This week, we take things back to the Commonwealth to see what’s going on with Eugene’s group and the potential chemistry between him and Stephanie…if that’s who she really is. Meanwhile, Maggie and Negan make their along awaited debut in a team up that’s equal parts badass and hostile.
We’ll also check in on Alexandria, which is in danger of becoming a zombie buffet if they don’t rebuild the city’s walls soon. As if that weren’t bad enough, Judith is experiencing bullying issues from some kids who clearly don’t realize who they’re dealing with.
As always, the recap portion of this review will contain plenty of spoilers. The sequence of events has also been streamlined for the sake of clarity.
From One Nightmare to Another
The episode opens with Aaron walking with his adopted daughter Gracie through the woods. Things get scary (and more than a little weird) when they’re surrounding by walkers along with some attackers from some series’s previous psychotic groups/antagonists. Their ranks include members from:
Gracie inexplicably disappears, leaving Aaron to desperately call out for her as the group closes in. As they begin stabbing him to death, Aaron awakens, revealing it all to be a nightmare. After taking a moment to collect himself, he checks on Gracie (still sleeping soundly) and puts her on his arm.
Meanwhile, Jerry is in the middle of taking a leak when he spots a walker lumbering through Alexandria like it owns the place. He frantically announces the breach and rallies other sleeping Alexandrians to join him in defending the city.
Upon hearing the commotion, Aaron tells Gracie to head to the basement and runs outside to help. The group is able to push back the horde and patch up the fallen wall section, but not before one of their people is killed. As if that weren’t concerning enough, even more walkers are starting to gather in the same area that was just knocked down.
The residents are able to space out the walkers by banging on various sections across the wall, but it’s a temporary fix that won’t last long. The problems don’t stop there, though–they’re also almost out of horse jerky.
After assessing their options, Aaron suggest that they scavenge the ruins of Hilltop for any building supplies and food that might have been left behind. Rosita suggests they consider leaving Alexandria, but Aaron isn’t ready to abandon their home just yet.
As Aaron’s group departs for Hilltop, Judith leads a group of kids through melee combat drills. Their practice is halted when she notices some teenagers taunting a walker through one of the holes in the wall. When she tries to admonish them, one of the teenagers pushes her to the ground. In case that wasn’t enough to make you hate him, he also tells Judith that she talks to much, which is likely the reason that her mom abandoned her.
Judith responds to this slight by shoving her sword a hair’s breadth from the boy’s throat, and daring him to say it again. I was personally rooting for the little turd to take her up on that, but Gracie comes over and keeps things from escalating any further.
As Judith walks away, we see her struggling to hold back tears.
Later, Judith arrives home to find the board with her and Carl’s handprints (from way back in Season 8) has been shattered. She immediately suspects and accuses the douchey teenager who pushed her down, but he flippantly denies any wrongdoing before summoning his crew to depart.
Later, Rosita sees Judith holding the shattered board and says that Carl wanted to make sure they had a memory together. This time she’s unable to hold back the tears. The destruction of such an important family heirloom was hard enough, but it also served as a stark reminder of all the people she’s lost. Judith also admits her fear that she’ll soon start to forget the people who aren’t there anymore.
Instead of trying to sugarcoat things, Rosita admits that losing people is something that never gets easier as you get older. She then tells her about how she lost her own mother when she was young, but never stopped missing her. She also never forgot her mother’s love or the lessons she taught her on how to survive. The same applies to Judith and all the people she’s loved. While sentimental objects are nice to have, she doesn’t need them to remember the people who loved her.
Rosita is also able to get Judith to smile when she says she can likely fix her board.
After taking out some walkers on their way to the Meridian outpost, Negan tells Maggie they’ll have a better chance of survival if they trust each other. Maggie predictably rejects this notion, proclaiming that her potential survival will be in spite of his presence, not because of it.
Negan then asks Maggie why she hasn’t just killed him yet. She responds by taking out a knife and throwing it in his direction. What initially looks like an attempted murder turns out to be a perfect head shot against a ninja walker about to partake of some Negan meat.
Maggie tells her husband’s killer that she asks herself that question every day before retrieving her knife and continuing through the woods.
