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The Walking Dead (AMC)


‘The Walking Dead’ season 11 episode 13 ‘Warlords’ recap/review

‘Warlords’ is better than it has any right to be, thanks in no small part to an intriguing central premise and some great individual performances.

Last week’s episode of The Walking Dead concluded with Maggie rejecting a proposed alliance between Hilltop and the Commonwealth. While Governor Milton took this news in stride, Lieutenant Governor Lance Hornsby was all types of mad. His anger was tempered, however, when Milton told him he could continue working to expand the Commonwealth empire. Unfortunately, this also appeared to amplify his considerable ambition into pre-psychotic territory.

Meanwhile, Ezekiel was taken in to have life saving surgery while Eugene finally got to meet the real Stephanie, who’s real name is actually Max. After a rocky start, the wonderful chemistry that existed between the two finally began to show up again.

This week, this episode focuses on how Hornsby’s desire for expansion makes him even scarier than an aggressive real estate agent. We’ll also see how Maggie is dealing with the fallout of turning down the Commonwealth.

As always, the recap portion of this review will contain plenty of spoilers.

Sacrificial Courier

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The episode opens with Elijah and another Hilltop resident (Marco) engaging in bow & arrow target practice on some approaching walkers. Elijah’s good mood dissipates when he sees Lydia leaving for the Commonwealth — something that a lot of his fellow Hilltoppers have been doing since Milton and Hornsby’s recent visit. As she’s leaving, Marco encourages him to “shoot his shot.”

*Side Note: Before any of you older folks become too alarmed, “shooting your shot” is what the kids call it when you attempt to flirt with or ask out someone that you have a crush on.

Elijah asks Lydia if she needs an escort. She is confused as to why that would be necessary, but doesn’t seem at all opposed to the idea, either. Before she can answer, a horse gallops into view carrying a bleeding/dying man. After he falls to the ground, Lydia runs over to (cautiously) help him and discovers that he’s been shot.

As the Hilltoppers scramble to see what they can do, the man mutters “They’re slaughtering them…devils…” before handing Lydia a blood-soaked pamphlet. He then cryptically utters “Liars…You’ve got to go” and dies.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Lydia takes the blood-soaked paper to Maggie, which turns out to be a map with a location marked (Riverbend) that the man wanted them to go to. Despite Marco’s insistence that they see what he was talking about, Maggie declares that they won’t be going. With all the recent departures, Hilltop is already spread thin enough. There’s also a decent chance that they could be walking into a trap.

Lydia still insists that they go, explaining that whatever group the man came from was likely similar to the ones her mother used to target. As she and Elijah prepare to head out, Maggie changes her mind and decides to join them — but not before giving her son Herschel one of the sweetest/coolest goodbyes ever.

She also makes Marco stay back and guard Hilltop, which doesn’t seem fair since he was the first to speak up about going to Riverbend in the first place.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

As the the group travels down the highway in a truck, Lydia asks why Maggie doesn’t want the Commonwealth’s help. She replies that they can “get by without them.” When Lydia astutely counters that they don’t have to just “get by,” Maggie responds that “easier isn’t always better,” which absolutely wreaks of B.S.

After a painfully awkward silence, Maggie begins telling them about how corporate developers tried to buy her family’s farm back before society fell. During a really bad drought, the developers significantly upped their asking price while also bringing food to help with the livestock. Maggie’s father responded by letting the food sit and rot. The drought eventually ended, making the farm profitable again and allowing her family to thumb their noses at “the man.”

While it’s clear that Maggie’s very proud of how her family handled the situation, Lydia is flabbergasted by her hubris — especially the part about letting food rot instead of feeding it to the hungry cattle. When Maggie explains that they still made it work (and didn’t lose any cattle), Lydia points out that they just “got by,” which is exactly what she’s had to do throughout her extremely hard/painful life with the Whisperers.

Maggie tries to counter that the Commonwealth has made its people soft, thus ensuring that they’ll fail if they’re ever truly tested (yet another B.S. argument). Lydia replies that she just wants things in her life to be consistent from day to day. When Maggie asks for Elijah’s opinion on the matter, he agrees with most of what Lydia is saying.

Before things can get anymore tense inside the car, the group is forced to stop by a trio of zombified Commonwealth soldiers. After taking them out, Maggie observes that all three were killed via knife or bullet wounds in their armor gaps rather than a walker bite. As she’s trying to process what this could mean, Aaron comes running up the road toward them.

Wolfish Masquerade

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Flash back to one week ago.

After listening to Gabriel preach an excellent sermon, Aaron tells his friend that he finally seems happy. Gabriel responds that he’s recently begun to feel a connection with God again, thus inspiring his work from the pulpit.

