The Walking Dead’s 3rd episode of the final season steered away from the underworld heavy elements of the first two episodes, and brought us up to some fresh air, with time spent amongst the Alexandrians, as well as members of Maggie’s group scattered to the wind by The Reapers.
The cold opening of “Hunted” resolved episode 2’s cliffhanger, as Maggie’s group having emerged from the subway came face to face with The Reapers. In a stylish, chaotic scene we see flashes of each of Maggie’s group as they are injured, yanked or flee into the night under the swinging blades of the masked Reapers, who have been pursuing Maggie for some time.
It’s not clear who survives (although poor Cole is obvious victim number one with his throat slashed. Poor Cole, we barely new ya. Why must the hot ones die?) though Maggie is the only one we see evade her attacker as the episode titles roll.
And let me interject myself here and say how much of a thrill I get seeing Melissa McBride as the second name on the titles. What a long road it’s been for Carol and for those of us who followed her journey from day one. We’ve come a long, long way, baby. Also, yay for the new additions of Callan McAuliffe and Cooper Andrews onto the main titles, two adorbs dudes who hopefully get some great screentime this season.
Returning to the action, as the episode progresses we discover Maggie isn’t the only one who escaped with her vital organs intact. Inevitably, Negan did too and it is he she runs into as she tries to find safety and defeat any Whisperers on her trail. Negan saves Maggie from getting a slicing, in a shopping mall (nice Dawn of the Dead throwback - my favourite of the Romero titles), and they discover Alden, who has not been so lucky on the slicing front.
The former Savior provides a limping buffer between the warring pair - a clever choice due to his past with both characters, and his taking against Maggie over her treatment of Gage. After discovering two of Maggie’s group - Duncan and Agatha, who are very swiftly offed as they obviously were always going to be - they end up in a church where Alden insists they must leave him.
It’s one of my favourite scenes of this episode, not because I’m especially enjoying the Maggie/Negan stuff, but because for once we got to see a character talk about his on-screen past, his decisions, and have his feelings all laid out clearly. Too often this show falls into muddy, round-the-houses talk where character motivations have to be guessed at. It was nice to have Alden openly talk about why he left the Saviors and chose to side with Maggie, and a good reminder to Maggie of the woman she once was.
After much soul-searching, they leave Alden in the church, and one presumes it’s not the last we’ve seen of him. A clever shot of Maggie looking at Negan’s blood dripping crowbar in the foreground, harking back to the visual of him post-Glenn murder, is the last we see as the distrustful pair head on towards Meridian.
“Hunted” heavily lays on the clues that this season will have a heavy religious theme, as aside from Alden’s church respite, Maggie and co come across a body tied to a tree, clearly burnt alive, with the label “Judas”. A warning, or a punishment, or both? It seems likely we’ll find out soon, given Gabriel’s involvement in the story.
We see Gabriel, with a knife embedded in his hand, praying aloud clearly for the strength to pull the knife from his hand. In fact, a limping Reaper not far ahead of him provides the impetus for him to finally do the painful deed - and some could say that in itself was the answer to his prayer.
As he then approaches the Reaper (who, for some reason, has taken his boots off. I don’t know if there’s a religious reason for this, or he is just a big fan of Die Hard and wanted to wiggle his toes in the mud) the religious angle of the Reapers’ lives - and thus season 11A’s arc - begins to unfold. The man requests prayers from the Father, after all even your enemies deserve prayers. Gabriel answers his prayers with a knife to the head and God is like *tense smiley face*.
I’m not sure where they are going with Gabriel, but I do like it. I find his moral ambiguity fascinating, and his dual reliance on God and lack of belief in God an interesting dichotomy. I had thought he might be taking Rick’s role in the comics (no spoilers) but I am leaning away from that now. I am interested to see, though, where he falls when eventually he ends up with his friends at the Commonwealth.
But back to Hunted, and the breath of fresh air (with a little tickly cough at the end) that was the Alexandria story. The town is falling apart in every real material way, and rather than focus on the walls, as Aaron would like, Carol decides to hunt down horses. It’s a sensible move, though it feels like we’re in one of those survival video games, with a pop up menu - what do you do first? Build a fire? Build a shelter? Find a water and food source? Press X to make your choice.
