This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 10 Episode 1
During the brief window of time between The Walking Dead season 9 and season 10, I worked on an article highlighting the best in television and streaming horror series. One of the shows highlighted was a solid zombie drama called Black Summer, about the world slowly crumbling under the weight of a growing zombie menace. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a taut thriller with some new wrinkles on a pretty standard idea, thanks in no small part to being a little more formally daring than the average zombie series (meaning, how The Walking Dead traditionally looks and feels).
The opening episode of The Walking Dead season 10, “Lines We Cross,” feels like something different than the show, particularly in its use of chyron to divide the episode into semi-self-contained segments. That hasn’t been something The Walking Dead has done, but it was something that Black Summer did to great success, and if they can refresh the formula after nine seasons, so much the better for the future of the show in a post-Grimes world. Even if it’s not how The Walking Dead will continue things after this opening episode, it’s a fun experiment and it helps keep a jam-packed episode in order.
There is no shortage of change in the situation of the survivors. After the deaths of several friends and a clock-cleaning at the hands of The Whisperers, there’s a renewed need for cooperation between the groups, inspired by Tara, Jesus and the others. The episode opens with a Soviet satellite flyby and an impressive bit of choreography, with Alexandria and Hilltop taking a page from the book of the former Kingdom and embracing a post-gunpowder military. With Aaron directing traffic behind a massive iron and wood shield, the zombies will face the most dreaded infantry formation of the Bronze Age, the phalanx.
It’s both effective against the zombies they’re training against and impressive to watch, as the survivors have clearly been working on this for some time and have their movements down well, not breaking apart even when the training zombies break out of their grounded ghost ship and come shambling towards the group in an out-of-control mass. The shields drop to form a barrier, with bows launching arrows over the battle line, spears keeping the walkers from getting too close, and melee fighters dashing out from behind cover to do the thing they do best.
It’s an immediate reminder to those watching at home that the days of spraying walkers with machine gun fire are long gone, and the best weapon now is a study spear or a sharp machete to the brain pan. And the best way to fight, for example, a forest fire isn’t with a pump truck or a hook and ladder, but with shovels, buckets, and lots of backbreaking labor. Everything that the group accomplishes nowadays is with human labor, whether it’s in a vegetable garden, at a forge, or on a fishing boat out at sea.
That’s solidly established throughout the episode, but most apparent during the forest fire. Greg Nicotero, the special effects guru and impressive director, has a lot of experience working with fire, and he’s able to make a minimal amount of fire look like a full-on disaster caused by the downed Soviet satellite.
There are multiple trees on fire, but what sells it most is the smoke and panic on the faces of the survivors, who cross Alpha’s border to keep the fire from burning out of control and putting Oceanside at risk. The scenes with the fire are filled with smoke and sparks, and the subtle shift from fighting the fire in the afternoon to in the blackness of night and back into daylight the next day is a great way to show just how long and how hard everyone had to work to deal with the fire without belaboring the point.
Of course, nothing in this universe should happen without drawing the attention of walkers, and given that we know they’re attracted to loud noises (the crash of a satellite for example), airborne phenomenon (the streaking of a falling satellite across the sky), and light (the fires caused by a satellite), it’s only natural that the dead would show up and the heroes get to put all their training to good use and fight off the zombies while protecting the people who are still fighting the fires. As a sucker for a good ‘guy on fire’ special effects scene, this battle is very satisfying, as there were a half-dozen zombie stunt performers on fire at any given time (and the flames were practical, not CGI).
Nicotero’s skill is more than just with the technical details, but he also has a good handle on the actors’ talents. Angela Kang’s script plays with setting more than normal, and we get one big event—the crashing satellite—from several different angles. That creates a solid sense of importance for the event; this isn’t just random space junk, this is something everyone needs to focus on. It pulls the characters back together from their separated spaces, and it involves everyone from Gabriel at Alexandria to Daryl and Carol on a seaside walk together.
Avi Nash does a great job selling Siddiq’s PTSD; as the only survivor of one of Alpha’s massacres, it’s only natural that he’d be shaken up, even months after the event. Melissa McBride and Khary Payton also say a lot with their expressions in their brief moment together on the docks. It’s a reunion, to be sure, but not one as gushy as the more simple reunifications with Daryl and others. Nothing is expressly said, but it’s communicated effectively that some relationships have become strained or broken thanks to what has happened, while others (the foursome of Eugene, Rosita, Gabriel, and Siddiq) have strengthened as a result of muddied relationship waters.
While the group is working together better, there are still outliers, like Carol, who try to forge a different path from the rest. Clearly it has taken some effort to get everyone on the same page, and without the threat of the Whisperers, they’re starting to fray just slightly. Things are comfortable, and for the most part, everyone seems to be respecting the boundary, until the fire and a discovery is made of a Whisperer mask washed down the river from a Whisperer camp in the woods outside of Oceanside. Even before that discovery, people complain about the Whisperer’s boundaries and looking for good reasons to break the peace.
They’ve found them now. The chilling final shot of the episode all but cements that season 10 will be a war season. The Walking Dead tends to do war and general spectacle pretty well, but with the thought of a phalanx (with navy support) versus a weaponized walker horde planted by the first episode? War is a very exciting prospect indeed. “Lines We Cross” would be a solid episode regardless, but as a table-setter, it does enough to whet the appetite without giving away too much. So many possibilities, waiting to be uncovered, like zombies stuffed into a shipwreck.