Last week’s episode of The Walking Dead concluded with the Commonwealth arriving to Alexandria. This was immediately followed by a six month time jump revealing that Maggie and Elijah are now in charge of a rebuilding Hilltop community. Unfortunately, something has also put them at odds with the Commonwealth military, which now includes Daryl in its ranks.
This week, we get to see the start of what took place during those six months that brought us to this point.
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.
The episode opens with Daryl, Judith, and RJ walking through a dark and dilapidated building. Walkers grasp for them from all sides, their rotting fingers just barely unable to reach them. When a zombie begins lumbering in their direction, Daryl sees that RJ is scared and asks the walker to stop. Instead of groaning and snapping his teeth, the man smiles and obliges, revealing that everything we’ve seen was just part of a haunted house.
When the trio emerges outside, they’re greeted by Jerry wearing a tiger mask. All around them, the Commonwealth is in the midst of celebrating Halloween with a town carnival that everyone seems to be enjoying — especially Daryl.
Later, as Carol brings a plate of her infamous cookies outside from the bakery, we’re told via an onscreen graphic that she and the Alexandrians have been in the Commonwealth for 30 days. Carol notices Ezekiel across the street, but can’t quite bring herself to go say hello to him. Instead, she gives one of her cookies to Judith, who just made a new friend named May.
After the two girls depart, Carol walks over to Daryl and asks for his thoughts/assessment of the Commonwealth. He’s skeptical, but Carol thinks that maybe this new community finally cracked the code to making life work again.
All eyes then turn to Governor Milton, who walks outside to raucous applause before announcing the winner of the carnivals’s costume contest. Carol mentions how she always thought Milton was a classy woman. When Daryl replies that he doesn’t remember anything about her before society collapsed, Carol admits that she used to read a lot of tabloids in her former life.
Daryl sees Kelly and Connie and asks them how work is going. Connie reveals that she’s working as a reporter again — the same job she had before the dead began to rise. Kelly, was in high school back then, but is able to help her now. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of hard hitting investigative work to do in the Commonwealth (at least as far as they know).
It’s also revealed that Connie previously interviewed Pamela Milton and once filed a report that resulted in her uncle getting kicked out of Congress. Despite the awkwardness that could potentially cause, she and Kelly have still had an overwhelmingly pleasant experience in the city thus far.
When the pair depart to prepare for an upcoming masquerade, Carol tells Daryl that he should ask Connie to dance that evening. Predictably, Daryl brushes this off and finds an excuse to leave. Carol then takes notice of Ezekiel again, who’s still suffering from pain caused by the cancer ravaging his body (albeit to a lesser degree).
Meanwhile, Gabriel tells Rosita that he’ll watch their baby daughter (CoCo) overnight since she’ll be exhausted from the late shift at her unnamed job. The two are extremely kind and cordial with each other, but their discussion also implies that the former lovers now lead separate lives.
After Jerry and his family leave, Carol finally gets up the nerve to walk over and say hello. The former couple’s conversation is as thin and awkward as you’d expect from former lovers trying to navigate how it feels to be in each other’s presence again. We learn that Lydia and Maggie have been out of contact with everyone, but not much else — especially when Carol asks about Ezekiel’s health.
Determined to learn if her ex really is doing fine, Carol goes to the Commonwealth medical facility, lifts a set of keys off one of the janitors, and breaks into the records room. She begins looking over Ezekiel’s charts, but is discovered by our old friend Tomi, who has been forced by the Commonwealth to work in the medical field after his past as a world class surgeon was discovered.
Instead of chastising Carol (who he has apparently become acquainted with), he offers to help. Sadly, it turns out that Ezekiel’s place in line for life saving surgery makes it highly unlikely that he’ll even live to receive it.
Shortly after leaving the medical facility, Carol notices Lance Hornsby throwing out a bunch of wine after Stephanie Vega (i.e. the real Stephanie) tells him it isn’t good enough for that evening’s gala.
*Side Note: The real Stephanie currently goes by the name Max and works as Governor Milton’s assistant. We’ll call her Max for the rest of this recap/review since that’s apparently how she’s known to the people of the Commonwealth.
Sensing an opportunity, she tracks down the location of a winery outside town and grabs some of the good stuff, nearly getting herself killed in the process. She returns to the Commonwealth and presents the wine to Hornsby, who’s impressed by both her offering and the fact that she found a way outside the city walls.
