Even when you ignore the fact it's been tasked with the last minute misfortune of acting as The Walking Dead season 10's finale for now, "The Tower" is a pretty rote showing for AMC's long-running apocalypse drama, even by the series' standards.
Some touching character moments aside, episode 15 feels, at best, like a slightly remixed repetition of events that season 10 depicted just a few weeks ago. At its worst, it merely prolongs The Whisperer Wars purely to reach the end of its commissioned episode count, with another entire sequence devoted to Beta slowly shuffling his horde towards the survivor's fourth and final HQ; an abandoned hospital complete with the tower of the episode's title.
Beta has clearly gone insane, hearing voices from the Walkers that surround him and unable to cope with the pressure of living up to Alpha's namesake. Yet, despite his tendency to kill off any lackey who so much as speaks to him, he still commands an entire army of Whisperers.
You can't help but wonder: why are these soldiers following into battle any more? Their former leader is gone, and her replacement lacks any of the charismatic authority or concern for "the pack" that compelled them to obedience in the first place. They are, of course, pawns in the wider mechanisms of season 10's overall arc, but the show's refusal to authentically explore the cult-like aspects of The Whisperer's politics represents one of its biggest missed opportunities.
Thankfully, the introduction of Princess – another crossover from the Walking Dead comic books – brings some much-needed zest into season 10's increasingly stale storyline. Promising "new wheels" for Eugene, Ezekiel, and Yumiko's quest to find their next community, she's a lone survivor with an unpredictable streak, yet Paola Lazaro's performance brings a sweetness to a character that could easily come across as more annoying than affable. It's easy to wonder whether Princess' comical charm will jar against The Walking Dead's more sour-faced tone, but the entertainment value of her gallows' humour against the backdrop of a brilliantly conceived minefield set-piece suggests we've nothing to worry about.
The episode's final moments, however, showing Beta finally at the gates of the survivor's last stand, are far more problematic, and for more reasons than one. Not only is it almost a beat-for-beat repeat of the cliffhanger we saw just a few episodes ago in "Morning Star", but it's now all we're left with before season 10 returns with its actual finale later this year. I don't know about you, but I can't wait for this Whisperer war to be done with, so the fact that we're going to have to hold on a few more months before finally closing the books on Beta's tirade is pretty agonizing, to put it mildly.
If that sounds harsh, it's only because I'm genuinely invested in the future of The Walking Dead – keen to learn about where it's headed with its new spin-off shows, movie trilogy, and proceeding season, which plan to tie everything together into a more ambitious shared universe of sorts. That's far more exciting than what is now Beta's third siege of the survivor's base, which is doing far more harm to my estimations of season 10 than elevate them, despite its many highlights.