Welp, it was fun while it lasted.
I guess I can’t say the show didn’t warn us. It turns out “The World Before” is the perfect title for the end of the first half of The Walking Dead’s 10th season, because it felt like an episode from the dark days during the Savior War – in all the worst ways. Heroes abandoned their morality, characters were so focused on killing bad guys they became idiots, and some supremely ludicrous things happened, all to set up a “shocking” ending that was completely unearned. It was so familiar it genuinely bummed me out.
Honestly, the episode started fine. The cold open showing Dante’s back story was perfunctory and obvious, but it wasn’t bad – and it technically explained why Lydia didn’t know Dante was a Whisperer, although the explanation was basically “because she didn’t,” somehow. I also really liked that Rosita came by and discovered Dante was a spy immediately, rather than it taking a half-season for the characters to realise what the audience has already been told. Rosita beating the hell out of Dante was the cherry on top.
I was even fine – well, I was okay – with Dante somehow remaining a nihilist that believed civilisation was a “cruel promise” despite living happily and safely in Alexandria for months, because he felt “people aren’t actually kind,” and that’s a sentiment that has a fair amount of impact nowadays. I really liked Gabriel’s philosophical argument with Dante’s ethos and the question of whether people deserve second chances…
…until Gabriel stabbed the holy hell out of him.
The gall of this goddamned show. For Gabriel (who’s been one of its most moral characters for years) to talk about how he himself was given a second chance to be better, in a cell where Negan was given a second chance to be better by Saint Rick, to then suddenly take away Dante’s second chance by brutally murdering him seconds afterwards is the height of hypocrisy—beat only by Rick slitting Negan’s throat and then talking about the importance of not killing people moments after he and his crew murdered about a million Saviors in the season eight finale. And he does this despite the laws of Alexandria, partially established by himself, and no one in the colony seems to give a shit. It’s like Rick the Dictator – a.k.a. the Ricktator – never left.
Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) in a less murder-y time. (Image: Jace Downs/AMC)
Speaking of the Ricktator, Carol is so obsessed with killing Alpha she’s not only willing to put herself in harm's way, but anyone with her, exactly like Rick was with Negan. After Gamma – still upset by Alpha’s betrayal – tells Aaron where the Whisperers’ zombie mega-horde is located in hopes of seeing her niece eventually, he, Carol, and Daryl meet up with Jerry, Connie, Kelly, and Magna to find it. After a genuinely good scene where Daryl calls Carol out for her obsession, telling her that Alpha isn’t worth dying for, the group discovers the horde isn’t there (although Aaron is convinced it was, and Gamma wasn’t lying to him). So Daryl leads the group to find Lydia.
Let’s not even discuss how Carol has some kind of psychic Alpha-Sense that lets her know when the leader of the Whisperers is nearby, because Carol literally running after her without ever thinking it might be a trap, or that everyone in her adventuring party would follow her and also get caught in it, might be the stupidest thing Carol – who has traditionally been a very smart character – has ever done. I get that she’d want Alpha dead so badly that she’s willing to get killed because pretty much every character on the show has been there. But her lack of consideration for the safety of the others is off-brand and infuriating.
Carol (Melissa McBride) awaits her package of TNT from Acme Industries. (Image: Gene Page/AMC)
They all fall into a trap, of course, and even without Carol’s nonsense, it’s impressively terrible. First of all, the chase itself is ridiculous, because Alpha is essentially the Road Runner leading Carol’s Wile E. Coyote into a canyon wall with a tunnel painted on it. (Also, I don’t know if it was Samantha Morton making a choice or just the actress herself, but Alpha had a weird, hunched running style that looked very silly.) Everyone else has to chase her in a line, each just out of sight of the other, so they can enter a cave and plummet into a pit like lemmings, one at a time, so no one behind them ever realises it’s a trap and they can all be caught by it. In the end, they’re surrounded by what appears to be the entire Z-Bomb, which Alpha has managed to park in the cave like a Nissan Sentra in a garage.
There’s only one completely decent storyline, and it’s Michonne, Judith, and Luke, who are still rowing away from Dragonstone – er, still travelling to Oceanside. They stop at a library on the way where some surprise zombies grab Luke, and some dude shows up out of nowhere, takes out a few walkers to ensure Luke’s survival, and immediately takes off again. After they finally arrive at Oceanside, the dude shows up again and tries to steal a boat, but gets caught (thanks to tiny badass Judith, who straight-up slices his leg with her katana to stop him mid-flight). Having just been radioed the news about Dante, Michonne is extremely suspicious of the dude – whose name is Virgil – until the guy reveals he just wants to go home, which happens to be a fortified naval base.
Michonne agrees to sail him home in exchange for weapons that can be used to defeat the Whisperers’ mega-herd, but she has to do it by herself, mainly because the show only had actress Danai Gurira for a limited time of filming, and it’s spreading all the scenes they got with her through the season. It’s a bit contrived, but the show had to give Michonne some reason for being gone for the bulk of season 10, and it’s still in service of the greater plot. It works for me although admittedly all this might just look good in comparison to the rest of this crappy episode.
What a bummer. A Walking Dead where we’re supposed to root for murderous arseholes because they’re fighting cruel murderous arseholes is my least favourite Walking Dead, with a Walking Dead where people are so intent on murdering someone they become idiots coming in at a close second. Normally, this is the part of the recap where I say the New Era of the show has been so consistently good that it’s earned a few chances to mess up, and if these were somehow new problems, I’d be just fine. Unfortunately, these are the exact same problems that made The Walking Dead so gruelling to watch for all those years.
Sure, this may just be a blip of badness. Even if it’s a more comprehensive problem, the show turned things around once, when season nine started, so it theoretically should be able to turn them around again. But I’ve watched too many episodes like “The World Before” before to be optimistic. Instead, I’m worried that the last year and a half wasn’t the New Era of The Walking Dead at all, but simply a Good Era…that’s probably over.
Rosita (Christian Serratos) uses brass knuckles to beat up zombies, which seems like a terrible idea. (Image: Jace Downs/AMC)
- If someone wants to explain how or why Alexandria’s water supply had “drinkable” and “undrinkable” settings, I’d love to know. I have to assume that wasn’t bullshit because otherwise it would also be Looney Tunes-level nonsense.
- At the library, Judith pulls a Russian-English dictionary for Eugene, to help his work on the Russian satellite. What a treasure!
- Rosita is infinitely more upset that the existence of her baby is affecting her zombie-slaying skills than the death of Siddiq. Honestly, this is completely on-brand for her character, but it’s still terrible.
- There is some good news: Maggie (and actor Lauren Cohen) is coming back to the show, which has certainly been running low on beloved characters. Also, we might actually find out what’s the deal is with Georgie World, which could be very interesting! Theoretically!
Featured image: Gene Page (AMC)