Warning! SPOILERS for The Walking Dead season 8, episode 13 ahead!
On tonight's episode of The Walking Dead, the survivors were forced to deal with a threat that they really haven't had to in some time - zombies. They have encountered walkers and have had to kill them, sure, and they've even had to kill walkers in their own homes, but it has been a long time since the survivors have been caught so off guard and suffered such a devastating blow as a result. And for a show called The Walking Dead, it was refreshing to see the series actually remember it's a zombie show.
"Do Not Send Us Astray" involves Simon leading the Saviors in an attack on the Hilltop, only for it to turn out it's really a trap Maggie set up to lure in and kill the Saviors. Neither group eradicates the other, and both suffer causalities, but it's the Hilltop who are hit with a second surprise attack thanks to the Saviors' infected weapons. In the middle of the night, those wounded with the Saviors' weapons during the earlier fighting begin to die from fever and return as hungry zombies. While everyone is asleep, these newly minted walkers attack, catching the whole community by surprise with a chaotic and brutal episode of walker-on-human violence - the likes of which The Walking Dead hasn't featured in ages.
For much of The Walking Dead's most recent seasons, the biggest threat to the survivors has been other people - the Governor's people, Terminus, the Wolves, and now Negan and his Saviors. The survivors have even had to worry about being attacked by their own people as tension builds, supplies run low and tempers run high. And though zombies have never stopped being a threat - Carl just died because he was bit by a walker - they haven't been the prevailing threat for years. This is in part because those who've survived this long have learned how to best handle the walkers, are better supplied, and live in sturdier structures. But for a show that became popular by building off the familiar tropes of zombie movies, it needs to not forget the zombies.
The walker attack in Sunday night's episode had it all. It's the perfect setting: the Hilltop is crowded and a large number of people are sleeping inside the Barrington House with the doors and windows open because it's so hot. These are people who are used to safety and security when behind their walls - especially from walkers - so there is absolutely zero reason for them to expect an attack. Plus, they're all exhausted from the Saviors's attack, making them especially vulnerable. Even the cinematography works to evoke the feeling of those zombie movies with their unsuspecting victims, using shots of a walker's feet shuffling in to frame or someone unknowingly attacked from behind.
The scene is not without moments of Walking Dead-ridiculousness (that zombie rolling down the stairs, for instance, and no one waking up) but the scene is by and large a gruesome and terrifying walker attack. Additionally, the scene isn't only full of poor innocent people becoming walker food, but those more seasoned survivors are there to slice or shoot the walkers dead. Rick even does a bit of triage, assisting Siddiq by cutting off bitten limbs in the hope that some people can be saved. After the attack - and once it becomes clear that these zombies were created by the Saviors - Maggie and the others must even kill someone who has the fever and wishes to die before they turn.
The Walking Dead has come under fire of late for being too slow, predictable, and boring, but when the series does something right and produces its first exciting and intense walker attack for the first time in forever, it should be praised, too. This week, The Walking Dead remembered it's a zombie show and it was a better show because of it.