Monday brought us the mid-season finale for season 10. For all the setup, this episode felt strangely like it’s buying time. The first thirty minutes of the episode are mostly filler. Dante’s story is what should have been at the core of this episode. Instead, it’s a cheap collection of predictable beats. Instead of wrapping up the death setup the episode before, The World Before tries to center the stories of secondary characters at the center of the narrative. I respect the need to prepare the audience for the departure of major characters and giving them a final story that fits. I question the choice to spend the mid-season finale trying to make those minor plots matter. Fortunately, the last fifteen-twenty minutes are filled with enough chaos to give some meaning to the word ‘finale’.
Let’s get started with the obvious: Carol hunting down Alpha, running into spooky forest cave, and leading everyone to the horde is pretty great. If my eternal love for Carol is blinding me to the cheesiness of this ending, so be it.
Because this is going to be the same criticism I have for pretty much every other plot, maybe a tangent to talk about writing/producing things that deserve space. If you read reviews just to gush and get good lines for the watercooler conversation, skip down a paragraph or two. For my fellows here to rage about narrative structure, let’s go:
The mid-season finale was nothing more than a sudden launch of sidequests.
I have little to say about it beyond that. It felt like I’d finally reached some major progress point in the story and instead of getting to move on to the next stage of the game, some arbitrary grind barrier was set in the way. Why are we obsessed with this endless array of characters? There’s simply too many faces and too many names for me to remember a lot of the characters beyond driver’s license descriptions. The multitude is made all the more frustrating by the flashbacks of Dante to explain some of the more obvious hints of a traitor. Instead of using Dante as a metronome for the episode’s story, he’s largely just a monster quickly thrown in the trash. His end was more “level cleared!” than should be acceptable for a TV show. What should have been an explosion of narrative, ending on a series of cliffhangers was instead a series of cutscenes I desperately wanted to skip.
It seems the writers are a little too comfortable with their audience’s dedication. They appear to be right in feeling that way given The Walking Dead: World Beyond’s announcement and new teaser. Even if the core constituency is unbothered, I can’t help but feel cheated. Where they used to feel compelled to make these episodes massive and incredible, this season’s felt cheap and unimportant. We know the real story is in the second half and now that “season 10, the prologue” has wrapped up, we might actually get to start with some actual plot development.
The only storylines that actually advanced within the episode were those about the horde: Aaron and Gamma; Carol, Daryl, and Alpha.
Aaron and Gamma’a story remains unfulfilled. It boils down to the baby her sister left behind which was saved and that’s why she’s willing to tell them the truth. For how suspicious and hateful Aaron remained toward Negan until the end, Aaron remains willing to believe in other people. The character’s growth to represent “Innocent until proven guilty but then never innocent again” is fairly interesting. He believes Gamma, now going by Mary, when she tells him the location of the horde. She told the truth, even if it seemed otherwise at first. There’s supposed to be a tense ambiguity in how much Mary really knew about Alpha’s trap or not, but who really cares? The whole confluence of events feels unnecessary. Maybe I’m just married to the comics.
The other major issue here? Mary/Gamma has overstayed her welcome. For someone meant to be important, she never feels impactful on screen. I don’t know whether to blame the actress or the writers. I’m sure there’s a bit of guilt on both sides. Gamma should be threatening and a terrifying menace. She murders Jesus in the comics (and may have done so in the show as well). Watching Aaron befriend her now is pretty uncomfortable, even if I don’t hate that feeling. If they make use of this ironic twist, I would be genuinely shocked. As the narrative exists now, Aaron and Gamma’s relationship lacks any compelling story. Aaron hopes for the good in people despite having suffered so much loss. Gamma appears to believe but might not yet be over her loyalty to Alpha’s nihilistic view of things. It’s not especially interesting or new, but this is the only fully executed plot in the whole episode. It had a start, progression, and conclusion contained within. For what it was, this and how it impacts the other three characters listed above is what justifies the “finale” adjective for this episode.
