While The Walking Dead has spent the past few episodes showing the many, many, ever-expanding cracks in the Commonwealth’s façade of paradise, it was only the tail end of last week’s “Rogue Element” that hinted Deputy Governor Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton) will be the final season’s main antagonist. And that’s only because he broke poor Eugene’s (Josh McDermitt) heart by pairing him up with a fake Stephanie to extract information about Alexandria—but as he pointed out, it’s information Hornsby used to send help and resources to rebuild Alexandria, which is objectively a more-than-fair trade.
Still, it’s a pretty dick move by Hornsby, especially when it hurts someone who is (usually) one of The Walking Dead’s more lovable characters. In tonight’s episode, “The Lucky Ones,” we learn what Hornsby’s diabolical goal is… and he doesn’t care how many people he has to help to achieve it.
The episode starts with Governor Pamela Milton (Laila Robins) making a tour of Alexandria, Oceanside, and even the very beginnings of Hilltop 2.0, accompanied by Hornsby, General Mercer (Michael James Shaw), Daryl (Norman Reedus), and a gaggle of Commontroopers. The first stop is Alexandria, which looks great—virtually all of the destruction from the Whisperer war, storms, and zombies has been cleaned up, the windmill is back in action, and neat rows of crops fill the settlement. Again, it looks like Eugene’s pain was absolutely worth the benefit it brought the colony.
Aaron (Ross Marquand), knowing how essential the Commonwealth’s help has been and will continue to be in rebuilding Alexandria, has teamed up with Hornsby to impress Pam in hopes that the colony can join the Commonwealth’s uncomfortably vague “Mutual Protection Pact.” Unfortunately for both him and Hornsby, Pam isn’t particularly interested in acquiring the colony, especially after she learns just how often it’s been rebuilt over the years, since that also indicates how many times it’s fallen.
The next stop is Oceanside (which we haven’t seen since season 10), where Rachel (Avianna Mynhier, same) tells Pam she’s interested in joining, but since they’ve always partnered with Hilltop, Oceanside will abide by whatever Maggie (Lauren Cohan) decides. Hornsby is less than pleased at the rebuff, while Aaron worries it might affect Alexandria’s burgeoning alliance with the Commonwealth.
The crux of “The Lucky Ones” comes down to the meeting of Pam and Maggie, who are more alike than Maggie would care to admit, at first. After Pamela’s convoy runs into Maggie fighting zombies en route to Hilltop, the two pair off for a hunting trip and bond over their roles as leaders, then the governor gives her pitch for partnering with the Commonwealth. The future Pamela wants is a network of safe communities, where people can travel and trade freely, where pre-apocalyptic society, technology, and unity return—a life where Maggie can drop off her son Hershel for his first day of college. It’s a powerful argument, and one that Maggie is clearly enticed by—even more so when the governor proves herself to be not just a bureaucratic politician, but just as capable at zombie-killing as Maggie is.
When they return to Hilltop, the colony’s needs versus the Commonwealth’s help is so stark as to be mildly ludicrous. Hilltop is still mostly annihilated after the Whisperers’ attack, and it seems only a few former inhabitants are interested in trying to save it—certainly less than the platoon of Commontroopers doing the bulk of the reconstruction. It’s an ostentatious display of everything the Commonwealth has to offer, not just to Maggie and her people, but the audience. Hornsby even asks Maggie, with a completely straight face, “It is okay if we hand out supplies?” The Commonwealth could not look more benign and munificent if it tried (because it is already trying very hard). Honestly, it’s no wonder Maggie’s right-hand woman Dianne (Kerry Cahill) decides to leave. “It’s harder than it has ever been and it doesn’t have to be,” she tells Maggie. She’s right.
If you’ve lived through the Wolves, the Saviors, the Whisperers, and a million or so zombies, you’d think moving to the safety of the Commonwealth must be no decision at all. But Maggie still resists, for two reasons. First, she’s not thrilled that the Commonwealth is an autocracy ruled by Pamela, which happens to also give her the greatest life of luxury the post-apocalypse has to offer. When Pam counters that Maggie has equal power over her people, Maggie retorts she’d rather those people recognize her authority by her deeds, not ostentatious displays of wealth.
The second reason is more important, if obvious. Maggie doesn’t trust the Commonwealth, and especially not their offer of free aid. Maggie’s been a deeply distrustful person ever since Meridian was assaulted by the Reapers, but you don’t have to be that jaded to wonder what the Commonwealth is getting out of helping Hilltop and Alexandria. This is the world of The Walking Dead, after all, and they’re obviously not doing this out of the goodness of their collective hearts.
