This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 15
Everyone in the world of The Walking Dead is keeping an impressive amount of heavy secrets. As Ezekiel (Khary Payton) says in “Trust,” darkness is heavy, and some people can carry more of it than others. For Ezekiel, his dark secret is also his way to spread a little light into a world sorely needing it. For someone like Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton), it seem as if it’s just darkness all the way down. Everyone else is cloaked in shades of gray. Democracy might die in darkness, but The Commonwealth thrives in foggy dusk and bruised dawn light and the true currency is secrecy.
However, the darkness carried can overwhelm even the strongest shoulders, and even the darkest heart can be overcome with worry, even if it’s only the selfish fear of discovery that motivates. Throughout “Trust,” every character spills a secret to someone else at some point, or actively tries to cover up a secret activity, for good or ill. Whether it’s good stuff or bad stuff, secrets have a burden all their own, and there seem to be multiple characters cracking under that weight.
The biggest secret, and the one the episode opens with, involves Daryl, Aaron, and Gabriel all attempting to put one over on Lance regarding the situation at Riverbend. Lance is naturally suspicious of the whole thing, as well he would be given his own surreptitious activities on any given day, but the story doesn’t especially hang together, even after seeing how competent Aaron and Gabriel are at self-defense due to their time outside the walls. Lance knows how good Carlson was at his job, and he knows that these new people (aside from Carol) seem determined to upset his carefully-piled apple cart with their foreign ways and rabble-rousing activities. Activities that are spreading throughout The Commonwealth based on how others are responding to them.
It seems that discontent spreads easily among the people of The Commonwealth, thanks in no small part to the omnipresent class divides that separates the successful doctor drowning in bureaucracy from his patients, who are too poor or too low on the totem pole to be able to afford desperately needed medical care. Between the protector who gets his hands dirty to keep 50,000 safe and people of the Commonwealth who’d never understand what it’s like being on the other side of the wall. Between friends working hand-in-hand with The Commonwealth government and friends working to stay independent while rebuilding their shattered lives and broken dreams. It all ties back into the weight of darkness, and each person’s individual burden.
Mercer hasn’t been a character that’s been overly developed, but now that he’s been getting some screen time and he has Princess to bounce off of, the orange-clad protector of The Commonwealth is rounding into more of a three-dimensional character. Michael James Shaw has done a good job of letting bits of Mercer’s personality shine through, particularly when he’s one-on-one with Paola Lazaro this episode (and Norman Reedus and Christian Serratos last episode). However, when he’s finally alone with sister Max (Margot Bingham), the dam truly breaks and he has to talk to anyone to let it out; unsurprisingly he picks the woman he’s sharing a bed with. He’s seemingly never had to take the life of an associate before last week, and the things he has to do to make sure The Commonwealth functions are finally eating at him. Tomi (Ian Anthony Dale) is in a similar situation, though mostly his is shown via desk whiskey, not told, with Dale’s performance bolstering what’s shown on screen.
The performances from more familiar characters are a bit more restrained, with Ross Marquand and Seth Gilliam playing secretive well. Norman Reedus, now that Daryl has regained speech, is given more to do dialog-wise, and he does well bouncing off of Lauren Cohan in particular. Josh Hamilton is a wonderfully slimy politician, and Lance has several great scenes where he hides his poison attitude behind sweet words; his dead-eyed stare as the pick-up truck refuses to start at Hilltop is particularly good, as is the way he handles his recruiting mission at the end of the episode. Of all the show’s rogue gallery, Lance might be the hardest one to swallow, because he’s too much like someone you work with at a job, or someone you see glad-handing in low level local politics. At least Negan had his silly speeches and the Governor an eye patch. Lance is just every brown-nose at the office rolled into one contemptible scumbag.
Kevin Dieboldt’s script really drills down on those aspects of Lance’s character, particularly when he’s threatening Hershel at Hilltop (which triggers Daryl using the F word for the first time I can remember in the series). Mercer’s scenes with Max and Princess allow the viewer to see behind the propaganda figure Mercer has become, showing just how disillusioned he has become. The bloom has quickly come off the rose for newcomers to The Commonwealth, particularly Eugene, Ezekiel, and Carol. They’ve seen a better way of living, and it’s a way of living that The Commonwealth could easily adapt to given their surplus of resources. It just threatens the power structure that so many people have worked so hard to maintain at the cost of so many innocent lives.
“Trust” has a lot of meaningful looks between characters, but in the hands of director Lily Mariye, it’s not as funny or cliché as that sort of thing can be. The seriousness of the situations, and the deft use of musical cues, keeps the mood serious, but not boring. The scheming between the characters, particularly Daryl and Maggie as they try to get Lance and company to leave Hilltop without finding out their role in the apartment complex massacre, stays the focus of most of the episode, as multiple characters are balancing multiple conspiracies across a variety of locations. It’s a difficult tone to get right, given it’s mostly reaction shots, but Mariye manages it, and gets good performances out of her actors in the process.
With The Walking Dead building up towards a second cliffhanger this season, it’s reasonable that “Trust” builds rather than pays off. Certainly, the final moments of the episode throw fuel on the fire of the building Commonwealth versus Alexandria/Hilltop war. All it will take is one spark and everything everyone has built will be put at risk, and all the secrets will have been kept in vain.