Carol’s thought is that the horses help with everything and that’s her priority, so along with Kelly, Magna and Rosita they try - and repeatedly fail - to corral some horses back to their fold. It’s very clear that the horses are symbolic of so much more, both to Carol and in the show in general.
Last year, a boss at AMC spoke about the audience research they’d done on the falling ratings for Walking Dead, and one of the biggest issues that came up for ex-fans was too much “hopelessness”. It’s a ditch that the Walking Dead way too often lets its wheels run into, even with this market research knowledge in their pocket. So the scenes of the Walking women (and DEAR GOD it is about time we had more scenes of the women working together like this) seeing the horses in full flight, after coming across the bodies of several who met a grizzly end, and eventually capturing the wild animals, are a much needed win.
We - the audience - need these moments of joy and success to make us feel it’s not all doom and gloom; and we need to see the characters have these moments too so we understand why they keep on keeping on, in the face of it all.
It’s particularly important for Carol - who has had so many losses, in so many ways - to have the moment of pride whilst leading the horses back into Alexandria. Of course, it’s The Walking Dead, so the happiness is short lived as Carol leads poor unlucky horsey away to quietly be killed in her lap (If you’re going to go, it’s not a bad place to be when leaving this earthly plane).
It’s a somber and emotional scene, where Melissa McBride as usual imbues every tiny flick of the eyes with depth as we understand how much it hurts Carol to do this. And thankfully - because I am so tired of the “Carol is blamed for breathing” timeline - Aaron sees this too when he enters mid-kill and takes over for her.
We see the delightful gaggle of Alexandria: The Next Generation kids, force down the chunks of charred meat (except for Hershel who, being the superhero he is, has eaten spiders before and isn’t phased by horse meat), and we truly understand what Carol did. The guilt and self-loathing she’s been exhibiting for a long time was channeled into something that wasn’t just preventative, it was active in getting these kids’ bellies filled for the foreseeable.
The Carol horse story also dropped several other breadcrumbs of stories which intrigued me and sparked my speculation brain into gear. The first being the ongoing saga of missing Connie.
With Kelly seeming to grow closer to Carol, we see a concerned Magna take Carol aside and warn her away from giving Kelly “false hope”. The exchange is not especially tense but by the episode end, Carol has clearly ignored Magna’s warning as she and Kelly head out together, and Magna looks perturbed.
Okay, let me say this, last year I posted a theory about Magna and Connie in the cave - and I STILL believe it might be true. There are just all these little details that I think are pointing to the fact that Magna somehow betrayed Connie in order to save her own life (or “Otis’d her), when trapped in the cave.
The sudden revelation that Magna had killed a man before the turn; the way she didn’t want Yumiko to blame Carol; her jumpiness in Hunted; and her solid belief that Connie is dead and hoping otherwise is futile. She seems fairly sure about that…
I might be wrong, I often am, but I definitely think there is something more to this that’s slowly being drip-fed to us.
The other story foundation stone that was laid, was Rosita telling Carol that she’s been having dreams about Abraham. In them her ex-lover is trying to tell her something, something about Alexandria, something she has to do, but she can’t figure it out.
Now with the vultures repeatedly circling throughout this episode, the impending starvation and the Reapers outside the door, it’s evident that Alexandria is about to finally crumble like all the other communities, and it seems likely Rosita’s dream has something to do with that. Presumably it will be something she has to do that will save her or Coco’s life.
However, it is interesting that she shared the story with Carol (and said “I don’t know why I told you that”) given how much we saw last season of Carol’s hallucinations and dreams. Coupled with Rosita’s sad look at Carol washing the horse blood off her hands, it does make me ponder if Rosita’s dream isn’t connected to Carol in some way. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time the fate of the entire community lay in Carol’s hands, though frankly, I think it’s time someone else’s hands got dirty.
Despite the fact this final season is longer than usual (24 episodes instead of 16) it does feel like some stories are going at a glacial pace (like Maggie’s 12 year pregnancy in seasons past), and for me I’d happily sit with the Alexandrians fighting walkers, and starvation and collapse for the majority of the season. I don’t need the Reapers story, and the convenient way they show up the day the Whisperers are dealt with will always rankle with me, but it is here and we must deal with it. Though I can’t say I’m looking forward to that. Photos copyright of AMC