Carol and Daryl stay fairly quiet for much of the episode. Despite me avoiding them, much of the episode’s earlier focus is on the impact of Siddiq’s death, especially on Gabriel and Rosita. I’ll come back around but since their story feels like it belongs at the end of last week’s episode and not in this week’s at all, let’s forget it for now.
Leading a crew based on Aaron’s information, Daryl, Carol, Aaron, and a bunch of the secondary characters who mattered for a couple of episodes here and there cross the border. They follow Gamma’s information and find a misty valley and nothing else. Daryl’s confrontation with Carol gives me hope for the future. It’s also quite literally Daryl’s point at the end. While I will never be tired of talking about how cool Carol is, Daryl remains head-and-shoulders above the rest of the show’s cast. Even now, acting as little more than Jiminy Cricket, Daryl still steals scenes. “We have a future. Don’t let her take that too.” Wait what?! Did the show finally give a solid point for why civilization is worth the sacrifice and difficulty? Are the writers finally going to make a – oh. No. The episode finished before we could get any further.
Instead, Carol chases Alpha into the woods, followed by everyone else, and they all fall into a trap. Trapped underground, surrounded by the mass of walkers, the episode ends and we see the teaser.
This is the only complete story in the whole episode. Everything else just teases into the next half of the season. There’s not even any excitement to it.
If there’s anyone out there who really thinks the last eight episodes were anything more than a prologue for what the teaser at the end showed, let me know. I’d love to hear from you. You’re either able to see something I don’t or watched a completely different half-season.
Dante being the source of the mask and playing a role in messing up various problems felt like handwaving more than anything else. It fits and for some, there must have been an “ah ha!” moment. For me personally? This was another lazy twist. Siddiq didn’t uncover Dante’s past by any real virtue of his own. Dante didn’t attach to Siddiq for any real reason. He just seemed to genuinely like him. Writing him out so quickly felt cheap. Dante deserved more. This episode deserved to be his. Aside from the incredible performance of Juan Javier Cardenas, using the character to at least create some kind of consequence would have been great. Maybe all the people who were sick become walkers or he breaks out of jail and does something evil. Hell, maybe he replaces Negan as the voice of opposition within Alexandria and our boy has a foil as he joins up with The Whisperers. That’d be cool!
Instead, Gabriel murders him in his prison cell and that seems to be that. Rosita is pretty cool with it and given the brutal ass-whooping she delivered after discovering Siddiq’s body, that makes sense. The rest of their story fell pretty flat. No one in the community seems to care that Dante was brutally murdered. Gabriel, the head of their community’s justice and law, has betrayed that and we’re supposed to be on his side? It’s not a great endorsement for the future civilization is supposed to create. Pitting Aaron and Daryl against Gabriel could be an exciting story for the future. It would have been even better to have in the mid-season finale.
Michonne is leaving the show and needed to be written out. Apparently without killing her off. She’s instead going on a boat trip to get a whole bunch of weapons? With a guy who randomly showed up and got caught? This was the best they could come up with?
I’ve already gone on quite a bit, so let’s get to the meat of it: not the best episode. Not even really a good one. The teaser was more satisfying than the episode itself! If this article weren’t a review of the episode, I would have rather done a shot-by-shot analysis of it. There was more story progress there than in the entirety of The World Before.
4/10 – The lack of any real major event leaves a foul bitterness no amount of Carol-hunting-Alpha action can erase. The desperate use of handwaving and MacGuffins to compensate for production-side changes is hard to justify. When the episode is doing well, it delivers a clean, satisfying taste. Unfortunately, the unripened characters and tired slow-mo shots can’t compete with the meaty morsels earlier episodes offered up. For what should have been a meal that would keep me through the winter, The World Before was a disappointing mush of microwaved leftovers. Hope for the next half is well justified. It appears we were all unknowingly watching the season’s 8-episode-long prologue.
I’m glad it’s finished.