The duo eventually reach the outpost (an abandoned house), which only has a small amount of supplies. Negan suggests they take what they found and bring it back, but Maggie refuses, insisting that they wait on the others so they can follow through with their original plan of scavenging Meridian.
Negan pleads with Maggie to at least consider cutting their losses, both for the sake of sanity and the people she still has left — including her son Hershel. Maggie pushes back, but silently agrees when he suggests they give everyone until sundown to make it there.
After waiting for a few hours, however, Negan decides to leave with the supplies before nightfall. He and Maggie begin to fight, but are interrupted when Elijah and Gabriel show up. Maggie tells them about the others who are either missing, injured, or dead. Gabriel decides that the best course of action will be to wait for their missing group members (Daryl and Frost), much to Negan’s chagrin.
Welcome to the Family
Eugene & Co. begin their stay at the Commonwealth by watching an orientation video featuring Deputy Governor Lance Hornsby. In addition to learning the governor’s name (Pamela Milton), the video reveals that everyone admitted to the Commonwealth is assigned a job that aligns with their skillset. This information is relayed over images of an American society that looks surprisingly close to the one that existed before dead began to rise…except for the armed soldiers everywhere, of course.
Even without the mid-’90s training video aesthetic, it’s all types of surreal for the group to watch something current on a television screen again. Things get even more weird/uncomfortable when they’re given work and housing assignments. While Princess is excited at the possibility of working a retail job (and the possible existence of a mall), Eugene and the others have no intention of staying. In response to their complaint, the man facilitating the orientation tells them to take things up with their “case supervisor.”
In the meantime, Eugene has been assigned a position as a science teacher while Ezekiel’s job will be working with animal control — both occupations clearly linked to what they did before civilization fell. Yumiko, on the other hand, is simply given an invitation from the “Office of State Affairs” to meet with them about “opportunities within our great community.”
Ezekiel and Princess decide to go to their jobs and attempt a meeting with their case supervisors. Eugene, on the hand, endeavors to meet up with Stephanie and get the lay of the land (while no doubt spitting some of his awkward game).
Meanwhile, Yumiko asks the orientation facilitator for help again. He tries to brush her off, but his demeanor quickly shifts after Yumiko shows him the letter she received in lieu of a job assignment. When she tells him about her brother (Tomi), the man pledges to help get them connected.
This leads her to a surprisingly well-stocked bakery, where the siblings are finally reunited.
The pair grab a table outside and share stories of how they survived to this point. Tomi reveals that after civilization fell, he drove east from Chicago until he ran out of gas approximately 20 miles north of their current location. He was lucky enough to link up with a group of good people who were some of the first to be part of the Commonwealth.
Since then, he’s enjoyed living in a world that’s so secure he often forgets what’s happening beyond its walls. He also decided to bake cakes instead of revealing his skills as a surgeon on account of the joy he finds in baking. Yumiko asks her brother to consider the good he could be doing in the medical field, but he counters that this is the first time in many years he’s felt happy/content.
After agreeing not to reveal his secret, Yumiko asks if the Commonwealth is truly as good as it seems. When Tomi says that it’s actually “better,” she asks if it would be possible to get help for her people. Tomi responds that anything is possible as long as she’s willing to follow the Commonwealth’s rules.
Meanwhile, Eugene and “Stephanie” interrupt their stroll through the city to stop by an ice cream stand. While they’re waiting for their cones, another woman picks up a large order for Governor Milton. When Eugene asks her about one of the flavors, she reacts strangely to his voice before departing without a response.
*Side Note: Do I really need to tell you who that was?
The odd encounter isn’t enough to keep Eugene from enjoying his ice cream along with the many other sights and sounds around them. He tells Stephanie that as much as he’d like to stay, he needs to find a way to help his people. After looking up at the radio tower, Stephanie reveals that she works for the Comms Department and might be able to assist with connecting them via radio.
Unfortunately, getting clearance for that would take at least two weeks.
The pair’s ice cream planning session is interrupted by Princess and Ezekiel, who say they found a deputy supervisor. In case the issue of governmental bureaucracy hasn’t been made clear enough, they were told it would take at least five weeks to see one of their bosses. Eugene then asks Stephanie if there might be an unofficial version of her offer. She responds by getting up and leading them away.
