The Walking Dead’s Mid-Season Premiere Was Crummy With Just A Dash Of Total WTF

The Walking Dead’s Mid-Season Premiere Was Crummy With Just A Dash Of Total WTF

In late 2019, The Walking Dead ended its 1.375-year streak of being genuinely good by reverting to its worst habits. Unfortunately, the 10th season spring premiere did not get the series back on track, although it did provide one of the most perplexing, bananas moments in the show’s history. So that’s something, I guess?

“Squeeze” is a very rocky start to the back half of season 10. I mean that in the sense that the storytelling was precarious at best and because the episode begins with Carol, Daryl, Jerry, Aaron, Magna, Connie, and Kelly trapped in the cave containing Alpha’s zombie horde, thanks to Carol’s uncharacteristic stupidity in the mid-season finale. It’s hard to get truly invested in the danger the group is in when it was brought about because one of the savviest characters in the series got so preoccupied with murdering the villain that she fell down a hole.

It also doesn’t help that the gang spends almost the entire episode trying to get out of the cave, encountering a new “cave scene” trope every segment: They have to cross a chasm (of zombies) by jumping from rock to rock; they get lost; someone (Carol) has secretly been claustrophobic; a big guy (in this case, Jerry) gets stuck in a tight tunnel; and finally, there’s a cave-in they have to get past at the last second. About the only thing they’re missing is a mine cart race.

For the most part, these all play out exactly as you would expect, but there is one shining light in this darkness. While the group is resting, Daryl finds Carol and gives her the talk she desperately needs regarding her blinding obsession with hurting Alpha: “If I went through all the shit you went through I’d probably feel the same way. Unless you tried to stop me.” While it’s weird to hear Daryl open up so emotionally and frankly, Norman Reedus rarely has a chance to emote via dialogue as he does here, and he’s unsurprisingly great. The scene works, especially because it’s such an accurate, honest assessment of the problem. Yes, everyone in Walking Dead-land gets so obsessed with killing someone else they pose a danger to themselves and others once in a while. But both Daryl and Carol are smart enough to realise that they can—and must—rely on each other to keep them from making these mistakes.

It’s just fantastic, and it would be the perfect turning point for Carol to start getting her shit together. Instead, she double-downs on her selfish, stupid obsession despite Daryl’s talk, all common sense, and the potential harm she may wreak on those around her.

If this looks scary, just remember they’re all there because they each ran into the same hole. (Image: Jace Downs, AMC)

After Kelly finds a box of old dynamite hanging out in a mineshaft, Jerry wisely tells her to put back, as it’s far too unstable to be moved. But when people are finally exiting the cave through a hole above them, Daryl notices Carol is gone, as is the dynamite! Despite Daryl’s talk and the fact we’ve established Carol is highly claustrophobic, she’s headed back to destroy the horde even though it will kill her. Daryl follows and brings her back, but there is an explosion and the cave does what caves tend to do. Connie helps Daryl and Carol outside to safety while Magna takes care of some inconvenient zombies who have popped up—which is when the cave completely collapses on top of Connie and Magda’s heads.

Carol has the decency to completely break down at the horror of what she’s done, and, sobbing, begs Daryl to tell her “I told you so” but Daryl won’t give her even that iota of solace. It would be a really powerful moment if it didn’t require Carol to be a complete moron who was explicitly warned she was being a moron half an hour earlier.

Look, I don’t expect these characters to be all-perfect, and they should have flaws and be allowed to make bad decisions. I definitely don’t have a problem with Carol being so emotionally devastated after Henry’s murder that she’s obsessed with killing Alpha, and it’s causing her to make very uncharacteristic mistakes. I just don’t think, even at her most blindingly upset, she would be foolish enough to walk into a hole. Carol has almost always been one of The Walking Dead’s sharpest, most level-headed characters, even when she was obsessed with killing someone. The Carol in “Squeeze” is just too far removed from the Carol we’ve been watching for the past decade to be compelling.

If you’re one of the people who have stopped watching the show but like to keep up with what’s happening through these recaps, let me tell you that Carol’s nonsense still manages to pale compared to Negan’s…uh…event. When last we left Negan, he had escaped from Alexandria and joined the Whisperers, where a traditional narrative would eventually have him betray these greater foes, completing his moral redemption and allowing him to join the ranks of the protagonists. That may be what happens eventually, but this character arc may be a bumpy ride because Negan and Alpha fucked.

To be fair, who wouldn’t want to be a Whisperer? It seems so great! (Image: Chuck Zlotnik, AMC)

Alpha marches a traditional smarmy Negan into the woods, tells him to strip, Negan starts to break down and snivel, and then he turns and Alpha is wearing nothing but her birthday suit and the tanned, flayed flesh of another human being’s face. Then Negan immediately gets smarmy again and they fuck. The scene is much weirder than it sounds, and it should sound absolutely bananas already.

I think a lot of people are going to be upset by this scene but I’m honestly just confused. I have no idea why Negan suddenly turned crazy vulnerable, I have no idea why Negan joined the Whisperers in the first place if he’s completely terrified they might kill him, and I don’t know if, based on everything we have ever learned about Negan, he would suddenly find super-authentic Halloween masks sexually appealing. I know there’s very few good places an Alpha-Negan romance can go, and I don’t just mean for the survivors. Watching an Alpha-Beta-Negan love triangle play out over the next half-dozen episodes sounds pretty rough, but moreover, I just can’t imagine what development could possibly come as a result that would make Nepha (the ‘shipping name no one will ever use but me) feel worthwhile.

But I’d rather The Walking Dead generate drama by sheer weirdness than by forcing characters to become imbeciles (Jerry, why not take off your gear before you try to crawl through a hole that you are visibly already too small to fit through?) because we’ve seen plenty of the former. “Squeeze” had the same problems as the mid-season finale, which are the same problems that plagued the show for years before season nine seemed to turn it all around. I wish I could say these past few episodes felt like a blip, and there’s light at the end of this tunnel. Unfortunately, all I can see right now is the cave-in.

Daryl (Norman Reedus) goes surfing, except in a cave and also his surfboard is zombies. (Image: Jace Downs, AMC)

Assorted Musings:

  • What the fuck was up with those caves? We see Alpha walking out of the tunnels from a very roomy cave, and we know the gang managed to find a sign, obviously made by the Whisperers, surely leading outside. But then somehow that path includes a 10-foot tunnel that can only be crawled through? There’s no way the Whisperers were coming and going that way. And there’s absolutely no way a mega-herd of zombies came in that way, or any way Alpha’s going to get them out of there.

  • I’m well aware that you can never assume a Walking Dead character is gone until you see the body (whether it’s newly made or traipsing about), and I suspect we haven’t seen the last of Connie and Magna. The fact that Daryl decides instantly to look for another way into the cave system is also a sign; if the two were really dead, the show would have milked the tragedy of their senseless deaths a lot more. (Also, Kelly was not nearly as upset at the loss of her sister as she should have been, narratively speaking.)

  • I did like that the episode began with Carol, in a cave, surrounded by a jillion zombies, all of it entirely her fault, screaming in total frustration. I just wish she was screaming in frustration with herself instead of Alpha.