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‘The Walking Dead’ season 11 episode 19 ‘Variant’ recap/review

Even if you don’t like the idea of evolving zombies, watching Governor Milton’s descent into madness is a real treat.

Last week’s episode of The Walking Dead concluded with Sebastian being humiliated moments before a walker took a giant chunk out of his neck. The “humiliation” part happened when Max played a recording of Governor Pamela Milton‘s son as he openly discussed the Commonwealth‘s corruption (and how poorly he thinks of anyone who isn’t in the top 1% income bracket).

Sebastian’s fate was sealed when the disgraced Lieutenant Governor Hornsby had Roman and Shira murder a bunch of Founders Day Celebration workers. After the workers reanimated as zombies, Sebastian tried to push Max into one of them. Thankfully, Eugene stepped up and shoved Sebastion into the walker instead, who proceeded to chow down on the Little Prince while the rest of the town watched.

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This week, Governor Milton is out for revenge after losing her son and possibly her empire. Meanwhile, Aaron & Co. discover some concerning new information about the walkers.

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.

Family Matters

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The episode opens with a voice-over from Judith about the shame people can feel over the decisions they made to stay alive. In the end, however, the person you are now might be all that matters. To drive her point home, Judith’s words are played over a summary flashback of Eugene’s worst moments during his time on The Walking Dead.

We then jump back to the Commonwealth, where things are still in complete chaos (aside from a short break to watch Sebastian die). Eugene loses Max in the crowd and tries to find her, but is shuffled inside a nearby shop by Daryl.

Elsewhere, Milton stands over Sebastian’s body, refusing to let it be zombie-proofed despite Mercer‘s reluctant advice to do so. While stoically grieving her son’s death, she pointedly laments Max’s part in his downfall — even going so far as to say that it might not be too late to “help” her. Milton then instructs Mercer to find and arrest Eugene, who she’ll use as an example to get the Commonwealth back in line.

She also reminds the Commonwealth Army general that this will be a great way to help ensure his sister’s survival.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Mercer has his troops begin rounding up all the recent immigrants from Alexandria, Hilltop, and Riverbend. He then coldly interrogates Rosita about her whereabouts during the riot, treating her as if she were a stranger and not a trusted former member of his unit.

In response to Mercer’s questions, Rosita says that she wasn’t with Eugene when the riot broke out, nor does she know his current whereabouts. She also pointedly informs her former commander that before the riot, they discussed how his sister wanted to stay in the Commonwealth and make it better.

Mercer lets down his guard a bit and implores Rosita to tell Eugene that he needs to turn himself in and show remorse. Otherwise, things for him and anyone he’s connected to could get a lot worse. Rosita smiles, leaves, and heads to Gabriel’s church, where Daryl is hiding out along with Eugene. Eugene attempts to apologize for the situation he’s put his people in, but Daryl assures him that he has nothing to be sorry for.

Daryl then explains his plan to get them out during a Commonwealth Army shift change the next day. Eugene responds by insisting he won’t leave without Max — even if it means looking for her on his own and getting captured. Rosita tells Eugene that she’ll look for her and try to find a way to get them both safely out of the Commonwealth.

As she’s about to leave, Governor Milton makes a citywide announcement that anyone who provides information leading to Eugene’s capture will receive a generous reward….and anyone who helps him will be met with severe punishment.

Feeding Despair

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Governor Milton cleans her son’s corpse, lamenting how she couldn’t keep him safe even after all she did to build the Commonwealth. When Sebastian reanimates, Milton tells a nearby soldier to “take care of it” and leaves.

Over at the Commonwealth Army command center, Princess confronts Mercer (who she’s still in a relationship with) over getting pulled from her apartment and interrogated for three hours. After Mercer apologizes and explains the situation, Princess pleads with him to spare Eugene. The commander explains that the safety of his family relies on his willingness to follow orders. Princess counters that the society being fostered inside the Commonwealth is pointless if a good man can die for the crime of defending the woman he loves (and Mercer’s sister) from an evil, well-connected person.

