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‘The Walking Dead’ season 11 episode 16 ‘Acts of God’ recap/review

The final episode of Season 11’s second part saw ‘The Walking Dead’ slip back into some of its worst narrative habits.

Last week’s episode of The Walking Dead concluded with Commonwealth Lieutenant Governor Lance Hornsby offering Leah a job. Meanwhile, Max and the Alexandria crew may be on the verge of gaining Mercer as an ally in their quest to expose how corrupt the Milton administration truly is.

Elsewhere, Ezekiel revealed his secret medical center to Carol and Tomi. Carol obviously approved, but Tomi seemed particularly reenergized at the prospect of using his surgical skills to help those who’d been turned away by the Commonwealth. Back at the Hilltop, Maggie was successfully able to hide the Riverbend residents who escaped Hornsby’s attempted purge, including Negan. She also gained yet another good reason to hate the lieutenant governor when he tried to manipulate her son.

This week, Hornsby proves just how valid Maggie’s feelings about him are by sending his newest employee to assassinate her. The episode is also the finale for Part II of Season 11, which means we’re probably going to get some major fireworks. Not literal fireworks like in the Part I finale, but you get the idea.

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.

Dark Clouds Flapping

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The episode opens with an enraged Hornsby standing in the ruins of Hilltop, which is still under assault. The community is also surrounded by walkers and being swarmed by locust.

We then flashback to “19 hours and one act of God ago.”

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Maggie, Elijah, and Marco depart from Hilltop to escort Hershel somewhere that he’ll be safe. The boy wants to stay and help, but Maggie insists that he go for his own safety. As they walk through the woods, Elijah notices that the sound of locust appears to be getting closer.

Later, Hershel notices his mom seems angry/upset. She assures him that what they are doing is the right choice, but the kid ain’t buying it.

The group is eventually met by Lydia, who leads them to an underground bunker occupied by Negan and the rest of the Riverbend survivors.

*Side Note: The secret signal Lydia uses to let them know it’s her is the ‘Shave and a Haircut’ knock, which is so absurdly common she could’ve just announced “We’re here!”

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Negan and Annie come out to speak with Maggie, who informs them that Elijah recently spotted Commonwealth troops five miles away. They were also headed back toward Hilltop, which all but guarantees that the community is about to be under siege. Negan says he’s more than willing to watch/protect Hershel, but refuses to stay behind while his pregnant wife goes on a mission to defend a “s***hole of a home that’s not worth saving.”

Annie tells her husband to check himself, but Maggie interrupts to say he’s right. Hilltop likely isn’t worth shedding blood to protect, but her people and the Riverbend survivors are. She also started this fight with Hornsby, which means she needs to be the one who ends it.

Both Negan and Annie pledge to help her, but Maggie insists they stay behind to protect their people and her son. When Negan points out that Hershel doesn’t exactly trust him, Maggie counters that she’s starting to. Saving her son doesn’t erase what happened in the past, but it’s also something she’ll never forget.

*Side Note: While there’s a lot about the episode I don’t like, this moment was absolutely fantastic.

Negan compliments Maggie on her “big balls” before he and Annie promise to make sure Hershel and everyone else is safe while she goes after Hornsby. As they prepare to depart, Negan notes how the approaching swarm of locust feels like a pretty clear sign from God that bloodshed is on the horizon.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Elsewhere, Hornsby flips his lucky coin to decide where one of his two squads of soldiers should search for Riverbend survivors. Daryl, Aaron, and Gabriel end up in the same one, which seems like a bad idea on the lieutenant governor’s part, but whatever.

As their group sweeps an abandoned house, Daryl covertly tells them that they need to get further away from the other squad before making their move to escape. After rejoining some of the soldiers, Daryl tells one of the squad captains (Romano) that he heard a rumor about a group in Charleston, West Virginia trading weapons.

Before Daryl can fully flesh out the lie, some walkers burst through a doorway. Daryl tries to let one of them kill Romano, but the captain manages to put the zombie down. Once the threat is cleared, Hornsby radios in, confirming Daryl’s suspicion/concern that the lieutenant governor is checking up on them.