When Gabriel asks how he’s doing, Aaron reveals that the Commonwealth has him working on their plan to connect with more communities. He then asks if Gabriel would be willing to help make first contact with a group of 40 “religious” people holed up inside an apartment complex on the western border of Virginia (Riverbend). He agrees.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Aaron and Gabriel are accompanied to the location by some Commonwealth troops along with another member of the city’s outreach team named Jesse — who just so happens to be the same injured man on the horse that arrived at Hilltop at the beginning of the episode.

Their team is led by a man named Carlson, who gives off some very unsettling vibes. He also decides to send Aaron and Gabriel into the apartment complex without any troops so they don’t spook anyone. The pair initially refuse, but compromise when Carlson (who’s pushier than one of those satellite TV sales people at Walmart) agrees for him and Jesse to join them.

The group approaches the complex, announces their presence, and are greeted by a mean looking woman (Hart), who asks them to hand over their weapons. After they comply, she hands everything to one of her people and leads the four men inside. They get patted down by more Riverbend folks (who all look pretty intimidating) and are led into the office of Riverbend’s leader, Ian.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Aaron makes his pitch about how good the Commonwealth is. Ian counters that such an idyllic sounding community likely has a “bad part” of town along with plenty of sin to go with it. Despite being thrown off balance (and clearly unsettled by Ian’s demeanor) Aaron attempts to move things in a positive direction by showing him some pictures of the city.

At this point, Ian asks if he and his people would be allowed to simply waltz into the community with no questions asked. Aaron replies that there would be a screening process, causing the Riverbend leader to laugh and joke the “audition” requirement. He then asks where the Commonwealth is. Carlson responds that the city’s location cannot be revealed, causing Ian to ask why Aaron’s been doing all the talking when Carlson is clearly the one charge.

He then has the four men look on a shelf behind them, which holds a collection of human skulls — all of whom sat in the same seats they’re in now.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

With his guests now officially freaked out, Ian asks Carlson a very prescient (and terrifying) question: If they know where his people live, and he doesn’t know where they live, then how dumb would it be for him to let them go. He then forces Carlson to his knees at gunpoint and demands to know where the rest of his raiding party is. In a bizarre bit of threat feinting, Ian turns and threatens to kill Jesse instead of Carlson if they don’t tell him.

Aaron speaks up and asks if they really look like a raiding party. Ian responds that they look like wolves in sheep’s clothing — much like one of the men whose skull now adorns his shelf. As he begins angrily demanding why these well supplied people would want to raid his people, Gabriel interrupts Ian to point out that he just answered his own question.

There is nothing in this “s**thole” (Gabriel’s description, not mine) that any of them could possibly want.

A gloriously stunned Ian tries to claim that they want human meat, but you can tell even he knows that’s a dumb answer. Aaron follows up by pointing out that the Commonwealth has been leaving food and water for his people the last several weeks. Barring a long term plan to fatten them up for slaughter, that isn’t how cannibals operate. Gabriel also adds that if they don’t check in soon, there are soldiers nearby who will move in to extract them and potentially kill everyone else.

Aaron quickly steps in to deescalate things, promising to leave and ensure that the Commonwealth never makes contact with Riverbend again. Just as Ian grudgingly accepts his terms, Carlson (who had been cowering on the floor this time) pops up and takes Ian’s gun with a move that would make John Wick jealous. Before anyone has time to blink, he shoots the Riverbend leader in the arm and headshots both nearby guards.

When a stunned Aaron asked why he did that, Carlson tersely responds that he’s doing his job. He then orders them to keep Ian hostage before heading back outside, promising to return once the area is secure.

Deadly Relapse

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Flashback to one week and one hour ago.

Hornsby calls Carlson (who he’s clearly friends with) in for a meeting. After Carlson refuses a drink (on account of being sober) the lieutenant governor explains how Milton provided him with a bunch of resources for his big community expansion project. He also reveals that a weapon convoy he sent for “that other thing” was raided. The troops guarding it were killed, as well.

A scout team tracked the raiders to their home, which turned out to be Riverbend. After Hornsby describes the community, Carlson refers to their leader as “another warlord.”

*Side Note: Roll credits!

Carlson suggests sending in a battalion of troops, but Hornsby shoots that idea down on account of how it would get him in trouble with Milton. He then tells his friend that he needs this situation taken care of via a surgical strike…and he wants him to do it.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Carlson tries to explain that he doesn’t do that type of thing anymore. Hornsby continues to plead with him, explaining that he needs the “former CIA guy” to help him. Carlson replies that he enjoys being retired from that life, preferring his current gig that allows him to help other people instead of hurting/killing them.

