The Walking Dead is no stranger to the sophomore slump. Where the season premieres are often action-packed, the follow-ups are usually a lethargic return to business as usual, and the shift is almost always jarring. Unfortunately, The Walking Dead season 10 does nothing to change that trend. "We are the End of the World" is a slow-burn character study that does little to move forward events despite offering interesting insights into Alpha and Beta's history.
That relationship between The Whisperer leader and her second-in-command is the driving force of episode 2, as we flashback seven years earlier to discover how the pair first met. Interestingly, the show deviates heavily from the comics, presenting Beta, not as a celebrity turned psychopath, but a tormented hermit whose run-in with Alpha and Lydia forces him to abandon the last remnants of his own humanity.
The creepy but electrifying chemistry between "A" and "B", to use the names they first adopt for each other, is brought wonderfully into focus by Samantha Morton and Ryan Hurst's performances, together portraying a duo who seem to understand each other on an innate, primordial level.
Just as Alpha forces Beta to let go of his past (namely by killing his zombified friend/lover and ripping his face off for headwear), so too does Beta confront his leader when it's discovered she's still yearning for Lydia's return in the present day. The dynamic makes for compelling viewing as the pair continually push each other beyond the boundaries of their human nature, especially as the show still refuses to confirm whether the relationship is a purely platonic one, or something more.
Unfortunately, the rest of "We are the End of the World" isn't quite so engaging. The present-day scenes, in which we're introduced to new Whisperer sisters Gamma (Thora Birch) and Frances (Juliet Brett), adds little to the story other than bringing the cult's state of affairs in line with Alpha's sudden appearance at the end of the season 10 premiere.
The Walking Dead wants us to care about Frances and her trauma (we learn that she was the Whisperer who gave up her baby in season 9), but it's hard to empathise with a character who's given fleeting screen time – and even harder so when her face is covered by a decaying flesh mask for the majority of it.
And while I'm interested to see how Gamma will evolve as a character over the course of the season (especially after throwing her sister under a herd of Walkers to save Alpha), it's hard to connect with the woman behind the mask right now. We need to see more of an actual personality if The Walking Dead wants us to invest in the Whisperer's new third-in-command going forward.
In better news, this second episode featured some of the goriest moments seen in the show since Negan took a baseball bat to Glen and Abraham. The opening moments, in which a woman's cacophonous screams are heard through Lydia's noise-muffling headphones as Walkers eat her alive, make for stark viewing, while Beta's WWE-style tussles against a group of Walkers – smashing their heads against the wall as though they were overripe melons – leaves no doubt about the raw, muscular power of this towering giant.
We often forget how capable The Walking Dead is when it comes to on-screen violence but, as displayed here and countless times before, the presentation of the gore is always handled effectively in the context of its presentation.
Yet "We are the End of the World" stretches a threadbare story over its 42-minute runtime, undermining the episode's pace and value as an addition to season 10. That's not say its exploration of Alpha and Beta's origin story doesn't contain a number of important and entertaining scenes, but these moments are interspersed amongst a Whisperer focused romp that's about as inert as the group's meandering shuffles amongst the dead.
The Walking Dead airs weekly on AMC in the United States and Fox in the UK.