Beta Tested

Somewhat ironically, a global pandemic cut short The Walking Dead last April, causing the Season 10 finale to be delayed by over six months. But last night’s return episode (“A Certain Doom”) proved worth the wait.

I realize that mine might be the minority opinion; there will be plenty of viewers who complain that the season finale was anti-climactic, and that the Whisperer War ended with a whimper. True, we did not get an extended skirmish between heroes and villains (in contrast to the “All-Out War” story arc from previous seasons), but this is precisely why I appreciated the episode. When Beta directs the massive herd of walkers against the building complex where the show’s protagonists are holed up, the conflict is not decided by a by-now familiar battle sequence. Instead, strategy is the key: multiple pairs of protagonists attempt to beat the Whisperers at their own grim game, donning skin masks and splashing themselves in gore in order to slip through the herd and then lure it away in Pied-Piper fashion (there’s an inspired choice of song eventually used to distract the attacking walkers). Hiding in plain sight amongst walkers is a gambit we’ve seen several times before on the series, but the stakes are raised here, because there’s also the Whisperers amidst the undead to contend with. This extended sequence was incredibly tense; not everything goes according to plan, and not everyone makes it through alive. But I loved the way the heroes would navigate the situation by stealthily knifing a Whisperer and then tossing him or her to the two-legged wolves shambling all around.

There is no protracted one-on-one face off with Beta, but again, this is more refreshing than disappointing, since we’ve already seen Daryl battle the behemoth in previous episodes. This is also made sense based on the logistics of the predicament: any extended fighting would have fatally exposed the combatants, by catching the dire attention of the omnipresent zombies. The final showdown scene with Beta, however abbreviated, was worth it just for the deadpan zinger that Daryl delivers at its end.

“A Certain Doom” certainly wasn’t a perfect episode. Lauren Cohan’s big return to the series turned out to be a bit of a letdown, as her Maggie character contributes little to the episode beyond smiles and hugs. Also, the climactic demise of the herd is too CGI-driven to be as highly satisfying a visual as it might have been (the producers missed a grand opportunity to feature some grotesque impact). My biggest critique, though, is reserved for the Eugene/Ezekiel/Yumiko/Princess subplot. Their journey to meet up with the mysterious Stephanie was marred by too many corny speeches. The sudden debut appearance of Commonwealth soldiers at episode’s end, looking like a group of cosplay Stormtroopers, was more jarring than plot twisty. And that closing close-up shot of a goofy, goggling Eugene created a final note of silliness more than suspense.

This episode admittedly won’t rank with the best season finales The Walking Dead ever aired, but it did make for a satisfying conclusion to the Whisperer story arc.

 

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