At this point, Hornsby decides to play hardball and threatens to take the job his friend loves so much away. Carlson dips his finger into Hornsby’s bourbon, rubs it on the inside of his mouth, and counters with a threat of his own. Hornsby wisely switches things up, this time going with a sympathetic appeal stemming from his guilt over the soldiers who were killed.

*Side Note: Probably should have gone this route a bit earlier, Lance.

After Carlson reluctantly agrees (BOO!), the pair begin working out a plan:

Have Aaron unknowingly gain access by going in like it’s a normal first contact scenario. He could also bring Gabriel since early intelligence reports indicate that the community is religious. After that, Carlson can do his assassin thing with support from a small team of troops.

When Carlson asks what to do after Aaron and Gabriel learn about his true mission/intentions, Hornsby assures him that they’ll fall in line.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

We then cut back to Riverbend, where Carlson directs Commonwealth troopers as they clear out the building. Aaron and Gabriel watch what’s happening in stunned silence.

Two soldiers drag Ian over to Carlson, who demands to know where the raided weapons and supplies are. Ian initially claims he doesn’t know what Carlson if referring to, but suddenly remembers after getting pistol whipped. Unfortunately, his smug insistence that they found the caravan after it was raided earns him an even harsher beating.

For some reason, Gabriel decides he can’t bear to watch psychotic man who almost murdered them get hurt anymore and punches Carlson. Troops immediately swarm in, but Aaron convinces them to stand down.

As Carlson is having Gabriel handcuffed, Ian begins to point out that his people would be using the weapons right now if they actually had them. Before he can finish, however, Carlson shoots him in the head. He then proceeds to mock Ian and kick his lifeless body over and over, causing Aaron to become upset.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Carlson sees Aaron’s disgust and demands he not look at him that way for killing a man who was clearly evil. Aaron counters that they’re supposed to be helping people, not taking them out. Carlson responds that snuffing out threats like Ian is the other (and less savory) side of making the world safe.

The two men proceed to have an intense stare off, but it’s interrupted by the sound of a horse galloping. They run outside and see Jesse riding away, who Carlson orders to be shot. One of the Commonwealth troopers scores a hit on his shoulder, earning a smash to the face from Aaron’s arm mace.

Carlson raises his gun toward Aaron and tries to fire, but ends up being out of bullets. Instead of retreating (which seems like the smart move when the other guy has an arm mace), he challenges him to fight. What would have been a hilariously one-sided scuffle is interrupted when a pair of nearby Commonwealth troops begin shooting.

As Aaron flees into the woods, Carlson is called back inside, where he find that someone from Riverbend killed one of his troops. After taking a moment to rage about this discovery, he tells the other soldiers to bring him his armor.

Hidden Ally

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Back in the present, Aaron catches Elijah, Lydia, and Maggie up on everything. He also says that Ian was right when he called Carlson a wolf, but this doesn’t seem like the time or the place to delve into that.

Whatever the case, Maggie rightfully points out how weird it is that the Commonwealth had a massive weapon inventory being shipped somewhere else. She then holds out the map and asks if it shows the best way into Riverbend. Maggie assumes Aaron is the one who sent it, but he has no idea where it came from.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

We then flashback again (ugh) to twelve hours ago during the Riverbend attack. A fleeing/frightened Jesse is about to untie a horse when he’s stopped by Negan (!!!), who asks how many of his people there are and what they’re armed with. After Jesse answers, another woman who we’ve never seen before (Annie) runs up and reports what she saw. Her report includes a priest and a guy with a spiked ball for an arm.

Negan immediately knows who she’s referring to.

He hands Jesse a map before instructing him to ride to Hilltop. Upon his arrival, he’s to ask for Maggie and only her. Any uncertainty she has about helping him will be dispelled if he tells her  that two people named Aaron and Gabriel are in trouble.

After Jesse departs, Negan and Annie head inside, where we see the moment Carlson heard Jesse riding away from their point of view. Once Carlson runs outside, Annie kills the guard while Negan frees Gabriel. The group sees Aaron and Carlson about to square up, but Negan insists that they’ll be killed if they don’t retreat immediately.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Back in the present, an armored Carlson forces a group of captured Riverbend citizens to get on their knees near the roof of the apartment complex. After dipping his finger in bourbon and wiping it on his lips, he announces to the remaining residents that they’re now enemies of the Commonwealth. If they return the stolen weapons, however, then everyone can stay alive.

Inside one of the apartments, Gabriel pleads with the hiding residents to give up the guns. Annie (who is apparently part of the Riverbend community) claims they don’t have them. Gabriel tries to counter that they do, but Negan insists she’s telling the truth.

Back outside, Carlson asks one of the hostages where the weapons are. When he fearfully claims he doesn’t know, Carlson says he believes him before pushing the man over. He asks the next hostage the same question, gets the same answer, and pushes him off the roof to his death, as well.

