Some thoughts on last night’s premiere episode of Season 11 of The Walking Dead…
“Acheron, Part 1” opens with an extended sequence in which the show’s heroes descend into a former military installment to scavenge a precious cache of MRE pouches. Naturally, the mission goes sideways just prior to successful completion, and the soldier zombies rise and attack. For the next several minutes, they are systematically levelled, with the heroes emerging unscathed (not even a spear-carrier character gets bitten!). This 10-minute opening sequence felt both familiar and like filler. The decimation of the undead threat points to a grim reality in the show’s current, post-Whisperer moment: the walkers are little more than macabre fodder once again, background figures propped up to provide cheap action beats.
In the episode’s main plotline, the Alexandrians team up with Maggie and her cohorts and set out to take back Maggie’s old community, Meridian, from the Reapers. A torrential downpour drives the group underground, where they seek to carry out their time-sensitive mission by proceeding through a subway tunnel. Besides fulfilling the underworldly suggestion of the episode’s title, the subway sojourn makes for a creepy and claustrophobic set piece. That mass grave site (filled with plastic-shrouded, throat-slit walkers) the heroes encounter also struck a strong note of dark intrigue.
The episode’s B-story follows Eugene/Ezekiel/Yumiko/Princess as they are “processed” (i.e. interrogated) by members of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth regime is being established as the Big Bad of the show’s concluding season, but so far I am having a hard time getting invested in this storyline. The Commonwealth’s ostensible (and still anonymous) leader looks like an Idris Elba wannabe in orange Stormtrooper getup, and does little more than smolder here.
Easily, the highlight of the season premiere is the antagonism between Maggie and Negan, which steadily builds during the underground mission. Lauren Cohan and Jeffrey Dean Morgan both give strong performances, particularly during a tense stand-off scene. You know The Walking Dead is going to milk such conflict for all its worth this season, and just seeing how it finally plays out makes the show a must-watch here towards the end of its long and accomplished run.