‘The Walking Dead’: Carol Leads the Team Into a ‘Squeeze’ as Season 10 Returns

AMC’s “The Walking Dead” began in the aftermath of a contagion which turned the world upside down. The newest villains in the series turn it inside out. The Whisperers wear the flesh of those who have conquered the world and have their own method of containing the contaminants to their death-affirming community. 

After a three month break, “The Walking Dead” season 10 returns with “Squeeze,” and it is a tight spot Daryl (Norman Reedus), Carol (Melissa McBride), Jerry (Cooper Andrews), Magna (Nadia Hilker), Connie (Lauren Ridloff), Kelly (Angel Theory), and Aaron (Ross Marquand) find themselves in. Whisperer leader Alpha (Samantha Morton) fed on Carol’s hatred and buried them in a pit filled with zombies. Recriminations come fast among the stalactites and stalagmites and the normally steadfast badass Carol is the odd girl out. She’s gone off the rails.

“We fight for our future not for revenge,” Darryl reminds her, making sure, yet again, they’re on the same team. Carol’s recent recklessness has become more of a threat to the Alexandrians than the walkers or the villains and when Daryl confronts her, she says she’s sorry and finds a new way to jeopardize the group. It drives a wedge between the two. But hyperventilating, guilt-ridden Carol is no less dangerous. 

Carol’s claustrophobia seems to come out of nowhere. Darryl spots it instantly, but he’s had no inkling of it since they went separate ways. Carol’s retreat into full independence and the seafaring industriousness could have been a clue, except being on a boat in rough waters is still being caged in a confined space. But Carol hasn’t been afraid of anything since she was the mousy housewife who had to ice her husband. During the space of “The Walking Dead,” true claustrophobia would have come up before. Her newfound irrational fear comes from another place.

Carol has been shattered. He outlived her daughter Sophia, her adopted son Henry (Matt Lintz), many of her friends, a few fairly plausible communities, and most of her enemies, even the ones who came back to life and had to be killed again. She’s got nothing left but revenge and she’s thrown all caution to the wind. She’s the reason the group is in this predicament and she’s never going to get that rap off her back. She is solely hell-bent on destroying Alpha and, regardless of her phobic blowback, she will relapse. Revenge is a drug, and Carol is a junkie. Was she this hell-bent against the Governor or Negan?

Mary the Whisperer, or as Alpha calls her, Gamma (Thora Birch), gave the horde’s secret location to the communities. She is being seduced by the civilized alternative Rick’s old crew maintains beyond reason. She’s been flirting with it, at least, as well as with Aaron, who sees blood pumping under the young women’s dead skin. 

Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is also strangely moved by dead flesh. The former Savior rats Gamma out to get his Whisperer skinsuit and learn the secret handshake and gets an unexpected bonus out in the woods. First his nuts are almost cut off and then he gets his nut off as Alpha offers a crass reward for a crass man. Both scenarios probably arouse him equally as we find out he’s got a thing for death masks. It is refreshing to see Negan’s bravado creak when he thinks he’s going to be executed, but after years of living on the edge of survival, he probably has an all-around fetish for danger. Why else would he tempt the jealous ire of Beta, Alpha’s second in command? He’s already rebranded the man Frankenstein, a monster in a land of monsters. 

Director Michael Satrazemis captures the confinement of the underground trap, but the camerawork makes the closed space feel like open real estate. The cave itself is spacious, but the floor space is very limited. We don’t know how Alpha moved the horde into caves but they really fill a room as the gang has to jump rock to rock to get past them. Lit by Daryl’s make-shift Walker-limb torch, the main problem is capturing confined action in poorly lit environments. It turns the battles into the same confusion “Game of Thrones” gave us when they took on their chillier walkers in “The Long Night.” We don’t know who is being killed until they reconvene. Nevertheless, they really keep the tension going. Every nook and crevice is as daunting as the teeth on a walker. This is especially true for Jerry, who is thankfully is pulling up the rear. 

Jerry says he knows a road sign when he sees one, but given the circumstances and their past experience with the Whisperers, you might be inclined to go in the exact opposite direction of any hints they may give to get out of the cryptic maze. The realization actually makes for a muted comedy respite from all the tension, something “The Walking Dead” does less and less as the series ambles on. The tension rises again as Jerry, who is the largest member of the team, tries to squeeze through the rocky crawl ways with Walkers nipping at his heels. We haven’t had a solid death of an established character in a while, and Jerry is a good candidate. 

Not happy just leading the group into the zombie cave itself, Carol relapses on the way out of it. She runs off to blow up The Whisperer’s horde but the loose cannon doesn’t know how to handle dynamite and has to be rescued. Although, to be fair, Magna also threatens the group’s safety with her final close-up and she disappears into the darkness to kill Walkers who would have been buried anyway. The final cave-in traps Connie and Magna underground. Kelly makes the call that they don’t have time to dig her friends out because any explosion will draw both Whisperers and Walkers. Carol, who has always kept her emotion buttoned up, finally breaks down, begging Daryl to blame her for their deaths.

While most of the major cast is far in the distance, “Squeeze” sets “The Walking Dead” season 10 up for a perilous second half. Carol may never redeem herself, even if Daryl does come back for a cave rescue.

The Walking Dead” season 10 returns Feb. 23 and airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.