The Walking Dead has a history of following up its mid-season premieres with amorphous filler episodes that merely reshuffle the chess pieces for future conflicts. "Stalker", season 10B's sophomore chapter, is no exception, as another series of fairly inconsequential events are stretched out over the course of 45 minutes.
Following last week's cave escape, "Stalker" plays more like a tautly focused horror movie, anchored by Beta's covert invasion of Alexandria via a secret tunnel created by Dante. The Whisperer commander already has all the makings of a serial killer, so his bloody rampage through the town plays well as a genuinely terrifying sequence – albeit one that has little lasting effect in the grand scheme of things, beyond the deaths of a few nameless nobodies.
We learn that Beta's aim is to retrieve Gamma back for Alpha, who has now fully defected to Alexandria's cause and spends the episode trying to win over the mercy of Gabriel, still untrusting of any new arrivals following Dante's devastating betrayal towards the end of the season's first half. And, thanks to Michonne's leave of absence effectively making him Alexandria's head honcho, the once cowardly man of the cloth has finally come into his own as a leading figure.
Demonstrating intelligence and resolve in the face of renewed Whisperer threats – not to mention patience against Rosita's demands to make Gamma suffer – Gabriel steps up from being an awkward worrywart and protects Alexandria from potential collapse, delivering some of the best lines of the episode in the process ("I've spoken to God; He told me to hang you"). At the same time, this accelerated character development does suggest the showrunners are setting Gabriel up for a traumatic season finale send-off, so best not to get too attached to the good father just yet.
Outside of Alexandria's increasingly vulnerable walls, Daryl is on a one-man rampage to save Connie and Magna from their cave-sealed fate, going toe to toe with Alpha herself and nearly killing the Whisperer warlord in a single blow. As a showcase of Daryl's exceptional combat skills, "Stalker" excels, capturing the Dixon dynamo decimating hordes of zombies and whisperers with furious, uncompromising bursts of violence – all despite succumbing several injuries along the way.
He's eventually saved from certain death by Lydia, who returns out of the blue to almost kill her own mother, only to wimp out at the last minute, despite Alpha literally pleading for a knife to the chest. The scene is weirdly drawn out, and delivered with such histrionics that it really looked as though this was the end for season 10's primary antagonist. To leave her still breathing at the final hurdle felt like a bit of a cop-out. Let's face it; The Whisperers are starting to lose their potency as threats to fear, and Samantha Morton's ridiculously hammy accent is only getting more vexing as time goes on. Their reign has outstayed its welcome.
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"Stalker" leaves us with Alpha alive but very much questioning her own philosophy. Is she having a change of heart, doubling down on her inhumanity in the face of a personal crisis, or merely losing her mind? A last-minute redemption is still on the cards for this cult crackpot yet. However, with Beta on a warpath and Negan still at large, that won't come before a few more bodies have been well and truly buried.
Even so, "Stalker" progresses season 10's plotline by the bare minimum required for a Walking Dead episode, which is saying something. At it's very best, the chapter treated us to some strong character moments from Daryl, Beta, and Gabriel, but boil it down to its rudiments, and little has really changed in the dynamics of the Whisperer war at large. Next episode promises to catch us up with Michonne and Virgil's adventures at sea; here's hoping the change in scenery can pick up the pace for season 10's multi-threaded saga.