After killing the rest of the hostages in the same manner, Carlson orders his troops to do a sweep of every room and kill anyone they find.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Back inside the apartment, Annie assures her people that they’ll make it out of this alive. In addition to knowing the building better than their attackers, they have a will that can’t be broken. Ian may be dead, but he wasn’t their first leader. If they stick together like they always have, then they’ll survive this and retake their home.

After Annie’s is finished with her speech, Negan compliments her while lamenting that Carlson “took out our best.” Annie responds that their people still needed to hear what she said.

*Side Note: Look, I love Negan as much as the next person, but him joining this community that ends up entangled with both the Commonwealth and Hilltop is beyond ridiculous.

Meanwhile, Maggie, Elijah, Lydia, and Aaron take out a Commonwealth guard and begin moving through the apartment complex, leaving us on a cliffhanger.

The Verdict

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

“Warlords” is far better than it has any right to be.

The episode is filled with the type of contrivances that nearly made me stop watching The Walking Dead altogether a few years ago. Some of the worst ones include:

  • Maggie’s misgivings about the Commonwealth being proven one episode later with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
  • How Negan just happened to join the same community that’s now involved in a watershed conflict with people from the Commonwealth, Alexandria, and Hilltop.

There were also some truly cringe-worthy smaller moments. Most folks will probably point to Gabriel punching Carlson for his treatment of Ian. I’m not saying that the priest doesn’t have any good in him, but this is the same dude who killed Mancea (the Reaper priest) and Mays (the boar meat guy) in cold blood after they both tried to be reasonable. One scene of him doing a good sermon doesn’t get us past that.

*Side Note: It also doesn’t help that Gabriel already showed us he’s more than willing to kill people from the ‘Terminator’ franchise.

For me, however, the thing with Carlson wiping bourbon on his lips nearly made my eyes roll out of my head. I get that it’s supposed to represent him relapsing into his old ways — it just wasn’t anywhere near as deep/impressive as the writers clearly thought it was.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

All that being said, the overall character work (along with the episode’s central conflict) was fantastic. Both Michael Biehn (Ian) and Jason Butler Harner (Carlson) helped to create some great villains. In addition to their terrifying demeanors, both men have uncomfortably persuasive arguments for what they’re doing.

In Ian’s case, it’s hard to disagree with his take on the power imbalance imposed by the Commonwealth knowing their location. Aaron and Gabriel’s mic drop moment about why they’d never want to raid Riverbend was as cool, but keep in mind what type of world these characters are living in. When you add in that Riverbend has had conflicts with raiders and con artists before, Ian’s paranoia is significantly more understandable.

As for Carlson, Rick Grimes has made roughly the same argument (multiple times) about why killing bad people is necessary. His psychotic behavior was undoubtedly grotesque, but his initial motivations were not — especially after being manipulated by Hornsby and being given what was likely bad/false intel.

That in no way excuses his actions, but it does give them a much different context than the usual parade of psychos this series likes to throw our way.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Also, how great is Seth Gilliam as Gabriel? His character has gone through three major changes which he’s completely sold each time (I blame the punch he gave Carlson on the script, not him). What used to be one of the Walking Dead‘s most insufferable characters has become one of its absolute best. On both extremes and throughout the journey between them, Gilliam has played the part perfectly.

I also like that Lydia and Elijah showed some resistance to Maggie, even if their arguments are about to be wiped out. Both characters are all types of interesting, but they’ve typically been relegated to playing off the stronger personalities around them.

Hopefully we’ll get to see more of these two acting independently — and perhaps even ending up together.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Story-wise, the Riverbend incident kickstarts a wonderfully intriguing conflict with multiple implications for the show moving forward. I’m still not happy about Negan’s coincidental involvement, but it’ll be great to see how this inevitably forces him and Maggie to work together again.

Let’s just hope this story arc isn’t being used to make the Commonwealth a straight up evil entity rather than the more layered/complex approach from the source material.


Next Episode: ‘The Rotten Core’

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The Walking Dead (AMC)
'The Walking Dead' season 11 episode 13 'Warlords' recap/review
'Warlords' is better than it has any right to be, thanks in no small part to an intriguing central premise and some great individual performances.
Reader Rating0 Votes
The episode's central premise is all types of intriguing and carries multiple implications for the show moving forward.
Seth Gilliam's portrayal of Gabriel continues to make the Walking Dead's best argument for ending its Emmy nomination drought.
Both Michael Biehn (Ian) and Jason Butler Harner (Carlson) helped to create some truly great villains.
In a show filled with contrived moments, this episode is packed full of them.
The episode also has some cringe-worthy smaller moments -- especially the thing with Carlson rubbing bourbon on his lips.

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