As I watch these latest episodes of The living Dead, I find myself thinking a lot about missed opportunities. I shouldn’t be thinking about this. I should invest deeply in these characters and the conclusion of their stories. There are, of course, a number of reasons why I am not:
- The show has gone on way too long at this point. I’m not the only one feeling burned out by what feels very much like a story that passed its sell-by date a few years ago.
- The cast is still too big. Somehow they barely killed any of our heroes in nearly 24 episodes. Some villains are dead, of course, but our heroes remain intact (more on this later). It makes the show toothless; and a toothless zombie drama is about as effective as a toothless zombie.
- The fates of several lead characters have already been tainted thanks to AMC’s insistence on making early announcements about spin-offs (which is by brand considering how often the show directly announced or telegraphed a character’s departure).
These factors, combined with my distaste for the Commonwealth and its dull leader, Pamela Milton, make it difficult to become emotionally invested in the final season. It’s hard to care about characters who die when they never seem to and I’ve lost my feelings for almost all of them — and for the ones I still care about, like Negan and Daryl, spin-off shows have been announced. Sure, I’m worried about some characters like Rosita and Princess, and I’ve come to like Gabriel and Aaron more, but overall. . . I just don’t care that much.
So I’m thinking about missed opportunities instead. First off, this entire season could have been spent killing more of the cast. The much-needed sense of impending doom and rising tension could have been introduced long ago (or even just at the end of the second block of eight episodes), raising the emotional bar at this point. If Pamela had killed some of our heroes six or seven episodes ago, that urge for revenge would be fresh and raw.
Instead, everything feels rushed and messy as we approach the end of the line. The good guys have vanquished their captors and are returning to the Commonwealth on the train they forced to take down Pamela once and for all. Now that Eugene has escaped, Pamela’s faith in Mercer has cooled and she sets in motion a plan to take him down and quell the growing anger among the public over Eugene’s conviction. She has troops that send a herd of walkers to the walls, which she uses to both send Mercer away and clear the streets. Aaron, Jerry, Lydia and that group walk among the herd in their half-hearted zombie belly disguises.
I really enjoyed Aaron and Jerry playing Whisperer during this scene. It reminded me of missed opportunities. Like, what if instead of the show fighting the Whisperers, they’d taken it in a radically different direction and had the heroes become the Whisperers instead? Their motivation would have been rebellion against the Commonwealth. They would have devised this whole method of hiding among the walkers wearing zombie masks and whispering to each other to avoid being discovered by the superior military might of the Commonwealth, and have a series of guerrilla fights and terrorist attacks on their enemy lined.
However, that’s not the story we got. Instead, as the group tries to get into a RV and Luke and Elijah are pushed away by the others’ herd, Lydia reaches out to save her new friend and a zombie bites her. In the camper, they tie a tourniquet around her arm and Jerry cuts it off with his sword. It’s a gruesome scene and you feel sorry for Lydia—then Jerry agrees to go find the others—but it feels like too little, too late. Lydia’s arm is one of only two victims in the penultimate episode of The living Dead.
The other is Judith, who may or may not be dead, though I’m guessing she survives. She is shot when Pamela ambushed Daryl and the others as they try to enter the city. Mercer was supposed to meet them, but he was arrested along with his loyal troops. Pamela’s men appear and immediately start firing and a big firefight ensues. For whatever reason, Pamela joins the fight, grabs a gun and shoots Daryl. Judith leaps forward to save him and catches the bullet. Pamela is shocked and clearly doesn’t want a child’s blood on her hands. “You did this!” she yells at them as she pulls back. “You did this!”
Pamela’s plans go awry in more ways than one. The zombies have evolved and the walls can no longer hold them back with the few troops she has now that Mercer and his men are in custody. The undead climb the walls, quickly overwhelm the Stormtroopers and open the gates to the city. The entire horde makes its way into the Commonwealth, and Pamela orders her troops to seal off the “estates” where she and the other rich and powerful reside. When the woman she now leads the army protests—thousands could die if left to their own devices—Pamela tells her it’s their job to protect the Estates.
Our heroes are entering the city, but the dead are there too, and barricades have already been put in place to lead the dead away from the Estates to the rest of the city (although these evolved zombies should be able to get past the barricades easily. enough).
The goal now is more survival than rebellion. The survivors fight through the zombies, clearing an opening for Daryl, who now has Judith’s nearly lifeless form with him so he can break through and find medical help. “Daddy?” she says at one point, looking up at him with hazy eyes. This is probably the best moment of the episode, for once a real emotional blow. Earlier in the episode, Daryl promised that when this was all over, he would tell her all the stories he could remember about all the people who ever loved her — Carl, Michonne, her birth mother Laurie, and her long-gone father, Rik. Judith had talked about having two mothers, but in reality she also had two fathers. Daryl has become her adoptive father now that everyone else is gone. It’s a sweet, sad moment when she first calls him that, and probably by accident.
Not sure if this show will kill its last Grimes relative or not. I think we’ll find out in the final.
The problem at the moment, though, is that they didn’t die everybody yet. Eugene, once again finding that little pocket of courage he keeps hidden deep inside, overcomes the soldier searching for him and joins the other fighters. Everyone is still alive, even though it looks bad for Judith and Lydia. Magna, Yumiko, Luke, Rosita, Princess, Negan, Annie – there really are even more main characters in Season 11 than in Season 10 with the addition of Negan’s new wife and the return of Maggie and her son (and Elijah and everyone else). those other people from her community that this show had no problem killing as soon as possible).
The plot armor is a problem. The fact that all meaningful deaths must occur in just… a delivery is weird. Jerry is probably a goer, which sucks. I wouldn’t mind if Jerry, Aaron, Gabriel, Rosita, Princess, Negan, Daryl and the kids survived. But honestly, if this show had real steel — and AMC wasn’t all that interested in spin-offs — it would end up like The mission, with just the kids to pick up the pieces of a broken, tragic world.
The series finale of The living Dead won’t be coming to AMC+ today which is a good thing. Honestly, I wish AMC had never divided the show’s audience this way. It’s much better to broadcast the episodes to everyone at the same time. That’s what event TV is supposed to be and we’re getting it one last time this Sunday, November 20, when the very last episode finally airs. What a long strange journey it has been.