The Walking Dead Season 11: A beginner’s guide
James R | On 23, Aug 2021
The Walking Dead returns for its 11th and final season this week on Disney+. The streaming service’s adult-friendly Star section will stream episodes weekly, starting on Monday 23rd September – but with its new home will come new viewers, which begs the question: what on earth is The Walking Dead all about? And what do you need to know if you’re only just tuning in?
But don’t worry, we’re here to help, with a beginner’s guide to what’s going on and who’s who. Since the first season of the post-apocalyptic zombie drama, an intrepid group of survivors have confronted past demons and combatted new threats, with friendships and relationships suffering from the mounting collateral damage caused by the undead plague.
Here’s a quick rundown of what’s happened in each season:
Season 1 told the story of the weeks and months that follow after a zombie apocalypse. County Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) travelled with wife Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) and a small group of survivors, constantly in search of a safe and secure home. But the constant pressure of fighting off death on a daily basis took a heavy toll, sending many to the lowest depths of human cruelty. Faced with brutal, life altering decisions at every turn, the survivors were forced to adapt to their newfound reality. As Rick struggled to keep his family alive, he discovered that the overwhelming fear of the survivors was far more dangerous than the mindless walkers roaming the earth.
Rick and his small group of survivors found that holding onto their humanity was more difficult than they ever imagined, even as they found shelter at the Greene Family Farm, looked off by the widowed Hershel (Scott Wilson). While Rick’s power was questioned and new enemies arose, the survivors realised that they themselves were the walking dead to which the title refers.
In Season 3, Rick and his fellow survivors continued to seek refuge in their desolate and post-apocalyptic world, mainly by holing up in a prison. But they soon discovered that there are greater forces to fear than just the walking dead: enter new characters the Governor (David Morrissey) and fan-favourite Michonne (Danai Gurira), who got through this world by walking around with a couple of zombie “pets” chained up. The group severed upon the arrival of new survivors and Rick struggled to control his group’s security and cope with a devastating loss. The Governor, leading the closed-off civilisation of Woodbury, presented himself as the ultimate threat to everyone’s survival. As everyone in the prison and Woodbury’s lives were threatened by their war, Rick continued to push boundaries to protect fellow survivors, but the success came at numerous costs.
In this uncertain, post-apocalyptic world, Rick and his band of survivors continued their ongoing struggle against the threat of walkers as well as the dangers that lurk among the living. Season 4 found Rick and the group fostering a thriving community in the safe haven of the prison. Sadly, in this brutal world, happiness was short lived; walkers and outside threats were no match for danger brewing inside the fences. Just when salvation seemed to be in sight, they fell into more danger than ever before and had to wonder whether survival was enough to live. In Season 4, the group’s home and new way of life was thoroughly tested with every decision they made. The season ended with Rick and the group outgunned, outnumbered, and trapped.
Season 5 introduced us to the supposed sanctuary of Terminus. What followed was a story that weaves the true motives of the people of Terminus with the hopeful prospect of a cure in Washington, DC, the fate of the group’s lost comrades, as well as new locales, new conflicts and new obstacles in keeping the group together and staying alive. Faced with the possibility of sanctuary, the survivors came to realise that threats lurked even in the utopia they had dreamed of for so long. Stories broke apart and intersected. The characters found love and hate. Peace and conflict. Contentment and terror. And, in the quest to find a permanent, safe place to call home, one question haunted them: after all this, who had they become?
To make it as far as they have – to have persevered through all of their heartbreaking challenges – our survivors have evolved into incredibly powerful people, but power is not always for good. They attempted to find a way to assimilate into the safe zone of Alexandria, but many of Rick’s people needed to take a step back from the violence and pragmatism they’ve needed to embrace. These reversals didn’t happen easily, or without conflict. However, Rick’s group began fighting for something more than survival: they fought for their home, and defended it at any cost, against any threat, even if that threat came from within. While there’s the threat of a massive herd of walkers in a nearby quarry, there’s also the discover of a new community – The Hilltop – and new hostile survivors called the Saviours.
