The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 23 Review: Family

Guns are blazing on The Walking Dead, but every shot taken at a human is a shot that probably should have been reserved for one of the dead.

Cailey Fleming as Judith gives Anthony Azor as RJ Rick's hat on The Walking Dead season 11 episode 23.
Photo: Jace Downs | AMC

This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.

The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 23

It’s hard to believe that The Walking Dead is almost over. Robert Kirkman’s comic book was designed to be a zombie movie that never ends, and even that came to an end eventually. With 11 seasons and 177 episodes (with next week’s series finale), The Walking Dead as a television property wasn’t endless, but it was as close as an expensive, hour-long cable drama can get, which is a testament both to the staying power of the cast and crew and the dedication of fans. It’s not drawing 17 million eyeballs an episode anymore, but the show remains one of the most popular shows on cable and draws almost double the ratings of anything on The CW. It’s not going out on top by any means, but it’s going out well before it could, all things considered.

Sure, there are multiple spinoffs coming, and multiple spinoffs in the rear-view mirror. Fear The Walking Dead seems to be going strong. Tales of the Walking Dead is an interesting experiment. Spinoffs from Negan and Maggie in Manhattan, Daryl in France, and Rick and Michonne are either being filmed or already shot, and it’s good that the greater Walking Dead universe will continue to live on, but forgive me a sense of nostalgia for what I’ve spent the better part of 12 years writing about week-in and week-out here at Den of Geek. This is literally the end of an era, and as The Walking Dead shambles off into history, a big part of my writing life shambles off with it.

No doubt part of my ongoing nostalgia for a fictional world is guided by the nostalgia-filled cold openings The Walking Dead has indulged in throughout season 11C. The opening to every episode has been a blast from the past featuring lots of Member Berry moments, and this week is no exception. In Alexandria, a big box of signature weapons is unearthed, and as each survivor’s hand takes a weapon, we get a great shot of them using that weapon, from Gabriel using his machete to Aaron strapping on his spiked ball fist and bashing heads and Daryl threatening with his crossbow. It’s a nice bit of nostalgia, reminding us that despite not seeing some of these people much this season (like Luke since Dan Fogler has been off shooting Fantastic Beasts), they’ve been around long enough to make an impression, if only due to their zombie-smashing weapons of choice. Weapons that will be needed from the looks of things.

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Pamela Milton (Laila Robins) is stuck in a no-win position. The people are outside her fence line, agitating for change. She can’t really unleash the clamshells on them, because she has a facade to maintain. Her show trial is for naught, as Eugene (Josh McDermitt) has somehow escaped his captors and fled the gallows. There’s no one to pin Sebastian’s crimes on anymore, so she’s reduced to calling in her nuclear option, B-17. For those that don’t remember, that means bring a walker horde to the city walls and force people from the streets under the guise of a lock down. Of course, unlike Aaron (Ross Marquand) and company, Pamela doesn’t know there are climbers among the walkers, so her city walls are suddenly not much of a barrier anymore.

That’s the kind of game-changer that you’d need help from an experienced commander like Mercer to deal with. Unfortunately for The Commonwealth, Mercer isn’t going to be much help, because by the time he’s in position to deal with the walker horde advancing on the city, he’s getting arrested by a paranoid Milton. She’s too consumed with holding onto power and not as interested in keeping the city alive. That’s why she devotes more resources to walling off the tony parts of the city and stopping Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and company from getting out of Union Station via her plain-clothes goons and their machine guns.

It’s a pretty decent gun battle that unfolds, and it’s a nice counterbalance to the scene of Aaron, Jerry (Cooper Andrews), and Lydia (Cassady McClincy) skulking through the big herd on their way to The Commonwealth. It’s nicely framed, and set up well so that the moment of realization hits just before the shooting starts. Some of the moments, specifically Lydia’s bite, seem a little bit too obvious, but Sharat Raju does a solid job with the gunfight breaking out in the railway station, and the surprise in the middle of the gunfight is pulled off beautifully, coming out of nowhere and hitting like a truck. In particular, at the end of the episode when Judith (Cailey Fleming) asks for Daddy hits very hard. Judith, unlike Carl, has done a solid job of staying in the house when told to do so, so that character doesn’t have quite as much heat with the audience. Her being shot is very effective, and Cailey Fleming is effective at tugging heart strings.

Laila Robins’ shocked reaction helps further sell the scene; this isn’t what she had planned, and it’s only the latest in a long string of failures, starting with Eugene’s escape and Mercer’s arrest and ending with the realization that the walkers have breached the walls of The Commonwealth and are taking the city. (Jeffrey Dean Morgan absolutely nails his moment of realization as he sees the first climbing walker. For the record; he’s done impressive work redeeming Negan from his villainous monotony to a well-rounded character throughout this season, and the script from writers Magali Lozano, Erik Mountain, and Kevin Dieboldt pushes that agenda further with a nice scene with Ezekiel during a quieter moment pre-attack.

The battle for control of The Commonwealth has gone pretty badly, no matter what side you’re on. Multiple people in the attacker group are dead or injured. Multiple people in Pamela’s private army are also dead. The clamshells are overrun on the walls and quickly bested by climbing zombies, which means that The Commonwealth itself is at risk. The class divides that separate the lower wards from the posh estates was already a problem; Milton’s decision to protect the rich and abandon the bulk of The Commonwealth’s population won’t win her any support, should any of them survive the feeding frenzy that’s to come.

And a feeding frenzy is coming. You’ve got armed insurgents (our survivor friends and some clamshells) on one side, armed military (the other clamshells and Pamela’s goons) on the other, and a whole lot of innocent people in the middle. They’re also all surrounded by walkers (or I guess climbers?), so there’s literally no escape from The Commonwealth that doesn’t involve shooting your way through a mass of people. Good thing there are still a lot of characters available for The Walking Dead to kill off in the climactic episode. The Commonwealth’s liberty tree needs a good blood watering.

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3.5 out of 5