This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 20
One of the hallmarks of The Walking Dead has been a pretty strong ethos of community survival. No man is an island, and one of the things real-life disaster preppers mention is that forming a community of people with different skills and similar values is an invaluable part of continuing on past the fall of mankind. The cold open of this week’s episode makes that abundantly clear; from scenes of Carol getting rescued by Daryl in the early days to Carol leading a one-woman assault on Terminus in “No Sanctuary”, having friends has always been the key to surviving the stickiest of situations. Now, those friends who are willing to put their lives on the line for people like Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) and Carol (Melissa McBride) need someone to do the same for them, but it’s not always the easy decision to put someone else’s life ahead of your own. Nor is it always an easy decision to put one person’s life ahead of the whole group.
“What’s Been Lost” boils down to two separate characters being forced to do something odious at the risk of not surviving long enough to save their friends. Yumiko is given orders to either lead the prosecution of Eugene (Josh McDermitt) versus The Commonwealth and Pamela Milton (Laila Robins) or all of her friends who have been bagged and kidnapped will be at risk. Carol, after evading Milton’s kidnappers alongside Daryl, has to work with someone even more odious—literally–than Pamela Milton to make her escape and avoid captivity. That’s right, kids; it’s the return of Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton), now covered in 500% more blood and at least 300% crazier after having spent a few days locked in a prison cell feeding bits of his goon squad to Sebastian Milton’s undead corpse. I’m not sure who gets the worst deal out of those two characters, but one option definitely smells better than the other option.
One of the downsides of The Walking Dead having such a large ensemble cast is that characters tend to disappear unless there’s active efforts to feature them. Yumiko has been involved in a tertiary way with some of the plotting Connie (Lauren Ridloff) has done regarding the Milton regime, but she hasn’t really gotten much of an opportunity to interact with the other characters until this episode. It’s a pleasant reminder that pretty much everyone on the show was cast for a reason, and the brief scene between Eleanor Matsuura and Lauren Ridloff is a good reminder that both performers, even without speaking, are capable of portraying tremendous amounts of motion via expression and sign.
In much the same way as Princess’s big scene last episode earned Paola Lazaro plaudits, this scene does the same for both performers, and Matsuura does a good job of carrying her half of the episode, showing both Yumiko’s strength and her conviction as she pulls a Sebastian Milton, disregards her prepared speech, and ad-libs to great success. In Sebastian’s case, he threw to a cassette tape of his grandfather; in Yumiko’s case, she made everyone give her brother Tomi (Ian Anthony Dale) a round of applause for being the only thoracic surgeon in The Commonwealth, thereby making him too valuable to the community for Milton to move against.
It’s a clever move for Yumiko to use Milton’s own press conference against her. Milton is a little too confident that she can get people to do what she wants while putting on a good public face, and that came back to bite her in much the same way as keeping Lance around comes back to bite her. Milton seems as though she’s a little too used to having other people do her dirty work for her out of fear or love; she seems to forget she’s not dealing with the softer people of The Commonwealth, but battle-hardened survivors who are as likely to cut a throat as cut a deal. Hornsby might have been dangerous, but he still played the game. Yumiko and (especially) Carol and Daryl play for keeps.
The scene with Yumiko and Connie is good, but the extended interactions between Lance and Carol (Melissa McBride) are where Erik Mountain’s script shines. Lance goes from being completely fried to back to his old self once the knife is pointed at him, and as Lance recovers, he begins to go back to being himself. That means he starts wheedling his way into Carol’s good graces, trying to plant some seeds about the future of The Commonwealth and his ability to help Carol and her friends A) take over and B) keep the trains running on time. Josh Hamilton is great at this slimy sort of business, and Melissa McBride has the character of Carol so locked down that what looks like her giving his ideas credence is clearly not the case, so when she turns on him at the end of the episode, everyone knows what Carol was thinking all along. McBride is so good in this role, and the Carol character is so good at hiding her true self and letting Lance think what he wanted to think about the success his patter wasn’t having on her.
Director Aisha Tyler (yes, that one) gives the performers opportunities, and they make good use of that space, but there’s also a solid eye behind the camera as well. The blocking of the Lance and Carol trip through the abandoned tunnel is well done, with Lance seeming to bob from one shoulder to the other, as if giving life to Carol’s good and bad shoulder angels. Hornsby’s escape from captivity is well done, as well. The walker fight is solid, with a pretty fun bit of special effects work, and Hornsby’s ultimate fate is shot well, with a very cool crane shot of his prone body in the leaves.
The highlight of the episode, once again, is a character traipsing through the crowded square, except rather than trying to elude a tail, Yumiko is trying to be one, following one of Milton’s goons in the hope of tracking down their kidnapped compatriots from outside The Commonwealth. It’s really well-done, particularly how the transition between Yumiko tailing the guy until she had to pretend she was looking for someone in the square. Very well done stuff from Matsuura, and well-staged by Tyler and the technical team. Most of the stalking on The Walking Dead has been people trying to creep up on others, or walkers skulking to attack an unsuspecting person; the show doesn’t indulge in a lot of spycraft-type work like this, and it’s proving to be a fun change of pace for the show.
Rare that a program uncovers a new wrinkle after 11 seasons, but this need to maintain a good public face while engaging in skulduggery is a pretty great addition to season 11’s arsenal of tricks. The Commonwealth is all about maintaining a good public image, whether it’s by conducting show trials or by “disappearing” a bunch of troublesome outsiders to appease the rich and powerful. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to appease the dead.