WARNING: The following article includes spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 10, Episode 5, "What Is Always Is," which aired Sunday on AMC.
From the very first episode of The Walking Dead's tenth season, it's been clear what the running theme will be: masks. We saw it from the onset with zombie skin washing ashore at Oceanside, signaling the trouble to come with the Whisperers.
However, as the episodes roll on, the concept of masks becomes more metaphorical than literal, as showrunner Angela Kang and Co. dive into the duality of everyone, heroes and villains alike, and the Two-Face, so to speak, that exists within us all. Still, as nuanced as this may be, by constantly trying to shove it down our throat as a philosophy, TWD runs the risk of becoming too preachy, slightly annoying and boring.
This obsession kicked into high gear courtesy of the last two episodes, with Michonne really making the conversation a bit too in-your-face after that platonic kiss with Ezekiel. She reminisces about the mask she wore as a sword-wielding zombie killer, hardened after losing her family, only to strip it away and let her guard down when she met Rick. Ezekiel also comments on his mask, that of a king, and later on, we see he's wearing a brave face as he hides his thyroid cancer.
When you peer closer, Season 10 has everyone trying to hide either a secret or that they're just split into two.
Carol, for example, is tough on the outside, masking she's a broken woman; Siddiq is wearing the mask of a healthy doctor when on the inside, he's suffering PTSD from the Whisperers' kidnapping; Daryl's wearing the mask of a leader when really, he wants to run away to New Mexico and leave this life of war behind; and lastly, Alpha's wearing a mask to keep her love for Lydia secret. Not to mention she's also found telling Gamma their masks protect them and now the latter must wear another to lure and trick Alexandria's Aaron.
There's not much more beating of this theme the show can do and honestly, it feels like Kang's team is trying way too hard to paint everyone with something to hide, or as characters putting up facades for self-gain.
We understand the Whisperers, as antagonists, are in and of themselves a representation of masks as humans who are faking being zombies to survive. Thus, there will be obvious parallels between them and humanity. However, with that alone, the series nails the concept of man and the darker nature lying underneath. To then go and keep portraying so many heroes as pseudo-Whisperers themselves is just overdoing the situation. We could understand Siddiq, but when you also throw in Magna fronting when she really is a killer beneath, again, TWD's writers are flogging the horse to death. To hear everyone speaking of these masks or seeing it unfold is tiring, and the show really doesn't gain any points as this feels pretentious.
That said, there are positives to this because we get layered, multi-dimensional characters. As mentioned, it's interesting seeing a medical practitioner like Siddiq in a fractured state, while witnessing Carol and Ezekiel crumble mentally makes sense as they watched their kid, Henry, beheaded. What this does is make characters relatable and show how loss, angst and tragedy still have such big roles to play in the lives they're embodying in this zombie apocalypse. It's all about making them human in the end-of-days and again, it shows how they err, feel and also, are fallible.
Some might say the show is talking down to its audience, and while there's some validity there, there is also credence to such arcs and discussions making the show a bit more profound. Could the series cut back on it? Sure, because you don't want it to feel emotionally heavy in a non-organic way. However, that doesn't mean this duality should be scrubbed completely. Everyone has two sides to them, as seen with Negan, whom many think was also wearing the mask of a domesticated gardener, so by tackling the polarization within, we get some more intriguing character beats and different relationship dynamics, helping spice the plot up as well.
All in all, what's needed is for the writers to strike a true balance; to focus on the important players and not ones like Magna, whom most fans don't care for in terms of her criminal past. The main characters have always propelled the show forward, so this helps their momentum, but remember, this kind of narrative and storytelling device needs to be tempered a bit. After all, we all wear masks -- we just don't need everyone to elaborate or get too loquacious on why they do.
The Walking Dead stars Norman Reedus, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Seth Gilliam, Ross Marquand, Khary Payton, Cooper Andrews, Avi Nash, and Samantha Morton. It airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.