“Lines We Cross” proves that this show is once again good — and could perhaps become better than it ever has been.
This recap of The Walking Dead Season 10, Episode 1, “Lines We Cross”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous season by clicking these words.
You can tell The Walking Dead is good again by an episode like “Lines We Cross”, which remained thoroughly watchable despite almost nothing of actual consequence happening. It’s the little things. After months of having to suffer through the indescribably bad spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead, legitimately one of the worst shows on television, The Walking Dead Season 10 premiere impressed me just by being functional. Its cast — still too large, admittedly, though I suspect we’ll work towards correcting that throughout the season — are reasonably intelligent and resourceful. They (most of them, anyway) speak and act as real people might; their relationships seem natural and ever-evolving. We’re getting new mileage out of people and dynamics that seemed to have been several seasons past their expiration dates. Even the zombie action is decent.
All of this is nice, but it isn’t the reason why “Lines We Cross” works — not entirely, at least. There’s also an underlying dread, most of it a symptom of that horrific lineup of skewered heads in last season’s penultimate episode, that gives the show a legitimately scary tone that it hasn’t had for years. These characters are frantic. They’re genuinely intimated by the Whisperers, led by Alpha (Samantha Morton) and Beta (Ryan Hurst), despite them having been missing for the several months that have elapsed between seasons. The good guys still respect their boundaries, much to the annoyance of Carol (Melissa McBride), who has been in self-imposed isolation for a while, and Aaron (Ross Marquand), who has decided that he and his Inspector Gadget hand are done playing along.
This hardened gang of survivors who form a Macedonian phalanx on the beach to drill combat maneuvers with spears and swords and shields — when they’re scared, it helps us to be scared for them. And if we’re scared for them it helps us to value their interactions more. Carol and Daryl (Norman Reedus) having best friend time in the woods has a ring of tragedy about it, as does the latter learning sign language so that he can better communicate with Connie (Lauren Ridloff). How fluent can he really get before some calamity separates them?
All-out war might have been the ill-advised tagline for the good guys’ overlong tussle with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his Saviours, but it seems a better description of what’s brewing in this season. We have been given certain assurances, and that battle is among them. We also know that Michonne (Danai Gurira) is leaving and that Maggie (Lauren Cohen) is returning. Paola Lázaro is joining the cast as Juanita Sanchez, aka Princess, and there’s going to be another key Whisperer figure in Thora Birch’s Gamma. None of these things are introduced in The Walking Dead Season 10 premiere — nothing much at all happened, really — but you can feel that specter of change looming over everything. A discarded Whisperer skin on the wrong side of the border felt momentous. A crashed Russian satellite causing a forest fire felt portentous.
And there’s more to lose now. Rosita’s (Christian Serratos) baby has been born, and its care has been entrusted to the charts and notes of Eugene (Josh McDermitt), and Siddiq (Avi Nash), despite his mental state wavering thanks to PTSD and survivor’s guilt. Judith (Cailey Fleming — adorable) is growing up. The communities are organized. They are, in a sense, happy. Things can only get worse.
Again, “Lines We Cross” was far from an all-time great episode; really, it was a functional setup for things to come. But what a relief. It’s consistently well-written and creatively directed without any need for the insufferable formal and stylistic flourishes that the show leaned on at its worst. And what was teased in The Walking Dead Season 10, Episode 1 was ripe with potential, both in its ability to torment the cast and consistently engage the audience. This show is, once again, good. And before long it might be better than it has ever been.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.