Penultimate episodes of serialized dramas have a long and storied habit of ending on massive cliffhangers, and The Walking Dead is no exception. That means this week’s episode, “The Tower,” once again delivers a nail-biting final moment, but this year’s second-to-last episode feels decidedly different due to COVID-19 pushing the season finale back indefinitely. That leaves “The Tower” as a stand-in finale, in which it understandably feels incomplete, but it’s a great episode on its own.
Soon I’ll have to stop praising this show for rediscovering an ability to tell multiple story threads well in a single episode. The writers have been doing it all year after many more years where they seemed to forget how, and hopefully soon I can let my guard down and passively expect every episode to be at least pretty good, if not great, because that’s the new normal for The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead gives its characters smaller moments to shine, like Carol and Kelly’s heartfelt discussion of the former’s complicated history with playing the lone wolf. Melissa McBride continues to be one of the best parts of the show despite outlasting all but one (Norman Reedus) of her season one castmates.
Elsewhere, Negan continues to reinvent himself in interesting ways. Jeffery Dean Morgan gives the brutal anti-hero a certain heart that never seemed as plausible in the comics, even as Robert Kirkman wrote a similar redemption arc in his monthly issues. As Negan embraced Lydia, his teary eyes were an undeniable reminder that Negan isn’t who he used to be, even if Morgan always smartly plays the character like that’s still in him somewhere.
It’s going to be interesting when Maggie shows up again and becomes livid with her friends for greeting Negan in the kitchen as though he didn’t bash Glenn’s head in, but it will be even more interesting when most viewers (and probably characters) will side with the ex-Savior leader.
Speaking of the comic books though, Princess‘s debut was as flamboyant in the show as it was on the page. It took a few issues before the Princess in print was humanized the way she already was in her full debut in “The Tower.” She came off instantly grating at first, but by the end of the episode her over-the-top personality became acceptable.
It always feels strange when The Walking Dead tries to bring these very comic book-esque characters to the grounded world of the show, as past introductions of people like living G.I. Joe Abraham and the tiger-petting Ezekiel have shown us. What I like about Princess is, unlike Ezekiel, she isn’t putting on a facade. You can see she’s really just someone who likes to wear a pink sweater, have purple-streaked hair, and talk with a voice loud enough to welcome a horde.
I imagine many fans will take longer than I did to warm up to her, but her scene with Eugene near the end, where they bonded as mistake-prone pariahs, brought her right into the fold for me. Not to mention this topic was something I still needed to hear from Eugene, whose allowance back into the group of heroes always seemed to happen too easily — just another example of the show’s poorer years leaving fans to work on the wrong details on their own.
It’s a really tough act to have “The Tower” be the temporary finale for The Walking Dead. As a finale, it obviously falters in the same way the season three finale did, but this time it’s understandable. There’s a lot of great stuff we still need to see play out — the fate of Connie, the return of Maggie, the defeat of Beta and the horde — and unlike the Governor arc long ago, the writers never wanted to drag this out many more months. All of these things will likely be resolved in the show’s next 60 minutes, but right now, it’s not the zombie pandemic, but rather our own holding us up from seeing how this exceptional season ends.