This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 9
For all the good that can be achieved with scale in an action setting, there’s nothing like a down-and-dirty scrap for survival. The Walking Dead does big battle scenes well, especially given the limitations of a television budget and shooting schedule, but when the show narrows focus and attempts a more restrained combat setting, be it a one-on-one knife fight or one survivor versus a crowded stairwell of walkers, the technical prowess of the creative team and the show’s stunt team and second unit team really come through.
Throughout “No Other Way,” the action is taken to street level, whether it’s Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and a surviving Reaper fighting over a rare shelter from the fiery arrow storm of the hwacha or Rosita (Christian Serratos) and the Alexandrians forming a makeshift corpse barricade on the steps as they try to shelter the children from the horde that has taken advantage of the storm to search for food. Technically, the zombie sequences feature more combatants, but they’re corralled and isolated in such a way as to focus on the individual living human character, not so much the dead; they come one or two at a time, and they just don’t stop coming. The biggest fight between the living involves four people in a hallway, and the antagonist character just keeps coming until the fight gets finished. It’s not a spectacle, it’s an endurance event.
It becomes something of an endurance event for the viewer as well. Characters don’t stop fighting, they simply transition to running or sneaking around. Maggie gets away from her pursuer, meets up with Negan and Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari), and then all three of them have to hide in a secret compartment in the infirmary to avoid gun-toting Reapers. Daryl overcomes one Reaper, then has to hide from two others who have him potentially trapped. Aaron (Ross Marquand) might successfully get Judith and Gracie out of harm’s way, but the only respite he gets from re-killing zombies is clinging tenaciously to the overhead toilet main to avoid the walkers pawing at him from underneath.
The closest thing to a break in the episode is when Seth Gilliam’s Gabriel meets his counterpart with the Reapers, a fellow man of God named Mancea (Dikran Tulaine) and the two engage in a philosophical debate. This is the strongest bit of writing in Corey Reed’s script, as Gabriel and Mancea to back and forth about the nature of God, God’s designs for the two of them, and God’s presence in the world. Gabriel realizes, rather painfully, that he doesn’t hear God anymore while Mancea has all of the confidence of a true zealot, or a true maniac. Mancea talks a good game, and Tulaine gives the material all he can, and he and Gilliam make their conversation as tense and back-and-forth as any good fight sequence, even if Gabriel cuts it short by expressing his new take on the doctrine of salvation. Mancea says all are worth saving, and all can be saved. Gabriel, hardened by the apocalypse, feels differently, and expresses that opinion by stabbing Mancea to death with cold, angry eyes. Uh, eye.
It’s a great moment between the two actors, and it sets the tone for the episode that follows, particularly the negotiations between the few surviving Reapers and the few surviving Alexandrians about who is going to leave and how. The double-cross attempt from Leah isn’t a surprise; to be honest, Gabriel taking over the sniper nest isn’t that big of a surprise either, because the one-eyed man is probably the best shot with a rifle on the show and he’s proven to be ruthless throughout season 11. However, the big surprise comes after Leah and her survivors are allowed to leave Meridian behind with their lives and the clothes on their back. Maggie, changed after her time in the wasteland, pulls the gun she’d been hiding behind her back and guns down two of the Reapers, wounding Leah (Lynn Collins) and breaking their word.
That’s something that a few seasons ago wouldn’t have happened (except maybe at the hands of Carol). That strain of ruthlessness has infected every one of the survivors, except for the soft-hearted like Norman Reedus’s Daryl and the pragmatic like Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan, both of whom are content to win the day and get home with a minimum of excess bloodshed due to their own past experiences with the roads vengeance can take someone on. Maggie hasn’t learned that lesson, or if she has she’s able to ignore it and attempt to snuff out a threat before it festers at their back.
Director Jon Amiel does a solid job of building up the action sequences to allow them to feel exciting and satisfactory. There’s a chance to celebrate, albeit briefly, with every Reaper death and every near escape from walkers. It’s an exhalation allowed by the tension crafted during the sneaking segments and the surprisingly brutal individual fights. The flow is satisfying, and the editing is clean, not muddying up the fights.
With so much focus on the fighting, and the final moments of most of the Reapers as antagonists on The Walking Dead, the end of the episode, in which the Commonwealth arrives, feels like a bright spot. Success breeds success. Then, the time-jump hits, and things get confusing in a hurry. It’s not surprising to see Maggie and Daryl on opposite sides of a situation, given their diverging attitudes towards life and one another. The hows of the relationship breakdown will undoubtedly be filled in; the whys have been put in place.