The following article contains spoilers.
There was no reason to believe that The Walking Dead wouldn’t return with a bang. Not only did it return with an actual, literal explosion, but also a thematic one. Alexandria has been successfully retaken, but it’s a mild victory when something, or better yet, someone who’s far more dangerous is on the way.
Throughout The Walking Dead, the pendulum constantly swings to the two types the group considers enemies: walkers and the living. Walkers were first, naturally, until the next few seasons made humans with nothing to lose more dangerous than a zombie’s bite. From the Governor to the cannibalistic Wolves, The Walking Dead lived by the motto “Fight the living, fear the living.” That was until this season, when the walkers returned to being the overwhelming and absolutely terrifying threat they were always meant to be. That fear came in full force through Sam, the fearful adolescent son of Jessie, who developed his cowardice in his hostile and abusive home.
Expertly edited, artfully framed, and absolutely bonkers when the pictures and sound come together, The Walking Dead reminds you via Jessie’s and Sam’s violent deaths that The Walking Dead is not only thrillingly violent and gory, but also delectably artful in its depiction of zombie extermination.
That is prestige TV. That is filmmaking worth celebrating. And that is how you let zombies finish their turn at being your worst nightmares made real. Rick, the rest of Alexandria, and the TV viewing audience needed one last oomph to remember why walkers are so terrifying and not just walking target practice before they fight and take back the town.
When the morning comes, the walkers are all laid out and the survivors are patching up. For Alexandria, it was more than just a hard-fought victory. It was the end of walkers being monsters. It was their last trial by fire before Negan, a legitimate nightmare who lives and breathes, strolls into town and becomes the new kind of monster everyone will have to endure.
The next episode, “The Next World,” is very telling of what kind of new status quo The Walking Dead has entered.