This article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 11 episode 9.
There’s nothing quite like a well-executed flashforward on a TV show. Plot growing stagnant? Ready for something new? Don’t know how to get your characters from A to B without it feeling boring? Well, just flashforward to the future, baby!
Shows like Battlestar Galactica and Lost have deployed flashforwards to great success in the past, but no modern show has a stronger respect for the mighty storytelling technique than The Walking Dead. AMC’s flagship zombie series has advanced its characters ahead on several occasions, most recently to jump start its post-Rick Grimes era in season 9. Now the show’s latest flashforward comes at the end of the season 11 part 2 premiere “No Other Way.”
After the war with the Reapers is wrapped up, the citizens of a demolished Alexandria are astonished to see some futuristic foot soldiers making their way towards the fallen gates. Avoiding needless bloodshed, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) emerges from the mass of storm troopers to tell his friends what the audience already knows. These are folks from The Commonwealth, and they’re here to help…we think.
Eugene then gives way to Commonwealth bureaucrat Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton) to explain the nature of his community and offer sanctuary to those who seek it. In speaking with Den of Geek prior to the premiere, Josh McDermitt and Josh Hamilton revealed that this climactic scene was shot at the end of a long day with only minutes to spare, adding to the urgency of Lance’s message.
“Lance is looking out at a community with well-placed distrust of outsiders,” Hamilton says. “He wants them to trust him – believe in the mission statement of the Commonwealth. I don’t think it’s a hard sell for him. He wants to help these people have a better life than they have in Alexandria. That was the first time I met a lot of the main characters. I had to say ‘come with me! Everything’s fine’ while looking like a used car salesman.”
Lance’s message apparently lands as the episode then stylishly flashes forward from that moment to six months later. Maggie and Elijah are holded up in The Hilltop Colony – still looking quite rough from its many conflicts and wars. A unit of Commonwealth soldiers arrives and demands to be let in.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Maggie pleads.
Then a Commonwealth soldier removes his helmet revealing himself to be none other than Daryl Dixon and replies: “Yeah. Yeah, it does.”
Wow! In just six months The Commonwealth turned Daryl Dixon into a cop. The same man who is distrustful of any and all authority up to including barbers has bought into The Commonwealth’s mission enough to enforce it via executive might. That is what you call a dramatically rich vein to pursue.
That final moment in “No Other Way” opens up all sorts of compelling questions for the season to come. First off: which characters opted to join The Commonwealth and which decided to rebuild their current communities? Thus far, we know that Maggie and her friend Elijah opted to stay behind and Daryl opted to head to the 50,000-member community. It’s also safe to assume that Eugene, Princess, Yumiko, and Ezekiel have decided to stay at The Commonwealth, given that they’re familiar enough with its laws already. Recall that The Commonwealth has assigned Yumiko a cushy job in law and has helped treat Ekiel’s cancer already.
Since The Walking Dead premieres all episodes one week early on AMC+, we also have a helpful teaser trailer from episode 10 already. It reveals that Carol, Magna, and Rosita have joined Daryl at The Commonwealth six months later in the timeline.
That trailer also contains a relevant bit of dialogue from Manga that sets up this arc’s main theme.
“This place is like a city from before. People who don’t fit in get cast out,” Magna, who now appears to be in the service industry, says.
This would be consistent with the way The Commonwealth arc in Robert Kirkman’s original comic series played out. In fact, if we want to know more about the flashforward and what it means for the future of the series, the comics are a solid place to look. We delved deep into that arc (which is the comic’s final batch of issues) here and here, but here’s a brief refresher.
The Commonwealth is unlike any other Walking Dead “villain”, in that it’s not really a villain at all. As led by Governor Pamela Milton, its intentions are to rebuild the world it was the way before, for better or worse. It’s successful in that mission, creating the safest, most politically stable community that we’ve seen in the post-apocalypse yet. But that safety comes along with some major concessions like an unbalanced social ladder.
In the comics, the Alexandrians, led by Rick Grimes, quite quickly realize that something is off and soon depose Pamela Milton via some rioting and political maneuvering. It would appear that in the show, Daryl and his peers are far more ready to give The Commonwealth way a shot at first. Though Michonne is given a job as a defense lawyer in the comics, no other character goes so far as to become an actual Commonwealth soldier. That twist in the series helps hammer home how appealing The Commonwealth’s safety and stability are and how much its characters will not want to acknowledge the reality of its rotten core.
In speaking with Den of Geek, Connie actress Lauren Ridloff describes the appeal of The Commonwealth as both the final big bad for the show.
“One of the main reasons why The Walking Dead is so successful and has been for 11 years is that they offer a mirror and a window for the audience,” Ridloff says. “The Commonwealth really offers a chance for that. To look at the reflection of who we are. In real life, the villains aren’t easy to really notice. They’re not always a person. They could be an idea.”
This is still The Walking Dead and as such, the dead will remain an ever-present reality and threat. The trailers for part 2 of this final season confirm as much. But this flashforward to a new life in The Commonwealth provides an interesting opportunity to see these characters in a new light. How will Daryl and company react when the threat is an abstract concept like inequality and not merely a rotting corpse bearing down on your face?
The Walking Dead season 11 part 2 airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.