In last week’s Season 11 premiere of The Walking Dead, our heroes descended into a network of subway tunnels beneath Washington, D.C. to avoid a major storm on their way to Maggie’s old community. Alexandria is out of food and they figured if they could work together to fight off the Reapers—the bad guys who chased Maggie and her people off—they’ll be able to recapture all their old supplies.
As I noted in my review last week, this isn’t the best idea. For one thing, they could have returned to the army bunker and killed off all the zombies there. Even if there was no more food (but I’m pretty sure there was) we know for a fact there were lots of guns and bullets—exactly the type of arsenal one might want to have in a showdown with scary masked bad guys who probably don’t have many guns.
The subway also seems like a bad call, as Negan pointed out last week. It’s clearly flooded before and there’s a storm raging outside. Not a great place to dry off when you think about it.
Into The River Of Woe
In any case, by the end of last week’s episode Daryl and Dog have been separated from the group. A couple of the mooks from Maggie’s group also. And Negan decided not to help Maggie up onto the top of the train, letting her slip back down to the zombies below.
This was the big cliffhanger moment of the episode, albeit a transparently silly one. Of course they weren’t going to kill her character off two episodes into the season. It was Glenn under the dumpster all over again, but with a savvier audience much less easily tricked by AMC’s shenanigans.
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Negan, of course, had every reason to not help Maggie. You could see the wheels turning. He did the math. Helping her would have earned him some brownie points but not many. He’s done a lot to help the Alexandrians and none of it has really made much of a difference. He’s the black sheep and he always will be. Maggie would remain a threat so long as she lived so he might as well let her die.
His only mistake was not making sure the job was done. So naturally, he returns to the group, they ask where Maggie is, he plays dumb—“She was right behind me..”—and then she shows up not long after having escaped Dumpster Zombie Pile 2.0.
Everyone is really angry and upset with Negan for this, of course, but he reminds them that just moments earlier she was threatening to kill him. And there’s a big difference between trying to kill her and just not helping her. It’s a tense moment but, just like with last week’s cliffhanger, we don’t expect these Maggie mooks to actually kill Negan.
A minute later a young guy from Maggie’s group shows up on the other side of the door leading to the next subway car. They’ve been going from car to car breaking the doors, which have rusted shut, open and taking care of any zombies they come across. Unfortunately for this kid, there appear to be quite a few zombies coming up behind him and they decided not to help him. This is a little puzzling since they end up going that way anyways, but I guess it shows that Maggie is a ruthless leader willing to let her people die even when they could pretty easily be saved.
So he stabs himself in the heart which I also don’t really understand. This won’t stop him from zombifying and it doesn’t kill him fast enough to not experience the zombie mob. Why not go out with a little dignity at least? Take a few with you on the way out. Oh well. Kid is a zombie a couple minutes later, beating at the door with the other undead.
Now they’re trapped between zombies with some coming up behind them and all the ones out front. Things aren’t looking good. They make a stand, fighting wave after wave of the undead as they trickle in.
This is when Daryl shows up.
Daryl The Killing Machine
Daryl had chased after Dog last week and finds himself exploring the old camps of survivors who had set up in the subways long ago. He finds words scrawled on the walls and a note left by a child on a dollar bill to his father who hasn’t returned. It’s a little archeological dig back into the earlier days of the apocalypse. Nobody lives here now, just the occasional walker to put a crossbow bolt into.
At one point he comes across the other missing Maggie mook bleeding profusely. “Tell my kids I didn’t die a coward,” he tells Daryl, or something along those lines, though later he seems fine and is back with the group just a little worse for wear. (He’s prophetic enough, however. The Reapers shoot him right in the eye later). He gives Daryl his gun, which Daryl ends up putting to very good use.
When he winds his way back around to the train that the survivors are on he’s able to flank the zombies, entering the train behind them and taking them unawares. What follows is one of the cooler Walking Dead action scenes this show has ever produced.
Daryl is a killing machine. He goes in guns blazing and we get a nice shot from outside the train of his assault—every bullet is a direct shot to the brain and he cleaves a bloody path through the walkers. Little bits of The Walking Dead theme song play over the action. It’s pretty badass.
