The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 14 Review: The Rotten Core
The Walking Dead reveals some hard truths about The Commonwealth's powers-that-be, and about The Commonwealth's powerlessness. If you want the job done right, turn to the outsiders.
This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 14
After The Walking Dead spent so much time building up The Commonwealth as a place where dreams can come true, it was only a matter of time for the truth behind the veneer to start showing. Nothing gold can stay, after all; when your community is built and maintained by fiction, eventually the fiction will start to fall apart. For The Commonwealth, that fiction has always been security. Armed guards in armor, high walls, and no walkers might be a pretty sweet deal, but that calm oasis of peace comes at a price, and the people of The Commonwealth have no idea what that price might be. If what we’ve seen from The Commonwealth’s soldiers in non-traditional missions is any indication, that hard-won peace might be both expensive and brittle.
At any point when The Commonwealth’s soldiers are asked to do anything more complicated than kill a few walkers, there seems to be difficulty. They’re not used to working without guns, so when it’s time for Sebastian (Teo Rapp-Olsson) to send people off to rob his dead friend’s house for some easy cash and drugs, he can’t send his own bodyguards, he has to turn to Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Rosita (Christian Serratos). When Lance (Josh Hamilton) has to retrieve a missing shipment of guns and can’t just hit the apartment building fortress with overwhelming numbers, he has to reach out to Carlson (Jason Butler Harner) to get his dirty work done. Even then, the evidence is there. The Commonwealth is a paper tiger taking advantage of a power vacuum. Superior firepower or superior numbers explains why they work, but without those advantages, they’re just a bunch of people struggling to breathe in impractical plastic armor.
While the episode is split into two different plot lines, the two converge neatly on that same premise from different angles. Daryl and Rosita are getting sent through a zombie horde to a rich guy’s prepper house in order to steal a bunch of money for Sebastian, Army of the Dead style, because none of the Commonwealth’s soldiers are good enough to sneak through and back without using their guns and blowing the secrecy of the whole operation. The Commonwealth apparently tracks bullets fired, which makes sense given the scarcity of brass. The last thing Sebastian wants is for his mommy to figure out where he’s getting all his extra cash.
When Lance needs a bunch of stolen weapons recovered, he turns to Carlson, because he can’t simply throw wave after wave of his own men at the problem to solve it. Again, that kind of slaughter would lead to tough questions being asked, and secrecy matters in The Commonwealth’s elite strata. Once again, Governor Milton wouldn’t be too pleased if she found out the scope of Lance’s behind-the-scenes machinations, or his ambition to carve out a city-state of his very own. When that goes sideways, the only option The Commonwealth soldiers have is to keep digging, but they’re not used to asymmetrical warfare against people who are more experienced at combat, so that goes about as well as you would expect.
Perhaps the people who make up the Commonwealth military aren’t the best and the brightest. After all, this is an army comprised of the voluntold, not the volunteer, because that seems to be how things work in The Commonwealth. I would imagine the soldiers have some mental and physical capabilities, but most of them are just people who didn’t have any useful skill other than their ability to stop bullets and kill walkers. The ones with background in military or police operations (or criminal operations if you’re Daryl) are few and far between. What better way to get some clandestine missions done on the cheap than by sending out disposable people to do your dirty work?
While the focus is definitely on the suspense and action, that doesn’t mean there isn’t time for character development. Indeed, two of the tensest scenes in Erik Mountain and Jim Barnes’ script are two of the most illuminating scenes. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Annie (Medina Senghore) are together, skulking around the top floor of the apartment building and ducking into apartments to avoid detection by the Commonwealth soldiers hunting them. While they’re hiding, they have a brief chance to talk about Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and what he’s been up to since he left Maggie and company behind for a new life and a new love. It’s a well constructed scene, and given that they’re just waiting for guys to wander off, it makes sense they’d take the time to talk and calm tensions between one another.
The other stand-out talking scene takes place between Negan and Hershel (Kien Michael Spiller), Maggie’s son who snuck on board her pickup only to be captured by the Commonwealth after trying to join his mother in the apartment building. Negan has every reason to be concerned about him, considering the child has a gun pointed at him, but Negan is able to talk him out of pulling the trigger and killing everyone in a blind hunger for revenge for a father he never knew, and Negan is able to make some amends and apologies while facing down the person who he was prior to his humbling by Rick Grimes.
Perhaps the wounds Negan caused will never heal. However, it seems like both Maggie and Negan have been given a lot to talk about, and to think about, for their impending spin-off series set in Manhattan. (Assuming it’s not some sort of prequel.) It’s not over between them, but it seems like they’re more likely to reach a detente, thanks to beautifully emotional performances by both Cohan, who allows Maggie’s mask of rage to slip just slightly to reveal doubts about her own past, and Morgan, who walks the line between Negan’s sarcastic exterior and the broken interior beautifully this week, right down to the tears building at the corners of his eyes after his honest discussion with Hershel regarding his impending revenge. Daryl’s face-off with Sebastian isn’t as nuanced, but there’s always something satisfying about Daryl going into papa bear mode and making threats against people who threaten his kids, particularly when it’s the incredibly punchable Teo Rapp-Olsson being threatened.
Director Marcus Stokes gives the actors and their performances plenty of space to breathe. The use of sound design to amplify the threats in the apartment building (the distant growl of walkers, people being shot on other floors, yelling and screaming) really elevates the tension portions of the material. Nothing feels rushed, and that allows the background stingers and performers to make the most of their moments, to milk things out just long enough to raise the hackles, without dragging proceedings to a halt in the process. Everything feels purposeful and confidently executed with neither story element in the episode getting the short shrift.
The announcement that season 11 will be the end of mainline The Walking Dead might have taken the cast and crew by surprise, but they’re making the most of their elongated season schedule and attempting to wrap up as many things and set up as many spin-offs as needed in the time allowed. The ride might be over, but the theme park waits to be explored further. The show itself might not be the ratings juggernaut it once was, but there are still plenty of stories to tell in that universe.