*Side Note: Did he really expect anything different — especially after pointing a gun at Hornsby’s head last episode?

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Meanwhile, we see that Hornsby’s other squadron has discarded their white armor for black masks and fatigues. They will also be lead by Leah, who the lieutenant governor has put in charge of a mission to assassinate Maggie. Leah is all business as she gets ready, barely reacting to Hornsby’s reminder that his target is also the same person responsible for killing her family (the Reapers).

*Side Note: It’s pretty amazing that that Hornsby was able to keep Leah’s discovery/presence a secret from Daryl before even knowing about their connection to each other.

What Leah does react to, however, is the deafening sound of an approaching swarm of locust. Oddly, she appears to be utterly amused while Hornsby is appropriately freaked out.

As Leah departs, Hornsby reminds her  that he needs to sees Maggie’s body after she’s dead. Leah assures him that he will.

Inevitable Betrayal

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Hornsby radios Romano and pointedly tells the captain to “finish” their last sweep. Much like the audience, Daryl knows exactly what this means and begins steeling himself. After leading everyone to a junkyard, he nods at Aaron and Gabriel before turning and firing on the soldiers before they can fire on them.

Despite a few close calls, the trio is able to take down the entire squadron of highly trained/armored troops. Aaron and Gabriel are both grazed, but their main character antibodies allow them to shrug off the bullet wounds with ease.

The firefight also attracts a small herd of walkers. Daryl threatens a wounded Romano with spending his final seconds as zombie food if he doesn’t tell them where Hornsby is. The captain relents and reveals the lieutenant governor’s approximate location. He also tells them of Hornsby’s plan to “clear the field” of any community residents who are not Commonwealth allies.

After mercy killing Romano, Daryl realizes that the other group of soldiers is heading to Hilltop. He then hears Hornsby on Romano’s radio asking for a status report. Instead of pretending to be the captain or simply leaving it alone, he picks up the radio (element of surprise be damned) to inform the lieutenant governor that all the troops he sent to kill him and his friends are dead.

The three Commonwealth fugitives then begin making their way toward Hilltop.

Building a Case

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Over in the Commonwealth, Eugene wakes up after spending the night with Max. Although the pair met in person under incredibly difficult circumstances, it’s clear that they’re already falling in love with each other. Before Max leaves for work, she reassures him of her commitment to bringing down Milton while also admitting her fears about the potential fallout.

That afternoon, while Milton is practicing a speech, the governor notices that her trusted assistant seems to be troubled about something. Max assures her that everything is fine before announcing that the accounting office said they have a $50,000 surplus from the recent Founder Day’s event. Milton is thrilled at the news, but her mood dims a bit when Max suggests they use the money to start a scholarship fund for less fortunate families. The governor commends her “outside the box” thinking, but insists that all money be invested back into the event.

*Side Note: We’ve already established that Governor Milton has a dark side via much more effective/subtle means. This sequence was over the top and completely unnecessary.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

After Milton leaves for a fancy dinner, Max begins looking through the Commonwealth files. She finds some with incriminating evidence and is about to depart when Sebastian walks in and asks to see his mother. Max explains that she’s at an event, but Sebastian doesn’t leave. Instead, he begins ranting about how Governor Milton seems angry at him and won’t make time to speak with her only son.

The one-sided conversation leads to Max accidentally dropping the file folder, which she and Sebastian pick up at the same time. Sebastian initially refuses to relinquish it for some reason, but eventually lets go and departs.

*Side Note: If Sebastian’s weird behavior in this scene was due to him realizing what Max was doing and allowing her to go through with it, then that’s cool narrative wrinkle. If it was just to build tension via a random action, however, then that’s all types of lame. Hopefully, the former is eventually proven true instead of the latter.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

That night, Max and Eugene take the documents to Connie and Kelly, where they’re also joined by Magna and Ezekiel to discuss their next steps. The files appear to indicate that the Commonwealth is hiding people who the government considers detrimental to the community. Unfortunately, Connie doesn’t feel there’s enough clear/hard evidence to support writing a story about it.