*Side Note: So no one can leave the Commonwealth unless it’s on official/military business or they sneak out? Yikes.
When she asks if her gift is enough to get Ezekiel at the front of the line for surgery, Hornsby says he’ll first have to see how the the wine is received at that night’s masquerade.
Later that day, Rosita and Daryl emerge from separate apartments before discussing how difficult basic training is (the implication being that they’ve both joined the Commonwealth’s military/police force). Rosita also notes how strange it is to worry about things like having enough money for rent each month. Daryl responds by reminding her that their situation is only temporary.
The pair join a group of recruits and take part in a two-person zombie speed killing exercise run by Mercer. When Rosita is paired up with someone else, Daryl asks to be partnered with her instead, but gets shot down.
Rosita and her team end up finishing the course first. She also kills a walker with its own femur, which should definitely earn her some style points. Meanwhile, Daryl attempts to do most of the work for his team and ends up almost getting his partner killed, forcing Mercer to save him. This failure earns him a spot on guard detail for Milton’s son, Sebastian.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Daryl has to help guard the little prince while he pretends to be a badass and takes down a controlled cue of walkers.
Things get off to a rocky start when Rosita volunteers to help. Mercer initially refuses, but is overruled by Sebastian due to how attractive he thinks she is. Once the walkers are released, Sebastian takes down the first one before predictably struggling with the second, forcing Daryl to save him with a crossbow.
Sebastian begins to throw a tantrum over having his “training exercise” interrupted, but spots his mom hovering nearby and giving him a disapproving look. As he sprints off after her, Mercer tells Daryl that life in the Commonwealth is worth learning how to work as a team and within the system.
Even if that means working for the governor’s bratty son.
Listen to Your Heart
Back at the fair, Judith and May visit a record shop owned/operated by Princess (who is dressed in a princess costume for Halloween, of course). When it becomes clear that Judith doesn’t have any money of her own, May gifts her with one of the records.
*Side Note: The record May gives Judith is a single release from the band Motörhead. If you know anything about them (or at least one of their most famous songs), then the simmering class warfare theme of this season should clue you in to what song of theirs will be featured later in the episode.
As the two girls talk, Judith learns that her new friend gets an allowance of spending money each week. As you might imagine, this gives her an idea.
Later that day, Daryl arrives home to the ramshackle apartment he shares with Judith, RJ, and Dog. After greeting each other and passing around some food, Judith asks her uncle if she can start receiving an allowance. Daryl asks if it can wait until after he’s got a steady job locked up…assuming they stay in the Commonwealth instead of returning to Alexandria, of course.
RJ immediately expresses his desire to stay where they are. After taking a moment to consider things, Judith agrees. In addition to being a nice place to live, it would be an easy/safe place for her mother to find them when she returns.
Daryl doesn’t look thrilled about potentially setting down roots in the Commonwealth, but Judith’s reference to Michonne is enough to make him consider it.
That evening, Magna works as a server for the Commonwealth Masquerade. She grabs a wine tray, walks through the room of sharply dressed (and masked) individuals, and awkwardly serves some drinks to Tomi and her ex-girlfriend Yumiko. After Magna leaves, Yumiko notices Tomi’s hand shaking. Her brother admits that he’s extremely uncomfortable attending high society functions. In their old life, events like these were something he considered to be part of her world rather than his.
Outside, a line of star gazers and photographers watch as the Commonwealth elite arrive to the party. After playing to the crowd a bit, Sebastian takes the opportunity to fix Daryl’s collar while sporting a smarmy grin.
*Side Note: Seems weird that Daryl would be hired to work as unarmed security for such a high profile event when he clearly doesn’t have Mercer’s trust, but whatever.
Hornsby’s appearance draws a few cheers, but the crowd erupts when Mercer arrives. They even began chanting his name, causing the Lieutenant Governor to feel a noticeable tinge of jealousy.
As Mercer ascends the steps to the ballroom, Princess calls him over to say hello and compliment his stylish outfit. Mercer admits that he hates events like this, but asks if she’d like to help make it more fun/interesting by joining him.
*Side Note: It sure seems like these two had some sort of romantic connection before this. Considering how ridiculously different they are, I really hope we get to see how they got together. That’s one storyline from the comics that the show has an opportunity to do a whole lot better.
