The Walking Dead’s Season 10 finale was about to air when our very own real-world pandemic put a halt on the fictional zombie apocalypse.
COVID-19 arrived and everything ground to a halt, including what must have been a great deal of last-minute post-production work on The Walking Dead’s 147th episode.
I’ve finally had a chance to watch a pre-release screener of “A Certain Doom” and I must admit, like so often with this show, I find myself with mixed feelings. This will be a spoiler-free review, minus some surface discussion of the premise and the bits we’ve already seen in the opening scene of the episode which, for instance, reveals the return of Maggie Rhee (Lauren Cohan).
Maggie is a good example of what bothered me most about the Season 10 finale. She returns, and it’s cool to have her return, but even though she plays an important part in one segment of the episode, we get very little of her and no explanation of where she’s been.
Likewise, the finale’s biggest action sequences feel hamstrung by the episode’s 45-minute runtime. In a lot of ways, this episode feels less like an epic culmination of the Whisperer War than the one-two-punch of “Morning Star” and “Walk With Us” (episodes 11 and 12 respectively) in which Alpha (Samantha Morton) and Beta (Ryan Hurst) attack Hilltop, scatter the good guys, and then Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) chops off Alpha’s head. We discover in the next episode that he’s been running a long-con with Carol (Melissa McBride) going in as a double agent and assassin to take out the Whisperer queen.
That whole sequence was pretty epic and exciting, with some of The Walking Dead’s absolute best battle scenes, one of its better plot twists and a satisfying end to the current arc’s Big Bad. After that, the survivors had the remaining Whisperers, led by an increasingly unhinged Beta, and a horde of zombies to contend with.
We also got the frustratingly bad Michonne (Danai Gurira) exit episode tucked in there at the end, because obviously it makes sense for Michonne to leave her children behind during the middle of a terrible confrontation with a massive zombie horde to go follow some scraps of evidence that Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is still alive. After all, Rick is less capable of taking care of himself than two small children. Or something.
But I digress.
The point I’m getting at here is that the show hit its climax several episodes from the finale, and “A Certain Doom” suffers from it. Alpha was the primary antagonist of the last season-and-a-half. Beta was merely her very intimidating lieutenant. He was never positioned as the True Threat. That was always Alpha. And following her demise, Beta has mostly floundered. Yes, he’s led the horde to the tower, gathered the might of the Whisperer army to hurl it upon our band of survivors. But he’s also gone completely insane.
I suppose what’s required at this point is a truly epic showdown between Beta and the survivors, and in some sense the finale provides this, but in others it most certainly does not. We had a more epic confrontation between Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Beta in Season 9, Episode 13 “Chokepoint.” Again, this feels like an issue with runtime more than anything. I was expecting more from the last battle given the recent battle of Hilltop and the sheer menace of our current villain.
Granted, much of the episode is very satisfying. “A Certain Doom” has its share of heartwarming character moments and interactions, especially between Carol and Lydia (Cassady McClincy). It’s also surprisingly funny at times, with a couple scenes that should get some laughs or at least grins. There’s really nothing inherently wrong with how any of it goes down, except that it all feels a little rush and anticlimactic, though the very final scene is quite the exciting cliffhanger.
The Season 10 finale should have probably been at least a full hour long (not counting commercial breaks) to give us a bit more action before the denouement. There are so many different characters to juggle, for one thing, and all navigating the largest zombie horde they’ve ever encountered. The return of Maggie should be a big deal, but it’s really just a blip in the overall story.
But even with more time to flesh things out, I’m not sure we could have avoided a sense of anticlimax. This is the problem with killing off the chief antagonist several episodes before the end of the season. It can be done, but it’s tricky.
There’s a lot to like about “A Certain Doom” including one of the prettiest musical arrangements I’ve ever heard on The Walking Dead, not to mention the terrific zombie special effects.
Carol is terrific throughout, and Daryl and Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) both shine. The secondary plot, featuring Eugene (Josh McDermitt) leading Ezekiel, Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) and colorful newcomer Princess (Paola Lázaro) is also a fun diversion from the Whisperer showdown and sets the table nicely for the next season—or, perhaps, for the six “bonus” Season 10 episodes. We shall see.
This is the second-to-last season finale for The Walking Dead. The next one, if you don’t count the bonus episodes, will be its last, a true Series Finale. That’s probably for the best, though I’ll miss it and miss writing about it, when it’s gone—despite the many things this show and its creators have gotten wrong (or perhaps because of them—discussing imperfection can be just as gratifying, after all).
Then again, we still have Fear The Walking Dead, which looks surprisingly good in its Season 6 trailer (deceptively good, I suspect). We have The Walking Dead: World Beyond which I’ll be writing a spoiler-free review of next. And we have a Carol and Daryl spinoff which could be interesting despite that news giving both characters unrivaled plot armor going forward (along with Rick and Michonne who are both set to appear in the Rick Grimes movies).
We are a long ways off from the end of The Walking Dead and the expanded zombie universe just keeps getting bigger. Whether it will ever match its heyday remains to be seen, but I’m dubious. The Walking Dead was once a cultural phenomenon. Now it’s just another popular TV show. Nothing lasts forever.
To answer the question posed in the headline of this review: Yes, I think it was worth the wait. But I was expecting a little more—a little more doom at the very least, though I suppose we’ve had plenty of that already. Perhaps my expectations are the problem.