This review contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 11, episode 1, “Acheron: Part 1,” available now on AMC+ and premiering on AMC on August 22.
After more than a decade on the air, The Walking Dead is finally embarking on its swansong with season 11. It’s an extended 24-episode finale that could complete the show’s hard-fought return to glory led by Angela Kang, or it could land the show back in the squishy middle of long-toothed serial dramas that overstayed its welcome. The Walking Dead season premiere, “Acheron: Part 1,” doesn’t stray far from the familiar series formula, but it has some highs and lows worth examining.
Picking up from where the bonus episodes left off, the Alexandrians are experiencing a food shortage after taking in Hilltop refugees last season. Their struggles feel earned and respect continuity in a way that has not always been the case for the show. The first scene of “Acheron: Part 1” is also its best, where a band of our heroes rappel into an abandoned military encampment to fetch some crucial MREs for the community. Led mostly by the women of Alexandria, the group almost gets in and out without conflict, but what kind of episode would that be?
Together, Rosita, Carol, and more of the show’s leading ladies defend themselves with the sort of flair for zombie-slashing the show’s never really lost. It’s framed well and easy to follow, and other than a blatant CG scene to open the episode atop the roof, it looks great. For whatever reason, The Walking Dead has ditched its legacy sepia tones in favor of a modern, cooler-colored filter. It may be jarring on a future rewatch, but weeks on from the last new episode, I don’t mind the change in aesthetic.
We learned little new about the Commonwealth this week, so little in fact that I think the show has never referred to the new community currently imprisoning Ezekiel and his gang by name. I expect the show to drag out these details unreasonably so as not to run out of comic source material too soon, and the show’s writers clearly invented Maggie’s formidable Reaper enemies as a speed bump on the road to that finale.
In an egregious display of poor writing, Ezekiel and his compatriots use the time-tested Wookiee prisoner gag, only it skips the part where we see how they manage to change into the Commonwealth’s security armor. They speak of an idea, and then time jumps ahead to after they execute it.
This plan seemed likely to fail, so instead of writing themselves out of that hole, the writers just… skipped any explanation at all. That poor craftwork is more emblematic of the Scott Gimple days, and I’d hoped we were past such contrivances.
In another display of misunderstanding its own framework, the writers keep putting Daryl and Carol in danger despite the network having revealed their spinoff. Unless the plan is to cast one of them as a ghost and the other will be traveling alone in this future Walking Dead spinoff, their near-death escapes will always feel pointless over the next two-dozen season 11 episodes.
The main plot of “Acheron: Part 1” works because it leans on its cast, who, despite the inconsistent material, have always done great work. Seeing Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan go head to head as Negan and Maggie after years apart and a few evil-eyed glares during the pandemic run feels worth the wait, especially when Negan lays out his paranoid but plausible view that Maggie is stringing him along on the group’s mission just to kill him. She rebukes his worldview, yet it’s genuinely hard to believe her despite everything.
That’s why the cliffhanger ending to “Acheron: Part 1,” as predictable as its outcome already is, is still effective. As Negan leaves Maggie falling to her death into a pit of walkers, we know Cohan didn’t come back to the show just to die off right away. She’ll be okay. The interesting part is what will happen once everyone gets back to town.
Will Negan be put on trial? Executed? Exiled? These are questions we’ve asked before and feed back into the show’s ever-present thesis of finding humanity in a lost, inhumane world. Since it’s the final season, I’m hopeful The Walking Dead is finally ready to present its solution to this problem so it can move onto the more interesting stuff at the Commonwealth. That’s where it’ll be our heroes who are, for the first time in a long time, the savages at the door.