The Walking Dead begins its final clutch of episodes with an outing that splits focus while calling back to the show’s long and storied history.
This recap of The Walking Dead season 11, episode 17, “Lockdown”, contains spoilers.
“Lockdown” is, literally, the beginning of the end – the first of the final few episodes of The Walking Dead. But does it feel like it? A new little gimmick has been introduced to the opening moments of this concluding batch, snappy montages of the show’s history, the earliest and most significant moments of key characters across the years. We see snippets of villains who once were; Shane, the Governor, Negan back when he was a bad guy, and we’re reminded, or at least I was, that Lance Hornsby and Pamela Milton scarcely even compare.
The Walking Dead season 11, episode 17 recap
And yet those are the Big Bads we’ve been building to all this time, the Commonwealth storyline that capped off the comics always being the logical endpoint of a series that has wavered in quality more dramatically than perhaps any other in history. After undergoing several reinventions, The Walking Dead is unrecognisable from the show it was during the snippets we see; unrecognisable, even, from the show it was even a year or two ago. At one point in “Lockdown”, I forgot it was ever supposed to be about zombies, even when several were on-screen.
Of course, no zombie media is ever really about zombies; they’re a necrotic background that the best and worst of humanity pose in front of. But now that I think about it, there’s no moral ambiguity in The Walking Dead. There hasn’t been since its earliest days, admittedly, but now the villains are dictatorial politicians, spoiled rich kids, and armies in Stormtrooper uniforms, while the heroes are all serious, grim, down-on-their-luck survivors whom several time jumps have conspired to make parents, both surrogate and otherwise. Behind its own back, The Walking Dead has become a kind of conspiratorial action thriller about a family trying to stay together while a government conspires to tear them apart.
So that’s where “Lockdown” picks up, with Hornsby and his goons trying to take out Daryl and Maggie, and Pamela trying to outmanoeuvre the swelling of public outrage while assassins hunt down Carol and the kids and a horde of zombies press in from all directions.
On the one hand, each of these subplots is handled well. Daryl and Maggie’s guerrilla warfare shtick supplies the obligatory action, Carol and Jerry trying to get the kids out of the way of Shira (Chelle Ramos) and Roman (Michael Tourek) provides plenty of tension, and there’s even a bit where Mercer and Rosita head out to gun down a load of Walkers that is clearly designed just to flex the FX budget, as an unfortunate Commonwealth goon is torn in half in a mess of dyed corn syrup and rubbery entrails. I even think the political stuff makes a degree of sense in how any attempts to disperse the crowd protesting Sebastian’s protection are completely half-hearted until it’s decided just to tear gas everyone, which is of course carried out with total enthusiasm.
But on the other hand it’s still weirdly difficult to care, feeling very much as if we’re on straight tracks to a perfunctory underdog victory, without the shocking wildcard developments of Negan mulching the heads of fan-favorite characters with a baseball bat or even Alpha impaling them on spikes. Longstanding character dynamics seem to have been abandoned in favour of everyone uniting under a common cause, and neither Hornsby nor Pamela seem all that intimidating as villains. Perhaps all of this – or at least some of it – will change as the disparate plots begin to intertwine in a more satisfying way, but we’ll have to wait and see. We’ve waited over a decade, after all – what’s a few more weeks?
You can catch The Walking Dead season 11, episode 17, “Lockdown”, exclusively on AMC and AMC+.