This The Walking Dead feature contains spoilers for the show and the comic.
You know what they say: if you introduce a radio in the first act of a dystopian zombie play, it had better deliver a mysterious message in the third act.
The Walking Dead has always had a hopeful relationship with radios. The perfect post-apocalypse communication technology has popped up here and there throughout the show’s nine seasons, including during Rick’s attempts to communicate with Morgan in the first season. Then, in the first episode of the post-Rick Walking Dead, “Who Are You Now,” Eugene Porter got his hands on a long-range radio and began the process of refurbishing it to communicate with the outside world.
The Walking Dead season 9’s penultimate episode, “The Calm Before,” featured Eugene and Rosita putting the finishing touches on that radio. In the season finale, “The Storm,” that radio became the star of the show.
The very first thing we see in “The Storm” is that radio, now fully operational. Ezekiel is using it to tell the story of The Kingdom’s brave pilgrimage to an unknown person on the other end of the broadcast. At episode’s end, it turns out that Ezekiel has been talking to Judith and the two are now radio penpals. When Ezekiel concludes his story, he walks away…leaving the radio on. That’s when Eugene’s radio delivers a mysterious message from an unknown source.
The heavily staticky message says, “Hello. Hello? Testing out live on the…(inaudible). Is anybody out there?”
In The Walking Dead season 10 episode 6 “Bonds,” Eugene strikes up a conversation with the voice on the other end of that radio. Then in episode 11 “Morning Star,” Eugene’s radio buddy reveals quite a bit more information. The voice is named Stephanie and she and Eugene seem to enjoy flirting with each other quite a bit. Stephanie’s rules for chatting include that they only speak superficially for now and reveal no information about their respective groups, nor do they tell anyone else about their conversations. Stephanie doesn’t want to reveal her group’s position just yet though they come to realize that they are close as they both saw a falling satellite. Unfortunately Stephanie’s trust is compromised when Rosita overhears Stephanie on the radio and responds.
By episode’s end, Eugene is able to regain Stephanie’s trust again and she reveals that she is in Charleston, West Virginia – about a mile south of the Kanawha River. She also sets up instructions for a rendezvous for them in one week.
Stephanie and her West Virginia community is likely our first introduction to the next era of The Walking Dead. Despite how fun the Whisperers have been, there is presumably a post-Whisperer world coming and that radio is the first step to getting there.
In the comics, like the show, Eugene begins to refurbish an old radio as a fun project, not necessarily expecting anything Earth-shattering to come from it. Eugene develops a relationship over said radio with a woman named Stephanie in the comics as well. Eventually, Stephanie reveals that her community is in Ohio (not like West Virginia in the show) and that it contains close to 50,000 people. Yes, that’s right. FIFTY. THOUSAND. For comparison’s sake – both Alexandria and Hilltop are estimated to contain a couple-hundred people at most.
Eugene finally tells Rick about his conversations with Stephanie via radio and Rick, Eugene, and Stephanie coordinate a little scouting trip to Stephanie’s community. Eugene, Michonne, Magna (R.I.P. in the show but probably not), Yumiko, and Siddiq (R.I.P. in the show for real) volunteer to go on said trip and before long they’re off to Ohio.
This journey leads into the arc that eventually the concludes the comic book series. Eugene, Michonne, and company reach the community known as “The Commonwealth.” As Stephanie promised, the Commonwealth is truly enormous. It has both baseball and football stadiums for its burgeoning little sports leagues and a thriving local restaurant scene. Thing is, to maintain order in a community so big, the Commonwealth has built up an unfair classist system.
Commonwealth Governor Pamela Milton and her cheerfully corrupt administration of bureaucrats assign societal roles to people based on the jobs that they had prior to the zombie apocalypse. They are attempting to recreate the world exactly as it was and have mostly succeeded for the good and the bad… The Commonwealth is a completely safe, thriving society but it’s also a powder-keg of classist frustration. All those people who proved their mettle surviving the zombie apocalypse don’t always take too kindly to the governor’s semi-fascistic rule. Despite the semblance of peace and harmony, violence lurks below the surface. And that’s BEFORE Rick “Basically George Washington” Grimes comes to town to meet with Governor Milton.
There is a lot to unpack in The Commonwealth. We did so here and will probably write quite a few more articles on the subject in the lead up to The Walking Dead season 11. The Walking Dead isn’t likely to go to the Commonwealth in the back half of season 10. The Whisperers are still around and absolutely need to be taken care of. But introducing the series’ next big community in season 11 is not off the table. In fact, it now seems more likely than ever that the show will get into the comic’s current arc by season 11….and that arc is a big one.
If you thought Jesus introduced our characters to “a larger world,” just wait til you see the Commonwealth.