Before Mercer can respond, he’s alerted by one of his troops that Maxine has been sighted. As he leaves, Princess quietly resolves to depart from the Commonwealth.

Maxine is apprehended (right before Rosita can warn her) and brought to Mercer, who implores her sister to sign a pre-written confession implicating Eugene and blaming her behavior on severe depression. She turns down the pardon, informing Mercer that she plans to follow their late father’s example. Even though he was also a high-ranking military commander, he never deigned to ignore his duty as a citizen.

Max also tells her brother that their father would’ve been ashamed of him, which hits Mercer harder than any walker ever did.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Back at the church, Eugene hilariously challenges Daryl in an effort to leave and join the search for Max. When Daryl steps aside to let him leave, Eugene realizes he’s too scared to step foot outside. When he labels himself a coward, Daryl counters that he’s just being smart. Unconvinced, Eugene asks if he thinks people are born brave or become that way. Daryl replies that it’s both.

Elsewhere, Princess goes to meet with Ezekiel about what’s happening. She’s angry to learn that he’s not leaving, but Ezekiel explains how the change Max initiated means he needs to stay now more than ever.

After discussing things further, Princess decides that Mercer’s impossible situation doesn’t mean she’s obligated to stay for his sake.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Later, Mercer finds Princess moving out of their apartment and tries to talk her into staying. He recognizes that the Commonwealth has severe flaws, but also points out that things could be much worse.

Princess counters by telling him how when she was nine, her stepfather and stepbrother used to beat her mercilessly. They also tried to say that things could be worse since they had a roof over their heads, but that didn’t justify their horrific actions.

Things not only could be better in the Commonwealth, but should be. Sitting and watching what’s transpiring around them would make Princess no better than her mother, who stood by and allowed her to be abused.

Before departing, Princess assures Mercer that he’s a much better man than the one he’s being forced to be right now.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Over at the jail, Hornsby is visited by Milton, who’s understandably furious after realizing (?) he was behind creating the walkers that killed her son. The disgraced lieutenant governor attempts to plead his case, explaining that he never intended for Sebastaion to die and only wanted to get her attention. He also blames all of the Commonwealth’s troubles on The Coalition.

In the end, Milton decides that the best way to determine Hornsby’s fate is by making him choose which hand she’s hiding his father’s lucky coin in. After choosing correctly, Hornsby assures Milton that he’ll do whatever her family requires. Milton responds by having some troops bring Zombie Sebastian into the cell along with Roman, whose corpse sports a giant bullet hole in the center of his forehead.

She then drops a large knife and instructs Hornsby to feed her son.

Going Medieval

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

On their way to Oceanside, Aaron, Lydia, Elijah, and Jerry are stopped by a herd of walkers. Jerry suggests they make camp for the day/night, but Aaron insists they take the wagon offroad and keep moving. He also seems uncharacteristically jumpy. As the group heads into the woods, one of the walkers stops and looks in their direction.

Aaron’s rash decision leads to the wagon getting stuck, which leads to Jerry suffering a leg injury while they’re trying to free it. Luckily, this all happens close to a theme park/renaissance fair that’s completely deserted (i.e. no one else is squatting there). As the group makes camp, Elijah gets rejected trying to kiss Lydia while Aaron uncharacteristically snaps at Jerry.

During the first watch, Lydia tells Aaron about how she’s struggling to let herself have feelings for Elijah because of Henry. Aaron responds by telling her how much he misses his deceased husband Eric. He goes on to explain that while loss is inevitable (especially in this world), the only thing they can control is who they allow into their hearts.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

That evening, as Aaron and Lydia keep watch next to a fire, walkers somehow manage to open one of the gates and begin lumbering inside. The pair wake up Jerry and Elijah to join them, but their combined efforts still aren’t enough to take out the herd. When the group tries to take shelter in one of the buildings, a walker twists the doorknob and waltzes inside with his friends.

This causes Aaron to assume that there are Whisperers in the herd.

