Quick theoretical question: Does it actually matter if The Walking Dead remains on the air at this point, as a flagship AMC production? Fear the Walking Dead is still rolling on, after all, and AMC is working on both more spin-off series AND a few TV movies that will return Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes to the fold. With all of this other, random Walking Dead content, what purpose does the original series even serve at this point? Do the showrunners really have any long-term plan for this story, with all of the primary characters (this is also the last season for Danai Gurira) making their exits to higher-profile TV Movie Land? When you emphasize those films as more important than the TV show that spawned them, why keep the TV show going at all? And why renew it for season 11, even before you’ve started season 10?
I won’t pretend to know the answers to any of those questions; I just know that I’m not sure what The Walking Dead is attempting to achieve these days. I guess we’ve got a full-scale war with The Whisperers coming at some point, if only to avenge the second tier characters who had their heads put onto pikes at the end of last season, but even with such a clear reason for violence, the thought of going through with another war almost seems ludicrous. It’s not as if The Whisperers want to actively exterminate the remnants of the Grimes Gang, after all—they just want to be left alone. This is one time when the show’s protagonist won’t be able to fall back on the motivator of “self defense,” or “it’s us or them.” If they attack The Whisperers again, “vengeance” is the sole motivator.
“Lines We Cross” opens with a montage of gratuitous zombie killing, which is something I’m always down for, at least in moderation. The group is drilling some overcomplicated combat strategies that seem patently unnecessary for fighting the undead, but hey—they look cool, right? Notably absent in this episode: Firearms in general, which were completely ubiquitous during the war with the Saviors, but now seem to have entirely disappeared. Does it make any sense that the guns have disappeared, leaving the group to experiment with phalanx tactics? Not particularly, given that there was an entire subplot a few seasons ago about establishing a bullet factory to supply the group with renewable ammunition. However, I can’t help but suspect that this point has been de-emphasized specifically to deal with one of my constant criticisms from last season: The fact that a group of Whisperers armed only with knives have a very hard time posing a threat to groups stocked with hundreds of automatic rifles. The writers of The Walking Dead would presumably prefer you simply forget the presence of these weapons, so the protagonists can engage in sword fights with the enemy instead.
The centerpiece of the episode is the crashing to Earth of what appears to be a Chinese or Russian satellite, which is seen by all groups and ignites a patch of forest somewhere near Oceanside. It’s a classic case of “everyone instantly teleports to this location,” given that Eugene and co. were in Alexandria when the satellite came crashing down, and Michonne was in Oceanside. Nevertheless, they’re both there within minutes. Convenient. Some members of the group seem to be hoping that the act of stopping this forest fire from spreading will somehow ingratiate them to The Whisperers, but others (like Aaron) seem much more intent on starting a new conflict with the enemy, because hey, someone in the cast has to be a warhawk.
Some stray observations, bullet style:
— It’s heartening to know that even 10-11 years now after the fall of society, that Oceanside woman talking to Luke still has access to hair dye to keep her blonde highlights intact.
— Aaron randomly displays a sudden death wish out of nowhere, attacking a group of zombies in a blind rage and nearly getting himself killed in the process. Grilled by Michonne for why he’s acting like an idiot, Aaron expresses a desire to eliminate the Whisperers and says he’s “goddamn sick of being nice,” sounding not at all like a college incel in the process. Certainly, “I’m so goddamn nice all the time and what does it get me?” sounds nothing at all like something a furious incel might say.
— I remember clucking at one point last season when a heavily pregnant Michonne led a two-person rescue mission, and here she is again, going out on scouting assignments with one other dude (Aaron) by her side. Lest we forget, Michonne is the leader of Alexandria, essentially the head of this government structure. Surely, unless her community is in total chaos, there must be SOMEONE she can delegate such things as “scout and report back” to. Aren’t there any other issues of governance that would require this woman’s attention? Would you not want to elect a leader who would stay at your community and oversee such things as food production and housing construction?
— Old Man Negan is still being folksy, picking tomatoes. He’ll clearly play a big part later in the season. A lot of seeds are being planted here, in fact, and not just by Negan. Kelly of Magna’s group seems to be struggling with hearing loss, like her sister Connie. Daryl is learning sign language, seemingly still interested in Connie (who I love for her optimism and general aura of self-assured good-naturedness). At the same time, Daryl is thinking about leaving the group to just go wandering, and Carol is thinking of joining him, although this clearly won’t happen for either, as they’d surely be reticent to drive away from big TV paychecks … I mean, their friends. Cough cough cough.
— Siddiq is having what certainly seem to be PTSD freakouts about witnessing the last stand fight that ended in the deaths of Enid, Tara, Henry and others. I have no idea how this might actually play into the rest of season 10, but it’s a thing that happened in this episode, although it was presented in such a way that it almost looked like he was having a delirious trip after a poisonous spider bite.
— I don’t know how you could do anything but guffaw after the exclamation by R.J. (which I just learned stands for “Rick Grimes Junior,” lord) that “I didn’t like it when the brave man died; why did he do that?” Wouldn’t it be fun if someone explained the truth to him? “The brave man ‘died’ so The Walking Dead could advertise the death to pop a rating, and then bring back the brave man for a series of heavily promoted TV movies.” Surely, R.J. would understand, if he heard that.
As for the ending, I genuinely have no idea what the significance is of Carol and Alpha randomly locking eyes once again. Is someone infringing on someone’s territory? Will any of this pay off into anything? Given that it looks like next week’s episode will be spent entirely with The Whisperers, I wouldn’t be surprised if we spend all of next week just getting back to this staredown once again. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be lucky enough to see Carol just shoot her and get it over with.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident horror guru. You can follow him on Twitter for more film and TV writing.