There’s a strange poignancy to watching the much delayed Season 10 special episode of The Walking Dead, A Certain Doom, which finally hit streaming today.
The new episode has dropped on Binge, and marks the first time The Walking Dead has been on screens since April. It’s technically not a finale, but a ‘bridge episode’ prior to the last six episodes of season 10 that will air next year.
There’s the relief of finally getting somewhat of a resolution to the epic, season long war with the horrifying Whisperers, of course.
But there’s the sweeter, sadder note that this is now airing after we know The Walking Dead is coming to an end that makes every moment feel that much more impactful and powerful.
And then there’s going to be a super-long eleventh season, that will run 24 episodes over two years.
But still, this is the show that, as they say, started it all. And particularly with that foreknowledge, seeing how — for example — Carol (Melissa McBride) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) interact after their season-long friction due mostly to actions by Carol is as much about feeling for these characters, as it is searching for clues.
Little notes in the Greg Nictotero directed/Corey Reed written episode between the two feel like a puzzle box that might indicate where Carol and Daryl go next, given they’re getting their own spin-off series.
It can drive you insane to think that way, because 30 episodes is forever in TV time. Literally anything could happen to the duo. Yet watching them with this knowledge gives the scenes a greater weight, a greater importance.
The same could be said for the much-anticipated return of Maggie (Lauren Cohan), and it’s not necessarily a spoiler to note she plays a major role in A Certain Doom.
Seeing the beloved character return — along with a few surprises — is exciting enough. But knowing she’s now here for the endgame adds to the impact of her showing up beyond the joy of seeing Cohan together with the cast after years away.
Again, I’m well aware we have a relative eternity with this cast. It’s silly to think about how Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) slow journey towards redemption might lead him by the time The Walking Dead takes one last look around the ol’ zombie factory and turns the lights off.
Though it may not have been planned as the beginning of the end, there’s a sense that this hour is the last time we’ll see any main characters with plot armour protecting them.
And that’s probably the main reason this episode feels so important.
Though the action is enormous — I gasped out loud several times at the scale of the zombie herd surrounding our post-apocalypse survivors, and the final fight with the hulking Beta (Ryan Hurst) is as satisfying an action sequence as the show has ever done — the overwhelming feeling of A Certain Doom is warmth, family and togetherness.
That’s what has kept fans coming back for years to the series, not the shocking and gruesome deaths (though that a little bit, too).
It’s been a feature of the Angela Kang showrun Seasons 9 and 10, in particular, not a bug.
The hugs and emotion have taken the forefront along with the massive scale of the action.
Fewer characters have met their end; but that’s okay, because mostly everyone is pretty likeable. The Walking Dead has almost become less of a stress watch, and more of a comfort blanket.
That all ends, now.
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It’s impossible to imagine every character walking off into the sunset, having happily survived the zombie apocalypse at the end of this run.
The plot armour that has surrounded our leads for a long time needs to fall away, the danger has to come back into The Walking Dead.
Yes, we can probably intuit that Carol and Daryl will be safe, given the spin-off. But everyone else is in danger leading into the end-run of episodes.
And the fact that Kang and company have spent two seasons building up our cozy feelings towards the expansive cast makes that prospect all the more terrifying.
There’s another, real world factor to consider while watching this finale: due to COVID-19, it’s unclear whether The Walking Dead will be able to film on the scale that’s made it one of the biggest shows on TV.
Not only is there the huge cast of living characters to think about, there’s also the zombie herds … The idea of hundreds of extras, even in zombie mask make-up, writhing and rubbing up against each other, particularly given the prevalence of the virus in Georgia where the series is filmed, seems impossible to tackle.
There are, of course, other, more terrible outcomes from the current pandemic. But chances are you won’t see massive sequences like the ones in A Certain Doom on the series for a good long while.
So when you’re watching A Certain Doom, hold on to that good feeling, that sense of what The Walking Dead was, and perhaps will be again sometime soon.
Yes, not everyone makes it out alive — it wouldn’t be The Walking Dead without a few exits on the way. But the title of the episode refers less to the characters now, than what’s coming down the road. I wouldn’t want to miss a minute.
The Walking Dead special episode A Certain Doom is now streaming on Binge
This story originally appeared on Decider and has been reproduced here with permission