After Carol (Melissa McBride) recklessly charges into danger, she and her friends are now trapped below ground, surrounded by the undead and with seemingly no way of escape. It looks that Alpha(Samantha Morton) has planned her strategy well.
But Daryl isn’t willing to give up just yet and the group embark on a perilous journey through the caverns with dangers from above and below and recriminations bubbling just below the surface.
Meanwhile, back at the Whisperers camp, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) seeks to subvert Alpha’s control, but her reaction is… unexpected…
While ‘Squeeze‘ is not a ‘bottle’ episode, this returning episode of AMC‘s The Walking Dead splits its action between two distinct locations: The caverns in which our heroes were left trapped and the Whisperer camp where the dangers are more subtle, but the courtship rituals are not. The focus helps a show which has so many regular characters that it sometimes affects the pacing and resolution of storylines – often suspending the consequences of an episode for a week or so while it dives off into another corner.Here it has one remit: the immediate aftermath of Carol’s reckless rush into the caverns and what both sides do next.
The cave system is just well lit enough to increase the sense of claustrophobia yet also hint at dangers around the next corner… but a series of ever-more perilous obstacles does make the journey feel more like a platformed console game. There’s a suspension of belief and some leaps of logic needed for the exit strategy that Carol, Daryl and Co need to traverse to get out from their subtereranean predicament. At one point they come across a few Whisperer henchmen placed to block their escape which does lead to the question of whether the bad-guys went through all the cramped, vertical climbs and dangers or whether our guys have simply over-looked a far-less dramatic route. For most of the escape, the way is lit by the previously-mentioned flickering torchlight (the idea of using a burning dismembered limb for that is quite brilliant) but work-perfect camping lamps then miraculously appear in the last act. Also, Jerrrrreeeee’s admirable girth becomes a Winnie-the-Pooh-esque issue but sees him managing to squeeze through a variety of enclosed spaces that frankly look impossible at the start. Though there’s no denying the tension that generated…
Melissa McBride, one of only two original cast-members left, has long been a magnificent lynchpin of the show and has had a strong long-game arc as she slowly moved form abused wife to fearless warrior. But that journey is a double-edged sword worthy of Michonne and in more recent times the show has struggled to give Carol drama that isn’t just meant to simply pile on artificial strife. Right now, still grieving the murder of her adopted son and swearing unholy vengeance on Alpha (Samantha Morton), The Walking Dead is giving us a version of Carol that’s hard to like, despite the sympathy factor. Currently her actions are reckless, selfish and frequently a danger to all around her and that would be fine as a shorter story beat, but the Carol we know learns from most her mistakes and this one isn’t learning anything except vengeance and hate. It also makes one pensive for what comes next: going out in a blaze of glory, departing the show to pastures new a la Michonne? Worse: a slow descent into something simply less interesting than either? It would be a shame if Carol’s story and McBride’s performances fizzled out but many long-running shows and characters eventually have to play their cards out one way or the other and it’s hard to see where they can take Carol.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan also has some… interesting moments, though he gets to keep his socks. There’s always a strategy at work in the character’s mind and the audience can never be quite sure his endgame – or perhaps, it’s simply his own survival by adapting to anything that comes his way any way he has to. While one suspects that he’s totally ‘working’ Alpha with every word he utters, she’s no slouch in that department either and her ‘reward’ (for him ruthlessly selling out a fellow member of the camp) is as unexpected as it is awkward and revealing. Award-winning Morton herself, no stranger to edgy roles, is clearly enjoying playing the psychopathic Whisperer leader and it will be interesting to see if the story follows the original comic or not.
An interesting and sometimes disturbing return, then, playing to the show’s strengths rather than weaknesses and continuing a much-improved era for the show… and likely, with much more to come…