The Walking Dead turns whispers into screams with a character and fear-driven Season 10 that is bigger, better, and scarier than ever before. In Season Nine, the last for Rick Grimes star Andrew Lincoln and the first under longtime writer-producer Angela Kang in the role of showrunner, cabler AMC's longest-running series received a new beginning that made the zombie drama its best in years. Refreshed and reinvented a second time for its 10th year, there's no silencing The Walking Dead: your favorite show is scary good again.
Months after the devastating losses that ended Season Nine, the newly reunited Alexandria, Kingtop, and Oceanside communities are reluctantly abiding by the border and laws imposed by Alpha (Samantha Morton) and the always-watching Whisperers. The walker skin-wearing cult, backed by the masked Beta (Ryan Hurst) and a horde of the dead, threaten war should the survivors cross into their territory.
In the Season 10 opener, scripted by Kang and directed by series veteran Greg Nicotero, Alexandria leader and mother-of-two Michonne (Danai Gurira) begrudgingly respects Alpha's rules despite the dangerous paranoia seeping into the walled-off community. Avoiding the territorial Whisperers means keeping her people safe, but the katana-wielding Michonne worries fear stirred by the unseen but nearby Whisperers is enough to drive the aligned communities apart once more. Daryl (Norman Reedus), who takes on a growing leadership role as he oversees a militia-style fighting force prepared to combat the Whisperers, respects the borderlines only because there's "no reason to start sh-t if we don't gotta."
After spending a six-year period as a woodsman living with a dog named "Dog" as his only companion, Daryl is back to being the survival-smart fan-favorite who once inspired threats of riots if it meant sparing him from death. Three episodes into Season 10, Daryl already shares much of his screen time with longtime best friend Carol (Melissa McBride), back from months away at sea and the life of a hardworking "pirate." Even amid the blood and guts that have long defined it, TWD has always been at its best when its storied characters, with their shared histories, are interacting; it's a natural part of storytelling that doubles as an understated level of fan-service that is most appreciated.
The mourning mother is still plagued by feelings of grief and vengeance after her son, Kingdom prince Henry (Matt Lintz), was murdered by Alpha — a gruesome attack that forced her separation from fairy tale husband King Ezekiel (Khary Payton), now acting as the less-theatrical monarch of the blended Hilltop and Kingdom communities given the portmanteau "Kingtop" by loyal adviser Jerry (Cooper Andrews).
Now nearly a decade into the apocalypse, the survivors are well-versed in handling the dead, but their encounters with the Whisperers have given rise to an all-new threat: mounting tensions and paranoia plaguing already traumatized survivors, some who are affected with PTSD.
In addition to the chilling cold war-feel unique to Season 10, there's a near-constant presence of infectious fear underscoring almost every beat, making The Walking Dead wildly unpredictable. Some characters, like Carol, are haunted by disturbing visions; others, like new dad Siddiq (Avi Nash), finds himself in a living nightmare as he attempts to overcome unsettling flashbacks accompanying his survivor's guilt.
The Walking Dead Season 10 recaptures the same tone of raw realism established by first-season showrunner Frank Darabont, expanding on it with a flavoring that is deliciously eerie. Not only is The Walking Dead straight-up scary, it often feels like a genuine horror movie, a feat achieved either through atmosphere and tension-building or pop-up spooks.
The Nicotero-directed 10x02, the Whisperer-centric "We Are the End of the World," could pass for a first season episode with segments set in the earlier years of the outbreak. Nicotero also leans into the classic zombie movie feel with a more than welcome level of spine-tingling gore sure to satisfy the bloodlust of horror hounds.
The Walking Dead's narrative is often piloted by an "us versus them" conflict — it was the war against Negan (played again in Season 10 by an always charismatic Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the Saviors that exhausted many viewers over Seasons Seven and Eight — but here, the survivors are wrestling with an unprecedented threat and an enemy that won't be thwarted by bullets. Instead, adding an almost medieval feel, our heroes are engaged in a different type of conflict that sets the stage for rich storytelling on both the character and action fronts.
Few shows are as satisfying as The Walking Dead, which gets better week to week with episodes that leave you wanting more. Those week-long waits between episodes will be killer: television hasn't been this addictive since Breaking Bad.
The Walking Dead is the show of the year.
Rating: 5 out of 5
The Walking Dead Season 10 premieres Sunday, October 6th at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.