It’s been 184 days since The Walking Dead was last on TV – but hey, who’s counting? In a locked-down year when the normal passage of time has become all kinds of distorted, it only seems like last week that we were gearing up for the survivors’ final face-off with the Whisperers, capping off the show’s much-improved 10th season. It wasn’t last week, by the way: it was April 5.
‘A Certain Doom’, as we all know by now, wasn’t completed before the coronavirus-enforced cut-off point as reality’s very own scary pandemic (though thankfully not a zombified one, at least) shut down production on the franchise. Consequently, anticipation for the unaired season 10 finale has been building for six months. And then came the biggest bit of news yet: The Walking Dead will finally be ending after its 11th season. With that in mind, surely a more fitting title for ‘A Certain Doom’ would be ‘The Beginning of the End’?
The series’ actual endgame may be in sight, but for now we’ve got the big ‘Whisperers + Walkers vs. Everyone Else’ showdown at the abandoned hospital complex (AKA ‘The Tower’) to contend with — or so we thought, anyway. That opening scene actually signposts just how much action and plot is packed into this episode: there’s Gabriel’s precarious command of the walker-surrounded ‘Tower’; Daryl and Carol tag-teaming (the pair are soon to be the focus of another spin-off series); Eugene on the hunt for Stephanie and therefore the Commonwealth with Ezekiel, Yumiko and Princess in tow; Aaron and Alden encountering a new blade-wielding fighter in a hockey mask and hoodie; and (of course!) the return of Lauren Cohan’s Maggie after nearly two years out of the fold.
If that sounds like an awful lot to cram into a 45-minute episode, then that’s because it is. We always crave answers (as well as a nice juicy cliffhanger) with any season finale, but the showrunners’ brave efforts in ‘A Certain Doom’ to satisfy fans while also producing a memorable edge-of-your-seat encounter between good and evil ultimately falls short of ticking every single desired box. You can’t fault them for their ambition, though — and it’s no wonder with so much going on (or about to happen) in the main story that an additional six episodes between season 10 and 11 have been commissioned.
Many TWD fans might be expecting a big, climatic end to the Whisperers arc in ‘A Certain Doom’. But the showrunners’ promise that the finale battle between the remaining Whisperers and our allied survivors would be “an epic clash” of “David-versus-Goliath” proportions doesn’t quite live up to its billing. You do have to wonder if that kind of outcome might have been achieved had the full 45 minutes of the episode been solely dedicated to this conflict, but if you’re hoping for the kind of full-bloodied action we were treated to when Hilltop was burned to the ground in ‘Morning Star’, you’re going to come away disappointed.
This desire to overload ‘A Certain Doom’ with plot points also somewhat scuppers the emotional potential of Maggie’s comeback, with only a limited amount of screen time allocated to her return. That whistle-stop opening scene feels quite early to stage her big reveal, and while she does play an important role in the episode, our burning Maggie questions (what does she know about the outside world? Is she part of the Commonwealth? Who’s looking after young Hershel?!) aren’t properly answered.
The best bits in ‘A Certain Doom’ feel sufficiently ‘climactic’ though, with a stressful walking-with-walkers set-piece that harks back to the brilliantly brutal ‘No Way Out’ in season six proving the episode’s highlight. There are also heartwarming moments between Carol and Daryl, while Seth Gilliam’s assured take on Gabriel, who has progressed from a pathetic, petrified priest to a decisive, ass-kicking leader you want to root for, stands out yet again.
One of the best things about ‘A Certain Doom’ is that it’s finally arrived. A decent instalment – although not among the best-ever Walking Dead season finales – it’s worth remembering that it was never intended to have a six-month build-up. Unfortunately, the episode feels burdened by this weight of expectation. At least now, The Walking Dead can begin to look to the future. When those half-dozen additional episodes are out of the way, we really will be on the final stretch — and we might just look back at ‘A Certain Doom’ as the episode when the end really began for The Walking Dead.