“Open Your Eyes” is the kind of episode that deserves controversy within a fandom. On one hand, I can see all the “this is terrible!” people and their screaming rage. The ‘twists’ weren’t all that well foreshadowed nor were they necessary. Its defenders will come out shouting, “but there’s so much more!” And there were quite a few subtler plot lines developed here. Bits and crumbs left to attract some much-needed plot development for the show. For the more practical among us, the death of a main character is what makes this one important. But for me? With all these points, I don’t really have a lot to say about this episode. In the context of the season, it was pretty good. In the context of the show, it’s fairly average for this point in the season. If anything, “Open Your Eyes” left a lot of heavy lifting to later episodes.
Here’s the thing: I’m not sure Siddiq deserved a whole episode. If my background with The Walking Dead isn’t clear, I’m mostly a comics/graphic novel guy. I watched the first few seasons as they aired and have done some intermittent binging to keep up with the rest. Even so, my heart lies with the comics. I don’t know if I believe the “fan favorite dies!” headlines bound to come from Siddiq’s murder, but I definitely don’t think season 10 cares about Siddiq. Outside of his flashbacks and “rub some dirt in it” approach to his mental health, it’s really not clear what he was doing this season. Dante is the far more compelling character and now that he’s been revealed to be a Whisperer, we’re certain to see him collapse into a pile of plot mush.
Why do I bring up the comics? Well, Dante in the comics is completely different. Most things are, but the differences here are so extreme they’re deserving of their own article. Instead, let’s just hit home that having Dante be a former Whisperer who appears to have been responsible for Siddiq’s torture and now murder is a really weird direction to go with this character. Even if we take him solely on what we’ve seen this season, Dante doesn’t really strike me as fitting here. It might be worth going back through and seeing if there were any obvious hints I’m missing, but what really pisses me off about this choice has nothing to do with foreshadowing or the comics. It’s about timing.
In the moments before, Siddiq is obviously about to attack Dante, we see a touching moment between two men sharing genuine fears, doubts, and pains. How rarely is the crying man the strong man? The show almost had a moment of genuine intimacy between two of its male characters around a poignant, timely topic and the show dropped it all in favor of an unnecessary plot twist. We went from “here’s how men can support one another in healthy ways” to “you’re secretly the source of my trauma!” and then murder. We were forced to watch at least half an hour of Siddiq having panic attacks and flashbacks for what? If the plan was his betrayal, then set up the relationship between him and Dante. If the only way we can show two men get along and trust one another is to have one be horrifically traumatized, then the writers really need to get to a therapist. There’s something that needs to be worked out there.
Siddiq deserved a better ending than this and anyone who really doubts it should come at me in the comments. My standard for judging a character’s death varies a bit from show to show, but the gist remains the same: does it mean something? There can be power in choosing to kill a character arbitrarily – a steel beam falls from nowhere and crushes a plot-armored character. That can be a reminder of mortality, scaring the audience, or even just a bit of much-needed shock. Obviously the preferred reason to kill off a character is that the death is necessary. For one reason or another, whether the writers require it to escalate their story or it’s a consequence of the character’s choices, the death had to happen. Siddiq’s death didn’t have to happen. The previews suggest that Dante doesn’t outright get away with things, but who knows – Negan got a jail cell after all his bullshit. Dante’s hardly that guilty.
For once, I’m going to give the writers the benefit of the doubt. I’m going to assume this death will matter and they won’t hand-wave their way from this into a conflict with the Whisperers. There are some potentially incredible storylines to come from this! I’ve got a couple of theories:
- Dante is innocent, Dante is the Whisperer. In this version, Dante is actually that Whisperer but doesn’t know that Siddiq is aware. Instead, Siddiq has/had a psychotic break and attacked. Dante was right to defend himself but remains a traitor. It makes Siddiq’s death, after he worked so hard to prove himself in season 8, a more ironic fate.
- Dante is guilty, Dante escaped. On the more likely side of things, Dante definitely murdered Siddiq to keep his secrets. He did not, however, come to Alexandria on Alpha’s behalf. He’s escaped/found his way into Alexandria in order to escape Alpha’s control. Makes Lydia’s comments elsewhere in the episode a lot more salient. Killing to escape his own trauma in the past would be incredible. Make Dante’s decision something he suffers for – killing someone he traumatized to escape going back to that same horror?
- Dante is guilty, Dante betrays Alpha. Dante is exiled or escapes from Alexandria as they prove his guilt. He then either barters to save himself by betraying Alpha or uses the escaped/runaway Lydia in order to gain the upper hand. There’s a curious world in which Carol and Alpha are hunting the same man to save the same girl and that’s something I want to see.
There’s probably six or seven more I could pull out, but we’ve talked about this enough. My point here is that if Dante truly is an evil mastermind, pull out the stops. Go hard on it. If he’s not, make his case compelling. Give me a reason, as an audience member, to not be resentful that he’s still on-screen and Siddiq isn’t. Do something with this that shapes the rest of the season or somehow justify to me why Siddiq did nothing but suffer from his untreated mental illness only to be murdered by one of the two people actively reaching out to support him. I need some kind of real justification there because the “mentally ill people are victims or perpetrators” narrative is as old as killing off all the happy gays.
Of course, The Walking Dead has never been shy about leaning into that trope too…
Everything else in the episode that matters? Well…
- Siddiq (but probably Dante) poisoned the prisoner Whisperer
- Lydia ran away after Gamma saw she was alive
- Aaron is desperate to have his way of life win out
- Daryl and Carol remain the most powerful characters
5/10 – For me, “Open Your eyes” is a solid 5/10. If Siddiq’s death or Dante’s story thereafter goes somewhere really cool, then this episode will deserve much more. For now, the twist cheapens an otherwise emotionally complex episode that juxtaposed torture and the painful recovery of its survivors. Instead of that, we end up with something closer to a noir pulp story and the shock value of that has long worn off.