This is about as upbeat and happy of an ending as The Walking Dead is capable of delivering. And it’s a definitive one, too, at least when it comes to the two-season tale of the Whisperers. Aside from the episode-ending tease of the new group encountered by Eugene and company, “A Certain Doom” wraps up the narrative cleanly and efficiently, with a minimum of heartache or loss of life on our side. (Sorry, Beatrice; you had a brutal ending, but it’s not like we knew you very well.) Instead, there are smiles, hugs, repaired relationships—in a world where peril and the possibility of gruesome death is always just a few shambling footsteps away, this episode gave all of our protagonists a clear win and a renewed sense of hope for the future. “Is it?” Jerry asks. “It is,” Lydia replies. The end. For now.
AMC may not want to technically call this the season finale anymore, now that it has announced the extension of the season with six “bonus” episodes set to air in the spring of next year (a decision that sounds like it had everything to do with COVID-19 really restricting the kinds of stories the show is able to responsibly film at the moment), but it’s undeniably a finale. Which is honestly refreshing, given how sloppy the show has been in recent seasons at ending storylines. The back half of season 10 has been strong, and this installment makes for a fitting conclusion, given that it also dispatches its threat with a minimum of fuss. There’s no drawn-out sequences, no extended fight with Beta, just Daryl’s knives abruptly plunging straight into the Whisperer villain’s eye sockets, followed by literally marching the menacing undead horde off a cliff.
If anything, it feels a bit too brusque at times. I never thought I’d say this about The Walking Dead, but I could’ve done with a slightly longer running time, the better to do justice to the absolutely massive scope of the threat, and to maximize the tension in the action scenes, all of which were over in mere seconds, be it Gabriel’s one-man showdown with the Whisperers invading the hospital, or that final confrontation with Beta. The takedown of the wagon blasting Talking Heads’ “Burning Down The House” was the only action sequence that wasn’t a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment of violence, and it benefited tremendously from the way Greg Nicotero’s camera emphasized the curtain of darkness just beyond the group’s field of vision, a nighttime assault that generated genuine anxiety. But I’ll take brevity over bloat any day, and with abrupt cuts like joining Eugene’s party immediately after his bike accident, the episode demonstrated an admirable commitment to cutting to the chase. (Corey Reed’s script also kept the series’ usual weakness for monologuing restricted to Ezekiel’s speech exhorting Eugene to pull himself together.)
The opening montage, in which Gabriel reassures some worried kids that their motley assortment of groups can come together to defeat the enemy, quickly shaded in the subsequent reveals. The big one? Maggie’s back, and she brought with her that weird silent masked guy wielding kama blades. (The pair of them appearing out of nowhere to save Gabriel in the hospital didn’t make a lick of sense, but it was a fun twist, and gave Aaron the opportunity to throw some suspicious side-eye in the masked fighter’s direction.) A lot of people had probably already seen her reappearance in the teaser for the episode, which lessened the impact, but Maggie brings with her a chance to explore the wider world that’s been carrying on while we spent all this time dealing with the Whisperer threat.
But the real fun in this episode came during the escape from the hospital. I’m not going to waste time wondering why the hell the group didn’t cover their faces in viscera as well, like they have done literally every other time they’ve had to pass through a horde of walkers; instead, let’s focus on the fun of watching them nervously slide through the herd, waiting for Whisperers to attack from all sides. It was great to have the arrows rain down from the windows, and when Beta tightens the pack, eliminating the archers’ ability to discern enemy from undead, it was clearly just a matter of time before someone got taken out—and since the show hates losing its main cast, Beatrice got the nod. (Between this, Supergirl, and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Briana Venskus has really been on quite the genre-TV tear.) And when the rest do make it through—along with Lydia, who dons her mother’s old mask to come help—it was a laugh-out-loud moment when the song starts playing, and Beta watches his army of walkers amble off in the direction of early ’80s pop. The whole thing was just so absurd (and not in a bad way) that I found myself laughing at the sheer lunacy of the situation.
But the climactic ploy—lead the horde off the cliff—also managed to wrap up some interpersonal drama at the same time. Carol volunteers to sacrifice herself by leading the walkers to follow her toward that plunge into the sea, but instead Lydia pulls her back at the last second, and the two hug it out, the death of Alpha seemingly water under the bridge (huh, so I guess no one needed to sacrifice themselves, useful information). Between that and Negan’s decision to recommit himself to this group of people—even though it seems like a lot of them still hate his guts for contributing to the attack on Hilltop—there’s a real “Kumbaya” vibe to the conclusion.
The only problem here is that real-world information is rendering some of the drama pretty toothless—and it’s only going to get worse. The news that Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride are already locked in for a spinoff show at the conclusion of the series is going to be a serious hindrance to any drama The Walking Dead attempts to mine from Daryl and Carol. In other words, subsequent narratives that put them in peril will be hard-pressed to come across as anything but inert, because we know the characters essentially have protective force fields around them from here on out. That’s a real narrative wet blanket to throw on a writer’s room; it will be interesting to see how the show treats the two as a result.
It wasn’t the flashiest finale, and it wasn’t the most dramatically satisfying, but there was still a sense of solidly executed closure to this episode, a workmanlike efficiency in the storytelling and direction that made it succeed despite the abruptness of the plot. But maybe it’s also the knowledge that this is all finally going to come to an end. That’s the best thing to come out of this season; yes, it’s still two years away, but the imposition of an ending is probably just what this over-the-hill series needed, a ticking clock to force it to zero in on something other than dragging on indefinitely, like one of its undead corpses. Other than those bonus episodes, you’ve got one season left, Walking Dead: I dare you to make it your best.
- I didn’t mention the ridiculous bargain-bin Star Wars stormtroopers that rush out to surround Eugene and company at the end. They made me laugh; I half-expected them to start going, “Hut, hut, hut.” Did anyone involved in the show realize it was going to come across as kind of silly?
- Also, during Eugene’s big inspiring speech right before they appear, I suddenly thought the show might have the guts to kill him out of the blue; having these new mystery soldiers shoot a genteel longtime character like that would’ve been the kind of hot fire this show used to throw around. Ah well.
- As far as Neganisms go, the “Hey, shithead” with which he greets Beta for their fleeting showdown isn’t bad.
- Daryl and Carol: “New Mexico’s still out there.” “Maybe someday.” They may as well have turned to the camera and added, “Coming to AMC soon!”
- Connie: alive.
- Chekov’s Tripwire: exploded in Act II.
- Cassady McClincy might be the season MVP. Something about her great performance as Lydia seems to help the writers avoid the usual drawn-out soap opera dramatics. Her words to Carol were so refreshingly blunt: “If you’re avoiding me, please stop.”
- Princess made me laugh tonight. Yumiko: “She’s right.” Princess: “I am.”
- That was really a lovely shot of Carol standing at the edge of the cliff.
- And that’s (sort of) a wrap on season 10. We’ll be back in the spring to take a look at these “bonus” episodes, which sound like they’re going to be very much in the vein of character studies. Until then, feel free to join me over in the reviews for The Walking Dead: World Beyond. I’ve enjoyed talking through this show with all of you; no matter how aggravating the series gets, the wit and shared experience of going through it with A.V. Club commenters always made it better.