This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 18
The possible collapse of a community in real time has always been the tease that The Walking Dead and its various spinoff shows lean on. The main show might be a zombie movie that was supposed to never end, per Robert Kirkman’s original vision for the comic book, but the various spinoffs, in particular Fear The Walking Dead and the best episode of Tales of the Walking Dead, have been more about watching things fall apart. Given what the world has gone through and continues to go through, there’s a certain dark appeal to watching a fictional reality fall apart, rather than actual reality.
That’s part of the escapism that The Walking Dead provides. From the comfort of our homes, we can watch other people struggle to overcome insurmountable odds, armchair quarterbacking every decision made and applauding at every exploded zombie head and daring rescue. In a sense, we’re the people of The Commonwealth.
Sure, at some point, they had to get to The Commonwealth and probably did some dirty deeds to survive the wastelands, but now? They’re hanging out in the town square, playing the lottery, eating ice cream, and watching professional wrestler Captain Commonwealth (Nick McNeil, formerly WWE and NXT wrestler Percy Watson) vanquish a couple of loincloth-clad barbarians with a spine buster and a Hulk Hogan-style Atomic Leg Drop. The citizens of The Commonwealth work normal jobs, live normal lives, and are safely insulated from the dangers of the outside world by the heroic Commonwealth military, who wear the armor, carry the guns, and take the risks while everyone else just watches and thanks them for their service now and then. They’re so far separated from the danger around them they’re forced to create “danger” at home.
Then, danger comes home, and the problems created by Lance Hornsby and Sebastian Milton are found inside the walls of The Commonwealth. All those nasty little compromises made in search of freedom from danger? It’s time to deal with them for The Commonwealth, and it’s not going to be any fun for any of them, least of all the Milton family.
If nothing else, this episode is a great showcase for Teo Rapp-Olsson’s despicable Sebastian and Laila Robins’ duplicitous Pamela Milton. The two of them are all over the episode, and the episode is all the better for it. Rapp-Olsson plays clueless and petulant perfectly, rampaging through someone else’s carefully-written speech before balling it up and throwing it dismissively away. Like a true child of privilege, he refuses to put in the actual work needed to get the people back on his side; his nature is to take the easy way out and depend on his mother to fix everything, and their codependency comes through clearly in Corey Reed and Kevin Dieboldt’s script.
Pamela has given Sebastian everything imaginable in this world, and yet somehow, he’s turned out to be a spoiled brat. Funny how that happens. He’s clearly grown up in the Commonwealth bubble, surrounded by people deferring to him because of who he is (or more accurately, who his grandfather was), and when he doesn’t get his way, or when he gets the slightest push-back from anyone, he explodes. He leans heavily on his mother for everything, and she in turn dotes on him because he’s the family legacy, the next generation of Milton to lead The Commonwealth.
The smartest thing in Reed and Dieboldt’s script is Pamela’s insistence that Sebastian might not want to be a political animal, but he’s born to be one, and thus, he’ll be one. He resists, pushing back at every turn, venting to Max about how stupid everyone else in The Commonwealth is, how the idea of The Commonwealth itself is eye-rolling, but when push comes to shove, and he’s on the stage in front of the people, he’s clever enough to put down the canned script, speak from somewhere near the heart he doesn’t have, and appeal not to people’s love for him or his mother, but for the legacy he represents by pitching to the taped words of his grandfather, former President Milton, who founded The Commonwealth and kicked off the very first Founder’s Day celebration with an epic speech that was recorded for posterity. It’s a great way to highlight his strengths (his legacy) and minimize his negatives (his personality and behavior), and no one told him to do it. Indeed, Sebastian might fight it, but Pamela is right; he’s got a gift for politics.
Unfortunately for him, Max had a tape recorder and a bottle of brown liquor handy to loosen his lips. It’s a beautiful bit of acting work for both Milton performers; Sebastian struggles under the weight of his one task until he improvises, and to his surprise, it works like a charm. Pamela goes from concerned to pleased by the way Sebastian slowly begins to win over the crowd. Even the crowd reactions are well done. It’s not an immediate shift, but it’s clear that Sebastian is starting to make inroads with most of the people there before pitching to the tape. That’s when everything falls apart, with a little help from Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton) and his associates.
That’s another clever bit of work in Reed’s story. Max is working to destabilize the dictatorship at the heart of The Commonwealth, and Hornsby is just ready to burn the whole place down to get himself out of prison for both the crimes he did and the crimes being pinned on him, while the usual survivors are just trying to get out of dodge before the deal sours. It leads to maximum chaos as the crowd begins to turn on the Miltons and Hornsby’s zombie surprise comes out of the sanitation department and starts adding to the screaming and chaos. Director Jeffrey January plays this out for maximum freak-out, echoing Jerry’s pursuit by Roman last week, but with more of a desperate edge. It’s solid stuff from Teo Rapp-Olsson, who goes into a full-on panic trying to get his hands on a terrified Max (Margot Bingham), who clearly hadn’t thought this far ahead as far as her plan to dethrone the Miltons went.
One moment, The Commonwealth is celebrating prosperity and safety won for them by their founders and their military prowess. The next, The Commonwealth is reminded of just what lurks outside their walls, and how close to death all of them are even in their hard-won sanctuary. A lot of people got their hands dirty to make sure everyone else stays clean, and they’re going to lean on more hard-nosed people like Daryl and Maggie to keep their hands spotless and save their community. Except this time, they’re going to be acting out in the open, not on the wrong side of the walls.
I’m not a big fan of the whole ‘the child is the moral conscience of the group’ thing that The Walking Dead leans on heavily in this episode. However, Daryl and Carol talking about parenting is entertaining, and Norman Reedus does a good job at being the uncomfortable but well-meaning caregiver for Judith, and Cailey Fleming does a better job than a lot of child actors when trying to push that narrative forward. She’d spent enough time around Rick and Carl for some of that do-goodery to rub off on her, and given the episode begins with her taking a trip through memory lane, it’s only right that Judith would remember her father’s voice via his actions. Thinking back to Alexandria, Rick would have definitely stuck around in The Commonwealth and busted a few heads until things were a little more equitable.