THIS REVIEW INCLUDES SPOILERS FOR “ACHERON: PART 1.”
After the character heavy final episodes of season 10 of The Walking Dead, season 11 is back to group mission storylines. The premiere drops us into a more horror movie like setting than we have seen in a while on the show. The Alexandria group must explore dangerous new avenues for food, while the captured group at the Commonwealth undergoes lengthy questioning. Both stories are high on tension, and low on friendliness. To be a survivor, you must weigh the team versus the individual. It makes for a very satisfying start to the final season.
JUST A FEW MORE QUESTIONS
At the Commonwealth, bureaucrats interrogate Eugene, Yumiko, Ezekiel, and Princess to the sounds of a vaguely John Carpenter score. After hours of questions about their past, present, and pooping habits, Eugene, Yumiko, Ezekiel, and Princess gather in their cell and talk about their predicament. It is no surprise that the women are the first to vote for escaping. The bad vibes are plenty, and it doesn’t take much for Ezekiel to agree. Eugene is adamant that they should follow the rules and stay put. It seems clear that Eugene’s hope of seeing Stephanie is the basis for his optimism.
What is certain, is that Princess has a hidden talent for observation. Princess shares a bit of gossip that she had gleamed from watching the guards, including names and schedules. Thanks to this bit of recon, an escape plan is hatched. The group is almost home free when they pass a bulletin board on the way out. On the board is pictures and messages for people to look for in the world. One message is from Yumiko’s brother Tomi. “I have to stay,” Yumiko sputters out.
I love that the person who has been the most isolated since the apocalypse is also the person that is the most observant of human behavior. Granted, Princess has until been unable to know when she has crossed a boundary with people, but I like that the flip side of that is that when she observes people, she sees everything. As skill sets go, it is a doozy for a world where meeting new people can save your life or consign you to a painful end. I don’t think Princess knows yet how to harness her skills fully, but they can be a true asset in their current situation.
THE SURVIVAL MISSION
With the supply of food at a wrecked Alexandria dwindling, a group sets off on a mission to liberate any remaining MRE packs from an army base. The scavenging group drops into a warehouse through the ceiling. The soldier walkers inside appear to be long dormant. Walkers are lying on the floor like the world’s strangest sleepover. Some walkers are restless, like a dog napping. Perhaps they are dreaming of ambling after a nice, juicy meal?
It is ladies night apparently, and Carol, Rosita, Maggie, Magda, and Kelly drop into the warehouse. On the roof, Daryl keeps watch with Jerry and some other men. The plan is to bag any supplies and send them up a rope to the group up top. Maggie and the other women creep past the sleeping walkers into the back room. After scoring a few crates of MRE’s, the bags are clipped to the rope and pulled up top.
This just would not be a true Walking Dead mission if it did not go horribly wrong. While pulling up the bags, one of the ropes snaps. Daryl manages to snatch the bag before it falls, but not before he slices open his arm. Drip goes Daryl blood directly onto the lips of a napping walker below. Like the creepiest Sleeping Beauty of all time, the walker stirs awake eager to eat its prince.
Soon the whole place is wall to wall teeth chomping action. The women get to work taking the walkers out, while Magda and Kelly clip the last of the food bags to the working ropes. Since there is a literal army of walkers, the women make a quick retreat before they are overwhelmed. It is also clear that Daryl and Carol’s friendship may still be in a rough patch, but in a fighting situation, they are more in sync than ever. This bodes well for their future. That and their planned spinoff are good indicators.
Back at Alexandria, the group from the supply run takes stock of what they collected. Despite the sizable haul, there is only enough to sustain Alexandria for a week. With new mouths to feed from Maggie’s group at Meridian, and with all the crops destroyed, Alexandria is hurting for food. After Maggie welcomes new arrivals Duncan, Agatha, and Frost from Meridian, talk turns back to the supply problems.
Maggie notes that there is plenty of food, crops, and animals at Meridian to take care of Alexandria. The problem? The Reapers are there. Maggie explains that her run-in with a reaper when she had been out with Daryl confirmed that the numbers of their group was low. Maggie suggests that they fight the Reapers and take back Meridian. Aaron is more concerned about fixing the holes in the fenceline, and Rosita shares her concern that a fight with the Reapers will end badly again.