Princess agrees and takes Mercer’s arm. A snooty door guard tries to imply that her outfit won’t meet the party’s dress code, but he’s silenced by a withering look from her imposing impromptu date.
As Princess’ night is getting better, Hornsby’s begins to get worse. When he approaches Governor Milton to ask how the wine is, she blandly describes it as “fine.” She then quickly dismisses him, but not before requesting that they get a meeting on the books about the “Alexandria thing.” Hornsby assures Milton that he has a plan, causing her to laugh and reply that she’s sure he does.
The governor then heads over to see Connie and Kelly for a planned interview. With Kelly translating, Connie asks if every holiday in the Commonwealth is celebrated with such pomp and circumstance as Halloween. Milton replies most major holidays get the big time treatment since traditions help bring about a sense of stability/normalcy. As far as the masquerade is concerned, it was her father’s favorite event during his time in the White House, thus becoming one of hers, as well.
*Side Note: Normally, the Walking Dead’s world building is feast or famine. Dropping this major bit of information into an already informative conversation was a nice touch.
Connie pivots their line of questioning to what Milton’s father would think about the class divide on display around them. Instead of giving a straight answer, the governor replies with a rubber stamp “we appreciate everyone in the community” before introducing them to the Commonwealth’s first lottery winner and ditching the baffled journalists. As Milton walks away, she’s approached by a familiar looking busboy. Turns out he’s the Commonwealth soldier who Princess beat up in the train car near the end of Season 10.
The busboy attempts to speak to Milton, but is intercepted by Max and turned away.
Milton takes the stage and unveils a painting of her father, who she lauds for the process he started to put the world back the way it was.
As she continues heaping praise on all that the Commonwealth has accomplished, the busboy loudly declares everything the governor is saying to be bulls*** and steps forward. He asks the stunned audience if they really believe the Commonwealth cares for all its citizens before asking Milton if she even knows who he is.
When Max attempts to intercept him this time, he picks up a knife from a nearby table and holds it to her throat.
Now in possession of everyone’s undivided attention, the busboy reveals that his name is Tyler Davis. He explains that despite being completely loyal to the Commonwealth, his slip up while guarding Princess cost him everything. He tried to reach the governor to see if she could help him, but never got a response.
When he declares that common people like him are disposable to her, Milton firmly disagrees before offering to help him. Before she can do that, however, he needs to put down the knife and let her assistant go.
As Tyler contemplates his options, Max shakily whispers “I’m like you” to him. After responding with a whispered apology of his own, Tyler pushes her down and darts out of the room. Mercer immediately goes to check on Max, earning a sharp rebuke from Sebastian to go after the assailant, instead.
Mercer radios his team to give pursuit. Daryl spots the former Commonwealth soldier heading into the haunted house attraction from the beginning of the episode and follows him inside. He quickly locates Tyler, who confesses that he never planned for things to escalate so quickly.
Tyler also reveals that his desperation was motivated by far more than a loss of personal income and pride. The Commonwealth also punished him for his screw up by taking his apartment. As if that weren’t bad enough, he’d been helping to support his sister and her children, something that was now impossible without his military salary.
With his confession complete, Tyler turns the knife he took from inside the gala and puts it to his own throat. Thankfully, Daryl is able to talk him down with a surprisingly good speech about how lucky he is to still have family when so many others don’t. He also points out that killing himself would punish his sister by taking family away from her.
Tyler turns over the knife and allows Daryl to handcuff him. Before they can depart the haunted house, they’re stopped by Sebastian, who compliments Daryl for “finally” doing something right. Daryl responds by handing over the prisoner and telling Sebastian to take full credit for the capture.
As you might imagine, it doesn’t take any arm twisting whatsoever for the governor’s son to accept the offer.
Sebastian leads the handcuffed prisoner into the ballroom amidst a wave of cheers and applause. Milton appears skeptical that her son could manage such a feat on his own, but still praises him. Mercer, on the other hand, seems to be fully aware that it was actually Daryl who did all the work.
As Tyler is taken into custody, he shouts that there are thousands more disenfranchised workers like him who are ready to rise up against the Commonwealth elite. Milton asks Hornsby if that’s true, but he assures her it’s not. She tells him to make sure, anyway.
Rosita and Daryl hear the exchange and give each other concerned looks.
