This review contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 10, episode 9, “Squeeze.”
After its winter hiatus, The Walking Dead is back for its second half of its tenth season. On longevity alone, the series has been nothing short of remarkable in this age of abbreviated series meant to be binged in a week or two, but in general, The Walking Dead has been an up-and-down — more accurately up then down — series since it premiered on Halloween so many years ago. But the last 16 episodes dating back to the introduction of the Whisperers have been a genuine Walking Dead renaissance. Deadaissance? For that reason, it’s unfortunate that its first episode of 2020 is familiar in the wrong ways, but that’s not to say it’s all bad.
Outside of occasional and brief moments, Daryl and Carol’s friendship was backburnered for the last several years. To see the writers’ room revisit their platonic love early in the midseason premiere after building back up it to since last fall was the right kind of stroll down memory lane.
Dialogue in The Walking Dead has improved palpably since the show changed hands to showrunner Angela Kang. As Carol described her obsessive vengeance quest to Daryl, I was reminded of all she had been through until that point — how she’s lost multiple children, biological and surrogate, to the apocalypse. And I appreciated Daryl’s empathetic reply, that he too would feel how she does, but she’d be the one to pull him out of that place. And he’s right, and that’s why he tries to do the same for her. Their friendship has always been one of the most sincere in the series, and it’s good to see they’re still written well together all these years later.
So much that comes after that touching early moment was a blast from the past too, but rarely in the way fans would hope for. The caves in which most of the episode takes place are visually boring, but worse, they’re so dark and labyrinthine that they give way to some poorly directed fight scenes. Several times while underground, our heroes of Daryl, Carol, Jerry, and the rest of last season’s spelunkers are attacked, and only once did I have a good sense of where the threats were. Scene presented this confusing way take the viewer out of the action. It’s a legacy issue for The Walking Dead, and unlike other such issues, this one appears to still be with us.
While their escape out of the extremely tight tunnels is as stressful as intended, two glaring issues took some air out of the scene. For one, Carol’s claustrophobia seemed to come out of nowhere. She was asked whether she was claustrophobic in the series’s first season, and she answered, “A little.” At the time, it didn’t seem like she was downplaying her phobia. Rather, she was expressing some apprehension for her mission way back then, so it’s an issue to retcon her deep fear of cramped places when it suits the story a decade later. That sort of character elasticity has been perhaps the greatest threat to The Walking Dead‘s intrigue over its 10 seasons, but the series had actually been doing better with this issue until this moment.
Then there’s Jerry, who seems to clearly be bitten on the foot before he finally manages to squeeze through the tiny exit and join his friends. But apparently the walkers below “didn’t bite through” his shoe, even though his shoe appeared to have a huge hole in it surrounded by blood, which his friends saw too. The scene seemed to be played straight, so I don’t expect we’re meant to question whether Jerry will soon turn. Apparently he’s legitimately okay even though what they showed us on screen seemed to blatantly say otherwise.
We’re left this episode with a bit more haze too, though I believe in this instance it’s intended. As Magna and Connie are buried by the boulders following Carol’s rash decision to use dynamite inside a fragile cave, the escaped survivors react as though they’re in mourning, but then Daryl goes off to find another entrance. Next week’s post-credits teaser seems to confirm he’s on a mission to still save them too, so I guess we’re meant to take away from this that they may not be dead inside the cave, even though everything else about the scene seemed to say goodbye to the pair. Though, to be fair, their deaths were technically off-screen, which is almost never trustworthy.
And finally, there was that Alpha and Negan scene. As far as comic rewrites go, this one quite literally goes all the way, as Alpha orders Negan to strip while she does the same, then proceeds to embrace him like he’s just home from the war, all while she keeps her grotesque mask on. And it seemed to merely awaken a new kink in the “crass” anti-hero Negan. We’ve officially crossed into no-clue territory when it comes to predicting Negan’s intentions among the Whisperers.
It wasn’t the brightest midseason premiere for The Walking Dead, literally and figuratively, but I chalk that up mostly to the caves themselves. They demanded a bottle episode from our heroes, and that’s an awkward place to resume an otherwise stellar season so far. My hope is next week’s episode will get back to showing us more of the recently reformed Walking Dead rather than fall into more old trappings. Seasons 9 and 10 have mostly expressed a renewed ability to juggle multiple story arcs in a single episode, rewrite the comic in interesting ways, and deliver strong character growth — all things the middle years of the show lost to the hordes. I still believe we’re on the right track even after this subpar start.