early 2021.

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“A Certain Doom” is an episode that was clearly supposed to be a season-ender, but I think that works in its favor. Now that we know that there are six more episodes to come, it takes some of the pressure off this one to blow our minds, as season finales should. This is good, because while the episode was fun, mind-blowing it was not. That said, there is a lot to like about how “A Certain Doom” begins.

Illustration for article titled iThe Walking Dead/i Semi-Finale Threw Out the Old to Make Way for the New (Craziness)

Although they’re surrounded by Whisperers and a zombie mega-horde, the survivors have a plan. Actually, they’ve had a plan for a little while, betting that eventually, Beta would chase them to this little complex where Luke has a wagon stationed on the outskirts of the annex, just out of sight in the woods. If a few people can somehow make their way through the horde while carrying some equipment, he can rig the wagon so it’ll blare music and the noise will draw the zombies away. The wagon can be pulled by horses, and lead the herd right off a giant, conveniently located cliff.

The problem, of course, is the kajillion or so zombies they’ll have to wade through to get to the wagon—zombies with Whisperers hidden among them, ready to sneak up and stab any living being they see. Unfortunately, there’s no other option. After a bit of business (Negan says he can’t go because he’s so hated by the Whisperers his mere presence will tip them off; Oceanside won’t go if Lydia comes; Carol has a moment with Lydia where she tells her to find her own way, etc.), Daryl, Carol, Kelly, Magna, Luke, Jules (whose sole distinguishment is being Luke’s gal pal, I believe), Beatrice from Oceanside, and a few others douse themselves with guts, pull up their hoodies, put on zombie masks, open the door, and enter the horde. Actually, only a few of them wore zombie masks despite it being immeasurably safer, which I thought was unnecessarily pertinent.

This is the episode at its best. Director Greg Nicotero does an excellent job packing an unbelievable number of zombies around the cast, even during close-ups, making their trek feel terrifying and claustrophobic; think Game of Thrones’ “Battle of Bastards,” and you get the idea. What’s better is that it turns out the survivors have a plan—a damn good plan—beyond pushing their people into a zillion zombies and hoping for the best. They have spotters shooting arrows into any zombie that moves unnaturally (which means they’re a Whisperer, natch). They only wound these Whisperers so that they cry out in pain…which grabs the attention of all the nearby zombies who discover lunch has just been delivered to them. Even better, Lydia stays for a while, helping point out her former cult-mates which helps keep Daryl and the others safe.

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Although Beta and the Whisperers eventually figure out what’s happening, the plan honestly works great. The only named character who doesn’t make it is Beatrice, who’s mostly been relegated to the background anyway (like 70% of all TWD characters). She dies well; stabbing the Whisperer who stabbed her, begging the nearby Carol not to rescue her but to grab her backpack, which contains some needed parts. But before Carol can retrieve it, it’s grabbed…by Lydia, who’s come to help destroy her mother’s horrible, putrefied legacy.

Things keep moving quickly, but after the first eight seasons, I am still delighted when the show doesn’t dawdle. Daryl & Co. rig up the wagon, hit play, and blast “Burning Down the House” by Talking Heads, and crack the reins. Then the group takes a leisurely trip with the wagon, a few riding on top, the others providing an armed guard around it. They get pretty far before the Whisperers attack, and even then, Daryl n’ Palz pretty much kick ass until one of the Whisperers manages to pull a wagon wheel off with a chain. Oh no, the plan is completely screwed—oh, no, never mind, it’s fine, Lydia volunteers to lead the horde off the cliff; her mother Alpha taught her how, of course. All good! So Daryl and the others return to the base to start killing off any loitering Whisperers.

