It begins simply enough. Our group of heroes, trapped underground by Alpha in a cave and nearly surrounded by the Whisperers’ horde of walkers, figure out a path to escape the undead. Leaping from outcropping to outcropping of stone, barely above the heads of walkers, the sequence gains tension from the fragile nature of their movements, with a few genuinely nervy moments of will-they-or-won’t-they dread as Carol and Kelly both almost slip to their deaths. Finally, however, they all make it across, safe and sound. Daryl lights a match to track the direction of wind and hopefully lead them out. And that’s when things really get freaky.
Full disclosure, here: While I may not be as much of a claustrophobe as Carol, watching people shuffle their way through increasingly narrow pathways dozens of feet underground unnerves the hell out of me. It’s just scary, full stop. (I’m one of the few people more terrified of the first section of The Descent, before any monsters appear, when it’s just people almost getting stuck in a winding cave system.) So take my pronouncement of this episode of The Walking Dead as actually scary with a grain of salt, depending on your tolerance for painfully enclosed spaces that could end up killing you. I found it enormously stressful and exhilarating, one of the more inventive and cringe-inducing stories in recent memory and the rare sequence that the series hasn’t already done before in some way.
“Squeeze” finally introduces some consequences for Carol’s reckless behavior in the first half of the season, as our team slowly threads its way through the cave system, killing Whisperers and narrowly avoiding walker bites, only for the grieving woman to accidentally drop a stick of dynamite down a deep hole into the horde. It explodes, triggering a cave-in, and Magna and Connie wind up buried under tons of dirt and rock. (Don’t worry, they’re not dead. General rule of thumb: If the show doesn’t directly show someone dying, but instead teases it, they’re not dead.) Carol breaks down sobbing, begging to be blamed for her actions, but Daryl just tells her and the others to return home and let everyone know they found the horde, while he stomps off to find another way in to save Magna and Connie.
And with good reason—he already told her everything she should’ve heeded earlier in the episode. “People you care about are starting to get hurt,” he warns of her behavior, but apparently that wasn’t enough for Carol. She had to go and do the usual Walking Dead routine: Someone close to you dies, so you lash out foolishly against walkers, putting yourself in mortal danger, until a friend saves you at the last second. This pattern has repeated itself so often on this show, you have to wonder if the writers aren’t playing a game of “how many times can we get away with this?” with one another. At least this stark confrontation with consequences for her choices seems like it may finally get her to think strategically again, rather than stupidly. Her foolhardy actions are certainly understandable (“She killed my boy,” Carol cries, maybe one of the most intelligible justifications for going off your rocker there is), but she’s suffered analogous losses before. Lizzie? Mika? Her own daughter? She needed to be jarred out of her mindset. This certainly did the trick.
Meanwhile, over at the Whisperer camp, Alpha pulls the most surprising move yet: She gets naked and gets it on with Negan. True, it’s the culmination of his efforts to ingratiate himself with his new leader, but it’s still fairly shocking. Realizing there must be a spy keeping an eye on them, Alpha dispatches Gamma to parlay with the Alexandrians some more, assuming our people are crossing the border without being noticed. But Negan calls it: The spy is someone in Alpha’s own camp. He accurately susses out Gamma as the culprit, and after initially warning him not to sow mistrust by telling anyone else his theory, Alpha decides to reward his insight with some truly unpleasant sex, still wearing her skin mask and all. “You a crass man—I reckoned you might appreciate a crass reward,” she says after they both strip naked, thereby passing the buck on any desire she might feel for the former Savior. Negan, as always, plays it with a smile and an attempt to stay one step ahead of the situation, even though he was initially pretty convinced she dragged him away from camp to kill him. Instead, he’s effectively made himself a loyal henchman, in more ways than one.
With the exception of Carol, Daryl, and Negan (and Alpha’s pivot to suspecting Gamma is the spy), no one else does anything notable this episode. Jerry almost dies, which would’ve really sucked, because he’s one of the most reliably entertaining characters on the show at this point. And while Magna has a one-sentence reminder of her current position (dating Yumiko, though they didn’t leave things in a happy place), Connie, Kelly, and Aaron largely get relegated to placeholder status here. Honestly, Chekov’s dynamite (uncovered in the third act, exploded in the fifth) gets more of an arc than any of them.
But that’s okay, because the show got back to one of its foundational elements: fraught set pieces, built on steadily escalating suspense. Character study has always come second to armchair-gripping excitement in The Walking Dead’s arsenal, and that’s not a problem whenever it manages to actually deliver that payload. This episode coasted by on mood and mayhem, a welcome way to return from mid-season hiatus. And it pushed a couple of characters out of the strictures they’ve occupied in recent months. Now to start upending the status quo for everyone else, too.
- Daryl, asking Jerry if he saw where the Whisperers who attacked them went, after the big man says he knows which way to go. “Not exactly.” [Gestures at the giant arrow carved into the wall.] Even trapped underground, Jerry comes through with the funny.
- Similarly, Jerry’s frantic push through the narrow hole in the caverns with walkers hot on his heels (literally) was the stressful high point.
- Negan’s quip of “Looks like Mom’s mad at me” to a fellow Whisperer results in a dead-eyed stare back at him. Guess his particular brand of humor isn’t as appreciated among terrified cultists.
- The show repeats a musical theme it’s used in the past during Carol’s trek to blow up the horde with dynamite, though to these ears it still sounds like a blatant rip-off of 28 Weeks Later’s theme song.
- It was unclear at the end if everyone else headed home, or if they all left crying Carol to take Daryl’s message about the horde back, and decided to follow him into the caves to rescue the others.
- The weak spot of the episode was the Whisperer attack—too dark to register what was happening with any clarity, thereby sapping the fight of most of its energy.
- Actually, no, I take it back: Carol’s histrionic scream at Alpha at the very beginning was the weak spot, followed closely by Alpha deciding that, no, no reason to make sure the enemy really dies, right? I’m sure it’s fine. Plan over.