Maggie bluntly asks Hornsby the same question, and he immediately dodges it by pointing out how bad off Hilltop is. When she calls him on it, he replies something vague about creating a better world for everybody (leading to the aforementioned “Hershel goes to college” pitch)… which isn’t really an answer either, but the conversation gets interrupted by a zombie attack. The Hilltoppers use their hand-to-hand weapons, struggling as usual, but then the Commontroopers march over with their assault rifles and mow down the zombies in an instant. It’s just another oh-so-obvious sign of all the benefits joining the Commonwealth would bring.
But Maggie’s still not going to sign away Hilltop’s potential freedom for an unknown price, regardless of how much help it could bring. “Everything costs something,” she says, echoing a line Pam says earlier in the episode. The governor basically shrugs and prepares to head home, but Hornsby runs after her, claiming he can convince Maggie eventually. Pam wryly but thoroughly accuses him of trying to bring Hilltop and the other two colonies into the fold so that he can be appointed to run them. Yes, Hornby wants power.
This is absolutely hilarious to me. It’s just… nonsense. Say he does get control of Hilltop, Alexandria, and Oceanside. How much “power” does this give him? What could he possibly do with all the “mighty” resources of these three busted settlements who currently have virtually no resources except the ones the Commonwealth is currently giving them? What does that level of authority in the zombie apocalypse even mean, other than the ability to throw lavish, decadent dinner parties? Because that’s pretty much all Pam’s got going on for her.
And Hornsby is working so hard for this! He has a secret special ops group in the Commonwealth, whose only known achievement is seducing Eugene. As Mercer says to Daryl, Daryl didn’t wear his Commontrooper armor to visit the colonies because of the optics. Hornsby is trying to finesse the hell out of a situation that doesn’t seem to warrant any of it. He’s trying to play three-dimensional chess when no one else even owns a full set of checkers. I’m pretty positive he’s directly or indirectly behind the Commonwealth’s fomenting revolution, when every other villain in The Walking Dead would just shoot Pam and seize the governor’s office. My dude, you have the ability to fix Alexandria’s windmill; it couldn’t matter less what Daryl’s wearing.
Honestly, Hornby’s scheming is so overelaborate he may have a deeper goal in mind, because he also gets a delightfully unnerving scene to end the episode. After meeting with the governor, who tells him she’ll only accept the three colonies as a package deal (for some reason), Hornsby marches straight into the woods, fires his gun in the air to attract zombies, and then methodically picks them off with headshots. It’s not the weirdest way to blow off some steam in the zombie apocalypse—honestly, several characters have tried to exorcize their demons by decimating the undead—but Hornsby managed to make it extra-creepy. When Aaron comes to check in, Hornsby lies, says Pamela still wants to partner with Alexandria, and they’ll be bringing even more people in, all while a zombie shuffles toward him. “We’re going to remake the world,” he says, a manic gleam in his eyes, right before he whips around and shoots the zombie, point-blank, in the face, so that the episode’s final image is of Hornsby pointing his gun directly into the camera.
It’s a pure supervillain moment, and after 10-and-a-third seasons of various lunatics as the bad guys, I couldn’t be happier that The Walking Dead is ending the series with a very different kind of conflict led by a very unique type of lunatic. I’m sure Hornsby will eventually do something so reprehensible the show stops being fun again, but until then, he has my vote.
- I have very little to say about the Eugene and Max (Margo Bingham) situation, other than 1) Josh McDermitt killed it this episode, and 2) it’s extremely weird. Max randomly sees Eugene in the Commonwealth, with another woman calling herself Stephanie, and doesn’t say anything? And after Eugene pretty reasonably gets upset at the revelation that the “real” Stephanie also wasn’t real, she wants him to apologize for being rude to her? Cut him some slack! I will love it if Hornsby is behind this, too.
- Ezekiel (Khary Payton) learns he’s been moved to the front of the surgery waiting list. Eugene is conflicted about being moved to the front of the surgery waiting list. Eugene has the surgery anyway. The end.
- The zombie that managed to sneak into Alexandria and the zombies that attacked Hilltop seem a bit convenient, didn’t they?
- I like that Pam knew Deanna (the always wonderful Tovah Feldshuh), the ex-Congresswoman who led Alexandria way back before she was killed in season six. It’s a nice callback.
- Hornsby tells Maggie how his dad gave him a golden coin that Hornsby later discovered was just gold-plated and basically valueless. Subtle, TWD. Real subtle.
- Weren’t Rick, Ezekiel, and even Maggie herself the autocrats of their respective colonies? They were (mostly) benign, but in the end they still made virtually all the decisions. Discuss. Show your work.
- Max asks Eugene the hard question about his book: “Was a sepulcher involved? Eugene: “Of course there was.”
- Well, at least Pam knows her son fucking sucks.
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