In 2020, The Walking Dead had two pandemics to deal with. The first, of course, was the zombie virus, which has proven to be such a pesky problem for the survivors—and ex-survivors—of the show over the past decade. Then there was covid-19, which the show’s cast and crew have been trying to navigate since last spring while making six “bonus” episodes for season 10. If tonight’s return is any indication, they had mixed success at best.
“Home Sweet Home” is a very weird episode of The Walking Dead, and if the coronavirus isn’t responsible for that, I just can’t imagine what is. The episode is disjointed and aimless, with a shocking number of minutes devoted to people just silently walking through the forest. Even the much-touted reunion between Maggie (Lauren Cohen) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who killed her husband Glenn (the still-missed Steven Yuen), is almost bewilderingly perfunctory when it kicks off the episode. Maggie spots Negan and gapes at him angrily. Negan spots Maggie and looks uncomfortable. Maggie stalks off. Negan says, correctly, “Aw shit.” And we’re done, hopefully with a bigger, more intense meeting planned for when the show got its pandemic legs under it.
Cohen’s the star of the episode, designated by a giant monologue which is half-exposition (what she’s been up to during the time jump) and half-overwrought drama tryout piece. She explains to Daryl she doesn’t have much to do other than look for her people, who were fleeing after their village was destroyed by a new group of baddies either calling themselves the Reapers or being dubbed the Reapers. Maggie had hoped to move back into Hilltop but gets a very sad surprise when she discovers the Whisperers completely burned it to the ground earlier in the season. Then, she has another sad surprise: she goes to retrieve her people—including her son Herschel—and discovers the place they were staying has been burned down, with everyone scattered through the woods.
Maggie’s new people include Cole (James Devoti) and Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari), a.k.a. the masked, scythe-wielding dude who showed up last episode to save Aaron and Alden (who are conspicuously absent, but, you know, covid). Cole is cocky when it comes to killing zombies and extremely nervous when it comes to Reapers, who he’s certain have followed them from their village. Elijah, who is a kick-ass fighter, takes off his mask to reveal a very nervous kid underneath. Maggie, with the help of Daryl and Kelly, manages to track down a few of her people, many of whom almost immediately die courtesy of the aforementioned Reaper and his sniper rifle.
The Reaper is also weird, but in the traditionally ridiculous Walking Dead villain way. He’s introduced as an unseen killer, a consummate hunter, a guy who can completely shrug off knife wounds and arrows, and who can throw Daryl around like a rag doll. He’s dressed in a truly hilarious amount of camo gear which is so thick he looks like Marvel’s Man-Thing. When he’s finally caught, rather than answering Maggie’s questions, he pulls a pin on a grenade in his pocket, showering everybody with gore. (Everyone was standing really close to that grenade, right? Like, much too close to be completely unharmed but still drenched with blood?)
It’s impossible to know if this guy is truly representative of the Reapers and they’re a group who track people down and kill them for sport, or if he’s just an especially murderous weirdo, but after the wonderful nonsense of the Whisperers, I hope they’re not just deadly nihilists, which would be rather boring. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of Whisperism, dude, but at least it’s an ethos.
With that taken care of, it’s time to finally find Maggie’s son Herschel, who’s just hanging out in a surprisingly tall tree without a care in the post-apocalyptic world. Herschel is adorable, from his baseball cap—an homage to his father Glenn, who was wearing one when he was introduced back in season one—to his little sneakers. It remains to be seen how much he’s going to give Judith a run for her money in the cuteness department, but if The Walking Dead pulls another big time jump, I think it’s absolutely inevitable they’ll end up becoming Alexandria’s foremost power couple.
The real question is whether the other five episodes of season 10 are going to be as stilted as “Home Sweet Home” or if the show’s production was able to return to any sense of normalcy. Since filming had to be stopped on multiple occasions last year, I’m guessing it’s going to be the former. Of all the many times The Walking Dead has given us crap, I just can’t bring myself to hold the episode’s problems against it—at least for now.
- Did, ah, something happen to Maggie’s accent during the time jump? I feel like Cohen’s drawl might have increased all the way to “COR-AL!” levels during her sojourn away from the show.
- Man, that part of Maggie’s speech where she talks about how Herschel asks if the man who killed his father paid for it with his life was just…terrible. But I’m going to assume the coronavirus forced the writers to make some very quick rewrites to create scenes they could safely shoot.
- Anyone else think Herschel’s cheery “Hi, mom!” had a whiff of “Now this is podracing!” cloyingness about it?
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