Up until this point, our characters have lived through conflicts. Disease, hunger, scores of the undead, tragedy, betrayal, and unthinkable loss. They’ve found strength power. At the start of Season 7, that power is taken away. They thought they knew the world. They were wrong. The group was fractured, broken, bereaved and desperate to pick up the pieces while living under the thumb of oppression, as Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) successfully brought the survivors under his control, brutally convincing them to live under his rules with a deadly and horrific example of what happens if they don’t. Other characters were unaware of what happened, but have become separated from the group either by incident or choice – they learnt that they can’t escape this new turn of their world either. As the season progressed, Rick’s group focused on preparing for war and gathering the supplies and numbers to take Negan and the Saviours down once and for all. But victory required more than Alexandria. Rick and his group found themselves going to remarkable lengths to take back power, while relationships and trusts were betrayed and broken at every turn – no matter how much they planned, they could never be prepared for the war with Negan and his army.
In Season 7, Rick and his group were confronted with their deadliest challenge yet through the introduction of Negan and the Saviours, who broke our group. Feeling powerless under Negan’s rules and demands, Rick advocated the group play along. But seeing that Negan couldn’t be reasoned with, Rick began rallying together other communities affected by the Saviours. And with the support of the Hilltop and Kingdom, they finally had enough firepower to contest them. In Season 8, Rick brought all out war to Negan and his forces. The Saviours were larger, better equipped and ruthless – but Rick and the unified communities were fighting for the promise of a brighter future. The battle lines were drawn as they launched into a kinetic, action-packed offensive. As with any battle, there were losses. Casualties. But with Rick leading the Alexandrian forces, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) leading the Hilltop, and King Ezekiel (Khary PaytonOayton) Kharyleading the Kingdom – was Negan and the Saviours’ grip on this world finally be coming to an end?
Season 8 pitted Rick and his group of survivors against the Saviours and Negan. With Negan’s life in his hands, Rick had a character-defining choice in front of him. By making the unilateral decision to spare Negan, Rick upheld the values his late son, Carl, championed in order to build for the future, but created conflict within his group. In Season 9, we saw our survivors a year and a half after the end of the war, rebuilding civilization under Rick’s steadfast leadership. It was a time of relative peace among the communities as they worked together, looking to the past to forge the future, but the world they knew was rapidly changing as man-made structures continued to degrade, and nature took over, changing the landscape and creating new challenges for our survivors. As time passes, the communities confronted unexpected obstacles, danger and, of course, walkers, but nothing prepared them for the formidable force they were about to encounter, which threatened the very idea of civilization that our survivors worked so hard to build: the Whisperers, led by Alpha (Samantha Morton).
The Walking Dead started with one man trying to find his family. That family grew and gradually communities took shape. They fought and survived, thrived and gave birth to a new generation. Season 10 began in Spring, a few months after the end of Season 9, when our group of survivors dared to cross into Whisperer territory during the harsh winter. The collected communities were still dealing with the after effects of Alpha’s horrific display of power, reluctantly respecting the new borderlines being imposed on them, all while organising themselves into a militia-style fighting force, preparing for a battle that may be unavoidable. But the Whisperers were a threat unlike any other. Backed by a massive horde of the dead it was a fight they could win. That fear infected their communities and gave rise to paranoia, propaganda, secret agendas, and infighting that tested them as individuals and as a society.
Season 11 picks up from the events of Season 10, as Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride), Aaron (Ross Marquand), Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), Ezekiel (Khary Payton), Eugene Porter (Josh McDermitt), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) and Princess Sanchez (Paola Lazaro) continue to navigate their way through the zombie apocalypse.
Alexandria is severely compromised, left a former shell of the home it once was from the carnage and devastation left behind by the Whisperers. Now all who live in Alexandria struggle to refortify it and feed its increasing number of residents, which include the survivorsfrom the fall of the Kingdom and the burning of Hilltop; along with Maggie and her new group, the Wardens. Alexandria has more people than it can manage to feed and protect. Their situation is dire as tensions heat up over past events and self-preservation rises to the surface within the ravaged walls.
