Earlier this year, The Walking Dead capped off its penultimate season with arguably the best episode of its entire run. This week, the series kicks off its eleventh and final season by moving away from the character-centric bottle stories and diving back into its primary plot threads:
- Another group of crazy people (the Reapers) want to kill everyone.
- Maggie still hates Negan, who seems to have genuinely changed (but also genuinely murdered her husband a few years back).
- Alexandria is still in ruins and needs supplies.
- Daryl and Carol have issues.
- Eugene, Ezekiel, Princess, and Yumika have been taken prisoner by the Commonwealth.
As always, this recap will contain plenty of spoilers. It will also be streamlined a bit from the order events were shown for the sake of clarity.
The episode opens with the Alexandria group scavenging an old army base for MRE‘s. The base is covered with zombified soldiers, but no one’s in any real danger for a couple reasons:
- All the soldier walkers are extremely old (for zombies at least) and can’t be bothered to wake up and start chomping at live meat.
- The scouting party is made up almost entirely of main characters.
Things get a bit dicey when Daryl scrapes his arm and drips blood onto one of the walkers, who then proceeds to wake up the rest of the undead with his hungry groans. A few well-choreographed action scenes later, however, everyone makes it out of the base intact.
Upon returning to Alexandria, Maggie exchanges a meaningful glare with Negan before her son giddily announces that three more Wardens (the people they’d been hanging with during Seasons 9-10) have shown up alive and well.
Agatha looks at Negan and asks if that’s the guy Maggie hates with the fire of a thousand suns. Before she can answer, Gabriel is forced to break up a fight near the mess hall. After calmly explaining that there’s plenty of food for everyone, the scene cuts to Gabriel in a council meeting saying the exact opposite. With all the new additions to Alexandria, their last meal run will only last for one week.
Just when it appears they don’t have any viable options, Maggie declares that she knows a place with plenty of food and supplies: Meridian, where she, Cole, Elijah and the rest of the Wardens used to live. Unfortunately, the Reapers slaughtered everyone else there while they were on a mission and being strategically corralled off course from returning home.
Now it’s theirs.
Maggie suggests that with her remaining Wardens (who were the community’s best fighters) and some folks from Alexandria, they can take Meridian back along with its badly needed provisions. Rosita rightfully points out that what she’s proposing sounds like a suicide mission, but that doesn’t stop Daryl from volunteering for it along with most of the group…including Negan, who just happens to know the area (Washington D.C) where Meridian is located.
On the way there, the group takes shelter from a bad storm inside a D.C. subway tunnel. Thankfully, Negan knows how to keep moving toward their destination via the railways, although he thinks they should stay put for a bit due to the subway’s watermarks indicating that it’s prone to being flooded.
The group responds to Negan’s warning by making it abundantly clear they don’t think much of him of or what he has to say — especially Maggie.
Over at the Commonwealth, Eugene, Yumika, Ezekiel, and Princess are being transported with bags over their heads to a processing/interrogation facility. After being unmasked, each one finds themselves in front of two well-dressed individuals (Clark and Evans) sitting behind a desk and taking notes. They are also watched over by a Commonwealth soldier whose armor is red instead of white like the others (and who will later be revealed as Mercer, who fans of The Walking Dead comic are sure to know and love).
First up for questioning is Eugene. After one of his standard awkward introductions, Clark explains that he’s being assessed for entry into the Commonwealth. Should he satisfy whatever their requirements are, he would move from “Level 1” to “Level 2,” which is about as vague as you can get. Should he not pass inspection, however, he will be sent for “reprocessing.”
The way Mercer menacingly shifts at hearing this makes whatever “reprocessing” means substantially more clear.
At this point, we see flashes of each character go through their respective interrogations. At first the questions are fairly benign, although some are oddly specific/intrusive:
- What did your parents do for a living?
- What did you do for a living before the dead began to rise?
- What was your highest level of schooling?
- What was your last official zip code?
- What were the results of your last routine physical?
- Have you ever been vaccinated for measles?
- Any history of cancer?
- Have you ever been arrested?
- How lucky are you and why?
- Do you consider yourself an honest person?
- How many bowel movements do you have per day and what do you use to wipe?
*Side Note: For anyone who’s interested, my answer to that last question would be 1-2 and Charmin Ultra Soft.
Whether or not their answers will prove to be important, we do learn some interesting things:
- Yumiko is a Harvard Law graduate.
- Eugene can remember the zip code of every place he lived.
- Princess used to work at a music store.
The most interesting answer, however, comes from Ezekiel, who claims to have no history of cancer while the very same affliction ravages his body. He explains the growth on his neck as a benign tumor he’s had since childhood.
