[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Walking Dead” Season 10, Episode 8, “The World Before” — the midseason finale.]
For the most part, “The World Before” is a perfectly solid “Walking Dead” entry. It successfully juggles several storylines without feeling as inconsequential as “Bonds,” probably because some stories are just beginning while others are winding down. It has some key advancements in the glacial Whisperer conflict, but then it concludes with our heroes doing something almost irredeemably stupid.
And let’s be honest, the leads are really stupid this episode. On a tip from a disillusioned Gamma (Thora Birch), an all-star multi-community team infiltrates Whisperer territory, hoping to locate and destroy Alpha’s (Samantha Morton) zombie horde. What they find is an empty field and Alpha herself. Since Carol’s Season 10 arc has been that revenge has made her dumb and selfishly rash, she takes off after Alpha. Alpha leads Carol (Melissa McBride) into a pitch-black cave. Daryl (Norman Reedus), held up a bit by some random zombies, orders everyone to follow Carol — y’know, into the cave that lies in Alpha’s own territory that Alpha obviously wants them all to enter.
Now obviously Daryl adores Carol and would do anything for her, but considering he was chewing her out earlier in the episode about her recklessness, giving the order for everyone to charge into a wildly obvious death trap is a pretty big pill to swallow. Daryl follows the team, falls down an embankment, and finds that he and all his friends are trapped on a small outcropping above a pit filled with oodles of zombies. Great work guys, you found the horde! It would be a real fizzle of a cliffhanger on a regular episode, but since it’s the midseason finale, it lands even worse.
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Which is a shame, because Daryl really seemed to make some headway with Carol this week, finally calling her out on her godawful behavior all season. “You never came off that boat. It’s been like talking to a goddamn ghost,” he tells her, prompting her to finally let her guard down and show some vulnerability. Daryl correctly points out that Alpha’s not worth it and that Carol still has a future, something Alpha has clearly abandoned. Carol really does appear to listen, but it all goes out the window the moment Carol spots Alpha. The frustrating thing is that Carol’s quest for vengeance makes sense; Alpha did kill her son, after all. It’s just that Carol’s response has been so thoughtless, so unlike the sharp strategist of previous seasons, and it’s put the communities at risk several times. Too bad Daryl took so long to confront Carol; now that hesitation might cost him and his friends their lives.
Carol’s not the only one seeing red this week, as Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) takes justice into his own hands and brutally stabs Dante (Juan Javier Cardenas) to death in his prison cell. You don’t mess with a man’s throuple! Gabriel remains one of the show’s most underwritten characters, but his admission to Dante that he “hasn’t always been brave” is one of the rare call-backs the show could really stand to do more often. It’s the sort of thing that makes characters feel like people and not just automatons whose traits are determined by the writers spinning the wheel at the start of each season. Gabriel’s uncharacteristic act of violence here feels earned, enacted as much to prove to Rosita (Christian Serratos) that she has nothing to worry about than to fulfill his own need for revenge. Their tender moment together as Gabriel burns Dante’s corpse shows that she got the message.
It’s a shame that Dante is dispatched so quickly after his heel turn, considering all the build-up. But it might be for the best, as his desire to have a big show trial to further divide the Alexandrians probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere, since only Alexandrian citizens in the credits ever get to have any lines. Since the “Silence the Whisperers” graffiti is revealed to have all been done by Dante, there’s no reason to think that Alexandria isn’t as united as ever. In fact, the only time we’ve seen Alexandrians at odds with each other this season was during Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) trial, the one moment of strife at Alexandria not masterminded by Dante. Dante was extremely good at driving Siddiq (Avi Nash) crazy, but utterly ineffective in undermining the community. It’s possible that Gabriel’s murder of Dante might cause some friction, but it’s much more likely that the main characters will decide that it’s fine and the rest of the Alexandria NPCs will blissfully go about their silent, unseen lives. It’s hard to divide a community when it only consists of seven actual people.
There’s not much to say about Michonne’s (Danai Gurira) story yet, as it’s just set-up to get her to the island naval base that supposedly holds enough weapons to turn the tide in the Whisperer war. It’s not clear if this adventure will be Michonne’s last on “The Walking Dead,” but her insistence on traveling alone — combined with how divorced she’s been from the main Whisperer conflict — seems to point that way. Regardless, the biggest bright spot here is that the mysterious stranger who calls the base home, Virgil, who’s played by the excellent Kevin Carroll from “The Leftovers.” Hopefully he’ll stick around for a bit, although you should never bet on a “Walking Dead” side character’s longevity.
- Kudos for opening with answers to the many burning Dante questions. Was it really necessary for him to smother Cheryl? Probably not, but it certainly upset Siddiq!
- It makes sense that Gamma didn’t immediately run home and challenge Alpha, considering how willing Alpha is to murder her subordinates for any reason. Better to just rat her out to the communities.
- The opening scene, with Dante holding down Rosita as zombie Siddiq lurches towards baby Coco, is suitably harrowing. You can’t pull the “baby in peril” card too often, but this works.
- While the Gabriel/Rosita plot in this episode is fine, it doesn’t change the fact that Seth Gilliam and Christian Serratos have zero chemistry together. Another reason to miss Avi Nash: he and Serratos seemed pretty hot for each other, even while broken up.
- Ezekiel still can’t tell Carol about his diagnosis. It’s still a bummer.
- Thanks to the writers for having way less Judith this season and toning her way down when she did show up. Her precociousness was at dangerous levels last season.
- If anyone’s dying in the cave snafu, my money’s on Kelly. If they kill off Jerry because of this nonsense, I swear to God…
“The Walking Dead” Season 10 will return in February for new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.