After a three month hiatus, The Walking Dead season 10 has finally returned with “Squeeze” – an episode that focuses on the efforts of Daryl, Carol, Jerry, Magna, Connie, Kelly, and Aaron as they attempt to escape the zombie-filled death cave Alpha lured them into during the mid-season finale.
Unfortunately, for both the characters and us few remaining Walking Dead fans continuing to watch along, that means a lot of confined action in poorly lit environments. The scenes are so dim, in fact, that it's hard to get a sense of what any of the characters are doing, in the same way that Game of Thrones famously kept us in the dark during last year's “The Long Night”. Still, there's some nice touches worth celebrating, such as Daryl's grisly use of an amputated Walker limb as a makeshift torch, Jerry's narrow escape from death by ankle munching, and Carol's unexpected battle with claustrophobia. It's just a shame you can’t see much of what’s going on.
Another bum note – one that has been a prevalent issue throughout season 10 so far – is Carol, who continues to lose touch with her friends, her state of mind, and the audience at large. At this point, it feels like the showrunners are systematically dismantling any remaining goodwill held for this once fan-favourite character, who's now acting as foolishly and inconsiderately as the more annoying survivors the show has given us in seasons past.
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Not content with leading her friends into the Walker cave itself, Carol once again jeopardises the group by running off again at the last minute, forcing them to rescue her at the expense of their own safety. Even Daryl, her one remaining confidante, is starting to lose any affection towards his best friend, especially after her actions trap Connie and Magna within the cave, potentially consigning his sole love interest to a slow and painful death.
Melissa McBride does the best she can with the material, portraying Carol as a woman so hellbent on revenge that it's eroding her own sanity, but it's going to take a lot for this character to redeem herself. This lone wolf is becoming so destructive – to both herself and others – that she's starting to pose more of a threat to the group than any villain ever could.
Meanwhile, outside the cave, the internal battle lines amongst the Whisperer hierarchy are being redrawn as Negan crawls his way to the centre of the cult's inner circle. We knew it wouldn't be long before Gamma's betrayal would be discovered, but Negan's decision to rat her out once again muddies our understanding of where the former Saviour's true loyalties lie. Does he genuinely want to become a Whisperer, or is he just really good at infiltrating doomsday cults?
This question becomes ever harder to answer following Alpha and Negan’s final scene, adding new, uncomfortable subtext to the squeeze of the episode's title. Ever since Negan made his way into Whisperer HQ, fans of The Walking Dead comic books have been hoping for a recreation of the character's iconic confrontation with Alpha. Instead, we got the inverse, with the latter offering herself as a "crude reward" for some creepy Walker copulation, complete with skin mask and everything.
The skin-crawling sexual tension between the pair has been brooding for some time now, but this consummation of their mutual respect will likely spawn further conflict between Negan and Beta, Alpha's second in command. Whether Alpha is merely manipulating Negan through the language of love, or feels genuinely attracted towards him, is another question in and of itself. Whatever the case, it'll be interesting to see how this newfound power couple’s relationship develops going forward.
As far as mid-season premiere's go, “Squeeze” is a mixed bag. Its slender selection of memorable flourishes can't quite make up for the episode's indistinguishable choreography and continued mismanagement of Carol's character arc, but it does set the stage for an exciting second half of the season. We still have to wave goodbye to Michonne, find out who Eugene's new radio pal is, and deal with The Whisperers once and for all. In other words, there's plenty to come over the course of the next seven episodes, and I'm intrigued to see how it all pans out.