Ryan Hurst as Beta is The Walking Dead’s spin on the Terminator (Picture: Jace Downs/AMC)Warning: Contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season nine.
The Walking Dead might have left behind chasing a discernible endgame, but meandering in the post-apocalypse is far more entertaining with the Whisperers around.
Alpha (Samantha Morton) and Beta’s (Ryan Hurst) band of masked primal survivors seem to have reminded everyone of The Walking Dead’s strengths. While recent seasons were weighed down in drab community politics, the past few episodes have found a comfortable horror B-movie groove which leans into the show’s wilder tendencies.
If last week’s episode showcased Samantha Morton’s brutal leadership, Chokepoint is Ryan Hurst let off the leash. After Daryl, Connie and Henry rescue Lydia from the Whisperers camp, they decide to make a stand against their pursuers by hiding out and fortifying a high-rise building — preventing their fellow Hilltop survivors from harm.
Connie and Daryl are a surprisingly great partnership (Picture: AMC)Lydia warns Daryl about the Whisperers best fighter, Beta, who is essentially a cross between WWE’s The Undertaker and Halloween’s Michael Myers. As he penetrates the building in a gaggle of walkers, Beta comes to blows with Daryl in a DIY wrestling match – surrounded by knives, wooden planks, and buzzsaws as these titans wallop each other senseless.
It’s ludicrously silly, but why the hell not? The Walking Dead often back-peddles by trying to establish meaningful connections we simply don’t care about (a collective sigh this week for Henry and Lydia’s dead-eyed ‘romance’), forgetting the show’s USP is the extraordinary circumstance. No one watches The Walking Dead for gooey love stories, we want pulp horror thrills which push relatable characters into dark, morally ambiguous decisions. Or, you know, fights.
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While the Whisperers push the show back on course, the Kingdom are quietly becoming the most engaging survivors through added levity. Ezekiel, Jerry and Carol receive a note from a mysterious group threatening to jeopardise safe passage to anyone attending their trade fair. What initially starts out as an assault mission, or one for Jerry’s sword, turns into an agreement based on a punchline – winning them over with the bargaining chip of watching a movie.
These self-proclaimed ‘Highway Men’ feel like lost dads who were on route to a Steve McQueen convention, riding up to save Tara’s gang on horseback with everything but their cassette tape of The Magnificent Seven. At the moment they feel like death fodder for episodes to come, but I’m secretly hoping they’ll sporadically leave and enter the show whenever the writers run out of methods to save someone from danger.
Do these really need help from the Highway Men? (Picture: Gene Page/AMC)The most surprising pivot is Daryl, Connie, Lydia, and Henry potentially breaking away from Hilltop to form a group. The dynamic between Daryl and Connie works surprisingly well, so it feels like a double-edged sword if every dose of them is bundled with Lydia and Henry scrambling for a morsel of chemistry. But will Connie’s sister Kelly let her go?
As Beta awakens in classic movie serial killer fashion after falling down an elevator shaft, The Walking Dead’s issues are less concerning when it’s having fun with its premise. Instead of juggling countless storylines to set up a finale, the show feels like it’s rediscovered how to entertain in the moment with a leaner, and meaner, payoff.
The Walking Dead continues on AMC Sundays and airs on Fox UK Mondays at 9pm.
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