When he finally breaks on through to the other side, he tells everyone to take cover. He pulls the pin from a grenade, shoves it into a zombie’s mouth and kicks the bugger back into the other car, slamming the door and leaping into shelter.
The grenade goes off and turns the entire car into zombie soup, bits of red sludge dripping from the ceiling.
At last they emerge from the subway onto a city street that looks vaguely familiar. Corpses hang from ropes along the sides of the street. “This place has changed,” Negan mutters, and I’m guessing this must be his old neighborhood. It’s a small world, after all.
As they stand around chatting there’s suddenly a whooshing sound and an arrow flies out of the night directly into the old guy’s eye. He died bravely—or, well, he died quickly and without much warning anyways.
The group scrambles. Others have been hit but nobody else killed. And marching up the street, looking pretty damn intimidating in their iron masks, come the Reapers. I guess all the villain groups wear masks of some kind or another these days, which is fitting I suppose.
This is definitely a better cliffhanger since we know it’s not just a silly head-fake but it did make me wonder: Why are the Reapers here at this exact spot at this exact time all geared up and ready to fight? Did they get some advance warning that our heroes were on the way? Do they loiter about in large groups just waiting around in case someone happens along this particular street? Something doesn’t add up. We’ll have to wait until next week to find out what happens.
In the Commonwealth sub-plot we mostly get Eugene and Yumiko. Everyone gets freaked out when Ezekiel doesn’t return to the cage after being taken away by guards, so Yumiko demands a meeting with whoever’s in charge.
She doesn’t get that but she gets the next best thing: A second meeting with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the interviewers they had to answer questions with in last week’s episode. She turns the tables on them and acts very confident and smart, and while she’s in there, Princess goes and asks the guards if she can use the restroom and they take her off as well, leaving Eugen alone and increasingly sobby and terrified.
When it’s finally his turn to talk to the interviewers, Eugene is a sweaty nervous mess. You think he’s going to crack at any moment. They’ve identified the weak link and they’re ready to apply pressure. They still don’t buy that these four are traveling alone and didn’t come from a larger community.
Blubbering, Eugene tells them a pretty believable lie—though that’s almost certainly because it’s mostly the truth.
The truth, he tells them, is that he is obsessed with Stephanie, the woman he talked with on the radio who basically helped lure them to the meeting point. You see, Eugene is a virgin though he’s “witnessed the act more times than he’d care to admit.” This is news, though perhaps not the most surprising revelation given Eugene’s . . . well, everything.
It’s a great performance, reminding us that however annoying Eugene may be, Josh McDermitt is a hell of an actor.
And it works. The four of them are processed and welcomed into the Commonwealth, and just as they’re about to enter in walks Stephanie. Eugene’s face breaks into a big dumb smile. Stephanie looks kind of like a librarian, I guess. Pretty in a bookish, buttoned up way.
As I noted last week, I think these first two episodes of Season 11 work much, much better together than apart. I think I enjoyed watching them back-to-back more than I would have separated by a week. Don’t get me wrong, I love shows that release on a weekly basis. I just think Acheron Part 1 and Acheron Part 2 would have worked better airing on a single night as one big mega-premiere. Breaking them apart kills the momentum for no good reason.
I enjoyed a lot of this episode. Maggie’s very dark, very frightening and messed up story of almost getting killed and maimed and raped by some truly psychotic bastards was one of the darkest places this show has ever gone, even if it was just a story told by one of the characters. Daryl’s big fight scene was truly one of the more badass moments I’ve seen in this show. And the Reapers are frightening making this week’s cliffhanger much more gripping than last’s.
Some of the other stuff—mostly the continued use of very minor characters we know nothing about as zombie fodder—felt a lot weaker. But by and large this was an action-packed episode that did a pretty good job pushing the story forward. Both our groups have now entered enemy territory, and while the Reapers and the Commonwealth are as different as they come, I’m not sure which set of survivors is actually in more danger.
Put these two episodes together and you have a really solid Season 11 premiere, even if it would be nice if just once and a while the writers and showrunner and producers would take a minute or two to ask: Does this make sense? Are our characters actually making the sorts of choices real people would make in this situation?
I think we viewers would appreciate just a tiny bit more quality control in the script department is all I’m saying.
Here’s my video review of the first two episodes: