The Walking Dead’s 11th and final season did not get off to a great start on AMC—those first few episodes were middling, awful, and confounding. But since then the show has picked up with the origin story of the Reapers, explored the weird and increasingly sinister normality of the Commonwealth, and produced a slasher flick where the slashers were animal enthusiasts with extremely poor judgment. But the season’s biggest plot—Maggie (Lauren Cohen) and Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) dysfunctional mission to return to Meridian and retrieve its food stores—has been a drag. And yet, in tonight’s episode, nothing dragged at all.
It would be a lie to say “everything’s coming together” because the only two storylines that are connecting are Maggie, Negan, and the Reapers, and the former duo enact a clever plan to take out the latter. But that’s still an extremely welcome development on its own, and the Commonwealth remains so mysterious and bizarre that it’s still fascinating frankly. But what “Promises Broken” does so well is bounce rapidly between all these storylines without ever losing momentum. Given how much is going on, that’s an extremely impressive feat (especially since that’s rarely The Walking Dead’s strong suit), so let’s just go right into the recap.
“Promises Broken” begins with Maggie and Negan having the same argument they’ve had since the season began. Having heard Daryl’s artlessly dropped info about the Reapers’ weapons and lookouts, Negan wants to leave. Maggie, on the other hand, is determined to press on to Meridian no matter what because Alexandria needs food so badly. I immediately sighed, until Negan suddenly asked Maggie for a promise—if he goes along with what he’s certain is a suicide run, they’re even. Maggie swears the two of them will never be even, but realizing she needs all the manpower she can get against the Reapers, she shakes his hand. It seems crazy that Maggie would ever forgive Negan for killing her husband Glenn, but this isn’t what she’s doing here. What Negan wants is to stop needing to constantly look over his shoulder, as he says, to see if Maggie is about to murder him, and not have to constantly hear Maggie telling him that she might murder him at any second. It’s not forgiveness Negan is after, it’s just a stay of execution.
This leads to some genuinely interesting character development as their relationship finally evolves. To sneak past the Reapers’ guards, Negan teaches Maggie how to become a Whisperer. I suppose it’s more precise to say he makes her a mask out of a zombie’s face and teaches her how to authentically shamble among the dead without them realizing they’re traveling with snacks. Given how TWD only sporadically remembers that a great way to get zombies to ignore you is by covering yourself in their guts, it’s quite satisfying to watch Negan impart Alpha’s teachings to Maggie for a useful purpose. It takes her a while to get it, and during the lesson there’s a—well, not a softening between the two, but at least the comradeship of a shared goal. Maggie recognizes Negan is helping her and Alexandria, regardless if he’s still hiding a monster inside him.
The two take a break and have the honest heart-to-heart I’ve been waiting for them to have all season. Negan reaches out first, telling Maggie that he knows what it’s like to be the leader of a group and unable to protect them, referring of course to his time with the Saviors and Maggie’s inability to save Meridian. When Maggie brusquely reminds him of all the harm the Saviors inflicted, Negan admits it, but that’s not the point. Whatever their moral compass, his people were attacked and killed, people he was supposed to protect, people who had loved ones to whom Negan had to explain his failure. He talked about this somewhat during the Savior war, but it was lost amidst all his swagger and bravado. There wasn’t anything close to the sense of loss that Negan exudes here. His regret is palpable. Maggie is warily surprised, especially when Negan says that if he were standing in front of Rick, Maggie, Glenn, Abraham, and the others during his brutal introduction to the series, the most infamous moment in TWD history, “If I could do it all over again—” I was so excited to finally get the proof of Negan’s growth, that Maggie would finally understand that Negan had grown, that I paused my screener right there to make sure I got the line of dialogue down verbatim. He wouldn’t have killed Glenn! He regrets it! This will finally be over! I rejoiced. Then, I unpaused the screener, and immediately heard Negan say the rest of his sentence:
“—I’d have killed every single one of you.” My jaw dropped. So did Maggie’s. When she incredulously and justifiably asks, “Why would you say that?” he replies that it’s the truth, and the only way they’re going to successfully work together is if they’re totally honest with each other. Her response: “Why would you say that to me?”
At first, I thought The Walking Dead had another character make a bananas decision to forcibly extend drama and conflict, but after a little space, I get it. What Negan says relates to his regret over his inability to protect his Saviors. Even if they were murdering bullies, they were his murdering bullies, and he was responsible for them. If Negan had killed Rick and all the others at their first, infamous face-to-face, many of his people would still be alive. It’s an unbelievably cruel thing to admit to Maggie, and it’s a horrible idea to confess this when the two of them finally started getting along, but it is Negan’s truth. Luckily, this doesn’t distract Maggie’s zombie education, and she, Negan, Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), and Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari) manage to collect a quite large herd as they lurch their way to Meridian.
After various Reaper squads fail to find any trace of the group Daryl (Norman Reedus) was “traveling” with, an irate Pope (Ritchie Coster) sends Leah (Lynn Collins) and Daryl to do a little snooping themselves. When Daryl asks why Leah is part of the maniacal Pope’s group, she says he’s her patron and father figure, and thus obeys him when she clearly disagrees about many things. The duo eventually comes across a man who claims to be hunting for supplies for his wounded wife and child. After checking in with Pope, the Reaper leader orders them to kill everyone they find, so they force the man to lead them to his family. Turns out he’s telling the truth.
There’s a somewhat tense moment where we’re not sure if Leah will kill these people or spare them, but TWD somehow plays the scene just right. The mom is too injured to be moved, and her wound is likely fatal. So Leah and Daryl, with the mom’s blessing, tell the father-son combo to run and don’t look back. When the dad and kid are gone, the mom thanks Leah and Daryl, because she knows her family would have never left her of their own volition. She’s ready for death, so Leah draws her shotgun… but can’t fire on what is effectively a helpless, innocent civilian. Daryl, however, can.
I could easily see someone (me) railing about how easily one of our heroes can murder someone at the drop of a hat, but like Negan’s confession, I get it. If there’s one value the people shepherded under Rick have learned, it’s the importance of knowing when someone wants to die for the right reason (in TWD terms). Daryl knows a mercy killing when he sees one, but it’s telling Leah doesn’t have the stomach for it—something that doesn’t bode well for either of them after Pope summons them back to camp, presumably to deal with Maggie’s zombie herd.
Having illegally broken into the Commonwealth communications room, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Stephanie (Chelle Ramos), along with Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Princess (Paola Lazaro), have been assigned to clear zombies out of a location for possible future development. Having lived in the safety of the Commonwealth for so long, Stephanie must relearn the ropes, but it’s old hat for the others.
If you thought the most obnoxious person in the zombie apocalypse was Negan for his brutal (literally!) honesty or Pope for being a murderous nincompoop, you are incorrect. No, that honor goes to Sebastian, a young man who inexplicably—and this may truly be the dumbest decision anyone has ever made in TWD’s zombie apocalypse—has decided to take a date to the zombie-filled arena Eugene and the others are still in the process of cleaning out. He’s accompanied by soldiers, which indicates his importance, but it’s so much more telling that he and his date are both dressed like rich preppies from a slobs-vs.-snobs movie of the ‘80s. Sebastian (Teo Rapp-Olsson) isn’t hoity-toity enough to be this kid’s name, so I will be calling him Kingsley St. Buffingsworth from this point forward.
It’s obvious where this is heading the minute Kingsley walks on-screen, but it’s even more obvious when Eugene and Stephanie see Kingsley and his date smooching so hard they’ve failed to notice six growling zombies zeroing in on them. Eugene and Steph run in to save these dipshits and, of course, Kingsley St. Buffingsworth not only doesn’t appreciate having his life saved from his own stupidity but is irate at the pair for “disrupting” his date (who I shall name Daisy Richiricherton). This guy is such a cartoon of an upper-class, self-entitled twit he calls Eugene a “plebian,” for god’s sake. The two of them become so busy arguing that only Stephanie sees another zombie approaching the still-oblivious girl. So Steph saves Daisy but gets blood on her nice sweater and Daisy screams.
Of course, Kingsley’s response is not to thank Steph for saving his date’s life but to call her a “stupid bitch,” at which point Eugene punches him directly in the face. “My god, what did you do?” Stephanie asks Eugene in a panic. Kingsley St. Buffingsworth of the Cape Cod Buffingsworths yells at the cowed General Mercer (Michael James Shaw) that Eugene attacked him, and Commonwealth goons surround Eugene with weapons drawn. Hornsby (Josh Hamilton) appears, and asks Eugene incredulously, “Don’t you know who that is?” Gee. I wonder.
Yumiko is dressed in a smart suit jacket as part of her new role providing legal advice to the Commonwealth’s mysterious leader, Pamela Milton, along with the city’s cabinet. While she’s haranguing her brother Tomi (Ian Anthony Dale) yet again about his refusal to out himself as a doctor, he asks her to promise to let it go. Yumiko reluctantly agrees, only for him to be seized by Commonwealth troopers and dragged away. (Is it notable that Tomi, who was a thoracic surgeon before the apocalypse, is dragged away right before Ezekiel, who had thyroid cancer, sees a doctor off-screen, and returns feeling like a million bucks? Impossible to know!)
Yumiko demands answers from the apocalypse’s smarmiest man, Hornsby, who swears he can get things worked out in a matter of hours. When Yumiko demands to know what he’s getting out of helping her, he greasily admits he just wants the opportunity to be able to possibly ask her—already someone important in Commonwealth because of her education and law career—for a favor, someday down the road. Yumiko arrives for her meeting with Pamela, which is over before it starts when Pam’s administrative assistant gets a call that the Governor’s son has just been attacked! But by who? Eugene, duh. After breaking the law by trying to contact Alexandria, attacking Kingsley sends him directly to jail. An extra-smarmy Hornsby visits him to say he can probably save Eugene’s life and help his mysterious community if he confesses where it’s located, but Eugene holds firm… for now. Thank goodness Eugene has a good lawyer! Assuming he’s allowed to see her, that is.
This was a good episode, guys! There’s so much stuff going on, and most of it is exciting! We have Maggie, Negan, Gabriel, Elijah, and a few hundred zombies about to enter Meridian, while Daryl and a conflicted Leah are also on the way—and Alexandria’s fate depends on the outcome. Meanwhile, things at the Commonwealth have managed to go from bad to worse, while the community’s cracks behind the façade are beginning to widen. Also, thanks to Yumiko and her fantastic jacket, we may get the first-ever legal drama set in the zombie apocalypse.
It seems like next week’s episode is going to be a hell of a finale… for the first third of season 11, which you’ll recall has been supersized and split into three, eight-episode chunks, with the latter two presumably coming in the spring and fall of 2022. Hopefully, the next two-thirds of the season won’t feel the need to spin its wheels quite so much as some of these previous episodes have, but as long as I get to see Eugene and Stephanie clink a glass of champagne while watching zombies slowly tear apart and eat Kingsley’s flesh at some point next year, I’ll be fine with whatever.
- Maggie sends Gabriel to scout out Meridian with the oddly explicit instructions to kill a Reaper if he gets the chance. But Gabe runs across that very religious Reaper, who seemingly ceaselessly prays to God out loud, and Gabriel stays his hand. Come on, Gabe! Pick a lane!
- I found Yumiko’s discomfort at the simple act of looking at a coffee table book on a coffee table while sitting in an office wonderful. It’s clear it’s such a surreal moment for her because it’s pre-apocalyptically “normal.” She seems almost scared to flip through the book as if it all might all disappear. Good stuff.
- Elijah has a small but emotional story when he discovers his missing sister’s best friend has become a zombie. Later, when Maggie leads the herd, Elijah slowly realizes his zombified sister is lurching alongside him. He’s devastated but can’t react because the zombies would notice and eat them, and all Maggie can do is hold his hand. For a guy in a bad, oversized zombie mask, Okea Eme-Akwari manages to do some great acting. It’s just a great, subtle scene, so kudos to TWD for pulling it off.
- Pope is so mad that people keep killing the soldiers he keeps sending to fight battles for no reason! But despite Leah’s wavering, I suspect she’ll feel betrayed when she realizes Daryl’s people are attacking the Reapers and flee with Pope to plot a counterattack.
- Here’s the million-dollar question: why were Kingsley and Daisy allowed to have a date at a location where zombies were known to be active? Why were the Commontroopers, who had been sent to specifically watch over the governor’s son, completely absent when the two were in danger? Is this bad writing, or did someone (Hornsby) secretly scheme to get Eugene in trouble to reveal where he came from? Time will tell! Or it won’t!
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