Until then, she decides that writing about Sebastian’s heist will move the needle enough to begin the process of bringing Governor Milton down. Once Ezekiel says he has people who can help (I assume with printing and distribution), the group decides to move forward with the plan.

*Side Note: I get that they’ll be looking for evidence of people being removed by the Commonwealth government in future episodes. But if I were Max, I’d be all types of pissed about risking everything just for the next big play to be something that the files weren’t even needed for.

Bringing Down the Hammer

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

That night, three members of Leah’s team enter the main building at Hilltop only to find it completely abandoned. After searching around for a bit, one of the soldiers finds a bunch of explosives hooked up to a trip wire, which he promptly causes to explode and kill them all.

Outside, Maggie, Elijah, Lydia, and Marco note that there’s no sign of Hornsby. Just as they’re about to follow the other soldiers’ back to their base camp, Leah appears and shoots Marco in the head. The other three leave as Leah pursues them into the woods.

*Side Note: The episode tried to portray this as a major death, but there’s no way any of you (or I) knew who Marco was without looking it up.

Later, Hornsby and his team arrive at Hilltop, catching us up to the episode’s opening sequence. While the troops clear their zombified comrades from the bombed out building, the lieutenant governor gets on the radio and demands Leah explain why she let three of his soldiers die. She calmly responds they were collateral damage in the service of drawing out her prey before cutting off communications.

After chucking his radio, Hornsby tells the captain of his team to find Daryl, Aaron, and Gabriel.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Speaking of them, Daryl notices some traps in the woods and somehow immediately deduces that it’s Leah’s handiwork. He then suggests that they split up to cover more ground, which seems like a surefire way to get his friends killed.

Meanwhile, Maggie tells Elijah and Lydia to go protect the others while she takes on Leah 1v1. After the two of them depart, the locusts’ deafening call abruptly stops, leaving her to be hunted alone in the dead silent woods.

After an extremely tense and unnaturally quiet search, Maggie spots Leah first and begins shooting at her. Leah evades the gunfire and leads Maggie into an ambush, knocking her unconscious.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The next morning, Maggie wakes up to find herself inside a cabin and tied to a chair across from Leah, who is pointing a gun  at her head. Instead of panicking (like I totally would have) Maggie declares that she knows Leah won’t kill her — not until she’s made her properly suffer for what happened with the Reapers.

Leah says that by the time she’s done, everyone Maggie loves will be dead. Maggie counters that this would finally make them even (BURN!). She continues to antagonize Leah while working her hands free from their bindings.

*Side Note: Not sure what it says about Leah that a highly trained mercenary can’t tie a knot strong enough to bind someone who’s still suffering from the aftereffects of a major concussion.  

Maggie gets free and kicks Leah’s hand. She gets up and a scuffle ensues, which results in Leah’s gun clattering to the floor. Both women then draw their knives and engage in a pretty brutal/awesome brawl. Despite Maggie’s best efforts, however, Leah ends up with the advantage. Just as she’s about to plunge her knife into Maggie’s chest, Daryl shows up out of nowhere shoots his former lover in the head.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

In case that bit of perfect timing wasn’t absurd enough for you, Hornsby and his soldiers show up moments later outside the cabin. Daryl sees them first and shoots, grazing Hornsby’s face. As the soldiers return fire, he helps Maggie up and leads her out via one of the back windows.

The injured and enraged lieutenant governor tells his troops to move in. When they find the cabin empty (aside from Leah’s corpse), he angrily grumbles “Now we take it all.”

The episode ends with a series of major dynamic shifts:

  • Maggie and the others head back to the Riverbend hiding spot. Hershel shoves Negan’s hand aside when he tries to help him up, but does allow Annie to put her arm around him.
  • Governor Milton angrily storms into her office to show Max a newspaper exposing her corruption.
  • The Commonwealth Army hangs the city’s banner on the gates of Alexandria, Hilltop, and Oceanside. They also gather/arrest Oceanside’s residents and line them up in front of Hornsby, who smiles and flips a coin to decide their fate.
The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

I’ve been a big proponent of The Walking Dead‘s 11th season, but this episode makes me worried the positive vibes may have just hit a brick wall.

