This review contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 10, episode 10, “Stalker.”
After a surprisingly lackluster midseason premiere, the follow-up episode, “Stalker,” course-corrects many of the problems that plagued last week’s episode. It was honestly strange to have a The Walking Dead premiere feel so floundering since even the lowest points of the long series have tended to pull out all the stops for the bookend episodes. In any case, this week’s episode managed to assure once more that the show is in better hands with Angela Kang since maybe anybody since the original showrunner Frank Darabont parted with the show before season three.
Chiefly what “Stalker” gets right is pacing, as well as a renewed sense of A/B plot juggling. I can no longer count how many times middle seasons of The Walking Dead took the story on forgettable bottle episodes or had us following C-tier characters uninterrupted. Lately though, the writers have shown an ability to tell compelling stories side by side in one episode. In this case it was Daryl’s search for another entrance to the caves where Magna and Connie’s fate lies uncertain, while simultaneously following Beta’s horror movie-like infiltration of Alexandria.
Daryl’s eventual brush with Alpha was intriguing on its own because I genuinely felt the show might boldly kill off either or even both of them. Ultimately, they both survive, but I still think the show went out on a limb to tell that story the way it did, using each of their skewed perspectives — Daryl’s bloodied eyes and Alpha’s near-death delirium — to put us in their point of view in an urgent way.
The horror movie vibes were extremely strong in this episode, which is a welcome return. The introduction of the Whisperers felt like a true genre story, complete with Bear McCreary’s unsettling refrain, and even after so many episodes humanizing a group that prides itself on being inhumane, it’s great to see the Whisperers can still get creepy. This was never more apparent than when Beta sneaked into Alexandria, beginning with the Jason Voorhees-like hand coming through the graveyard soil. He was even creepier later on when he was inside one of the homes and took on Rosita, even waking from the apparent dead just like a slasher from 1985.
Elsewhere, I felt some of the secondary or tertiary characters got some strong moments. Gabriel and Rosita shared several good scenes together where all they did was talk. Once upon a time, The Walking Dead couldn’t carry many scenes on dialogue alone, but now as both characters are way off their comic book arcs, it’s fun to watch the writers continue to pave their own paths with them and so many more.
My favorite scene of the whole show came from another dialogue-heavy sequence, and from an unexpected pair no less. Mary, the ex-Whisperer, and Judith, the important but admittedly still somewhat annoying last of the Grimes family, spoke at length about what it’s like in their respective worlds. When Mary explained that she had legitimately lost most memories in an effort to become a Whisperer in their harsh reality, that added a compelling layer to the Whisperer experience. It would take a total, memory-wiping dehumanization for the Whisperers to grow their numbers as they have, and when Mary speaks of memories being “echoes,” I believed it.
Even more memorable was Judith’s response that Mary “met the wrong person first.” For all its ups and downs, I think one thing The Walking Dead has always dealt with pretty well is how many people in such a world as theirs would be constantly teetering on the brink between survival and self-destruction. For Alpha and the Whisperers, we’ve seen how they got to where they were, and it’s like a choose-your-own-adventure story where Rick, Maggie, and so many others have taken a different path, but they had the right leaders in the right places. Mary didn’t get so lucky. That happens in the real world too, and though she’s never seen the pre-zombie world firsthand, it’s an adult observation for Judith to make.
The Walking Dead has never hung on every word like more prestigious series often do. However, this new version of the show is proving it can do driven character arcs without leaning on life-or-death situations at all times. Even as mortality is justifiably the backdrop to everything in the story, it need not be all anyone ever talks about, and “Stalker” is a strong example of the show’s newfound ability to recognize that.