Review: AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ Season Eleven Episode Five “Out of the Ashes”
To quote Eugene (Josh McDermitt, The Loudest Voice), this episode of The Walking Dead gives us “the lay of the land and the proverbial skinny,” of The Commonwealth, checks in with the residents of Alexandria, and takes a quick peek to make sure Maggie (Lauren Cohan, The Vampire Diaries) hasn’t killed Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Supernatural) just yet. Now back to the typical three-plot-line episode format, this episode felt longer with more plot development than the previous one, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that more did occur; in this case, however, more did.
There were technically two plot threads following the residents of Alexandria, the first centered on Aaron (Ross Marquand, Invincible) as he leads a supply run to Hilltop, and the second centered on Judith (Cailey Fleming, Peppermint) who, for some reason, is being bullied despite being the only minor who’s allowed to wield an actual weapon. Either way, Aaron’s had more by the ways of plot development, but Judith’s put the entire season into the larger perspective of the rest of the show, which was needed since this is its final season.
The episode opens with Aaron having a nightmare of losing his daughter Gracie (Anabelle Holloway, Tell Me Your Secrets) in the woods while surrounded by danger, both living and dead, only to discover moments later that the danger is very real; there had been a breach during the night and walkers were inside the walls.
After resealing the wall and taking out the walkers inside, he convened with Jerry (Cooper Andrews, Shazam!), Carol (Melissa McBride, The Reconstruction of William Zero), Rosita (Christian Serratos, Selena: The Series), and Lydia (Cassidy McClincy, Castle Rock) to discuss resources. They ultimately agree on all of them, sans Rosita, going to Hilltop to gather whatever supplies remain.
The visit to Hilltop is hard on all of them as some of the walkers they encounter used to be friends of theirs, and killing them takes a heavy toll. As a former Whisperer, Lydia easily spots a group of walkers being herded which sends Aaron and Jerry into the fray, unmasking Keith (Brad Fleischer, Equal Standard), a former Whisperer who claims to be the only one left. Of course, he was lying, which only ignited Aaron’s fear-fueled torture methods to get answers out of Keith, though his logic was flawed in how to get it; having a walker bite someone to force answers they may not be the best course of action.
Lydia seemed to think so as well, and the point of this plot thread became clear when Carol stepped in to stop Aaron; rather than being an indicator that the Whisperers are still a threat, this plot thread was meant to acknowledge how anger and fear can consume people and, like Keith said, can make a person worse than the dead. Carol acknowledged her actions from last season and how she put so many people in danger due to her need for vengeance, which she’s been trying to atone for, and she will be the source of wisdom and support for the residents of Alexandria as situations grow more dire.
While this plot thread was also a good lesson in mercy and restraint—it’s hard to be on Aaron’s side when his captive was nothing more than a wounded dog begging to be left alone—it also introduced a new plot line to explore: the search for Connie (Lauren Ridloff, Eternals) who may actually be alive, which will be interesting when Daryl reconvenes with the rest of Alexandria and discovers her alive, as they had a close relationship last season before her disappearance.
Both plot lines following Alexandria residents were centered more on emotion. Aaron’s had more aggressive reactions to the emotions faced—grief over lost loved ones, resentment of harm caused, and fear of losing what little is left—while Judith’s had more hidden reactions, her own feelings of fear and loss manifesting in her hiding and putting on a brave face until she finally had someone who understood and could comfort her.
It’s always a rollercoaster of emotions when the children of the apocalypse are involved, and seeing spitfire Judith leading her friends through combat drills was both adorable and gut wrenching. Unfortunately, any happy emotions were quickly extinguished when it became clear that this was going to be a tough day for Judith.
One would think that, during the end of the world, the development of youth would change and adjust to the circumstances, but it seems that anthropologists and child development researchers will get a kick out of learning that, despite all the various environmental changes and instability, Western world pre-teens will always be the same: cruel and not worth keeping around until their sense of empathy kicks in.
As John Mulaney said, “8th graders will make fun of you, but in an accurate way,” which was exactly what they did. In episode three, Judith insisted that Michonne always came back for her, so to have her hidden fears of being abandoned thrown in her face, it’s a testament to her strength and resilience that she didn’t break down into tears or lash out with her sword. The breaking point was when their handprints were destroyed, though, once again, she managed to remain composed and in control, which only heightens the anticipation for the Michonne and Rick movie where, hopefully, they return to Judith and see just how strong and capable she is.
But, while strong, she’s still a child and it was no surprise when Rosita found her crying alone over the broken handprints. While not a surprise, it didn’t make the pain any easier to stomach when she tells Rosita about her fears of forgetting her family, but it does make their bonding scene all the more heartwarming as they fix the handprints and comfort each other.
It can be argued that this episode centers around loss, though it’s not as overt in The Commonwealth storyline. It is, however, the entire focus of the few scenes with Maggie and Negan. Other than Maggie’s own loss that seems to govern their interactions, the duo are also at odds about whether to stay at the outpost or leave. Both of them are valid in their perspectives and reasonings—it was a surprise that Maggie didn’t lash out when Negan mentioned Hershel (Kien Michael Spiller)—but it didn’t come as a surprise when Gabe (Seth Gilliam, Teen Wolf) and Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari, Cobra Kai) appeared, validating Maggie’s belief that the others would show up, as well as inherently agreeing with her stance to wait for everyone else. Considering their dynamic, it’s most likely that the time when Negan is right and will be listened to will be during one of the most pivotal points of the season, possibly during the mid-season finale, ideally in regards to Hershel, but that’s just a theory.
The main storyline in The Commonwealth was interesting, though far less unsettling than previously foreshadowed; they did dip their toes into it when they showcased the armed guards and security during the cheesy, discount-Disneyland introduction video. Regardless, seeing the “normal” set-up and demeanor of the community—how the desk clerk was curt until Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura, Into the Badlands) showed him the invitation, the way everything looked like Disneyland’s Main St. or a set on the Universal lot, the casual way people ordered ice cream and were wary when random men tried speaking to them—went a long way to showcase the contrast between The Commonwealth and the outside world, as well as why they were all so desperate to get in contact with the others to get them to this haven.
Of course, they weren’t shy of showing the concerning aspects of the community, though they were far more overt and aggressive rather than understated. While the main argument made in defense of Tomi’s (Ian Anthony Doyle, All Rise) current occupation as a baker rather than a doctor was that he was happy, it did raise the question about healthcare and medicine in The Commonwealth, as they do seem to have medication to help with coughs, such as with Ezekiel (Khan Payton, Invincible), but if they are actively deciding not to employ surgeons or employ as many medical professionals as the can, that does raise concerns. Of course, there were also the intense bureaucracy and restriction of due process when they were all caught, the intensity of the armed guards—though Mercer (Michael James Shaw, Avengers: Endgame) and Princess’ (Paola Lázaro, Lethal Weapon) interaction when she tried to distract him was more awkwardly sweet than anything else—but it’s the understated, casual situations and points raised that make the most impact and foreshadow just how dangerous The Commonwealth can be, and probably will be later on.
Overall, this episode did a great job weaving the feeling of loss and longing throughout the episode—surprisingly, the strongest point of that in The Commonwealth storyline was when Eugene asked if the woman had ordered rocky road ice cream—and did a great job leading into new plot threads for the upcoming episodes while concluding the ones raised prior.