"Ghosts," the third episode of The Walking Dead's tenth season, was as well-balanced an episode of the show as you'll ever see. It divided its time between several characters, and gave them all compelling stuff to do that moved their stories along, especially Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who finally got to demonstrate in a measurable way how his time in jail has changed him. The episode also had good parts for Aaron (Ross Marquand), Carol (Melissa McBride), Eugene (Josh McDermitt), and Siddiq (Avi Nash), the latter two of whom had brief but significant appearances.
It began with a sequence depicting waves of walkers buffeting Alexandria. It was a good piece of filmmaking, with the title cards that have been popping up throughout the season so far telling how many hours have passed since the zombie siege started. The defenders got increasingly more exhausted and disheveled as the siege went on for 49 hours and the sun went down and up and down and up again. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation affected everyone this episode, putting them in raw, emotionally vulnerable positions that led to real feelings coming out.
At first, they thought the siege was the work of the Whisperers, but Gamma (Thora Birch) denied it while summoning Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) to a meeting with Alpha (Samantha Morton). Turns out she was telling the truth; it was just a random herd. The meeting at the border where Henry and the rest had their heads put on pikes was actually about Alpha's anger with the Alexandrians for crossing the border, not just to put out the fire from the satellite crash, but also during the blizzard and when Aaron and Michonne crossed over while they were walking along the river in the season premiere. How did Alpha know about those times? Because someone is always watching! She said there had to be punishment, but she took context into account, and this time no one had to die, she would just expand Whisperer territory. This would cut off the Alexandrians' hunting ground, which gave Carol an excuse to lash out at the woman who killed her son, and she called Alpha's plan "bulls---." Alpha demanded Carol lower her eyes to her feet, which is indeed very alpha.
"You should fear me," Alpha said.
"I don't," Carol replied. "I look at you and I feel nothing at all." That's a lie. To paraphrase a great film critic, she hates Alpha with her life.
"Is that right?" Alpha said. "The blonde boy, he screamed your name just before we took his head."
Carol then pulled out the revolver with three bullets left she'd snuck in to the meeting and tried to shoot Alpha. Daryl knocked her arm down so she missed, and then Michonne apologized for her, saying she was tired and sad about her son getting his head chopped off and stuck on a pole. Alpha was cool about it, though. "I forgive you, mother to mother," she said.
After they left the meeting, Carol really started getting real weird with it. She'd been abusing amphetamines to stay awake so that she wouldn't have nightmares, and she started to hallucinate. She saw three Whisperers in the woods on the Alexandria side of the border. When they set up camp in an abandoned school for the night, she saw herself on the cover of a textbook, as well as Henry and a ghostly girl after she imagined Daryl telling her a spooky story about his dad thinking he hit a ghost with his truck after taking too many stimulants. (Daryl's dad wasn't a trucker, but he did like to get yakked up.) She got caught in a booby trap and had to fight her way out of a pack of walkers, and she imagined she stabbed a Whisperer in the process. Her friends rushed her back home, and while she was recovering from a gash and coming down from the pills, she had a dream that Daryl was her husband and they were having a nice weekend morning with Henry. In a funny sort of meta flourish, they were listening to a song called "Care of Cell 44" by The Zombies. The Zombies! So the word "Zombies" does exist in Walking Dead world, but only for 2019 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees the Zombies, best known for their classic song "Time of the Season."
Anyway, no one believed that Carol had actually seen the three Whisperers, but the episode ended with a reveal that Carol had stabbed and killed one, which may end up escalating the cold war into an active one. Michonne just wanted to capture them, and when Michonne wants restraint, things are serious.
Elsewhere, Negan got ordered by Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) to help Aaron clear walkers from the woods near Alexandria, which neither of them wanted. Negan at least tried to play nice with Aaron, complimenting his prosthetic mace that's "putting the old stump to good use," but Aaron wasn't interested. Aaron was still salty with Negan for killing his boyfriend Eric all those years ago, and didn't want to hear about how Negan had changed, but did what he had to do back then. Aaron asked him why doing what he had to do meant killing the love of his life, and Negan gave a very interesting speech in response. It cogently articulated his ideology, which actually seemed closer to an ideology that could exist in real life than the studiously apolitical Walking Dead series usually allows. Read this and tell me Negan wouldn't have voted for Trump if America hadn't ended in the early '00s:
"One truth kept my people going: If you don't protect what belongs to you, then sooner or later it belongs to someone else. That goes for your land, your wallet, your home, your country, everything. It is your job as a man to protect it. That's the story of America. It's the story of the whole goddamn world, and ain't nothing changing it. Not you, not me, nobody."
But Negan demonstrated that he really has changed by saving Aaron after Aaron got exposed to a toxic plant and temporarily blinded. Instead of running away, he killed the walker that was chasing him and kept watch all night while Aaron slept it off. Negan is ultimately always looking out for himself, so getting in good with Aaron may just be a ploy to benefit himself in some way. The old Negan would have killed Aaron after the insults that Aaron spat at him. Progress, not perfection.
Toward the end of the episode, we checked in with Eugene and Siddiq. The walker siege was finally over, and Eugene and Rosita (Christian Serratos) were relaxing. Eugene made a comment about how he had been out there protecting Rosita, and she told him for the millionth time that she and him were never going to happen.
"You are not Coco's father," she said. "We are not together. I need you to hear that." And he finally heard it. It was good for the show to finally once and for all end that potential thread. In the comics, Eugene and Rosita do eventually get together, but the show's half-hearted multi-season will-they/won't-they was never convincing. It had always been pretty clearly won't they, and for Eugene to still be hanging onto that hope for all these years was a lingering bit of pathetic that didn't really fit with who the character has grown into. So it was good to hear him admit that their friendship was based on the idea that someday Rosita would see he was "worthy enough of being rezoned into love town," which meant he wasn't a very good friend at all. The first step towards change is self-awareness, and it's good to see that Eugene is finally growing out of his mopey unrequited love thing.
And Siddiq basically got diagnosed with PTSD by new doctor Dante (Juan Javier Cardenas), who was a combat medic in Iraq and could see what Siddiq was going through in the aftermath of witnessing the Whisperers' massacre. Between the mention of Iraq and Negan's speech about America, it was an episode uncommonly grounded in reality.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.