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At this point, three main Whisper War storylines need to be wrapped up. Negan (who appeared to have run away earlier in the episode but turns out not to have run away, shocker) challenges Beta to a fight right in the middle of the horde. In mere seconds, Beta’s knocked Negan to the ground and is about to deliver the killing blow when Daryl pops up and stabs two combat knives very, very deeply into Beta’s eyes. Admittedly, the fight’s so quick and perfunctory it’s kind of disappointing after their huge, knockdown, drag-out brawl in season nine, but it’s mitigated somewhat by Beta screaming as he pulls the very large, very long knives out of his goddamn eye sockets, then striking a messianic pose while his truest followers (actual zombies) eat of his flesh.

Beta (Ryan Hurst) gets an emergency call on his Zombi-TEK Two-Way HeadRadio.
Beta (Ryan Hurst) gets an emergency call on his Zombi-TEK Two-Way HeadRadio.
Image: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
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Inside the compound, Gabriel has stayed to single-handedly guard the evacuation route from the Whisperers trying to break in. The Whisperers use a flashbang and break down the door; Gabriel takes out a few with a shotgun and pummels some others, but the Whisperers have knocked Gabriel to the ground and again, are about to deliver the killing blow when a weird masked dude wielding scythes pops up and cuts the Whisperers to shreds. (As people on TWD are wont to do, obviously.) We have no idea who this guy is or why he thinks he’s a Mortal Kombat contestant, but he is traveling with Aaron, Alden, and Maggie, so he must have something going for him. Maggie and Gabriel have a warm and incredibly brief reunion. There are still things to do!

Lydia leads the horde to the cliff but Carol grabs her a few yards away from the edge. In her traditional, self-hating manner, Carol demands to do it herself, pushes Lydia away, and walks up to the edge. But then Lydia grabs Carol and pulls her behind a small rock outcropping where the zombies pass by them and they are perfectly safe. This is very crappy because it proves neither woman needed to die to destroy the mega-herd, which retroactively makes their self-sacrificial posturing meaningless, ruining any tension the scene was supposed to have. At least when Carol asks why Lydia came back, Lydia gets to say, “I chose my own way.” It’s a nice-ish moment.

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And thus, the terror of Beta and the Whisperers and Their Very Many Zombies ends not with a bang, but two knives, a boombox, and a Talking Heads cassette. It’s an unceremonious way for the show’s big new post-Rick threat to go, especially given how terrifying they were when they were first introduced, and how much physical and emotional damage they’ve wreaked on the various colonies since then. I can easily see viewers being dissatisfied with the conflict’s quick, easy resolution, and I get it.

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But on the other hand, The Walking Dead has had a terrible habit of drawing these final battles out long, long past the point that they stop being entertaining. If the choice is between the six-episode-long final war with the Saviors, and our heroes taking care of the Whisperers in two-thirds of a single episode, I will—and have—happily accept the latter. Also, I think the Whisperers had just barely worn out their welcome on the series, so I’m perfectly fine with The Walking Dead shooing them out the door to prepare for whatever’s next.

What’s next looks very interesting indeed. I don’t just mean the return of Lauren Cohan as Maggie, although it will be nice to have one of the series’ best and biggest characters back. I also don’t mean the mask-wearing, scythe-wielding fellow, although I’m curious to hear what independent superhero comic from the ‘90s he hails from. I don’t even mean Connie, who finally reappears in this episode! She looks like shit—actually, the show does a solid job of making her look like she’s been zombified before it reveals she’s alive but barely hanging on—and collapses at the feet of Virgil, who…long story.

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What I’m referring to is the end of Eugene and crew’s odyssey to Charleston, West Virginia, which they embarked upon in hopes of meeting his radio pal Stephanie at their scheduled rendezvous time. Alas, Eugene busts up his bike on the way (he may have ridden directly into a stationary car?) which ensures they’ll be late. Eugene says they should give up, but Ezekiel gives one of his pep talks and convinces Eug, Yumiko, and their new pal Princess to head there anyway and hope for the best. At the meeting place, no one’s there, so the four wait around until long after dark. It’s okay, though; the attempt has given Eugene a newfound purpose. He declares he knows Stephanie and her people are out there, and he’s still determined to find her and new “like-minded” groups to form communities with, so he’s going to keep searching unti—

AND THAT’S WHEN THE FIRST ORDER STORMTROOPERS COME OUT.