After a while, Clark and Evans finally get to questions concerning the present — like what the four of them were doing at the train station where they were apprehended. All four readily explain their pilgrimage to help Eugene meet up with Stephanie, but proceed to play dumb when asked about what settlement they resided in prior to the journey.
Things become tense when Ezekiel turns to Mercer, who’s remained silent throughout the interrogation. After getting him to admit that he’s the one in charge, Ezekiel proceeds to question him about what he did before the world went to hell. Instead of letting him answer, however, he accuses Mercer of being a power hungry police officer, hence why all this “fascist crap” comes so easily to him.
Ezekiel tries to continue with his verbal insurrection, but is interrupted by a violently coughing fit. Mercer responds by offering him a glass of water, which he gratefully accepts.
Later, the group is taken to another holding area where they’re allowed to sit and eat together. Eugene is shocked that Ezekiel told off Mercer, but he felt it was important to assert himself.
After another coughing fit, Yumiko expresses concern that they might know about his cancer — which could be a major problem considering all the pointed questions they asked about their medical histories. Ezekiel unconvincingly assures her between coughs that they never figured out he was sick.
Princess then suggests the Commonwealth might not even be real and that they need to work on an escape plan. Eugene disagrees, reminding them that Stephanie warned him her people were extremely cautious. He also points out that they used to screen people pretty carefully before allowing them into Alexandria. As far as he’s concerned, their best bet right now is to be up front and honest with their captors.
Ezekiel points out that this could lead to some very dangerous people visiting Hilltop and Alexandria, which Eugene counters by reminding him that their people need help.
At this point, Princess decides to get the attention of two other people/prisoners in a nearby holding pen. When she asks how long they’ve been there, the man answers that’s it’s been four months. He is quickly corrected by his companion, who tells him it’s actually been nine. The man chalks up his confusion on the “reprocessing.”
Before he can explain what that means, Mercer and one of his troops forcibly remove another man out of the holding area. As he screams at them not to take him away, Mercer gives a smug grin before declaring that the man is being taken in for the aforementioned “reprocessing.”
This is more than enough to convince Eugene that it’s time to figure a way out of there.
Later, everyone is trying to come up with an escape plan except for Princess, who is laughing about the relationship drama between the guards. When the group expresses disbelief that she could know something like that, Princess explains that she’s good at remembering stuff about people and had overheard the guards talking about their personal lives on their way to the processing center.
As if that weren’t ridiculous enough, she also reveals that two of the guards are having an affair with each other. In order to meet up, they leave their posts a few minutes apart from each other. Unfortunately for them, most of their elicit rendezvous are spent removing their armor. This leads to an absurd cut in which Eugene and Yumika are wearing the two guards’ armor and walking Princess and Ezekiel down a hallway.
No, we don’t see how they got out of the holding area. And no, we don’t see how they overpowered the guards, which would still have been a difficult task with them being naked.
We do see how they got past Mercer though, who is standing menacingly in a room with the poor guy he and his troops removed earlier. We also see the couple from before being interrogated by Clark and Evans and asking why they keep having to answer the same questions.
Another guard comes out in the hallway and questions where the prisoners are being taken, but a bit of acting convinces her to go full stromtrooper and tell them to move along.
The group walks outside to find a bin full of money marked for incineration. There’s also a giant wall of photos of lost people, all of them flagged for expedited admittance into the Commonwealth.
The group is about to make a break for it when Princess spots a picture of Yumiko on the wall with a note (apparently written by her brother) asking if anyone has seen her.
Understandably, Yumiko decides to stay.
Back in the subway tunnel, the group comes across multiple bags filled with dead/zombified bodies. After opening one up and killing it, they discover that the zombies are unable to make noise due to their throats being completely slashed. Gage (who I totally didn’t remember and had to look up) suggests this might be a sign they should turn around. Maggie insist they should keep going, explaining that the bodies were all from before society fell.
Negan points out that the mass grave they’re walking through could still be in use. Maggie responds to this by refusing to stop. Instead, she orders everyone to begin taking out the zombies one-by-one to clear a path.
Since Gage is a fairly minor character who made the mistake of speaking, this marks him to be attacked by a very large zombie that gets free from its bag. Thankfully, Negan is able to fight off the massive walker and kill it. When Maggie responds to this near miss by suggesting everyone needs to pay closer attention to their surroundings, Negan finally decides he’s had enough.
He proceeds to sarcastically obliterate her “pay attention” advice, which Alden responds to by threatening to gag him. He responds by telling the former Savior that he’s welcome to get up on his “little tippy toes” and try.
When Daryl tries to diffuse the situation, Negan points out that Maggie’s current plan of action almost got Gage killed. Daryl responds by claiming that Negan “doesn’t give a s**t about that kid.” Negan counters by declaring that it’s actually Maggie who “doesn’t give a s**t” about anything except everyone following her orders, consequences be damned. Her single minded focus has them marching through a death trap — one that he refuses to follow any longer.
