After last week’s crummy mid-season premiere, I didn’t expect The Walking Dead to give us its best fight sequence in years tonight. I also didn’t expect most of everything else that happened in the episode, because it was all very odd—but at least it was odd enough to be entertaining.
I’ll say this for “Stalker”—it certainly lived up to its episode title, as there was a great deal of stalking done by several characters. Daryl stalks Alpha. Alpha stalks Daryl. Beta stalks a lot of people. Then Lydia shows up and confesses she’s been doing some stalking, too.
It’s The Stalking Dead.
The other thing the episode had in abundance was strangeness, as almost all of it had me scratching my head. For instance, I didn’t expect the show would have Daryl, who had announced last week that he was going to look for another entrance to the cave where Connie and Magna are trapped/deceased, spend the entire episode in a life-or-death struggle with Alpha, which was genuinely awesome. Daryl comes across the leader of the Whisperers and a few of her minions leading some zombies out of one of said caves and manages to kill the others and stab Alpha a few times. In the process, Alpha cuts him across his face and slams a knife into his leg while he’s distracted by some of the zombies. The extremely wounded Daryl crawls off to hide at an abandoned gas station located in the middle of the woods while an only slightly less-wounded Alpha crawls off to chase him. Once there, about all Alpha can muster is to start banging a wall to bring a few zombies over in hopes they’ll finish off Daryl (luckily, he has a large knife he can fend them off with, stored securely in his thigh)
While it’s impossible the show would kill off its biggest star or its prime antagonist in a random episode like this, “Stalker” does an amazing job at making it look like it’s going to kill off the show’s biggest star and/or its primary antagonist. The two characters look about as rough as anyone not currently being eaten by a zombie can be, and both Norman Reedus and Samatha Morton do some great “at-the-brink-of-death” acting. Their stand-off is almost entirely silent (until Alpha starts going cuckoo near the end) which keeps the focus sharp and the tension high, as do an unusual amount of tight close-ups and tilted camera angles. If this had been a season finale, I would have been certain one or both of them was done for; after all, killing each other would be a pretty great way for both characters to go out if The Walking Dead could afford to lose any more major characters. (It cannot.)
Of course, they don’t die. After Alpha finally collapses, Lydia pops up after having split into the woods last year when she realized Carol was using her as anti-Alpha propaganda. She approaches her mother, who tries to get her daughter to finish the job—putting a knife in Lydia’s hands and telling her to become the new leader of the Whisperers. Instead, Lydia tells her that she’d rather live like a human being with other human beings, says goodbye, and hauls Daryl out of there as Alpha passes out. When Alpha awakes, she’s able to make her way to her pack, where she does some very fervent chanting that bodes ill for Alexandria and Lydia in particular.
Of course, by the end of the episode, it’s hard to feel like Alexandria is in any additional trouble. It gets fucked up by the Whisperers for the umpteenth time as Beta sneaks in and just starts murdering people while searching for Gamma, who has indeed defected to the humans-who-live-like-humans team.
This whole storyline is buck wild. First, Gabriel now has lie detector powers? When the newly imprisoned Gamma is getting interrogated, she tells Gabe she’s the aunt of the abandoned baby and that her sister died. Gabriel straight-up says he’s heard so many confessions he not only knows when people are lying but when they’re not telling the entire truth, which is basically a lie, so Gamma is a lying liar. So the ex-Whisperer confesses that she killed her own sister for Alpha, without Alpha asking her to, a cultist trying to please her cult leader. Gabriel, who is still in murder mode, knows she’s telling the truth and chooses not to kill another helpless, unarmed person in Alexandria’s jail.
Unfortunately, Gabriel’s truth detection powers don’t work over the radio, because when a scout reports that the Whisperers are sending a small herd Alexandria’s way, he can’t tell that the Whisperers are forcing the scout to lie so that the colony sends the bulk of its fighters out on a goose chase. This is so that when Beta breaks into the colony, he can more easily go on his murder spree. How does Beta get into Alexandria? I’m so very glad you asked.
Apparently, Dr. Dante managed to dig a secret tunnel from the grave of Cheryl, the old lady who died in the first half of the season, to an RV parked in the middle of a field god knows how many miles away. This is completely ludicrous, but it’s so ludicrous I can’t help but roll with it.
Beta goes to this RV, opens a trap door, jumps down, struts his way to Alexandria, and then crawls out of a grave just like a—wait for it—zombie. Then he turns into an ‘80s serial killer for a while. Eventually, he finds Gamma, gets shot by Judith through a door (this is also rad until Beta reveals he’s wearing body armor), and is about to kill Rosita until Gamma holds a knife to her own throat and threatens to commit suicide. Since Alpha wanted Gamma alive, Beta has to back down, but he still takes Gamma with him when he leaves.
The two are walking down the road when Beta hears someone approaching, and just goddamn bolts. It’s the least badass reaction possible, especially for a character who is supposed to be a complete badass. Again, just so goofy. Gabriel and his posse approach Gamma, who dropped on the ground, and are very ready to kill her until Gamma promises she wasn’t with Beta of her own free will. Gabriel’s lie detection powers are up and running again, so he spares her. In fact, not only does he spare her, the next morning Gamma is free and heading to Hilltop with Judith and Rosita in one of their caravans.
Guys, Gabriel was ready to murder Gamma in cold blood yesterday morning. He told her, “I’ve spoken to God. He told me to hang you.” which is a line as badass as it is bonkers, and it’s extremely badass. I’m not saying Gamma doesn’t deserve some forgiveness and/or leeway for keeping Beta from killing Rosita and Judith, and maybe Gamma promised she was done with the Whisperers and Gabriel used his ear magic to know she was telling the truth. But the Whisperers have managed to infiltrate the colonies multiple times by hiding in plain sight. Maybe vet her for a little while longer? By the way, hey, Gabe? Where were your lie detection powers every single time you talked to Dante this season?
It’s all so bizarre and it doesn’t help that those extreme close-ups and tilted camera angles, which are so effective during the fight between Alpha and Daryl, are used non-stop through the rest of the episode, too. It just keeps the entire thing feeling extremely weird and off-putting, but maybe it also helped? I’ve said it before, but I’ll happily take weird Walking Dead over boring Walking Dead any day of the week. Plus, that Alpha-Daryl fight truly was fantastic—fantastic enough that I can’t help but wonder if the good version of the show isn’t hiding somewhere, perhaps about to burst out a secret tunnel some dude dug off-screen. But I don’t think I’ll be holding my breath anytime soon.