The Walking Dead Season 11 Premiere Lurches Unsteadily to the Show’s Finale

The Walking Dead Season 11 Premiere Lurches Unsteadily to the Show’s Finale
Photo: Josh Stringer/AMC

AMC has touted tonight’s premiere of The Walking Dead as “The Beginning of the End.” Technically, that’s true…but that’s about it. It’s not a bad episode of TWD, just a very middle-of-the-road one. After 10 seasons of wildly veering over that metaphorical, zombie-filled highway, that’s fine with me.

Nothing truly begins in “Acheron, Part 1.” It’s really the other side of the bridge that the previous six episodes — filmed during quarantine — connected to the pre-pandemic episodes of season 10. As such, the community at Alexandria is still reeling from the devastation wreaked by the Whisperers, while Eugene, Kumiko, Ezekiel, and Princess arrive at the Commonwealth, escorted by its faux Stormtroopers. They’re two wholly separate storylines, so let’s start with the Alexandrians.

Carol and Daryl, who seem to have completely reconciled after their kerfuffle during the bonus episodes, lead what can only be called a heist to a military base. The loot: A big pile of MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat in Army jargon), needed because the Alexandrians have no food and no crops after the Whisperer attack. The problem: The base is absolutely flooded with soldier zombies. The nonsense: All the zombies are napping, so they all have to tip-toe through the base to keep them from waking up.

This is made infinitely — and surely unnecessary — more weird by them dropping directly into the room all the zombies are sleeping in by rappelling through a skylight, Mission: Impossible-style. (What was the problem with the front door…?) Watching everyone tiptoe around zombies is ridiculous, but it’s a benign sort of ridiculous, and kind of fun for it.

Image: Josh Stringer/AMC Image: Josh Stringer/AMC

That’s also true when the zombies are inevitably woken up, not because of any of the noise they’ve been making, rather a drop of blood falling on one of the zombie’s cheeks. I’m not sure how that works, exactly, but the group on the ground thoroughly takes care of half of the zombie horde without breaking a sweat before escaping, begging the question of why they didn’t just take care of them from the roof in the first place. Again, it’s silly, but it’s fun, and that’s something TWD rarely manages to be.

Unfortunately, things take a turn when they return to Alexandria and discover they’ve only scored enough rations for a single week. When Maggie discovers some of her old crew have found their way to the colony, she proposes a new quest: head to her old settlement, Meridian, and take all the food that’s surely still there after it was overrun by the zombies and that seemingly nihilistic group of killers called the Reapers (which we met back in “Home Sweet Home”). Few people think it’s a good idea, but most agree it’s the only way to keep everyone fed.

Maggie, Daryl, Gabriel, Negan, and assorted posse members set out, only to be forced into a Washington, DC subway line that Maggie insists they travel through. Negan spots a high flood line in the tunnel, which means water could come pouring in any minute given the weather up top, but since it’s Negan giving the warning, everyone tells him to shut the hell up. Negan also raises the salient point that no one knows if the subway tunnel is even open; they could be marching directly to a dead end. Negan gets the same response.

Eventually, he’s had enough of walking through a potential deathtrap and getting crapped on and the palpable tension between him and Maggie, who’s never forgiven him for killing her husband Glenn in the season seven premiere back in 2016.

It comes to a head when he confronts the woman who loathes him, announcing to everyone that the only reason Maggie brought him along was in hopes that he’d get killed on the way, or she’d have a chance to kill him herself out of the “prying eyes of Alexandria.” Maggie, pointing a gun at his head, says she’s just barely enough of the woman who existed before Glenn died to stop herself from pulling the trigger, as much as she wants to.

Image: Josh Stringer/AMC Image: Josh Stringer/AMC

It’s a tense scene, and it’s pretty good, but it doesn’t tell us anything new about either character. Maggie still hates the hell out of Negan, which we’ve known from the minute she rejoined the show. Really, the scene exists primarily to set up the very end of the episode, where the group has to climb up a subway car to escape a zombie horde. Negan’s second-to-last, Maggie’s last, but she gets grabbed by a walker and can’t pull herself up. Negan peers over the edge at her as she struggles, then turns away and leaves.

