Summary List Placement
The first two episodes of “The Walking Dead” season 11 are decent. It’s in no way unwatchable.
But they feel like any other episodes of “TWD” instead of the opener to the acclaimed series’ last-ever season.
Both episodes end on satisfying cliffhangers — the first of which is resolved right away at the start of episode two — but they’re still missing some of the wow factor that usually makes a “TWD” premiere feel special and stand out.
There aren’t any giant explosions or a cave-in or a satellite falling from space. Though there’s a semi-large zombie horde, it’s rather contained. No one ever feels in too much danger.
Instead, as we catch up with Daryl (Norman Reedus), Carol (Melissa McBride), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and many, many more, the group is split up into two stories. Most of them are on a perilous and taxing journey to find food to feed their ever-growing community.
Yeah, the biggest danger 11 seasons into the zombie apocalypse isn’t the dead or another group, yet.
While, sure, this makes sense, for what was once the highest-viewed showed on TV, the stakes just don’t feel super high at the moment.
Instead, the most exciting thing the group does is go into an abandoned sewer and subway car overrun with zombies. It feels a bit like a page taken out of apocalyptic game “The Last of Us,” which is receiving its own HBO series in due time.
Yes, there’s a new group of mystery baddies after Maggie called the Reapers, who are killing off her people in terrible ways. But, with how much ground that needs to be covered in these final 24 episodes, I suspect this side story will likely be wrapped up in the first eight to 10 episodes.
Why? Well, there’s a larger story line going on at the same time in the first two episodes.
The Commonwealth story line is more interesting, but a well-known character should be killed off to catch our attention
While Daryl, Carol, and the bunch are scavenging for supplies and food, Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Ezekiel (Khary Payton), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), and Princess (Paola Lázaro) have been on their own side quest.
On the season 10 finale, they were captured by mysterious soldiers of a new community called the Commonwealth. Unlike the Reaper story line, this large group serves as the final chapter of Robert Kirkman’s long-running comic. As opposed to our heroes in the comic, this community has found a way to return to the old ways of living pre-apocalypse.
For show-only viewers, it may feel exhausting for a series to add so many new characters in its final season when you have an immensely large ensemble cast, some of whom we haven’t caught up with in a long time because they were off filming other projects (Rosita and Connie). During “TWD’s” final season, at least seven new actors join the show.
For what it’s worth, James Michael Shaw, who joins as fan-favorite Mercer, the leader of the Commonwealth soldiers, is a scene-stealer in his first scenes. Keep an eye out for one between him and Payton.
For as many actors as the show adds, it refuses to ax any of its well-known cast members, something which should be done to make the stakes feel a bit higher. For a zombie series, the undead haven’t felt like a real threat in quite some time. If someone is killed, it’s usually a glorified background character, who you probably don’t even recall.
But maybe this is what happens when AMC catches its showrunner and cast off-guard by announcing they’re abruptly ending the show.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan told Collider last spring they expected the show to go on for a few more seasons before AMC pulled the plug. (Personally, I always thought it was going for at least 12 after the comic ended.)
As a result, Kang and the writers were forced to squash everything into one expanded final season. It’s also likely why for the first time since season four, executive producer Greg Nicotero didn’t direct the premiere. (I heard Nicotero was in the middle of working on his other AMC series “Creepshow.”)
Maggie and Negan’s dynamic is the most interesting, but it may make some Maggie fans a bit frustrated
If you’ve been waiting to see Negan and Maggie go head-to-head for years we’re finally getting some payoff, even if it’s a few seasons late.
As a reminder, Negan brutally killed Maggie’s husband and fan-favorite Glenn on the season six finale/season seven premiere. There are some really satisfyingly tension-filled scenes between the two, especially when Negan brings up their past.
I expect we’ll see them forced to work together.
One choice, which I expect will ruffle some fan’s feathers, is that it may come off as if the show is portraying Maggie to be a bit darker to paint Negan in a better light.
Despite some clever creative choices, the pandemic’s effects are felt
The pandemic caused many shows, including “TWD,” to change how they film. When you’re used to up close zombie kills and a large cast interacting with one another, you clearly can’t have too many actors in onscreen anymore.
To their credit, showrunner Angela Kang and the writers found a clever way to show the very large cast split up into two smaller groups, but as Kang said in a phone call earlier this month, “the specifics are what they are in the year 2021.”
One of the premiere’s best scenes places the show’s women front and center in an imperative scene. For those who watched this past season of “The Boys,” Amazon’s gory and raunchy superhero series which puts its women front and center, I smiled, thinking of a phrase from season two: “Girls get it done.” The same is true here.
Instead of a large horde of zombies chasing our heroes at the show’s start, a cool moment shows a group of decaying walkers lying on the ground. Once they’re disturbed, they rise in a fantastic way that feels like a nod to zombie godfather George A. Romero.
That scene serves as a reminder that Kang really helped bring horror to a show about zombies overtaking the planet should have been scarier all along.
Maybe the crew hopes we’ll get back to normal so the final eight episodes can be produced with fewer pandemic constraints — featuring huge explosions and herds of the undead — by the time filming wraps in the spring.
It’s currently tough to see how there’s an end in sight. If anyone can pull it off, it’s Kang.
For the first time in a long time, I have no idea where this season of “TWD” is going or how these two vastly different story lines are, hopefully, going to converge. That’s both exciting and somewhat terrifying.
We’ve diverged so much from the comics, both in terms of characters who are alive and the story lines, that it’s tough to know what endpoint the series is even working towards. The comic, which unexpectedly ended in 2019, culminates with Rick dying before jumping far into the future with Carl and Sophia. None of those characters are left on the show at this point.
After speaking with several cast members in early August, I feel a bit more confident about the direction of the final season. That’s only because all four actors seemed assured their character’s stories could be wrapped up in satisfying ways.
Payton shared the most convincing vote of confidence in Kang telling me, “I’ve seen her do so much with a relatively short amount of time.“
If anyone’s up to the challenge, it’s Kang. Since taking over the show on season nine, Kang has faced the very unenviable task of carrying on the “TWD” when most probably thought it would sink.
Despite multiple lead protagonists leaving the series (Chandler Riggs, Andrew Lincoln, and Danai Gurira), Kang turned the show around to deliver two very strong seasons that are inarguably some of “TWD’s” best storytelling in years.
A pandemic which drastically changed up production of the series? It’s just another obstacle in her tenure.
So how will Kang end the series? The perfect ending to “TWD” in my mind has everyone at the Commonwealth, learning that Rick is alive and then teaming up with their soldiers to take down the highly-questionable Civic Republic Military (CRM) in a movie to get their beloved family member back.
But will that actually happen? Your guess is as good as mine.
“The Walking Dead” returns to AMC on August 22 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. If you have AMC+, you can watch the premiere a week early on Sunday. Follow our “Walking Dead” coverage here.
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