“You are a crass man. I reckoned you might appreciate a crass reward.”
The Walking Dead is back! After a strong couple of seasons, the show returns with aplomb and delivers an episode that’s terrifying in a number of different ways. Picking up with the gang stuck in a cave system, surrounded by Alpha’s horde, they begin the difficult journey out.
And as they slip and scurry through holes in the rocks, the episode title, Squeeze, begins making sense.
We’re ten seasons in. It’s not easy to scare people who have basically seen it all. The show has put its own spin on so many classic horror scenarios, but I’m constantly surprised by its ability to discover new and interesting ways to unnerve the audience. It’s also helped me to realise that “Cleithrophobia” (fear of being trapped) is very real and something I now have – though, judging from the audience reaction, I think the majority of people have this phobia. This is The Walking Dead by way of The Descent and it’s as intense as that sounds.
Since the mid-season finale, rumours have abounded about who would make it from the cave. And, in one particularly breathless section, it seemed that fan-favourite Jerry wouldn’t be squeezing his way out to episode 10. Thanks to returning director Michael E. Satrazemis and a series of increasingly narrow tunnels, not to mention Jerry being a “six foot two guy that struggled to fit in airplane bathrooms“, I was certain he was getting killed off. But he made it, and his close encounter acted as a great distraction, lulling you into a false sense of security for the devastating ending; a cave in that buries Magna and Connie. And yeah, it’s kind of Carols’s fault.
Carol has been struggling recently, and the fans are not happy about it. But it seems unfair to me. They claim that she’s our unstoppable, badass, walker-killing heroine! How could something as slight as the actual death of her son send her off the rails? But she raised Henry to be an adult, for almost a decade. That death is going to mess anyone up, and people who dismiss her grief aren’t thinking this through, or have very short attention spans. Yes, she causes the cave in with the dynamite. But Carol has always been reckless, it’s sort of her defining character trait. If she sees a way to hurt Alpha – to really hurt her – of course she’s going to take it, consequences be damned.
By the end of the episode, even Daryl has lost patience for her. It kind of feels like she’s regressed to the fragile, abused Carol that we saw ten seasons ago – as she begged Daryl to blame her, to be angry with her. I’d go against the tide with this one and argue that Carol is by far one of the most interesting characters on the show. Daryl might be Rick Grimes 2.0., spouting his zen prophecies, but Carol is not going to be able to return to a normal life until she’s dealt with Alpha. And I, for one, am fully behind her quest for revenge. If we all love Carol at her zombie-killing best, it’s only fair that we give her a chance at her rock bottom.
I’ve been hyping up a specific moment between Negan and Alpha for months now – an iconic scene from the comics that would shock the audience. But I can definitely say that this was not what I was talking about and that this weird smelly, sex thing they’ve got going on is not what anyone wanted. From a character perspective, it makes sense. Alpha is the leader, the top dog. Knocking boots with her is the ultimate prize in the twisted animal kingdom she’s created. And for Negan, well it seems like he’s trying to get into the Whisperer inner circle, so mission accomplished. He may also use this new-found intimacy with Alpha as a power grab and rub Beta’s face in it, sowing discord among the skin-wearing weirdos.
If Negan is truly trying to dismantle the Whisperers from within, then him ratting out Gamma was a good choice. This will win him favour with the group and also increase their paranoia. Alpha is already quick to suspect people – and equally quick to dispatch them – so Gamma’s betrayal is likely to mess with her. Luckily, for Gamma’s sake, she’s built up something of a friendship with Aaron. With a bit of persuasion (ok, a lot) they might let her join the community at Alexandria. But I won’t be surprised if she spends the rest of this season in the now-vacant cell.
Next week’s episode looks like a surprisingly eventful one. Beta has been sent on the trail of Gamma, and it looks like he manages to not only reach Alexandria but infiltrate it. And with all the heavy-hitters away, there’s not a whole lot of characters left to defend it. Plus, we have Daryl going out alone to find Connie. I do hope he finds her, they made a nice couple. But I think he’ll have difficulty – seeing as she’s busy film Marvel’s The Eternals, with the cave-in acting as a neat way to make her disappear for a few episodes.
It’s not breaking news to say that the show has experienced something of a return to form as of late, and this episode continues it. With a few original set-pieces and shocking moments, The Walking Dead has proven it can surprise and disgust its viewers in equal measure.