Unbeknownst to them, Mercer has observed what they’re doing with great/menacing interest.
As the group makes their way toward the communications center, Princess attempts to distract Mercer by thanking him for returning her lucky $2 bill. She then tries to compliment his eyelashes, which proves to be far less effective.
Meanwhile, Eugene is able to make radio contact with Rosita and Judith. Rosita is in the middle of telling Eugene about the end of the Whisperer War and Alexandria’s dire situation when their feed cuts out. Before Stephanie can help him find it again, Mercers busts in arrests him (along with Princess and Ezekiel) for the unauthorized use of government property.
After the three of them are put into a holding area, a man in a suit (likely a prosecuting attorney) walks in and informs the group that they’ve been charged with wanton trespassing, reckless endangerment, and illegal communication with a foreign entity. All three of them will be granted a trial, although it won’t do much good since they managed to get into so much trouble minutes after stepping foot in the Commonwealth. Upon being found guilty, they’ll be taken to a location far away from the city and banished.
The group demands to talk to their attorney (Yumiko), but are denied that option due to being asylum seekers rather than citizens. When Eugene asks about Stephanie, he’s informed that her status as an official citizen means she’s being processed and charged separately.
Just as tensions are about to boil over, Deputy Governor Hornsby (the dude from the video) walks in with Stephanie and says to let them go. When the prosecuting attorney says he can’t due to the impending trial, Hornsby tells the guards to keep everyone there and goes him to find Mercer. After the two men leave, Stephanie tells the group that Hornsby can be trusted to help them. Unfortunately, getting the banishment order overturned won’t keep them from having to pay for their crimes in some way.
Hand Over Fist
Carol, Jerry, Lydia, and Aaron arrive at Hilltop to find it nearly picked clean. They also see many of their friends who have turned into walkers, including a random extra/blacksmith named Troy who absolutely no one remembers. Despite the group’s misgivings, Carol keeps them focused on the task of clearing the undead from area.
The group is nearly finished gathering the scarce remaining supplies when they notice a group of walkers moving in a circle. They soon realize that the zombies are being herded, meaning that at least one Whisperer must be nearby. After taking out the walkers, Aaron is about to kill the skin-masked human when Lydia stops him, claiming he’s someone she knows. I’m not sure why this would make a difference, but it causes Aaron to decide they should interrogate the man instead.
The Whisperer reveals that his real name is Keith. After Alpha was killed, the rest of the group scattered. He, on the other hand, decided to stick near Hilltop by himself and play zombie sheep herder for protection/comfort.
As you might imagine, Aaron isn’t keen on believing Keith’s story. Lydia attempts to speak up for him, but can’t say much since he wasn’t part of her mother’s inner circle. Keith asks if Lydia remembers him sneaking food to her during long winters. She isn’t sure it was him, but still thinks he won’t be a threat now that her mother is gone.
Thankfully, Aaron, Jerry, and Carol aren’t buying it.
The group decides to take Keith down to the cellar while they figure out what he’s hiding and what to do with him. Once they get there, however, they find multiple feral Whisperers along with a stash of skin masks.
Aaron demands Keith stop lying and tell them how many more of his people are hiding nearby. Lydia pleads with him to show some compassion, but any chance of that happening flies out the window when Jerry finds one of Nabila‘s shawls.
*Side Note: Once you’ve lost Jerry, it’s a safe bet you’ve lost the entire room.
Before the group can decide what to do, Keith picks up a gardening shovel and slashes Aaron across the stomach. The wound is superficial (main character antibodies for the win), but it allows the other feral Whisperers to escape.
After taking Keith outside and tying him up, Aaron stakes a walker and uses it to menace the him into telling them what else he’s hiding. When Keith begins spouting the usual Whisperer B.S. about how the dead are better off than the living, Jerry and Aaron move the man close enough to let the walker take a chunk out of his hand.
As Keith screams in pain, Aaron says he can help keep him from turning by cutting off his hand — all he has to do is tell them where the other Whisperers are. As Keith cries out that he doesn’t know, Lydia says that she can’t watch what Aaron is doing and leaves…which is disappointing, but still expected. What Aaron (and the rest of us) did not expect was an arrow from Carol killing the staked walker before he and Jerry could lead it in for another bite.
