This review contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 11, episode 3, “Hunted.”
It’s still early, but so far the final season of The Walking Dead is prioritizing style over sensible writing. It’s not exactly a new issue, and the show’s worst moments have lacked either element. Still, at its best, it’s deftly delivered both in equal measure. I’m hoping it can find its footing sooner rather than later. These final few Walking Dead episodes will go by quickly, and if they all go the way of “Hunted,” the series will end with a whimper.
“Hunted” isn’t a bad episode. A riveting sense of drama fills the first scene. Arrows whizz by characters’ heads; axes fly out of the darkness and stick our heroes in their limbs or worse. Masked killers perform speedy run-by slices on the necks of redshirts and major characters alike. For a group that never existed in the comic, the Reapers have been intriguing so far — even more so after this episode.
The show has foreshadowed more than once that these Reapers are probably a religious cult of some kind. We haven’t really seen the show get in those muddy waters to date, despite its being low-hanging fruit for all post-apocalyptic fiction. While last week I wrote that I’m eager to see these Reapers quickly dispatched so we can get to the Commonwealth, I’m no longer in such a rush.
Having said that, the group does reflect that Walking Dead issue of style over sensibility, as do a few other parts of “Hunted.” The Reapers’ attack is quickfire and stealthy, and almost as soon as they attacked did they disappear into the woods. But then what was their intention? If their goal was merely to wound the group, why do a few stragglers chase Maggie through the rest of the episode? If their goal was to kill them all, why didn’t they do that when they clearly could’ve? Are they well-coordinated killers that move as one, or are they a roaming band of psychopaths that splinter off when they feel like it?
The show should explain the gang’s rationale better, and though I expect it will eventually, it leaves this episode’s plot not making much sense. It feels driven by the Rule of Cool, but by the 11th season, I’ve had plenty of cool and now would prefer something poignant or more substantial.
It is similarly odd when Alden is wounded and subsequently carried through the episode by Maggie. Negan pleads with Maggie to leave Alden behind, and even Alden seems content to be left behind. Both men know he is slowing everyone down. But Maggie, despite having made the tough decision of leaving one of her own to die last week, won’t do it again. Once more, I can squint and justify it. Alden, unlike Gage, didn’t disobey Maggie, so maybe this is the show’s way of showing us again that Maggie is loyal to those who are loyal to her — she’s certainly a darker character since returning to the show.
“Hunted” just leaves me wishing this season of The Walking Dead were a bit tighter so far. The writers keep forgoing a sensible solution in favor of showing us something cool — the Wookiee prisoner gag in the premiere, the train car showdown last week, and now this Reaper attack that simultaneously makes no sense and is shot magnificently. The season has seen a lot of ups and downs already, and really, most of the show has been this way.
I’ve watched The Walking Dead since the beginning and long ago tempered my expectations until Angela Kang revived my trust in season nine. But these first few episodes have retread familiar ground thematically at a time when it needs to feel like the train is coming into the station. I don’t know if things have stagnated due to pandemic constraints or budget constraints (To be fair, AMC has always been cheap.) or if we’ve just seen a lukewarm start to a season that will improve. “Hunted” is an episode that is totally fine in terms of entertainment, but it feels unexceptional in a way that’s akin to many Walking Dead episodes from the last five years. If the writers have another gear they can climb to, it’s about time they get there.