The Walking Dead season 10 is proof of Game of Thrones' huge influence on prestige television. A few episodes ago, we could barely see anything as Alpha trapped our survivors – drawing comparisons to the equally dimly lit battle at Winterfell.
Now, "Morning Star" takes clear inspiration from "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms", the second episode of Thrones' season 8, which was all about tying up loose ends before setting up one last fight. For the Walking Dead, that's a (hopefully) final encounter with the Whisperers.
No longer content with her strategy of espionage and attrition, Alpha has decided to escalate the conflict into a full-on siege, sending her entire army (dead and alive) shuffling towards Hilltop's gates, in what Negan refers to as a "well-deserved massacre". Thankfully, Lydia's return into Alexandria's ranks – and the intel she possesses – gives the survivors enough time to prepare for the oncoming assault, setting the stage for an episode that centres on the calm before the storm.
Knowing that tonight could be their last, every character uses the episode to get their house in order and make their peace with one another. There's reunions, apologies, arguments, admissions, and even some unexpected make-up sex, all of which are designed to leave viewers guessing as to whose scenes will be their last. Indeed, judging by the state of where the episode ends, this battle won't be without its casualties.
Using turpentine distilled from pine tree sap as makeshift gasoline, the Whisperers drench Hilltop's defenders in flammable liquid, vulnerable to volleys of flaming arrows, and caught between a burning Hilltop and hordes of Walkers. Negan, meanwhile, is on the other end of the carnage, seemingly launching arrows at his former captors without any concern for their safety, despite attempting to reason with Alpha against making such a power play earlier on in the episode. If he really is acting as a double agent for Carol, then he's certainly biding his time.
It's worth highlighting Norman Reedus' performance in "Morning Star". The actor excels at drawing an emotive tenderness from Daryl's gruff exterior. His final scenes with Carol, Ezekiel, and Judith make for the episode's most compelling moments, while any sequence showing everyone's favourite biker bro launching a medieval flail into zombie skulls is worth savouring. The Walking Dead is really making it look as though Daryl is about to get the chop, which would certainly allow for a sense of high-stakes consequence that The Whisperers just haven't conveyed until now.
While it felt a little jarring for the episode to end just a few minutes into the battle's duration, the intensity and confidence of its opening moments bodes well for an action-packed follow up that won't pull its punches. While I remain somewhat concerned that the night-time setting will repeat the mistakes of its nearly unobservable mid-season premiere, "Squeeze", what we've seen so far from this all-out war isn't just competently crafted – but genuinely entertaining.