Before you read on, there are spoilers ahead. The Walking Dead is back with its eleventh and final season, opening with the first of a two-part story entitled “Acheron”, loosely translated as a river of sorrow or pain, according to a quick Google search. In the opening moments to Episode one, we’re treated to a nervy, silent sequence as the group abseil down into a disused military base for supplies. It’s a sequence reminiscent of Season 3’s premiere episode, Seed if anyone can think back that far, with Rick and the group searching a house for food and supplies and coming up empty. Back to the present, once our group has abseiled to the floor below (also home to dozens of sleeping…, walkers?), they begin the difficult task of retrieving supplies and hauling them back up to the roof.
Naturally, it’s all about to go wrong (I’m certain this is a sentence that’ll be repeated later down the line), and a dodgy rope inevitably snaps. Daryl saves the bag of supplies from plummeting onto the sleeping heads of the undead, but the rope cuts his arm and a singular drop of blood touches a walker. Oddly, a single drop of blood is enough to wake up the entire room of walkers, and, well, you get the drill.
Improbable headshots with blades and slingshots will ensue (never sold off on the slingshot as a weapon in the apocalypse). But never mind, we get Maggie with a semi-automatic rifle and that’s awesome. Then Carol makes a questionably risky decision to scavenge for more supplies as a small army shuffle painfully slowly toward her. However, let’s not forget the first rule of character plot armor: The thicker it is, the slower the zombies shall shuffle. They all make it out alive and it’s a job well done.
They can all go home, put their feet up and have a cup of tea.
That brings me neatly onto the subject of Alexandria, and well, things aren’t great. It looks as if at last, the settlement is finally on its last legs. Supplies and the such are running critically low and the arrival of Maggie’s people has put a strain on proceedings. Plus, need we mention the Savior and Whisperer Wars?
Back home, Maggie recounts a bit more about her past since her exit from the show in Season 9, recounting the bloody events that led to the fall of a previous settlement, Meridian. The objective is simple, Meridian has supplies and they need them now more than ever. Notably, Rosita objects. This is a risky plan and they all know it, but Daryl makes a point that their options are limited. If they maintain their course in Alexandria, they’ll run out of food.
So the choices are to risk Alexandria’s future or take a risk for greater rewards against a clan of nasty bad guys. We won’t see the Reapers in this episode, but from what we saw of them during Season 10’s extended run in April, these are the types of people you do not want to cross.
So of course, it’s all about to go wrong. Didn’t I say it’d come back later down the line? Talking of down the line, let’s move on to the DC Metro section of this episode. With a storm thrashing down on the surface, Daryl, Maggie, and the group (including Negan), venture underground into a Metro subway station, somewhere in DC. This sequence in particular has to be given the highest praise, and it’s the highlight of the episode for the simmering tension slowly rising to the boil between Negan and Maggie. As we know, their history is pretty bleak and Maggie has a short fuse with the former Savior tyrant. He killed her baby daddy after all. Negan, in all honesty, is one of the few characters talking sense, but his warnings of the perils ahead fall on deaf ears.
He later suggests that Maggie has used this journey as a reason to draw him away from Alexandria and dispose of him for good. Negan presents Maggie with the opportunity to have it out with him, for once for and all. This is a courageous come at me bro moment, but Negan takes it a step too far by mentioning Glenn. Daryl decks him and this escalates things further. Maggie declares that she is not the same woman from six years earlier and that if pushed too far, there’d be no telling what she’d do.
Elsewhere, we’ve got the Commonwealth. Since we first saw them, fleetingly, during the end of A Certain Doom, Season 10’s original season finale in April 2020, we’ve been waiting for the comic book material’s final major story arc to be fully realised. A year and a half and seven episodes later, and the wait continues. It is frustrating, and we all know how haphazard the show’s pacing can be, but with twenty-three more episodes to go, there’s plenty of time, so no need to worry, yet. Eugene, Ezekiel, Yumiko, and Princess are interrogated at length by the Auditors of the Commonwealth (what a cool title, or is that just me?) and by the looks of things, none of them are winning of their stoic hearts of this epic community.
Eugene, as we learn, can recount each zip code of his life, Princess is hallucinating, and Ezekiel’s attempts to turn the questioning routine onto a rather unimpressed Mercer (looking more daft than resplendent in his red suit), end in a coughing fit. Ezekiel’s battle with thyroid cancer has been a storyline in development since early Season 10, and he’s become the first candidate for a mid-season finale exit in Season 11. Later, Eugene, Ezekiel, Yumiko, and Princess make a break of it, and in classic Scooby-Doo fashion, walk right out the door in Commonwealth disguises. Sure, these guys are described as “uber cautious”, and four brand-new arrivals just walked right out the door like that. Outside, Yumiko then learns that her sister is alive and somewhere within the Commonwealth, giving her reason to stay and for the first time since her arrival in Season 9, some actual gravity as a character and direction in the series.
Back in the subway tunnel, the group stumbles upon a stationary train car and an approaching herd of badly choreographed walkers. Just watch the scene and you’ll see what I mean. The group split apart to take on the undead and approach the train car. With it blocked on either side, the only way is up. Negan and Maggie, as most of us probably expected, are the last to climb up the carriage. You can see where this is going. Negan goes first and Maggie follows swiftly behind. But of course, with such thick plot armor, neither of them really have to worry about the shuffling hordes of flesh-eaters walking at a painfully slow pace.
With Negan on top and Maggie clinging to the side of the carriage by her fingertips, all it’d take is for Negan to reach over and pull her up. It’d be the ultimate next step in his redemption arc and potentially, a way to build bridges with Maggie. But in a dramatic twist, Negan decides to abandon Maggie and let her fall from the train car. It’s beginning to feel as if a sliver of the classic Negan is making a grand return to the stage.
Acheron Part 1 is a dark and drab affair, interspersed with sporadic moments of walker splattering action, and another fleeting peek behind the curtain into the world of the Commonwealth. Highlights include Yumiko’s sister, Eugene’s outstanding memory, some beautiful cinematography of Alexandria’s windmill, and the increasing tension between Maggie and Negan leading to those final moments of the episode. Is Maggie dead?