When Aaron asks what the hell that was all about, Carol says she’s trying to keep him from doing something he would regret. Aaron pointedly counters that she’s the last person who should warn someone about doing whatever was needed to keep their loved ones safe. He drives his argument home by pointing out that they’re standing on the ashes of everything the Whisperers destroyed. Because of them and what they did, his daughter and the rest of their people are starving.
Instead of making a good counter argument, Carol says that the actions she took after Henry‘s death caused a lot of people she cared about to get hurt, which is a pain she carries with her every day. Her plea for him not to go down the same path doesn’t sway Aaron completely, but it’s enough to make him offer to cut Keith’s hand off or let him do it himself.
Although we don’t get to see which option Keith chose, he ends up alive and de-handed. As the Alexandria group begins to leave, Carol offers him vegetables while Lydia provides some comforting words. After thanking them, Keith declares that not all of the Whisperers were bad — some of them just wanted to survive.
He also claims that many of them have changed. As proof of his goodwill, he tells them about a woman they saw coming out of the horde cave after it collapsed, which is clearly supposed to be Connie. He also gives them her last known location, which Lydia knows how to get to.
As the other feral Whisperers surround their injured friend, Aaron and company leave on a mission to find someone they thought they’d lost.
Normally, an episode of The Walking Dead gets exponentially worse with each added plotline beyond the two primary ones. In this case, however, they managed to successfully tell four separate narratives in a coherent, entertaining fashion.
For starters, the Commonwealth stuff was everything I wanted…at least for now. The examples of government bureaucracy were a bit heavy handed, but they were still effective. It also added a genuine layer of menace that’s a refreshing change from the bi-annual Group of Psychos that’s menaced our primary survivors in the past. It was also great seeing how each of Eugene’s group reacted to seeing civilization in a state much closer to what they remembered than how they’ve been living the last few years.
I’m still not sure how I feel about the ‘Stephanie’ mystery, but I do like how the top levels of the Commonwealth’s government have become involved. Add in the Yumiko/Tomi reunion, and this is the plotline I’ll be looking forward to the most each week.
I was initially dreading a Whisperer redux, but seeing Aaron finally snap the way he did — something that has been building since last season — was genuinely unsettling. Yes, the stuff with Carol trying to keep him from going to the dark side and Lydia sticking up for Keith was annoying, but it led us to that fantastic interrogation scene along with the beginning of Connie’s return.
But let’s go back to Carol for a moment. Are you really going to tell me that after everything she’s done, she’s now going to tell Aaron not to engage in some enhanced interrogation against a Whisperer who just lied to them? Her acts of stupidity were born out of revenge or bad/out of character writing. Aaron’s actions were undoubtedly fueled by revenge to a certain degree, but did you really expect him not to do anything in that situations?
He could have just killed Keith right away. Instead, he pumped him for what could have been vital, life saving information. Considering that there actually were more Whisperers nearby, it’s hard to blame Aaron for resorting to torture in that situation — especially after Keith’s lies and a garden shovel wound across his stomach.
Judith’s part of the story is usually the sort of thing I hate, but seeing her finally deal with all loss and pain she’s experienced was all types of heartbreaking. It was also difficult to watch her struggle with “normal” kid issues like getting bullied, especially when you know she could have (and should have) kicked that kid’s ass back to Woodbury.
It’s also worth noting that Judith’s conversation with Rosita could have been cringeworthy, but was actually really sweet.
The Negan/Maggie team up was the weakest narrative. This was mostly due to the abrupt conflict resolution and Maggie’s out of character insistence on following through with a suicide mission, although the contrived ninja zombie moment didn’t help.
All that being said, Negan and Maggie’s argument was arguably the episode’s most intense scene. It was so good, in fact, that it feels like we were cheated out of some other potentially great moments when Gabriel and Elijah joined them. Let’s hope Maggie’s obsession with heading into the Meridian wood chipper allows us at least one more major scene between her and Negan without anyone else there to stop the conflict from playing out.
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