Maggie is convinced that now that her best fighters are back with her, they have a chance to retake their town and supplies. “This sounds like a suicide mission,” Rosita says. And since “suicide mission” is half the group’s magic phrase, several are already adjusting the straps on their backpack to head out the front door.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
While Aaron, Rosita, and Carol stay behind on team build, Daryl, Dog, Maggie, Elijah, Cole, Duncan, Agatha, Frost, Gage, Alden, Roy, and Gabriel head out with their tour guide, Negan. With a raging storm outside, the group heads underground into the metro. Negan, ever the survivor, admits he does not want to take the tunnels. Maggie is having none of it. Maggie tells Negan to shut up and tell them what to do. Negan gives directions, which is basically taking the blue line past the pentagon and under the river to the red line toward Bethesda – a route with the least amount of stations I might add.
As the group hops down in the tunnels, survivor Negan reiterates the terribleness of the idea, and this time he points out the water line on the wall. The pipes groan from the wind, adding an unnerving layer of loud, unexpected noises. Unfazed, Maggie orders everyone onward into the darkness. Small, dark tunnels with no easy exits is a great trope of horror movies, and this is no exception. There is a lot of tension both from the situation, and from the hostility among the parties. When Daryl shuts down Negan’s complaints, Negan whispers, “You’re in on it.”
WHEN WE WALKED IN FIELDS OF GORE
The stroll is soon interrupted by an extensive field of plastic-wrapped bodies. Negan argues that the site might be an active dumping ground, but Maggie disagrees. The plastic is moving, so the group slices and dices some skulls on their way through the tunnel. There is a close call with a boil covered mess of a walker, and it sparks a rebellion. Roy and Gage side with Negan to leave, but Maggie insists they can’t get through the trip without Negan’s knowledge of the city.
Negan is a great survivor for a number of reasons, but the biggest one is he knows how to read people. Negan argues that Maggie insists on Negan tagging along so that she can kill him away from prying eyes. “If we get through this, I’m not coming back. [Maggie] will find a way. She’ll find a reason to do it herself,” Negan says. When a look of realization crosses Daryl’s face, Negan clocks that too. Gabriel calls Negan paranoid. With a nod, Negan warns the group that they are welcome to put their lives in Maggie’s hands, but that “her head isn’t even in the game.”
“So, Maggie, me dying on your terms? It ain’t happening,” Negan says. When Negan adds that he won’t be put down like Glenn, Daryl punches Negan. The punch is warranted but not satisfying. In that moment, the audience was definitely open to putting Negan down. Maggie admits that killing Negan is always on her mind, but that the small part of the old Maggie keeps Negan alive. “Keep pushing me. Please,” Maggie says. All the cards are on the table.
TRAIN TO NOWHERE
After hacking and slashing through several hundred wrapped walkers, the group learns there is a train blocking the tracks. Alden calls for a new flashlight, but it appears that Roy and Gage have snuck off with the supplies of ammo and rations. And whenever things go bad, they soon go worse: a horde is bringing up the rear. With the tunnel collapsed on the sides of the subway train, the only way is through it. The door is, naturally, stuck. While the crew works on taking out the advancing horde, Alden and Gabriel give up on the door, and they opt to head on top of the train.
Dog bounds away into a hole between the wall and under the train, and Daryl crawls after him. After everyone else has climbed up top, Maggie looks at Negan, and he climbs up top. The last one, Maggie jumps up, but before she can pull herself up, a walker grabs her leg. Above Maggie, Negan pokes his head out and looks down at Maggie. Negan looks at the approaching horde. With their last argument fresh in his head, Negan takes a moment to stare at Maggie in silence. “Negan!” Maggie screams. Negan leaves without a word.
It was evident throughout the episode that it had to end with Maggie needing to trust Negan. And it was also pretty clear that Negan is a survivor, and he was always going to calculate what was best for his survival with the group. I would not say anyone was surprised that he would literally leave her hanging, but it still hurt to watch. Negan has grown a lot, but Maggie had made it very clear that she would end him someday. The old Negan would have left everybody behind. The new Negan is more of a team player but he will always be a survivor first and foremost.
This episode has an excellent horror movie vibe with a lot of great tension. Even the Commonwealth story has a nice bit of psychological horror going for it. Premieres and finales are usually action packed, but this is a memorable start for the season. To have Negan be the voice of reason throughout was a great way to make the end especially brutal. In the end, Negan is a survivor. It was never going to end another way, but Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s portrayal always lets you think this time might be different.
ODDS & EGGS
- The station they group enters is called Pyron – which is not actually a station on the DC Metro
- The field of plastic wrapped walkers is either near National Airport or at the Pentagon
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