This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 7
There’s an importance to personal relationships in The Walking Dead that isn’t quite as prevalent in the real world. Sure, knowing the right people can get you pretty far in life in our reality. In the zombie apocalypse, knowing the right people can mean the difference between rotting in a jail cell or serving on a work crew, working in an office versus working in a field picking beans, and risking your life versus living a life of ease. Unfortunately for Eugene and company, there’s a limit to how many favors you can cash in at one time, and they might have hit that barrier.
Throughout “Promises Broken,” the importance of a personal connection is hammered home. The episode opens with Maggie and Negan having a long heart-to-heart about whether or not Maggie can be taken at her word, and the emphasis on personal promises only goes out further from there. When you’re on patrol with someone, you have to trust them with your life. When someone is training you in how to pretend to be one of the dead, you have to trust that they won’t allow you to get eaten. When clearing a house, you have to trust that your partner isn’t going to be a liability, or the job gets that much harder. Having someone have your back, in the world of The Walking Dead, can make all the difference in your chances of survival.
Or, if you’re in the Commonwealth, having angered the wrong person with the right connections will send you straight to jail.
One of the things that Sharat Raju nails in his direction is making Pamela Milton’s spoiled brat son immediately reprehensible. From the moment Sebastian (Teo Rapp-Olsson) appears carrying a picnic basket, walking past Eugene and Stephanie while they’re doing actual work, he’s immediately unlikable. It’s such an immediate contrast between the blood-soaked and capable fighter Eugene has become and this effete dilettante on his way to suck face outside of the walls while surrounded by armed guards. The waste of resources is galling and immediate, even before Eugene asks just who in the hell is out for a pleasant stroll through zombie-infested buildings.
Raju also deftly handles the other sequence of the episode, Maggie and Negan’s introduction, strong. This in in part thanks to some great work from Lauren Cohan and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Similarly impressive is the latter-half section with Daryl and Leah hunting down stragglers from Daryl’s own survivor group (so he thinks) until finding a relatively innocent man who has been hiding with his gravely wounded wife and son. Sprinkled throughout are Yumiko’s attempts to navigate her way through the, ahem, upper classes of the Commonwealth alongside her brother Tomi (Ian Anthony Dale).
The fragile chemistry between Norman Reedus and Lynn Collins remains as effective as ever, and Eleanor Matsuura shows flashes of steely brilliance as Yumiko takes to the same sort of chum-filled waters as she used to navigate while working in law. Matsuura also does a great job of putting across Yumiko’s barely-concealed shock (and disgust?) at the level of opulence available to those with power in this community. Sparkling water, herbal tea, or espresso? In a world in which people are killing other people over rusted cans of botulism beans?
Raju also does a solid job establishing mood. The initial clearing sequences work well, because we see two competent cleaners in Eugene and Princess saddled with either an inexperienced fighter in Stephanie or an injured fighter in Ezekiel (who seems to come back a completely different person after a mid-episode trip to the doctor, with Khary Payton’s performance edging closely to mania in a fun way, no doubt because of all the painkillers in Ezekiel’s system). Nothing about the episode feels false save perhaps the attitudes of some of the Commonwealth people who drop by to interact with their guests, and the tension scenes, like Maggie learning how to be a Whisperer and Tomi being taken away by the Commonwealth stormtroopers, are effective, though as a whole the episode doesn’t feel like it’s in a hurry to go anywhere with either bit.
It feels dismissive to call “Promises Broken” a table-setting episode, but that’s what it is. It increases the difficulty for Eugene to keep from compromising the place his people are at. It increases the likelihood that Ezekiel will trade information for continued medical care. Leah and Daryl get a mutual secret to keep from the clearly-insane Pope, who keeps flying farther and farther off the handle.
Yumiko now has her brother to worry about in addition to her friends from Alexandria, who have been taken away by mysterious authorities that don’t care much about Harvard. Eugene went from feeling trapped to being in actual prison for punching a snotty kid. Maggie and Negan are leading a horde, Whisperers style, in the direction of The Reapers, where Daryl is holed up. (Presumably, that’s what that urgent return to base message was about near the end of the episode.)
Setting the table itself is fine. There’s enough solid character work to keep the episode satisfying, and based on the show’s history, the direction the characters seem to be heading promises fireworks down the road. They’re just not shooting off this week.