They must secure more food while they attempt to restore Alexandria before it collapses like countless other communities they have come across throughout the years. But where and how? Meanwhile, unbeknownst to those at Alexandria, Eugene, Ezekiel, Yumiko, and Princess are still being held captive by mysterious soldiers who are members of a larger and unforthcoming group.
A man of few words, Daryl is forthright, weary, guarded, and most of all, strategic. His nomadic nature allows him to navigate the familiar and unfamiliar. The divide with Carol is an issue they must address, but food and supplies take precedence. A word to the wise – never mess with his dog.
Carol is steadfast in her priorities to help rebuild Alexandria and keep all within its walls protected and fed, but others see the means to survival differently. The strain between her and Daryl is on her mind as she continues to operate independently. She will always go to greater lengths to protect herself, her family, and her community.
A risk taker in his own unique way, Eugene carries a great amount of guilt. He is aware of the consequences of every decision he has ever made, or will make in the future. In this constant emotional state, is his mind capable of trusting what he says and what he sees?
A zookeeper who became King. A man with cancer who has undying optimism. Ezekiel has always helped those around him and himself to live better and be better. Still captured by the troopers, Ezekiel feels he has made a grave mistake.
Jerry is vigilant. His confidence and leadership are without question. His effervescence, at times, is the only light in this dark world. But do not mistake his levity for weakness.
Yumiko’s strength is her intellect and it serves her well. Captured, she has little tolerance for the questioning by the troopers. She is unlike anyone they have questioned before, allowing her to look at the situation in a different light, while shedding light on the inner-workings of her new surroundings.
A child of the apocalypse, Judith is stronger than her years would indicate. She continues to hold her head high and fight with might for all to live. She feels the pressure of possibly being the only one left in her immediate family. This is a heavy load to carry at any age.
No matter how dire the situation, Princess believes things will work out for the best. Her head may be in the clouds, but her coping skills are dialed-in to how life really works in the apocalypse. If she were to listen to her inner-dialogue, she might realize her instincts and observations could be the key to solving most of their problems.
While Maggie has blocked out the psychological horror of things seen and done in order to persevere, she is even more determined to fight for a future. A future for her son. But with the constant presence of Negan getting under her skin, does Maggie have as much control as she believes?
Negan secured a hard-earned place within the community, which Maggie threatens. He does not like her holding his fate. But this is about survival, and Negan knows how to survive.
Rosita is fully adept at raising her daughter and rising to the demands of any mission. She is an unyielding soldier and mother who remains calm under pressure. As a critical leader at Alexandria, she weighs what is the best course of action against all odds and differing opinions.
Rather than speak with God, Gabriel speaks in hard truths. He may be in a dark place, but it is allowing him to see clearly. He is stable and able to fight for the group in any capacity. If God is reaching out to Gabriel, He will have to wait.
Suffering from trauma inflicted on the road, safety is of the utmost importance for Aaron. It’s personal. It’s his daughter. It’s the community he helped build. Usually driven by compassion, Aaron questions if there is humanity left in the world. Is Gabriel right? Are evil people the rule and no longer the exception?
Alden is a man of great loyalty and little tolerance. He has always looked at his surroundings and decided his own truth. With Hilltop burned down and Alexandria in shambles, his senses and observations are on higher alert.
Magna came out of the cave with a different perspective: Life is too short. With her family dwindling, she protects from near and afar. She will not engage in the meaningless, but rest assured, she will take a stand on big important issues.
Lydia is a trusted soldier in the community. Confident, she adds her opinions, even if it means clashing with others. She knows not to let others speak for her ever again. That is what it means to truly be a part of a family, and she is family.
How to watch
Season 11 premieres exclusively on Disney+ Star in the UK. Season 11 will be broadcast in three segments, with eight episodes in each part, adding up to a bumper 24 instalments. The final two segments will air in 2022.
The first segment will premiere on Monday 23rd August, with episodes arriving weekly at 8.01am. Season 1 to 10 are already available on Disney+.
The Walking Dead is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.