After more than a decade on TV, The Walking Dead is drawing to a close. Dozens of characters, subplots and tragedies are behind us, leaving a lot of fans to wonder how the final season is going to hold up. With a whopping 24 episodes planned and nearly a third of the season available to binge through AMC Plus at present, this third season under showrunner Angela Kang is shaping up to be a finale to remember.
Season 11 kicked off with a bang when Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and a ragtag group of Alexandria’s residents in search of food leads everyone into an abandoned subway station full to overflow with the undead. A drop of blood awakens the horde, and the group barely escapes with their lives. Back home, they decide to go on another scouting expedition, at which time Maggie is paired with the man who murdered her husband Glenn in cold blood, none other than the antihero Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). This forces them to work as a team for the first many episodes of the season as their animosity takes sharp turns from the murderous to the mutually beneficial.
Maggie and Negan aren’t the only two mainstays back in action. The conclusion of season 10 saw a moment of closure for Carol (Melissa McBride), who lost her adopted son and nearly herself in the process. This season, she continues to wrestle with complicated emotions, but we see her regaining her sense of morality. When her friend Aaron (Ross Marquand) nearly tortures a man to death, she is the one that stops him from taking the last step. Painful moments in which she loses a herd of horses meant to feed the town and then later kills one after sharing a moment with it and struggles with its body gives a glimpse of the constant moral concessions she’s been forced to make, and how they’ve worn on her.
Last season, Connie (Lauren Ridloff) and Virgil (Kevin Carroll) were separated from the group, which opened up for one of the franchise's most terrifying subplots in its lengthy history. Taking refuge in a dilapidated house, Connie struggles to communicate to Virgil that it wasn’t sheer luck that brought them there, but that they might have been herded. He urges her to get some sleep, but a pack of nearly naked men running on all fours separate and attack them. Trapped, Connie attempts to signal to Virgil that one of the men is coming up behind him, but Virgil misunderstands and nearly stabs her after an ugly fight with one of the feral men.
Meanwhile, Connie's sister Kelly (Angel Theory) and a small crew of friends track Connie by the small memo pads she’s left along the way, and they show up just in time to save her. Connie and Kelly have a tearful reunion, but the pain of their separation and the trauma they both underwent is palpable.
Daryl (Norman Reedus) continues to make bizarre life choices, as he and Dog end up joining a group called the Reapers, led by a clearly unhinged man known only as Pope (Ritchie Coster). Fleeting love interest Leah (Lynn Collins) returns, and the two of them have several meaningful heart-to-hearts despite the clearly doomed nature of their relationship. Leah is torn between doing the right thing and adhering to the ruthlessness of Pope. Daryl attempts to help his friends by keeping quiet in concern to their whereabouts, but seems unwilling to leave Leah to her fate.
Meanwhile, new-ish characters Princess (Paola Lázaro), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Ezekiel (Khary Payton) have infiltrated the Commonwealth. Questioned at length upon their arrival, they have repeatedly broken rules and landed themselves in serious trouble, with Eugene currently being held in a prison cell as the others try to free him. Ezekiel has been given proper medical care, which has won him over to the Commonwealth, while Princess remains a surprisingly quick study of human behavior and consistently uses her strange personality to run interference for her friends.
Standouts this season include Magna (Nadia Hilker), who has taken it on herself to be helpful and protective of Kelly and others in Alexandria. Playing a supportive role, she manages to forego much of the moral gray areas that the others find themselves constantly deadlocked in. When Carol starts to break under the pressure, she responds by giving her a hug, and only becomes visibly stressed when Kelly runs away from the group.
Meanwhile, her former lover Yumiko’s skills as a lawyer come heavily into play in the Commonwealth, where she runs into her long-lost brother and attempts to navigate the obviously corrupt politics at play. The others in her group are constantly endangering themselves and finding themselves in trouble, and Yumiko tries to protect them to the best of her ability while digging into the mystery of the township.
Several characters introduced recently have now perished, and the death count of season 11 is already impressively high, even for The Walking Dead. Maggie refused to save the young Gage, who stabbed himself to death and became a walker, while Aaron nearly kills a man under torture and Father Gabriel has gone one step beyond giving into temptation with his violent tendencies and lack of mercy.
Though Maggie attempts to retain the moral high ground, circumstance makes it impossible as she shares horrific stories of her time away from the group. Prior seasons may not have been a walk in the park, but there’s no question that the heaviness has increased significantly, and there’s little sign of it letting up. This might be for the best as seasons of slippery slope mortality has left most of these characters traumatized, and acknowledging that seems to be a major point on the agenda for the series’ conclusion.
This season isn’t exactly breaking a ton of new ground so far, but it’s nice to see it getting back to what makes it fun. With most major players off the board and new characters stepping into the limelight, the series sways between the drama and full-out, no-holds-barred brawls with the undead that fans love. Though many of the moral arguments at play have become somewhat exhausting over the course of 11 seasons, and it’s hard to see if the season will be able to uphold this level of momentum, one only assumes that there are plenty of surprises in store.
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Sara Century started writing through personal and music zines and pretty much just ran with it. She loves a lot of things, including but not limited to pets, comics, museums, libraries, and horror novels. She's the co-host of the podcast Bitches On Comics and the co-founder of the Decoded Pride queer speculative fiction anthology.