I stand corrected. After last week’s Walking Dead episode ended on a cliffhanger, with Maggie dangling from the back of the underground metro train car and Negan disappearing from view above her, as though abandoning her to a grisly fate, I assumed the show was pulling one of its usual fake-outs, and that this installment would begin with Negan re-appearing and saving Maggie’s ass, thereby draining off the bad blood between them and forging an uneasy alliance. Nope! As it turns out, Negan took one look at Maggie’s predicament, thought, “Oh, well,” and moved on. He really did leave her to die. It’s raw, it’s cold-blooded as hell, and it makes total sense. Congratulations, The Walking Dead: you played that exactly right.
Negan’s split-second decision kicked off this episode in fine style, and even though it was generally fairly messy and chaotic, enough of the beats landed to make it feel thrilling, despite an uneven sound mix and some occasionally awkward editing. The show obviously had to get from one place to another—from Maggie’s desire to kill Negan to an uneasy truce between them, lest their drama marginalize all the larger issues happening—and by going a more vicious route, the narrative felt livelier than expected. Everyone is ready to kill Negan for abandoning Maggie (including Maggie, for a moment), but she’s actually the first to accept and acknowledge Negan’s justification, even if she still wants to murder him. “You tried to kill her!” Alden says. “No,” Negan responds flatly. “She was in trouble and I didn’t help—there is a big difference.” With a short but simple speech, Negan reminds them of his worth, and while Maggie’s recently arrived underlings are still ready to execute him, everyone else, Maggie included, recognizes that the former Savior has a point.
And just in case anyone watching wanted to quibble the moral grey areas here, “Acheron: Part 2" immediately bends over backwards to show that Maggie is far from some benevolent, kind-hearted leader at this point. Runaway Gage reappears on the other side of a train car door, pleading to be let in, but Maggie refuses, saying they don’t have the firepower to take on all the walkers Gage let into the train with him. Pleading, Gage breaks down crying, before getting angry, and staring her straight in the face while he stabs himself in the heart to avoid a far more painful death. So who’s the cold-blooded one, again? They all are—or need to be, rather, as Maggie argues by recounting a lengthy and horrific story about the brutal and merciless state of the world outside Alexandria. She’s made hard, unfeeling calls to survive, because she had to; and all it does is reinforce the rare nature of their communal situation. “Compared to everything that’s out there...” she says, and Negan chimes in: “It means we were lucky.” The two of them, on the same page. Survival isn’t easy, and it makes for strange, but necessary, bedfellows.
Adding to the general sense of sprawling chaos in the metro tunnels is Daryl’s side journey, which mostly involves looking pensively at the remnants of long-gone survivors (and one walker in a sleeping bag) in order to drive home this episode’s point about just how unusual the setup at Hilltop, the Kingdom, and Alexandria really is. (Or was, in the case of the first two locations.) There was a community down here, one that still fractured along class lines, and the worthlessness of former social divisions is highlighted by the $100 bill Daryl finds, used as a note by a pair of kids hoping their father would find it. Eventually, he makes his way back to the main group, just in time to pull off a badass fight sequence, Oldboy-style (well, more of a murder sequence, the walkers don’t put up much of a fight), ending with a real hero moment where he shoves a grenade into a walker’s mouth and slams the train door just in time to blow up all the undead. It’s kinetic and fun, even if it’s far from the most artfully staged action sequence.
Meanwhile, the situation over at the Commonwealth is finally resolved this week. After being left in threatening, albeit bureaucratic, limbo, Ezekiel and the others are welcomed into the community—or rather, granted “asylum in these United Townships,” as the hulking red stormtrooper, Mercer, calls it. (Also, Ezekiel was wrong; Mercer wasn’t a power-tripping former beat cop. “I went to West Point, asshole,” he says in a huff before storming off.) These sequences were mostly played for laughs, thanks as usual to Princess, but Eugene’s breakdown felt a little too forced. Yes, it would be nerve-wracking to sit around as your friends disappeared one by one, but he was already crumbling at the start of this episode; by the time he delivers his lengthy monologue to Mercer about Stephanie, the radio, and the reason he convinced his friends to accompany him on this shot-in-the-dark trip, it felt awfully over the top. (This is a guy who lived through Negan’s initiation of him into the Saviors, after all—a few days in a train car don’t seem anywhere near as anxiety inducing.) Still, nice to have that resolved before it got tiresome.
The big advancement in “Acheron” comes at the end. Regrouping with Daryl and the still-somehow-alive Roy (the guy who ran away from the group with Gage last episode), everyone heads off to find a supply depot Maggie says is nearby. Instead, they find a parade of dead bodies hanging up and down the stretch of road—and then, an arrow hits Roy in the head. As everyone takes cover, our new villains appear: the Reapers, I presume? They’re masked, but with nowhere near the same degree of military wear we saw on the last guy we encountered. I suppose there’s a chance it’s some other gang, but that seems awfully unlikely. We’re in the endgame, here—it’s time to meet our nemeses.
- Princess, channeling her inner Karen at the Commonwealth: “We wanna talk to the manager!”
- Princess actually had multiple funny moments—as usual—but my favorite was probably her wide-eyed response upon learning that they had toilet paper in the bathrooms. “Oh, shit—I’m excited!”
- Have we ever seen Yumiko bust out her lawyering skills like that before? I don’t recall it, and while it was fun, it also felt a little out of character at first.
- Maggie’s story really was pretty grisly. Women who had their limbs cut off, tongues cut out, and impregnated? Yeesh, we get it, show, the world is a terrible place.
- Walking Dead petty criticism moment: When the train door opens and the rush of walkers enter, they start felling them one by one, and pretty quickly. So why the hell wasn’t there a massive pile of bodies after the first minute? As far as I could see, the endless parade of walkers just kept on shuffling through, as though none of them had dropped to the ground prior. It was glaring enough that it took me out of the sequence
- Eugene’s tearful confession was actually fairly touching at points. On Stephanie: “She… was not repulsed by my musings.”
- If I had one wish, it would be for The Walking Dead to spend this final season really investing in some TV directors who have a talent for great action scenes. Give Kevin Tancharoen or John Hyams a call, you guys! Ring up Michelle McLaren again! Let’s get wild!