When Gage and another seldom glimpsed background character (Roy) declare their intent to leave with Negan, Daryl tries to forbid it and gets shut down. Agatha tries to tell the others to let Negan go, but Maggie says they need him because of his knowledge of the city.
Upon hearing this, Negan scoffs before stating that the real reason Maggie wants him there is so that she can kill him away from the prying eyes of Alexandria. He goes on to say that they’re all in danger because her mind isn’t on the mission — it’s completely on him.
Just when you think things can’t get any more uncomfortable, Negan tells Maggie that he refuses to die on her terms. If she wants to kill him, then she can try and do it right here and now instead of being put down like a dog…
…like her husband Glenn was.
This comment leads to Negan receiving a well-deserved punch to the face from Daryl. After he’s laid out, a seething Maggie walks up and explains that they’re following her plan because going topside would be a death sentence (?) and people back home are starving. She also says that she’s in charge because everyone voted for that (apparently offscreen).
Maggie then takes out a gun, turns off the safety, and fully admits that killing him is constantly on her mind. She also isn’t the same person who left six years ago, but the last shred of humanity from that time period is the only thing keeping her from pulling the trigger.
This was apparently good enough for Negan, who decides to stay. Unfortunately, the group’s path is stopped by a subway car. Things get much worse when it’s discovered that Roy and Gage still decided to take off with a bunch of their supplies…oh, and there’s a giant group of walkers approaching that somehow snuck up from behind to flank them.
Daryl and a few others begin hacking away at the horde while the rest begin climbing up the subway car. Alden and Negan check the sides of the car, but find the path blocked by rubble (of course). When it becomes clear that they’re about to be overwhelmed, Daryl and the rest of the hacking crew fall back. Dog runs under the car and Daryl gives chase, leaving Maggie and Negan as the last ones on the ground.
Negan makes it up on the car, but Maggie is grabbed by one of the zombies who refuses to recognize her status as a main character. She calls for Negan to help her, but he simply looks at her for a moment before disappearing as she’s (presumably) pulled to the ground.
I’m gonna predict right now that Maggie is saved via a magical dumpster sent from heaven by Glenn.
In all seriousness, I wasn’t enjoying this episode much until it gave us two exceptionally good twists at the end. The first was Yumiko discovering that her brother is at the Commonwealth. In addition to the clear emotional reaction that warranted, it also has all types of potential with regard to how the group moves forward. Having someone on the inside would have presumably gotten them in had they not knocked out two guards and tried to escape.
Also, it doesn’t negate all the terrible stuff they saw while being held prisoner. The question on if they stay or go won’t be easy to answer, especially with someone who’s normally their most stoic team member working (understandably) from her heart instead of her head.
A similar storyline was explored in the comics, but it involved Michonne’s sister and played out under very different circumstances. For those of us who’ve read the series, it’s fun to not know what’s coming next. That hasn’t always resulted in a good story, but this one definitely has me hooked thus far.
I also love that Negan abandoned Maggie like he did — not because I want to see one of my favorite characters die, but because it was so genuinely unexpected.
I for sure thought the episode’s final moments were setting up an eye roll-inducing moment of redemption when Negan and Maggie were the last two left beside the subway car. Instead, we saw how Negan’s path to redemption over the last few seasons doesn’t magically negate everything else about his past — especially his sense of pride and self preservation.
For a show that has struggled with character arcs lately, a move like this was very much appreciated.
Unfortunately, The Walking Dead still appears to be grappling with many of the other issues it’s had of late.
Once again, we had a long(ish) episode where not much happened despite two major plotlines being explored — and what did happen was often all sorts of contrived or just didn’t make sense.
With regards to the Alexandria group, the opening scene looked great, but still felt somewhat pointless once you realized it was filled with main characters and that no one was going to die. After that, Maggie suggests they take a small fighting force into a place that was wiped out, occupied, and likely fortified by people they all know aren’t messing around.
It also just so happens that the path they have to take runs through an area that Negan is somehow more familiar with than any of them…INCLUDING THE PEOPLE WHO CAME FROM THERE.
And then you have the major stuff that occurs offscreen, like the group voting that Maggie should be in charge or Eugene’s group somehow getting out of their holding cells and covertly taking out two guards without being noticed.
It’s gotten to a point that those of us who’ve watched The Walking Dead since day one just roll our eyes and move forward. It’s worth noting, however, that these inconsistencies and plot contrivances don’t normally start popping up until later in the season. The fact that we’re seeing them in the premiere puts this season in a situation even more perilous than the one we left Maggie in.
Let’s hope things get back on track now that both major narratives have also revealed their big twists.
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