Initially, it appeared the show was taking a more subtle and character-based approach to exploring the Commonwealth’s corruption. Questions about how much people were willing to sacrifice in exchange for safety and comfort that many never thought would be possible again.

Now, however, the series has turned the Commonwealth into blatantly evil regime that will be the antagonist in yet another armed final conflict.

The Walking Dead (Image Comics)

The Walking Dead (Image Comics)

While I obviously get that the show isn’t going to always follow the source material, this is one incident where it would’ve really served them well to do so. In the comics, Pamela Milton isn’t a self absorbed sociopath who denies surplus funds to poor people with a twist of her imaginary mustache. She’s still self absorbed, but also makes a genuine/concerted effort to always do the right thing — even when it isn’t what she wants. That still brings her into conflict with the Good Guys, but in significantly more interesting ways.

Now, though, we have a character who’s basically a less obvious version of Hornsby. It’s worth noting that Hornsby’s comic counterpart was a sleeze bag, as well, but also the type of guy who reverently visited the grave of someone who died on the other side of the Commonwealth conflict.

Now it appears we’re set up for another boring Good vs. Evil showdown without any of those wonderfully interesting shades of grey. I hope I’m wrong, but the Commonwealth banners draped across the three survivor communities don’t give me much hope.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Meanwhile, “Acts of God” resolved things with Leah in one of the most disappointing ways imaginable. While the fight between her and Maggie was great, having Daryl show up at exactly the right moment to pop her in the head robbed us of exponentially more interesting conflicts.

Can you imagine how great it would have been to see Leah face Daryl or Maggie (or both) after she killed people who actually meant something to them — or if Daryl was forced to work alongside her as part of the Commonwealth Army?

On top of that, the only significant consequence from Maggie and Daryl’s decision not to kill her back in Episode 9 was the death of a glorified extra. I guess you argue that Hilltop was officially destroyed, but that was Maggie’s decision, which itself wasn’t too hard since the community was on its way down, anyway.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

There were some really good moments, like Maggie’s statement to Negan or seeing Eugene and Max able to be happy together. There was even some subtle sequences of note, like Hershel rejecting Negan and bonding with Annie. Unfortunately, the shine on those were dulled by the episode’s multiple narrative missteps.

In addition to the ones we already mentioned, “Acts of Gods” provided a number of reasons for the audience to roll its collective eyeballs:

  • Hornsby successfully keeping Leah and Daryl hidden from each other despite not knowing a thing about their history.
  • Daryl, Aaron, and Gabriel all being sent out in a group together.
  • Romano & Co. waiting until the absolute worst possible moment/location (a junkyard with plenty of cover that Daryl selected) to spring a surprise attack.
  • Daryl, Aaron, and Gabriel taking out an entire squad of armored and heavily armed troops despite two of them getting shot.
  • Daryl recognizing Leah’s involvement in their situation simply by finding something on a branch.
  • Hornsby & Co. showing up right after Daryl appeared just in time to save Maggie.
  • The locust symbolism, which was nowhere near as smart as the show’s writers seemed to think it was.

Hopefully, this episode doesn’t indicate an irreversible downturn in what had previously been one of The Walking Dead‘s strongest seasons. Even if they continue with the “all out war” route, there are still plenty of narrative avenues left that the writers can use to keep things interesting — especially with how great the characters have been.

Guess we’ll find out find out when The Walking Dead returns this summer for its final batch of episodes.

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The Walking Dead (AMC)
'The Walking Dead' season 11 episode 16 'Acts of God' recap/review]
The final episode of Season 11's second part saw 'The Walking Dead' slip back into some of its worst narrative habits.
Reader Rating0 Votes
The scene with Maggie finally acknowledging how Negan has changed was wonderfully executed.
The resolution may have been disappointing, but the actual fight between Maggie and Leah was awesome.
Instead of dealing in interesting shades of grey, the Commonwealth conflict has been turned into yet another Good vs. Evil showdown.
Far too many contrived moments, especially the final sequence involving Daryl, Maggie, and Hornsby.
In addition to a ridiculous set up, the resolution to Leah's story was all types of disappointing.

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