By Nick Romano
October 06, 2019 at 10:14 PM EDT
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
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  • TV Show
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The Walking Dead‘s ninth season ended with ice. Season 10 begins with fire.

Well, actually, it really begins with water. Months after Alpha staked out her territory, leaving many casualties in her wake, we finally return to Oceanside where everyone is now changed from that jarring moment.

It’s “Training Day,” as the first chapter title card reads, and Aaron leads a squadron of armed forces on the beach to eradicate walkers they’ve trapped in a rusted, washed-up boat. Their moves are coordinated and precise. When Aaron yells to stop and drop, the front line, all carrying spiked metal shields, ducks down so the archers in the back can fire an assault. When Aaron signals spears, the men and women bearing those weapons move forth. When they split off to attack in smaller groups, each one protected by a pair of shields, they only break apart to allow projectiles to fire through. It’s an exciting display with a drumming soundtrack, full of Roman-style military techniques that sets the tone for the new season.

There’s new attention to the actual production quality of the series. The spindling hands of the walkers crawling through the open holes in the boat echo the spider Siddiq finds in his home (the one that triggers memories of the moment Alpha killed his friends in that shed). The opening sequence also goes to show that these aren’t the same people anymore.

Aaron isn’t playing Mr. Nice Guy, Carol is living on a boat with the Oceanside “sea dog” fishermen, Rosita is back boxing after having her baby, Eugene is busy crafting charts and graphs to track the infant’s behavior, Negan is allowed outdoor community service for good behavior, Luke is crushing on an Oceansider named Jules, Kell is slowly losing her hearing (Connie says being deaf isn’t a disability, it’s a “damn superpower,” perhaps a nod to the fact that actress Lauren Ridloff will play a deaf superhero in Marvel’s The Eternals), and there might be something going on between Daryl and Connie.

They are a little colder, a little harder, but still smart. They’re also still fearful.

Michonne and Aaron, walking through the grounds of Oceanside, wonder what this fear could do to them, to their group, if left unchecked. And something has arrived to spark new fear. Judith, AJ, and Jerry’s kids were playing in the sand, collecting seashells, when AJ found something alarming: a skin mask from a Whisperer. Radioing to Alexandria to speak with Gabriel, the group reasons it could’ve simply washed up from downriver, but they can’t be sure. So Michonne advises they remain on alert while they break off to scout for more signs.

Along the way, Aaron sees walkers coming up along a bridge and breaks from Michonne to deal with them. He’s easily overwhelmed and Michonne is forced to intervene, but she’s more critical of his actions since he nearly crossed the bridge into Whisperer territory. The group hasn’t seen signs of Alpha for quite some time, but they’re still mindful not to cross the border and risk war without a good reason.

Magna and Yumiko soon call the scouts to regroup on the scene of an old campfire. Bodies of walkers and, presumably, the campers litter the ground and nearby is a piece of human flesh, skinned and draped over a log. It’s the second sign of Whisperer activity.

At Alexandria, Gabriel takes Michonne’s advice and ups the security. Rumors of Whisperers cause more eyes to be on Lydia, who now seems to be forming a kinship with Negan. Both have done things that make the communities wary around them, but, as Negan advises Gabriel later in his cell, it also threatens to form an “us” versus “them” environment — something that will no doubt take root and grow in the days ahead. Negan even suggests Gabriel lie a little bit to the Alexandrians if only to keep them feeling secure.

At Oceanside, Carol has returned from her latest boat trip. She traveled to the spot where the community has been fielding messages from Maggie. They haven’t received any yet, but that will definitely change come season 11. Carol, still avoiding Ezekiel, joins back up with Daryl for a ride in the woods. She wants them both to go away together, away from everything. She, too, nearly crosses over to Whisperer domain when they hunt a deer and her rage from what happened with Alpha bubbles back up to the surface. Daryl, however, wants her to think about staying.

All these side arcs converge when a USSR satellite falls from space into Whisperer territory. Now the group is forced to cross lines because the ensuing forest fire threatens to spread and take out Oceanside with it. They race to dig trenches and smother the flames with salt and water, but the attention attracts an entire herd of walkers. The fear of whether they are dead or Whisperers returns, as they fight both threats.

The flames are snuffed out by morning, but Michonne is still on alert. She wants them to return back over the borderline as fast as possible, but Eugene is hurrying to extract whatever parts and tech he can from the satellite. Carol and Daryl, meanwhile, have wandered off to look out over a cliff ledge. It’s hard to say whether this is the same clearing where Alpha once threatened the group with her “nuclear weapon” — i.e. the massive herd of walkers she can direct wherever and at whatever she wants. It’s here Carol says they should leave together the next day, but Daryl implores her to stay.

As he walks off, something catches Carol’s eye at the forest’s edge on the ground below. She’s been fighting to put the recent tragedy and the thought of those “skin freaks” behind her, but now she stares into the eyes of the woman who caused all her pain and Alpha, having walked out from the trees, out of hibernation, stares right back at her. She now knows her enemies have crossed over into her territory, which, as we know, is an act of war.

And so it begins. It’s an exciting start to what will be star Dania Gurira’s last season on The Walking Dead, and by the time her mapped-out exit comes to fruition, lots more blood will undoubtedly be spilled.

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AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.
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seasons
  • 10
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  • 10/31/10
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