Okay. They aren’t exactly Stormtroopers, but they are faceless soldiers wearing distinct white plastic armor over head-to-toe black, designed in an aesthetically similar style. I’m not saying Lucasfilm could sue AMC for breaking copyright laws, but if I worked for Lucasfilm and saw these guys, I would shoot a quick email to my legal department just in case. In true Stormtrooper fashion, they quickly surround Eugene and pals, hold them at rifle point, and demand they drop their weapons.

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I don’t know who these Fauxtroopers are, but this is exactly the sort of bananas twist The Walking Dead can pull, which makes watching it worthwhile. The fact that the show can pivot between a bunch of bizarre cultists who wear skin masks and some fascists who turned an Apple Genius Bar into an armory is just fantastic. God help me, I think I may actually miss this show when it’s gone.

That, or I just had a huge break from watching TWD so I’m not nearly as annoyed with it as usual. Either/or.

Assorted Musings:

  • When Lydia goes out of her way to confront Carol—who’s been avoiding her since the death of Alpha—she tells her not only is Carol forgiven, but Lydia is grateful to have finally escaped the clutches of her terrible, terrible mom. Now Lydia wants to be friends. About 40 seconds later Carol gives Lydia some very motherly advice, and Lydia has to pull the breaks hard: “I’m not looking for another mom.” Best to nip that right in the bud, Lydia.
  • At one point Negan calls Beta “Fee-Fi-Fo Asshole.” It is not Negan’s finest work.
  • Let’s give a salute to actor Briana Venskus, who’s played Beatrice since season seven. You can also give her a salute for playing Agent Piper on Agents of SHIELD during seasons 3-7, something I finally realized midway through this episode after watching her in both series for literally years.
  • If there’s some special meaning or allusion or thematic connection between the episode and Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House” I cannot discern it, which I appreciate! Sometimes the show goes too far out of its way to be clever, so it’s nice to have a break from that.
  • After Daryl gives Beta his new knife-vision goggles (not sorry), the zombies pull Beta’s mask off. Negan recognizes the giant Whisperer as the country music superstar, and asks, “You know who that asshole is?” Daryl replies, “Yeah. Nobody.” It is not Daryl’s finest work.
  • I also have no idea what Gabriel told Judith to tell Rosita or why “half-oranges”(?) seem to be involved. Can anyone enlighten me?
  • SERIOUSLY GUYS WHY DIDN’T ALL OF YOU WEAR MASKS IT WOULD HAVE DONE NOTHING BUT HELP PROTECT YOU.
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Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, the creator of the poorly named but fan-favorite news site Topless Robot, and now writes nerd stuff for many places, because it's all he's good at.

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reelfashion1sta
REELFASHION1STA

Re: Why weren’t the on-the-ground crew wearing masks: At first, I was also getting annoyed that only Connie’s sister was wearing a mask because in my mind, that would’ve made it that much easier for the Whisperers to identify and target folks. But once we see Gabriel and company up top in archer mode, it became clearer. In order to protect their own, the archers need to be able to quickly and easily discern who are their people and who are zombies/Whisperers. It’s the same reason why Connie’s sister was stuck to Daryl like glue, and why Lydia stayed so close to Carol once she joined them—-that close proximity (plus them wearing backpacks, I think?) signals to the archers that those are their folks instead of accidentally shooting them. It’s not a horrible plan (especially when it comes to Walking Dead TV’s history ofplans”), but it really does rely on the archers’ accuracy and strength of perspective to not lose their marks, which is what happened once Beta told his crew to tighten up, aka make it harder to see the living amongst the dead. The episode had its weak points, but on paper, this part of the episode worked for me for the most part. (Like the double daggers to the face made me side eye how Beta wouldn’t have immediately collapsed dead from double head stabbings. But whatever, dramatic big baddie death must be dramatic...)