Aaron orders the group to get to the roof, where they put Jerry in a semi-safe location and assess their options. Moments after he sends Lydia and Elijah back down to flank the walkers (allowing him to separate the Whisperers from the group), a lone walker manages to climb up and go after Jerry. Aaron intercepts the zombie and beats it senseless with a rock. When he goes to rip off its “Whisperer” mask, however, he discovers that it truly was a walker the whole time.

It would appear that the undead have evolved.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

By the next day, all the walkers have been taken down. Aaron tells Jerry that he’s heard rumors of evolved walkers, but this is the first time he’s seen evidence of it.

Meanwhile, Lydia goes over to Elijah and plants a big old kiss on him.

As the group leaves the renaissance fair, Jerry suggests that the location could work as another kingdom for Ezekiel to rule over. Aaron counters that it might be time for Jerry to be king.

Resolve and Revenge

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Rosita and Daryl return to the church, where they deliver the unfortunate news to Eugene about Max being apprehended. Rosita tries to convince Eugene to leave with them, but he refuses, explaining that he couldn’t live with himself if he abandoned the woman he loves. He then gives Rosita his pendant and asks her to give it to Coco.

Later, Eugene strolls into the Commonwealth Army command center and turns himself in. He not only confesses to everything, but pointedly tells Mercer that he acted alone and that Max had nothing to do with it.

Meanwhile, Rosita is getting ready to leave her apartment when a couple of dudes break in and forcibly apprehend her.

The Verdict

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

I don’t get the draw of evolving zombies. There must be one since even George Romero explored it in his films. But I always thought the scariest thing about them was that they’re completely devoid of humanity — including the ability for higher-level thinking and dexterity.

Whatever the case, the whole Renaissance fair plotline was pretty lame. Zombie shenanigans aside, it was weird to have Aaron suddenly become jumpy about rumors he just happened to hear at some point offscreen. The only enjoyable parts were some badass zombie kills by Jerry and Lydia and Elijah finally getting together.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Governor Milton’s descent into madness is all types of fun to watch. It was a little unfair to throw us with the “take care of it” line she said to the soldier, but the effect of seeing her bring Sebastian in to be hand fed some extra rare Roman was shocking nonetheless. It’s hard to feel concern for a scumbag like Hornsby, but that scene nearly made it happen.

It should also be noted that Laila Robbins played Milton’s behavior to perfection. It would have been easy to go over the top or have her be unrealistically cold. Instead, Robbins embued the character with a wonderful balance of seething anger, tragic heartbreak, and spiked with just the right amount of bloodlust.

Meanwhile, poor Mercer was taking emotional body blows left and right. Every time you want to get mad at him, though, we get another reminder that Max’s life depends on him following orders. Michael James Shaw also deserves a ton of credit for how he subtly portrays every ounce of anguish and indecision the Commonwealth Army commander feels.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

And then we come to Eugene.

While I appreciate how much the character has grown these last few seasons, this feels like the fourth or fifth redemption story we’ve seen. Aside from his brief/awesome confrontation with Mercer, it was your standard Eugene-centric tale:

  • Eugene wants to do something that requires courage and principles.
  • Eugene falters.
  • Eugene gets a pep talk.
  • Eugene succeeds, but with a major consequence.

Those complaints aside, I do like the moral tipping point Eugene’s arrest appears to have pushed Mercer over. It should be interesting to see how things play out next week with Eugene in custody along with Hornsby.

Let’s hope next week’s episode features plenty of over-the-edge Governor Milton, too.

 

Next Episode: ‘What’s Been Lost’

The Walking Dead (AMC)
‘The Walking Dead’ season 11 episode 19 ‘Variant’ recap/review
'The Walking Dead' season 11, episode 19 'Variant'
Even if you don't like the idea of evolving zombies, watching Governor Milton's descent into madness is a real treat.
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Laila Robbins perfectly portrays Governor Milton's descent into madness.
James Michael Shaw subtly shows us every emotional body blow that Mercer has to take.
Jerry gets some really cool kills...
...unfortunately, those kills come during an extremely lame B-story about evolving zombies.
I like a good Eugene story as much as anyone, but these redemptive ones are starting to feel repetitive.
7
Good

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