Milestones are getting more and more common for The Walking Dead. Through a batch of seasons loaded with ups and downs in qualities, the 100th episode has come and gone and Andrew Lincoln's final hour on the series has come to pass. Now, the AMC zombie show is looking down the barrel of a 10th season premiere, a very small percentage of TV shows are privileged to celebrate -- and celebrate The Walking Dead should. The upcoming episode is true to the best of The Walking Dead's form through ten years, masterfully reminding fans why they have stuck around through this many episodes and welcoming back viewers who previously abandoned ship.
Picking up shortly after the narrative point where Season Nine left off, the Season 10 premiere is quick to revisit every character fans love to see. Showrunner Angela Kang seems to have a grasp on the fact that viewers love to follow The Walking Dead's ensemble as just that, rather than hoping to see their favorites and being let down on Sunday nights. This won't be the case week in and week out as some cast members and schedules called for scattered appearances, which a narrative will have tackle creatively, but this premiere wisely uses everybody who is still on the show. Quickly and organically, fans are brought up to speed on the status for each character as they display new rhythms and dynamics as a group in a creative and entertaining dispatching of the dead.
While it is tremendously exciting to see The Walking Dead put characters at the forefront while simultaneously reminding itself and viewers that this is a post-apocalyptic zombie series, it's arguably better that the premiere opens with a hugely intriguing shot from another location. No spoilers here, but the opening frames of the premiere will stir up massive questions -- all of which are answered before the episode closes! The payoff isn't as world-sprawling as one might hope (yet) but a quick resolution is a welcome substitute. In other words: the pacing is on point.
Heading into her final season, Danai Gurira is front and center for her last premiere episode. Gurira's Michonne serves as the backbone of the episode, giving a strong performance that comes complete with some epic slow-motion walker kills (and she's not the only one to get such a visually satisfying moment). Michonne starts to show a few shades of Rick in that she is the leader that the characters turn to in difficult times, burdened with having to keep the smartest decision in mind. On the heels of the vicious attacks by the Whisperers, many are eager to strike back but Michonne is balancing motherhood with leadership, offering up some interesting moments in which she is questioned and might even question herself.
Meanwhile, Carol, Daryl, Connie, and Ezekiel are bringing a bit of relationship drama to the series. There isn't as much drama between the characters as there will be for viewers rooting for whichever pairing of the bunch the want to see. Ezekiel (Khary Payton) shows sensible change on the heels of losing his Kingdom and relationship, Daryl (Norman Reedus) continues to allow himself to open up to others, Connie (Lauren Ridloff) might be a romantic target or might not be, and Carol (Melissa McBride) is faced with the possibility of returning to isolation or sticking with her family. The subtlety of the relationship dynamics involving these characters is masterfully crafted by Kang, who also wrote the premiere episode, dropping clues about who might be interested in one another, but not blatantly spelling any of it out and leaving room for some interesting developments in any direction.
New characters come along in the form of Alex Sgamata's Jules and Juan Javier Cardenas' Dante. The former is likable and Dan Fogler's Luke makes that very clear while the latter is made out to be an annoyance, well-written as such. It's been a while since non-threatening yet dislikable characters have played a role in The Walking Dead, in recent memory Michael Traynor's Nicholas comes to mind, a character from one of the AMC show's high points.
Along with the new faces are new subplots, woven into the grander scheming narrative seamlessly. Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan is not a major player in the episode but his presence continues to be well-balanced as he injects a shot of his unique leadership style into the plot. Meanwhile, Rosita (Christan Serratos) is balancing motherhood with a trio of men that are interested in her, though all of them have also found themselves occupied with other key roles within the community.
The important thing here is that every character seems to matter, right down to Rick's son RJ (Anthony Azor) who even gets some touching lines in the episode. Rick Grimes is certainly not dead to this show.
Of course, the Whisperers are still looming. Whereas Season Seven went heavy-handed on showing fans how threatening Negan can be, Season 10 knows its fans remember what the current villains are capable of. Rather than featuring them heavily throughout, the main group gets to thrive with their own story beats while the villains lurk quietly.
Within the first hour, big ideas and more feasible narrative threads are introduced. Being accompanied by well-done character stories, especially a potential and interesting turn for Aaron (Ross Marquand), the stories introduced and revisited here show The Walking Dead is ready to knock it out of the park, once again. Following up a very strong ninth season, the upcoming batch of episodes prove The Walking Dead is aiming to take its throne back. If the coming conflict is handled as well as the premiere episode, longtime fans are in for a treat while those who were discouraged from watching might be interested in getting back on board.
Rating: 5 out of 5
The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC.