The first few minutes of Hunted, the third episode of the eleventh and final season of The Walking Dead, are riveting. The ruthless Reapers’ attack squad lay waste to Maggie’s raiding party in a series of deadly arrow and blade attacks on the group. Those that survive the onslaught, including several that are badly wounded, scatter into the woods in all directions. It’s a fantastically directed action sequence, capturing the chaos and horror of the assault, which makes great play of what’s left unseen in the darkness.
The narrative of Hunted keeps up the tension as the drama unfolds, mixing moral dilemmas, pivotal character moments, and intense instances of ‘personal peril’. But arguably it’s the visual textures and tableaux of the episode that are the most impactful. Hunted is full of memorable and evocative images and vistas. Director Frederick E.O. Toye makes extensive use of techniques far from commonplace in the series: low-angle shots, wide-angle lenses, and stretched perspectives and jostling Steadicam footage as the mêlées unfold.
Whether it’s Maggie picking her way alone through a desolate and overgrown retail park, Gabriel staggering injured through verdant woodland, the melancholy of a crumbling wooden chapel or the pitch-black interiors of a far-from-silent mall - it’s all beautifully framed, lit, and colour-balanced. It’s a level of visual attentiveness that adds atmosphere and a richer sense of place to what’s happening on screen.
The plot follows the separate stories of the scattered survivors of Maggie’s group and the efforts to secure and rebuild the settlement at Alexandria. The two strands are (as the opening two-parter Acheron makes clear) part of one collective survival bid. The fundamentals at Alexandria need to be put back together before the last of the food runs out; Maggie’s mission is to replenish the community’s dwindling stores by taking back supplies stolen by the Reapers.
Carol continues to operate as a maverick, annoying Noah with her reluctance to pitch in with his efforts to secure the walls. As she heads out, and is joined by a group of Alexandrian women, she tries to recapture the community’s horses - all of whom escaped during the assault by the Whisperers. Their trek produces some more evocative imagery: of wild creatures running free in an even wilder landscape, and of gruesome animal corpses. Eventually it’s the realisation that the horses might welcome the safety and security of home that gives the group the opportunity for recapture. Fittingly, it’s Carol who recognises how serious the needs confronting the community now are, giving Melissa McBride another powerfully emotional character moment.
The relentlessness of the hunters’ pursuit of Maggie also produces some thrilling scenes. Her dogged determination to survive leads, through many near-death experiences, to reunion with some others from her group. Maggie’s single-minded pursuit of the goal, tempered by her concern for those close to her, continues to butt up against Negan’s selfish, self-protective instincts. Alden settles matters by agreeing with Negan’s arguments, much to Maggie’s regret.
There can be little argument that Maggie’s mission has so far been calamitous: after the disorder and death in the Metro tunnels in Acheron, Maggie’s group has been routed, injured, and depleted by Reapers and walkers alike. The chances of a successful raid on the warehouses of Meridian look remote. By the end of Hunted, the residents of Alexandria are reminded of the ever-rising costs of survival, while those left alive from Maggie’s group watch as hopes evaporate, despite their continuing sacrifices. As a now toughened-up Gabriel concludes, as he despatches a dying Reaper without flinching: “there’s no God here.”
With the events of Acheron bringing more of what constitutes The Commonwealth into the light, it’s now time for The Reapers to emerge from the shadows, and for Alexandria to establish the true nature of potential allies and of enemies.
New episodes of THE WALKING DEAD - SEASON 11 premiere Mondays in the UK on DISNEY+/STAR
Read our previous reviews of THE WALKING DEAD below: