It’s no secret that zombies themselves are often the least interesting part of zombie storytelling. While The Walking Dead has produced some of the most visually interesting zombies in the history of the genre, the show’s success was never tied to the shambling hordes of dead bodies that gave it its name. When deployed correctly, zombies are a setting, not antagonists. They are an environmental risk that also just happen to serve as a reminder to beleaguered survivors that no matter how tough things are now, they could always be worse. You could always become one of them.
It took The Walking Dead a surprisingly long time to fully understand that inescapable fact of zombie drama life. It wasn’t until midway through season 5 that the survivors found a fulltime sanctuary in the form of the Alexandria Safe Zone, were able to catch their breath, and begin the work of rebuilding rather than merely surviving. Not coincidentally, the back half of season 5 was arguably The Walking Dead’s first golden era. That era didn’t last long, however, as Alexandria’s nation-building efforts were quickly interrupted by a war with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his Saviors.
While the “All Out War” arc is one of the most beloved aspects of the original comic, when adapted to screen it quite simply did not work. The cartoonish aspects of Negan’s personality were grating rather than appealing and the show’s limited budget could’t accommodate a full-on war in addition to all the zombies. Not only that, but the Savior war came across as an unnecessary interruption. The Alexandrians were building something. They were confronting their own flaws, fixing them, and trying to create a new society out of the ashes of an old one.
Now in season 11, the Alexandrians are back to building again and it’s leading to some surprisingly effective television. Much of AMC’s marketing material for The Walking Dead’s final season has revolved around the concept of hunger. Following the conclusion of yet another war (this time against the creepy Whisperers), our remaining survivors have been placed back to square one. The Hilltop Colony and The Kingdom have been decimated and only Alexandria remains as a viable home, albeit barely. The Alexandrians are faced with a threat more terrifying than the dead: the world.
Months of total war led to ignored crops which led to blight which led to a starving populace. That hunger engendered the season 11 premiere cold open in which Carol, Maggie, Darly, and company go on a very dangerous food run, something they should be long past needing to do 10 years into the post-apocalypse. When that run fails, it sets Maggie, Negan, and Daryl on the path of an even more dangerous food run through a subway and eventually into the waiting arms of new antagonistic group The Reapers.
In episode 3 “Hunted”, however, viewers finally get to see what Alexandria’s hunger looks like on the ground level. And this is where the Little House on the Prairie stuff comes in…though in a darker fashion. “Hunted” mostly follows Carol as she leads a mission to find some horses. But why would they need horses to ride if they’re hungr….oh God, they’re going to eat the horses, aren’t they?
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