- Warning: There are mild spoilers ahead for the next two episodes of “The Walking Dead.”
- The best moment of review screeners comes in the final minutes of season 11, episode 18.
- It feels like the show has too much to wrap up in its remaining episodes while setting up spinoffs.
If you were frustrated with the way Rick was killed in “The Walking Dead” comics — shot defenseless and in bed by the Commonwealth leader’s spoiled son, Sebastian Milton — then the next two episodes of the show are for you.
I’ve screened “Lockdown” (season 11, episode 17) and “A New Deal” (season 11, episode 18), the start of the apocalyptic drama’s final eight episodes debuting on AMC and AMC+ on October 2, and while there’s plenty to enjoy, there’s at least one infuriating oversight.
When we last left the show, Max (Margot Bingham), Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), and more at the Commonwealth helped Connie (Lauren Ridloff) gather enough evidence to publish a scathing article in which she accused the governor’s son, Sebastian (Teo Rapp-Olsson), of being connected to a growing number of missing people in the community and at least one death.
Simultaneously, Daryl (Norman Reedus), Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), Aaron (Ross Marquand), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and more are in the crosshairs of the Commonwealth governor’s right-hand man, Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton), who has gone rogue with some of the community’s militia.
After Daryl blindly shot at Lance, leaving him with a sizable face scar, Lance took the survivors’ communities by force. Now, Alexandria, the Hilltop, and Oceanside are under the control of the Commonwealth and Lance is out for blood.
We enter as the fallout from Connie’s article and Lance’s hunt for Daryl’s group start to converge. Naturally, those aren’t the only stories going on in the final eight episodes. July’s San Diego Comic-Con trailer teased the threat of a smarter breed of zombie lurking, as well, which don’t appear in the episodes I screened.
Does it all become a bit much for the final block of episodes? Not yet, but with six episodes remaining to be screened, I’m concerned if the show will be able to neatly conclude these storylines or become burdened by setting up its many spinoffs.
A big change from the comics is the highlight of the first 2 episodes
The October 2 premiere is fine.
You get zombie action, a rare car chase, and it ends on a nice cliffhanger. We get to spend time with a majority of the survivors and even get a few sentimental moments between some longtime characters. Carol fans will be happy to see plenty of screen time with Melissa McBride, one of the few remaining actors from the show’s first season.
Best of all, the premiere finally delivers a few scenes with fan-favorite Jerry (Cooper Andrews) who hasn’t had much time to shine at all in the show’s final season.
But of all the actors, Hamilton continues a tour-de-force performance as the Commonwealth’s power-hungry social climber, Lance Hornsby.
You have to give “TWD” its due for casting some phenomenal villains in its final seasons. Physically scarred and suffering from a very bruised ego, Hornsby’s on a warpath and I’m worried for anyone who’s on the wrong end of his wrath moving forward. This man has nothing left to lose and, in the zombie apocalypse, that’s someone who is usually willing to take anyone down with him.
Otherwise, the premiere is strongest during two separate first-time interactions that I won’t spoil here since they’re such a delight to see on screen. One of the two is teased in the Comic-Con trailer.
The second episode, also debuting on AMC+ on October 2 and on TV a week later, is superior to the first. Though it lags in places, it makes up for it with a twist on a moment from the comics that should more than satisfy fans who were let down by Kirkman’s series when it abruptly ended in 2019.
That’s been a core strength of the series. In recent years, “TWD” has excelled in improving upon the comic by more thoroughly exploring the Whisperers and adding unexpected twists. Here, the Commonwealth storyline is better utilized to deliver commentary on the disparity between social classes in America.
Additionally, make sure to not skip past the title sequence. The familiar “TWD” score running over the opening credits has been slightly expanded to include a few new animated sequences. 10 actors have been added to the opening credits.
