As a fan who still watches both Walking Dead shows, I feel like I needed more of a break between them this year. Jumping straight into Season 10 of the flagship series puts me at real risk of burnout. I suspect I’m not alone in this.
The premiere episode opens uncharacteristically with a fancy VFX shot of a satellite in Earth orbit. This is unexplained at first but will come into play later.
Last season ended with a détente between Alexandria’s united communities and the evil Whisperers. An unclear amount of time has passed, but the winter is over and the weather is nice again. The Whisperers haven’t been seen or heard from in quite some time.
An on-screen graphic displays the heading “Training Day.” On a beach near Oceanside, Aaron and Michonne lead a gladiator army carrying heavy shields, spears, swords, and other hand weapons. They march in unison while Aaron barks out military movie clichés like, “Stay in your formations!” and “Remember your training!” Ezekiel and Jerry run ahead to a beached boat on the sand. Locked inside is a small batch of Walkers. They open the door to let a couple out at a time for the army to practice killing. Conveniently, the Walkers never seem to notice Ezekiel or Jerry as they lurch past them. Eventually, the door gives out and the rest of the zombies pour out, but the army effectively dispatches all of them.
Any confidence gained from this exercise soon dissipates when a group of kids at Oceanside discover a Whisperer skin mask. Worried that their foes have returned, Michonne and Aaron ride out with search parties looking for any troubling activity. Michonne wants to keep all of this quiet lest they cause a panic among the community, but Aaron is pissed and seems to be itching for war. They soon find evidence of a camp in the woods with several dead bodies and a flayed human skin.
They return to Oceanside and Michonne’s heart melts a little when she finds Judith telling the story of her father, the “Brave Man,” to her little brother, who never met him. The moment is interrupted by the sound of an explosion and the sight of a flaming object falling from the sky. The camp radio crackles and Eugene’s voice says that he urgently needs to speak to Michonne.
The episode flashes back a few hours to show us what was going on at Alexandria during this time. Eugene, Gabriel, and Siddiq have settled into a very unconventional shared relationship with Rosita and her baby. The child is a big fan of funk music and will only stop crying when it’s played loudly.
Negan is allowed out on work release to tend to the community garden under supervision. Lydia is grudgingly learning how to read. Siddiq suffers from some PTSD issues when he hears that the Whisperers might be back. A new doctor named Dante seems to be a recent recruit who missed the Whisperers the first time around; he’s also a total douchebag.
Negan deduces that something is up and offers advice to Gabriel that sometimes it’s necessary for leaders to lie to their people for the greater good. Gabriel is of course skeptical of anything Negan has to say.
This segment ends like the last one, with everyone freaking out at the sight of the sky-splosion. Eugene immediately runs to the radio.
Another flashback, same structure. We catch up with some more characters. Kelly is losing her hearing and her deaf sister Connie tries to help her through it. Connie also flirts heavily with Daryl, who’s made the effort to learn some sign language.
A fishing boat arrives with Carol on board. She’s been away for a while, taking some time to recover from her son’s death. She seems to be happy, though she brushes aside ex-husband Ezekiel and gravitates straight toward Daryl.
Carol and Daryl ride out on a motorcycle to spend some time together hunting in the woods. Carol busts Daryl’s balls when he refers to her as his best friend. They idly imagine running off and going to New Mexico together. They track and shoot a deer, but Daryl has to hold Carol back when the animal crosses one of the Whisperer borders and dies on the other side. Carol thinks it’s ridiculous that they still honor that pact, but Daryl doesn’t want to risk starting a war for no reason.
Once again: Sky-splosion.
Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires
The satellite that fell from the sky crashes into the woods in Whisperer territory, igniting a forest fire. Still unsure whether the Whisperers have returned or not, the communities quickly form a fire brigade and race across the border to put out the flames before they spread to Oceanside. They work all night, only to be rewarded in the morning by having to also fight off a herd of zombies that decided to wait until sun-up to investigate the big noise in the woods. The ensuing battle is comprised almost exclusively of slo-mo money shots like a scene out of the movie 300.
Once the fire is finally out, Michonne is eager to pack up and get back to their side of the border as soon as possible. Eugene insists on taking a few minutes to salvage the satellite.
Carol and Daryl slip off and walk over to the gorge where the Whisperers had previously herded an enormous horde of Walkers. The valley is empty. Could the Whisperer threat really be over?
Not so much. Alpha (Samantha Morton) steps out of the trees at the bottom of the gorge and stares up at Carol with menace in her eyes. She looks pissed that her treaty has been violated, and unsympathetic for the reasons why.
Taken in total, the tenth season of The Walking Dead gets off to a decent enough start for a show that is clearly long past its prime. The premiere episode has some good character beats, establishes an effective sense of foreboding about the inevitable conflict with the Whisperers, and the forest fire is a suspenseful set-piece.
On the other hand, the big slo-mo battle is incredibly cheesy and a bit where Carol slices a zombie’s throat (which would do absolutely nothing to it) and uses its dripping blood to extinguish some flames is just about the biggest eye-rolling moment that has ever happened on this show.
I’m not convinced that The Walking Dead really needed to be on for ten seasons. While nothing in this latest premiere will cause me to jump ship just yet, I nonetheless can’t help approaching the rest of the season with skepticism.