With a title like "Look at the Flowers" – a reference to one of the show's best and darkest moments – most viewers were probably expecting big things from The Walking Dead season 10, episode 14. Surely, the showrunners wouldn't fail to deliver with something equal to the loaded weight of that line? Wrong. Like most of the show's follow-ups to a major fatality, The Walking Dead's latest episode deals with the fallout of Alpha's demise poorly, eschewing meaningful developments for empty blasts of hot air.
Let's start, once again, with Carol. I've been saying for some time now that The Walking Dead needs to make a sharp u-turn with Carol before she becomes unrecognisable from the fan favourite icon she once was. And while episode 14 appeared to show her finally coming to her senses, that renege hasn't come without even more exasperated viewing for the audience.
For one thing, this fallen queen begins the episode by refusing to hold up her end of the bargain to Negan – now (quite rightly) pissed for losing his one ticket back into Alexandria after delivering Alpha's head – and, instead, she regresses back into the reclusive Carol of seasons past, wandering off into the woods with little concern for how the rest of the Whisperer Wars could play out as a result.
We've been here many, many times before with Carol and, now as it did then, the entertainment value of her misanthropic meanders is paltry. That Walking Dead trope is compounded with another in the form of Carol's hallucinations, as visions of Alpha undermine her hermetic retreat, manifesting the guilt she feels for those who have suffered as a result of her actions.
It does, of course, eventually lead to a breaking point, reflected on-screen by Carol's decision to resist a lonely demise and return to Alexandria. If this indeed is the turning point that we were all hoping for, it was certainly an aggravating and deeply unsatisfying one to watch.
In better news, Negan does at least earn the trust of another Alexandrian in the form of Daryl, who learns that the deposed despot truly does care about his former captors after refusing to accept The Whisperer's crown as their new Alpha.
As far as this character's road to redemption is concerned, Negan has pretty much reached his destination and – like that of his new allies – I'm willing to forgive past sins and fully root for this braggadocios antihero now that he's cleared his name. It's an astonishing turnaround for The Walking Dead's nastiest villain, and both Jeffrey Dean Morgan and the show's writing team deserve to be lauded for managing to pull it off.
Elsewhere, Beta has – rather predictably – established himself as the new principal antagonist of the show's closing Whisperer arc, even stitching Alpha's still fresh facial tissue into his latest flesh mask, in case you weren't clear about where things stand for this final confrontation.
While Samantha Morton's slimy occultist had her flaws, Beta is a much simpler force of villainy; six feet of pure, unrelenting rage. Season 10's measly attempts to flesh out his backstory offer little in the way of nuance or empathy for his character, either, and my best bet is that this antagonist force will be long gone by the time credits roll on episode 15, though not before he trades potentially fatal blows with Alexandria's remaining troops.
Indeed, season 10 is already looking ahead to a future beyond the Whisperers in the form of Eugene, Yumiko, and Ezekiel's trip to find Stephanie's community. Their pilgrimage can be read as the first steps for a drastic change of scenery and storytelling in the next era of The Walking Dead, and their early wanderings through a more urbanised backdrop are already a refreshing shift from the woodlands of Virginia.
Despite those highlights, though, "Look at the Flowers" plays like an expendable precursor to episode 15, which – thanks to the delay of the show's finale – could be the final episode of The Walking Dead for quite some time. That unexpected shift in season 10's airtime will undoubtedly lead to a jarring denouement next week, but here's hoping it can raise the bar left by episode 14, which continued to stick with the last, irrelevant gasps of a Walking Dead arc that everyone – including the show – is ready to move on from.