Later, as party goers are questioned (and Connie and Kelly are forcibly stopped from investigating the incident on their own), Hornsby sees Carol outside and goes to meet her. When she asks how the wine went over, he tells her that it was a good first step. Carol responds by asking what the next step is, which the Lieutenant Governor is all too eager to share.
Before we can hear what that step is, our view shifts to Mercer telling some of his armored Commonwealth troops to investigate how Tyler gained such close access to the governor. After they leave, he instructs Rosita to question Magna and see if she knows anything.
Magna claims she never met Tyler, but also admits that she agrees with what he said. As far as she’s concerned, the Commonwealth is just like the class divided cities people lived in before society fell. When Rosita admits that she remembers what that was like, Magna points out that it didn’t stop her from joining the Commonwealth’s military.
Later that evening, Ezekiel pays Carol a visit. After the two chat for a bit, he presents her with a box of things they shared during their time as a couple. Carol tries to turn it down, but he insists that the box’s contents belong to her.
Ezekiel then says that life in the Commonwealth could mean a fresh start, obviously implying that it could mean one for them, as well. Carol responds by asking about his health. She’s hurt when Ezekiel lies and tells her he’s fine, but still pours them a glass of wine and toasts to the possibility of new beginnings.
A few days later, Daryl and Rosita graduate out of their cadet outfits into the full Commonwealth military armor. Before leaving for his first official day in the service, Daryl surprises Judith with a record player. His excited niece immediately pulls out the Motörhead album May gave her and puts it on.
In a predictable-yet-fantastic bit of needle drop serendipity, the band’s 1987 hit “Eat the Rich” begins to play.
As Lemmy starts to sing, our view shifts to a group of Commonwealth soldiers raiding an apartment — presumably the one Tyler found and lived in after being stripped of his military housing. Rosita (who apparently had an earlier shift than Daryl) finds a secret doorway inside the closet. After stepping inside, she’s surrounded by anti-military/establishment propaganda that’s clearly part of a much bigger movement than one disgruntled worker.
There are plenty of class warfare narratives out there, but watching one rise from the grave like the zombies who initially destroyed society is a deliciously intriguing angle. In the society we see on The Walking Dead, people aren’t far enough removed from rugged survivalism for an elitist power structure to be entrenched. The fomenting of resistance and outright rebellion is not only more immediate, but exceptionally more potent.
It’s a bit disappointing that we didn’t get to see how the Commonwealth came to be, but that’s an entirely separate story that would likely take way too long to tell. In the context of what’s happening to the characters we’ve watched over the last several season, this set up works extremely well. The only thing that really irks me is what took place in the 30 days we missed from leaving Alexandria to now, which appears to have been a lot.
I’m fine with a good reverse mystery, but there are a few plot points that really shouldn’t have been skipped over. Some of those include.
- How did Hornsby convince someone like Daryl to leave the Commonwealth?
- Who revealed Tomi’s past to the Commonwealth and how was he coerced into returning to life in the medical field?
- How did Princess and Mercer get together (or at least meet and become so friendly despite their polar opposite personalities)?
Questions like these could be explored in later episodes, but it feels like we’re rushing past them to deal with all the other big story questions surrounding this part of the season. Thankfully, those plotlines are good enough that hand-waving the others can be forgiven.
Character-wise, everyone is at the top of their game. Dad Daryl could have been cheesy, but Norman Reedus makes his domesticated turn believable without neutering the character, either. Carol is back to her awesome/cunning self while Ezekiel continues to make us laugh and smile while breaking our hearts at the same time.
As far as the new characters are concerned, Laila Robbins plays Governor Milton with a calculated empathy that never lets us get a comfortable grip on her true motivations. Mercer continues to be awesome, but Michael James Shaw is finally getting a chance to give him some emotional weight and making the most of it.
I still think that Sebastian is ridiculously over the top, but I initially thought the same thing about King Joffrey in Game of Thrones and ended up considering him a fantastic villain.
Two characters I’d love to see a lot more of right now are Connie and Kelly. Their role as investigative reporters in a renaissance for societal corruption is chock full of amazing story potential. Based on the preview for next week’s episode, it looks like I may get my wish.
It also looks like The Walking Dead is finally going to address the fake Stephanie issue and how it’s effecting Eugene. Considering his role in convincing so many Alexandrians to relocate to the Commonwealth, that plotline (which did not take place in the comics) has some pretty explosive implications for the final episodes of the series.
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