This review contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 10, episode 11, “Morning Star.”
Every show, no matter how prestigious or schlocky, is prone to the table-setting episode. Lost did them. Watchmen recently did too. Even The Sopranos and The Wire did them despite the shows’ hyper-realistic pacing. The Walking Dead, often oscillating between prestige and schlock itself, has thrived on such episodes over the last decade, and this week’s “Morning Star” was just the latest in a long tradition.
After an effective early scene that showed us the Whisperers parading to their creepy chant, the bulk of the episode thereafter felt somber, slower, and honest. Some scenes still managed to irritate a little bit, like Rosita’s half-earnest offer of a kiss for Eugene, but for the most part, the quieter scenes in “Morning Star” reminded me that I do still very much care about these characters. That was never more obvious than Carol’s tearful plea to Daryl not to hate her. His reply, “I’m never gonna hate you,” can be read as, “I’ll always love you,” in their special platonic way, and nothing hit harder than that this week.
Their heart-to-heart was one of countless this week due to the approaching horde that the Hilltop gang assumes will wipe out most, if not all, of their undermanned community. The sobering “eve of death” setting carried the same tone as it did in Game of Thrones on the eve of the White Walker War, and even some of the military tactics seen at the end were reminiscent. No doubt the writers on The Walking Dead were inspired by their former Sunday night rival.
The Walking Dead has often rejected subtlety in its presentation — it’s the sort of thing you see a lot with a show with mass appeal — but this week, it managed to hide very well the eventual plans of both sides of the battle. Eugene’s tinkering with batteries in several scenes could’ve been overlooked entirely, but they pay off in a cool way later when they form electrified fiber wire slicing through the front lines of Alpha’s herd. Likewise, Beta’s bizarre tree sap collection in the opening scene went way over my head, until bags of the sticky stuff splashed down on our heroes and made them highly flammable to the Whisperers’ fire attacks.
I still have no idea what Negan’s up to, as he’s well off his comic arc now, seeming much less interested in redemption. We’ve seen other characters find forgiveness despite what looked like their stepping way over the line (see: Eugene in Sanctuary). But if I had to guess, I’d say maybe Jeffrey Dean Morgan isn’t planning on closing out the show’s final few seasons and his demise may be near.
Speaking of major deaths, the final episodes of season 10 seem ripe for them. Daryl, Carol, Ezekiel, and Gabriel all specifically feel like they could just as easily die or live through to season 11, and I’d not be surprised either way. Daryl especially, as in this episode he’s looking limpy and closing some character arcs with the likes of Ezekiel, but then maybe that’s the former king’s funeral bells ringing. Then there’s still Michonne too, whose departure from the show has already been announced, albeit not yet advertised by AMC. We should expect to see her soon, though probably not until after the war is over.
The ensemble cast seems strong now many episodes removed from Rick’s leaving, and though it will always lack a main protagonist at this point, I’m happy to see the massive cast hold their own more often than not. Ten seasons in and this show can still provide some goosebumps. I’m nervous for what’s next.