There’s a slight time jump in the first 2 episodes that makes the premiere frustrating
April’s mid-season finale of “TWD” ended on a haunting cliffhanger, culminating in Lance lining up the Oceanside community at gunpoint. As Commonwealth soldiers awaited an order, Lance tossed his lucky coin in the air, caught it, and placed it matter-of-factly on his opposite hand. Before Lance could look at the coin, presumably to decide the group’s fate, the screen cut to black.
For about six months, viewers have waited to learn the fate of the Oceanside group. If you’re hoping for a resolution, you’re not getting one, at least not in the next two episodes of “TWD” that I’ve screened.
Instead, the next episode of “TWD” frustratingly kicks off with Lance in a completely different location, hot on the trail of Daryl’s group, as if the Oceanside lineup didn’t happen.
Maybe Oceanside will be revisited in the episodes to come (there’s a small mention of them in season 11, episode 18), but it’s the first big sign in these final episodes that the show may have cut moments in order to make it across the finish line.
With that in mind, I’m fearful that certain stories will get skipped over and truncated in service of setting up the show’s three future spinoffs featuring Daryl, Maggie, Negan, and the long-awaited return of Rick and Michonne.
Nostalgia feels a bit forced into the next two episodes. It’s still difficult to see an end in sight to the series.
These next two episodes of “TWD” don’t feel like the start of the end. They simply feel like mid-season episodes.
The only thing that makes them feel remotely like the show’s culmination is that both episodes start with narration and flashbacks to iconic scenes from throughout the show. I imagine that’s how each of the final eight episodes will start.
But does it work?
Other than making me slightly concerned for the character reciting the narration — who I won’t spoil — it feels a bit shoehorned in, as if the episodes needed to remind fans that we’re coming to the end of the zombie series which kicked off in 2010.
I can overlook the somewhat clunky narration since everyone, from the cast to the producers, was caught off guard when AMC decided season 11 would be the show’s last in 2020. At the time, future seasons were being discussed.
It’s evident that Kang, who was given the series during a tumultuous time anyway when Andrew Lincoln was departing the series, the writing team, and producers are trying to do what they can for fans to make these final episodes feel like they were always planned to be the final eight.
In July, executive producer Greg Nicotero told me that making this final season nearly killed them. In previous months, the cast relayed to me how tired they were after working a more demanding schedule to get the final season completed. Some, including Reedus and Morgan, sustained injuries and continued working. And it’s because of that that I view the episodes with a slightly more forgiving eye.
If anything, I watch these episodes and it makes me a bit sad. Not only do I wonder what was originally in store for the series outside of a pandemic, but it’s obvious the final episodes are not being given the same sendoff as AMC’s Emmy-nominated and critically beloved “Better Call Saul.”
Instead, much like the decaying walkers in the apocalypse, it feels like “TWD” is slowly marching towards its grave with little fanfare. Though appearing in person briefly for a fan party, the cast did very select interviews in July at San Diego Comic-Con and none of the series’ biggest stars did much press outside of Entertainment Weekly ahead of the final episodes.
It feels like AMC is already looking past “TWD” and is more focused on its three future spinoffs.
And that’s depressing.
Two episodes into the series’ final eight and I’m concerned about the show’s ability to wrap up stories and set up new ones all while delivering a satisfying conclusion for longtime fans.
It doesn’t help that the show is also adding smarter, faster zombies into the mix.
At SDCC, Kang told a group of press, including Insider, this variant strain of the dead is a nod to some walkers from season one, but it’s clear there’s also a connection to a zombie that was more recently seen on a spinoff. This smarter breed of the undead will likely be at the center of the upcoming Daryl spinoff, too.
While Kang and execs told me the series will have a definitive end and that the final episodes aren’t simply a tool to set up spinoffs, it’s difficult to not feel that could become the case.
I’ve long thought that “The Walking Dead” had the possibility of having a superior ending to the comic.
I hope it still does.
“The Walking Dead” returns for its run of final episodes on October 2.