Seemingly. I assume this is just a cheap cliffhanger, wanting us to think that Negan has abandoned Maggie, only for next week’s episode to begin with him having gotten a rope or a weapon, something to save her. It would certainly fit his character arc over the past few seasons to make the rescue despite her hate for him. But this is The Walking Dead, so we can never discount the possibility that characters who appear to have a moral compass can still revert to misanthropic, sociopathic murderers at any moment. (Lookin’ at you, Gabriel.) Whichever is the case, it’s going to be annoying.

Luckily, Team YEEP (that’s Yumiko, Eugene, Ezekiel, and Princess — sorry, constantly writing out all four names is a drag) has a more enjoyably absurd adventure once they arrive at the Commonwealth. Remember how delighted I was when one of the Commonwealth’s soldiers said YEEP’s capture meant he would have to do paperwork? Man, that was just the tip of the bureaucratic iceberg.

Each of our heroes gets “audited” by two lawyer-esque, completely monotone, and emotionless people in business suits who ask them a series of exponentially bizarre questions, ostensibly for them to gain passage to the Commonwealth itself. Those who fail are subjected to the generically dystopic “reprocessing.”

What’s great about this scene is that the foursome is, rightfully, stunned when they’re asked which college they went to. As Yumiko asks, how could it possibly matter? It’s the zombie apocalypse, college doesn’t even exist anymore. But the scene escalates wonderfully with increasingly weird, useless, yet vaguely threatening questions, like: What zip codes did you live in? How many bowel movements do you take per day? What do you use to wipe? It seems they’re asking this nonsense to disorient them, Voight-Kampff-style, so they’ll answer the question that actually matters: Where is your settlement?

Image: Josh Stringer/AMC Image: Josh Stringer/AMC

No one answers. When they’re returned to their cell, Yumiko, Ezekiel, and Princess are ready to go, but Eugene asks them to stay, give the Commonwealth a chance, to trust his relationship with Stephanie (who told Eug about the site over the radio). That’s when they ask an imprisoned couple nearby how long they’ve been “assessed” and the answer is somewhere between four and nine months. Then YEEP sees someone dragged out of his cell, screaming because he’s about to be “reprocessed.” Even Eugene knows they gots to go at that point. Luckily, it turns out Princess is Sherlock Holmes.

I’m not being flippant here, it turns out she has an incredibly attentive and deductive mind. She figures out that two of the guards are sleeping together based on their practically non-existent body language and how they time their breaks. Yumiko, Eugene, and Ezekiel are stunned and seize upon the opportunity to somehow grab the lovers’ two Commonwealth Trooper uniforms off-screen and use them as a disguise to escort the other two “prisoners” out of the holding area.

This takes them right past a wall of photographs — people loved by someone in the Commonwealth, hoping that the family or friends they lost during the zombie apocalypse might somehow, against all odds, make their way to them. That’s when Yumiko suddenly sees a photograph of herself, along with a note from her sister Tomi. And Yumiko realises she can’t leave.

That’s by far the most interesting development in “Acheron, Part I” and at the end of the day, tonight’s episode was a bit underwhelming for a season premiere, especially for the show’s finale season. However, “Part II” is coming next week, so it seems only fair to reserve my judgment until then. Assuming we get to finally see the real Commonwealth, and/or the remains of Maggie’s old settlement Meridian, there could be major developments coming that will kick off season 11 in earnest. However, if it’s just those suits asking people about their bodily functions over and over again, I’d be down for that, too.

Assorted Musings:

  • Do zombies nap? Historically on the show, we’ve seen zombies on the ground lie inert until something grabs their attention. But most people, when they die and transform, get to their feet to shamble around looking for something to eat, which continues until they’re taken out or fall apart. So shouldn’t the soldiers have been doing the same? It truly seems like they got all tuckered out and had a lie-down.
  • Some good graffiti in the subway tunnel, my favourite being: “If there is a god he will have to beg my forgiveness.” A cursory search online says people are convinced that a Jewish prisoner carved this into the wall of his concentration camp in World War II, but I can’t find any reliable proof. I hope it’s not true because knowingly comparing a fake zombie apocalypse to a very real atrocity makes me feel uneasy.
  • There’s a scene where we slowly watch Ezekiel drink an entire glass of water after a coughing fit. It’s a bit long.
  • Yeah, Commonwealth Trooper is going to be “Commontrooper” from now on. And I will never apologise for my clumsy portmanteaus.