This review contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 11, episode 2, “Acheron: Part II.”
Some video games are described as “cinematic,” denoting a pacing and presentation befitting a movie or TV show. Sometimes it goes the other way too though, and this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Acheron: Part II,” is a fun example, even as it does little to advance the story.
Right away, the show commits an oft-seen sin wherein a cliffhanger resolves itself predictably, and it even betrays continuity. As Maggie fell off the train car last week, she appeared to fall into a pile of walkers, but this week begins with her surrounded by merely a few undead. Not only that, but there was never really any suspense surrounding this scene. No one would suspect Lauren Cohan returned just to be killed off so soon.
The writers mostly skirt around Maggie’s reaction to Negan too by having the group get distracted by a horde of walkers trying to break down their train car door. These early story beats are just about the only ones of any substance in the episode, but I did enjoy it more than last week’s episode nonetheless.
That’s because it felt an awful lot like a video game. “Acheron: Part II” is split into two long set pieces: Daryl’s side quest alone in the claustrophobic tunnels and the rest of the group stuck on the train. Both were fun and shot in interesting ways. Daryl even comes upon a past group’s shelter and finds what you could reasonably call collectibles in the form of notes, cash, and wall writings, giving backstory into a shelter with an apparently strange hierarchy.
The train group’s story, meanwhile, is accented by Maggie’s tale of one of her worst times alone, delivered like a ghost story, only the campfire was the red glow of a flare. It felt like a cutscene in a game that was otherwise heavy on the action. Later, as the undead beat down the once-barred door, the Walking Dead characters line up for would-be hero shots like a Left 4 Dead loading screen.
Without verbally saying so, the group stylishly takes shifts dispatching the bottlenecked zombies straight out of a horde mode. This is all before Daryl finally groups back up with them from the other end, hurrying through the train cars one-shotting each walker in the head, all while the camera pans from right to left like in a sidescroller. “Acheron: Part II” contains so many moments evocative of the language of video games that I’d have a hard time believing the connections are only coincidental.
By the end, Maggie is able to forgive Negan for his ditching her to die last week, letting her mercy overcome her wrath in a moment indicative of the show’s final thesis it will lean on all season. I’d have liked a bit more drama between the two before they patched things up, but if it means the show can move on and deal with the Reapers and Commonwealth completely now, I suppose that’s a fair trade.
In all, “Acheron: Part II” didn’t teach us much we didn’t already know. Negan’s reform movement is back on track after only what became a minor misstep in the end, and those Reapers at the end, with their own video game-like crafted weapons and creepy cosmetics, seem to be an interesting new enemy group invented just for the series. As a comic reader, I’m always hesitant of the off-script stuff because it tends to go one way — badly — but I’m cautiously optimistic this new group can bring unpredictable drama to The Walking Dead‘s final season — at least until they’re probably eradicated later this fall.