Much has changed since we saw the first preview for The Walking Dead season 10 finale. Not only has the world (and the entertainment industry) come to a near standstill, but we're now watching a show with a confirmed endgame in sight, as AMC has decided to close out its megalith franchise with an extended season 11 that'll wrap things up in 2022.
That makes the act of watching The Walking Dead season 10 finale (which is no longer technically a season finale) all the more strange, especially since it follows on from the events of "The Tower" as though it were fresh in our memories. To recap that episode from *checks notes* April, Beta is on the warpath after Alpha was brutally slain by Negan, and all the pieces are in place for one last confrontation with the survivors.
Sadly, it's a fight that plays out less like a dramatic last stand and more like AMC ticking off the remaining boxes of its drawn-out Whisperer War. As I've mentioned before, Beta's one-dimensional personality (or lack of one, to be precise) was fine for the role of secondary antagonist, but Alpha's death left him struggling to step up to the plate as the central villain for the rest of the season, with the character barely leaving a mark in his final moments here.
Granted, the imagery of an entire horde of Walkers whispering "We are the end of the world" back to Beta is certainly haunting, and effectively conveys the character's deranged state of mind, but the villain wanders around muttering a few words in a handful of scenes before being brutally dispatched by Daryl and Negan. So long, Beta, you will almost definitely be forgotten.
A far more interesting tension running through "A Certain Doom" is between the living and the dead. Our survivors have taken out a fair few hordes in their time before, be it via chicken wire, propane tanks, or a controlled cave-in, but this time an extra challenge is posed by the need to weed out the remaining Whisperers from the rest of the pack. The solution is a two-pronged approach led by separate teams under the command of Daryl and Gabriel, with the former leading the herd away from the latter, who are then able to escort the women and children into safety.
There's a palpable sense of atmosphere as Daryl, Carol and others attempt to move against the horde's current drenched in Walker guts, and the decision to distract them via the infectious sound of Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House" certainly makes for some black humoured television. But with only one minor casualty by the end (so minor, in fact, that I couldn't even tell you her name, or where she came from), the not-finale rounds out The Whisperer War with all the impact of a wet flannel, more preoccupied with positioning our heroes for the future instead of raising any stakes.
Speaking of forward momentum, "A Certain Doom" is just as aware as we are that the Whisperers' arc climaxed with Alpha's death three episodes ago, and so spends a lot of its time sowing the seeds for season 11. That comes most notably in the form of Maggie's much-awaited return, albeit with very little actual dialogue or explanation as to where she's been. Her rescue of Gabriel at the last minute felt like an unearned deus ex machina as a result, though I will say it's nice to see Lauren Cohen bringing some familiar charisma back into the proceedings now that Michonne and Rick are out of the picture.
There's also the matter of Eugene, Ezekiel, Yumiko, and Princess' encounter with what is almost certainly The Commonwealth, whose apprehension of the group makes for season 10's cliffhanger. This community will no doubt be a focus for the rest of the show going forward, and The Commonwealth of the comics should provide plenty of interesting material for AMC to work with. It would have been nice to actually see Stephanie's face after all this build up, though.
Finally, we have Lauren Ridloff making a surprise return from filming Etern- I mean, uh, off-screen adventures as Connie, still caked in blood and grime after her near death experience in the caves at the start of season 10. It's either a stroke of good fortune or poor timing that Virgil is the one who finds her, as we're still not sure whether this unsavoury character is on the path to redemption, or still obsessed with locking people up. Let's hope it's the former.
You can expect all of these seeds, in addition to the continued adventures of Michonne and Rick in The Walking Dead movies, to be present in some form or another for the rest of the show going forward.
Will AMC be able to juggle all of those threads while steering the show towards a closure that doesn't feel hamfisted or awkard? It wouldn't be The Walking Dead without some narrative clumsiness, but I have faith that showrunner Angela Kang and her team can make it work.
"New Mexico is still out there," says Daryl to Carol, in what could now be interpreted as a nod to their newly announced spin-off show. "Maybe some day", she replies, "but we still have things to do here first." Here's hoping those "things" make for some of the Walking Dead's best moments as it edges towards its expiration date.