This review contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 10, episode 16, “A Certain Doom.”
A decade of episodes for any series virtually guarantees a roller coaster of quality. After 10 seasons of ups, downs, and countless undead heads gashed, The Walking Dead has been on a persistent rise lately, at least with its unwavering fans who never left, even as ratings indicate it has not recaptured retired fans from seasons past. This tenth season of The Walking Dead has been especially tumultuous, but only for meta reasons caused by the pandemic. In-universe, season 10 has been the best in years, and “A Certain Doom” completes the comeback for the world’s most storied zombie saga.
The improved writing that has fueled the series’s resurgence is again on display in the finale. Things will never get back to the quieted spirit of Darabont, but through the gorefest of modern TWD, Angela Kang and a refreshed writer’s room have somehow found the humanity in these characters once more. A mid-episode interaction between Carol and Daryl made tears well up in my eyes. Their shared history as the abused individuals even before the world went to hell has always been one of the most meaningful bonds on the show, and even as their conversation served partially as a teaser for their announced spin-off coming a few years from now (and thus frustratingly confirms they will survive all future near-death situations), it was a reminder how invested in these characters I still am.
Similarly, Negan and Lydia’s bond as pariahs continues to be an interesting original plot thread, as Kirkman’s comics never touched that stuff. In the middle years of this show, every major event or relationship that came outside of the comic’s “script” was mediocre or worse, but now we’re seeing AMC’s series can find its own way satisfyingly.
The greatest testament to the improvement in The Walking Dead is its treatment of Gabriel in this episode. Fans have come to expect major deaths in finales, and historically deaths of any magnitude come at the end of an episode much too centered on an individual. Denise, Tyreese, Sasha, Carl, and so many more have all been given their time in the spotlight for 40-something minutes, only to have it end in their deaths. It’s a tell that would leave the writers penniless at any poker table.
Kang and the gang smartly play with this trope by focusing on Gabriel in such a way that instantly feels like a send-off, only to spare him at the end in stylish fashion thanks to a resurgent Maggie and her masked ally. His outnumbered brawl with Whisperers was the obvious death scene — until it wasn’t.
The finale’s action sequences are mostly good, albeit with a few annoyances throughout. I found the explanation of their exit strategy surprisingly clear for a show that likes to put people in chaotic situations before revealing why they’re there at all. What I didn’t like, however, was two-fold.
For one, it seems as though the Whisperer-led horde is oddly content to not push through the walls. What were they waiting for? If it’s direction from the Whisperers, what were they waiting for? Worse was how the episode changed the logic of fighting among the hordes to suit the needs of the script. When Whisperers would make sudden movements or noises, they’d be spotted and quickly overtaken by the walkers, but near the end, when Lydia frantically pulls Carol back from a ledge she is all too comfortable stepping off, their un-zombie-like behavior doesn’t cause a stir among the undead.
Still, the lemmings-like ledge sequence, poor green screen and all, is one of the coolest scenes of the season. It’s a sure signal that the threat is gone, which is right on cue given how the episode ends. For non-comic readers, I won’t spoil who it is that ambushes Eugene, Ezekiel, Yumiko, and Princess at the end, but suffice it to say I’m a bit surprised to now know the final season 11 will be 24 episodes long. It seems like a long time for this comic arc, which tells me more remixes are on the way. But I guess that’s guaranteed given we are already living in a world without Rick or Carl, who figure so prominently into the comic’s ending.
At least now when I hear of The Walking Dead reordering the puzzle pieces laid out by Robert Kirkman, I no longer worry instinctively. Can this new showrunner screw up? I imagine so. Even this episode wasn’t without a few slip-ups. But on the whole, The Walking Dead hasn’t been this good for an entire season for over half a decade, and as we near the ending, I feel like I’m right to expect a great final season. That would’ve seemed like fantasy years ago while Scott Gimple was in charge of a rudderless ship. With just 24 episodes left in the series, I’m as excited to see where it goes as I think I’ve ever been, partly because I know where they’re going physically and partly because I have no idea what they’ll do when they get there.