This review contains spoilers.
The final season of The Walking Dead has arrived!
Season 11 will be split into three batches of eight, with the show finishing in 2022. With The Whisperer arc now at an end, we are moving onto The Commonwealth, and in just 24 episodes they have a lot to cram in! But that’s for the future to worry about, as of right now the first, of a two-parter, has landed on Disney+ (UK) so let’s get straight into the episode breakdown!
We open at a military base full of husk-like walkers. Our heroes enter through a skylight and rappel down into the hanger to forage for supplies. The music is used to great effect and with no dialogue from any of the characters it just adds to the intensity and suspense of the scene. After retrieving a decent amount of supplies the ground-team sends the goods up through the skylight. Things soon take a drastic turn when one of the bag comes loose and falls. Daryl manages to catch it just in time, but blood from his wound falls down and onto one of the huskers (that’s what I’m calling them) reanimating it. This in-turn awakens the rest of the slumbering huskers. They soon start to encroach on the group, who effectively take them down with a mixture of projectiles and melee weapons. The group are acting in perfect unity and precision, this is exemplified when Carol rushes to get a stack of MRE’s and Daryl covers her all the way, resulting in a successful extraction and mission overall. This was ‘in and out’ with no casualties and a sizeable reward. The cherry on top of this incredible opening scene? Not a single character spoke in over nine minutes! They let the music and visual do their storytelling. Fantastic!
A quick love-in for the new opening credit sequence, here. I really enjoyed the animation style and I think it’s the best credits to date.
In a scene not too dissimilar to the opening of Skyrim, we find Princess, Yumiko, Eugene and Ezekiel in the back of a cart being taken deeper into Commonwealth territory. They are taken to an assessment room and Eugene is told that they are currently under level one assessment, and if they pass they move onto level two. If they fail? They will be sent for ‘reprocessing’. The group are asked the same questions over and over and the power of the edit made this very repetitive scene very humourous and entertaining. Ezekiel finally has enough of the assessors and turns towards the man standing behind him, who is wearing red armour, suggesting that he is a position of command from the rest of the soldiers. This man, while not named here, is called Mercer and he is straight from the comics. I think Michael James Shaw is a great bit of casting as he commands the scene due to his size and presence. One of the questions asked was about medical history and in particular, Ezekiel’s neck tumour. This comes back to haunt him as he goes into a coughing fit, with blood visible on his lip. Mercer offers him water. With the group reunited in the holding pens, everyone but Eugene is ready to find a way to escape. After a brief interaction with some refugees they find out that the last thing you want is to go through reprocessing, which finally convinces Eugene that they need to escape. They manage to acquire two guard outfits and ‘escort’ Princess and Ezekiel out towards the exit. Before they leave however, Princess spots a note from Yumiko’s brother with Yumiko now refusing to leave. As a whole, I think this was a nice introduction into the bureaucracy of the Commonwealth as well as the severity of breaking the rules. I really enjoyed Mercer’s introduction and look forward to seeing his character more in the show, and I’m eager to see if they make any changes from his comic book counterpart.
Back at Alexandria, the group arrives with their haul from the hanger and straight away the show reasserts the tension between Negan and Maggie. And things are about to get even more tense as Maggie is reunited with her Meridian crew – Agatha, Duncan and Frost, who immediately get Maggie to identify Negan to the group. Maggie having new allies to go against Negan is a thread I think the show will pull on during this first batch of episodes. After a brief council we learn that, despite the hanger haul, the food supplies will only last a week and that they will need to find more. Maggie suggests heading back to her old stomping ground, which is now under the control of the Reapers, and that Negan could be the one to guide them through Washington DC, which stands between them and their destination.
As the group enter the city (in a sick looking shot), heavy rain, thunder and lightning forces them underground and into the subway system, much to Negan’s protests. While only a throwaway moment, there was scene I really liked here. Daryl encounters an “America Doesn’t Tolerate Racism’ poster, which I thought was a nice subtle message to slip in there. I know some will probably kick off about the show being political, but those people can jog on! Negan continues to question Maggie’s choices, and even after pointing out a waterline, which indicates that the tunnel floods, Maggie pushes on. That’s when they encounter a mass-grave… The walkers here are bagged up, despite many of them not moving, some still need taking care of. A young guy is nearly killed, but thankfully Negan comes in for the save and once again questions Maggie’s reasoning. Negan claims that he was brought here so that, one way or another, he doesn’t make it back. Maggie doesn’t deny this, but states that the remaining fragment of the old Maggie is the only thing stopping her from killing him, but indicates that she doesn’t know how long that will last. This was a good exchange between both characters, and wonderfully performed, and both have valid points, but I just don’t buy what Maggie is selling. As the group stood around watching Negan and Maggie going at it, a group of walkers have made their way down the tunnel and are approaching fast. With the tunnel blocked by a train, the group must go up and over. Dog makes a break for a side passage next to the train and Daryl follows, splitting the group. With Maggie now the last person on the ground, she reaches for the train and grabs the ledge. Unable to get enough purchase on the ledge, and with walkers clambering at her legs, Negan appears from the top of the train and the two lock eyes. As Negan backs away Maggie screams out his name as she slips – cut to credits.
Now, as this is a part one, I’m not shocked by that cliffhanger in the slightest, and I actually enjoyed it. While it is framed as if Negan allows Maggie to fall to her death, I fully expect it to be a fake-out and he’ll return for the save in some capacity. The only way that doesn’t happen, is if they are totally re-working Negan’s arc to swing the fan momentum away from Negan and back to Maggie. I think this would be a disastrous decision, as it would undermine the past two seasons worth of character and story development. But again, I don’t think they are going to do this. While I don’t want Negan’s redemption arc to be dragged out over the full course of the season, I think this first batch of eight episodes is more than enough to air everything out and just get him setup as a member of the community. He doesn’t have to be universally liked, but we just need to move past the Negan and Maggie showdown in this first phase.
So there we have it, The Walking Dead kicks off with an extremely strong episode and the standard has now been set, very high! If they keep this up for remainder of season 11, then the show is going to go out with a bang!