This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 21
When you get past the record store and the ice cream stand, there are some serious issues in The Commonwealth. Even before you start digging deeper than surface level, the inequalities in terms of food access, housing, and healthcare are obvious. In the world of The Walking Dead, with unlimited available housing in various stages of repair, there’s no real reason to cram all of your community’s newcomers into dormitories. There’s no reason children should be forced to clamp on headphones to block out the sound of the family next door having a party.
Things improve once you’re in the community and you have a job, but one of the points Carol makes in this episode is how in The Commonwealth, everyone went back to their old lives. You work your job, you come home to your apartment, and you repeat the process barring the occasional festival or movie night or church service. The ride-or-die community spirit that made a place like Alexandria or The Kingdom work dies, and the groups of people you’ve survived with, who you’ve made families with, those die too. The Commonwealth, perhaps deliberately, separates people from one another, and that’s before you get a bag on your head, a needle in your neck, and a one-way trip to a work camp courtesy of the jilted Pamela Milton.
Separation is the name of the game for Milton and her team; her people are so used to being alone or in very small groups that there’s almost no inner drive to seek out a bigger group for safer passage; when a group of The Commonwealth’s prisoners make a break for it, it’s only three people, who are clearly acting independently of anyone else. A mass escape, or a more ambitious plan, might have worked out a little better for them, and as Negan tells Ezekiel over a meal of slimy oatmeal, the camp needs a leader to get them working towards the shared goal of freedom, and he’s not that kind of leader. He’s the kind of leader who’d be better off running a prison camp than freeing one.
That exchange, surreptitious as it was, is one of the stronger exchanges in “Outpost 22.” Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Ezekiel (Khary Payton) have a long shared history that Jim Barnes’ script taps into, and Ezekiel clearly hasn’t forgiven Negan for what he and his people did to The Kingdom long before Rick Grimes and pals got involved with the Saviors. If the two have interacted on the show since then, I don’t remember it, which gives weight to Ezekiel’s reaction to Negan’s presence and the seething hate that flashes across Khary Payton’s expressive face. Payton plays well off of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and the two have a solid scene without even being able to face one another to do it; it’s all about Payton’s facial expressions and Negan’s logical words. He knows how to govern by fear, but he needs someone who gives people hope, and that’s Ezekiel. He’s been the hopeful one at every turn for the survivors, and now when they’re at their lowest, he’ll be the one they have to turn to once whatever crazy plan Negan has comes into play.
Negan will have to act quickly, because it seems the time in The Commonwealth has left the survivors without their critical pluck reserves that have kept them alive so long. Kelly (Angel Theory) has given up already from the glum expression on her face, and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) is too shaken up by the kidnapping of Hershel to keep her head on straight, which Lauren Cohan plays well throughout the episode. Rosita (Christian Serratos) and Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) are snapping at one another from stress. Only Carol seems to have escaped this emotional downturn unscathed; she’s the one who gets Daryl’s head back in the game and comes up with their plan to rescue everyone in one fell swoop.
While Negan and the captured get adjusted to their new life as hard labor for the good of The Commonwealth, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and the secondary captured crew with her manage to escape their captors (after a gnarly head explosion via stray gunshot) and join up with Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride) to recreate the Great Train Robbery, except with more zombies and less robbery. They’re going to hop on board the train and ride it all the way to the mysterious Outpost 22 where all their friends are being held.
There’s nothing especially fancy about the various sequences around the train, but at this point, The Walking Dead has showed us everything we could hope to see on a zombie show, and no amount of gun battles will feel new or fresh. Except for the fact that this episode features a motorcycle chase. That’s probably something the show has done before, but it’s been a few seasons, so it feels novel, and the fact that the chase ends with Daryl sliding his motorcycle under a fallen tree and using it as a weapon to knock down a fleeing clamshell is certainly something this show has never done. It’s a pretty solidly done power slide on the bike, and whoever Reedus’s stunt double is lays it down cleanly enough to get it to slide, and the stormtrooper getting bowled over is a lot of fun.
What it leads to isn’t as fun, but the guy playing the captured trooper (I believe Greg Perrow, but none of the troopers are given names, so it’s difficult to tell) really sells his final, desperate moments on Earth in director Tawnia McKiernan’s hands. Between the trooper’s obvious remorse at his actions to the train driver’s desperation to be killed without revealing information to save his family, it’s pretty clear that Lance Hornsby might have been a bad operator, but Pamela Milton is just as bad or worse. The separation of groups and families seen in The Commonwealth extends out even into the wastelands, with the labor crews not even allowed to use names among themselves. The few connections that remain are wielded like weapons to control the unwilling participants of The Commonwealth’s expansion program.
Perhaps assigning the survivors to Outpost 22, formerly known as Alexandria, is supposed to be a final rude gesture from Milton to the people she’s sent off to die in a labor camp. Of course, we all know better than that; what better place to foment revolution from than from the place that’s already seen two or three different revolutions happen? Alexandria has been the post-apocalyptic Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War and then some. Seems like a bad idea, and no doubt it will be the biggest, last mistake Pamela Milton makes.