In this episode of The Walking Dead, the various characters are forced to face the perspectives of the groups they perceive to be wrong, and it’s just as unpleasant as it sounds, though only one-two if counting Gabe’s (Seth Gilliam, Teen Wolf)—were meant to be perceived as agreeable enough to keep the characters in the audience’s good graces.
Those characters would be Gabe and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Supernatural), though Negan’s was the most outright example of the episode’s theme. Seeing him and Maggie’s (Lauren Cohan, The Vampire Diaries) dynamic throughout the episode was interesting, as their general attitude towards each other shifted once Negan convinced Maggie to agree to his truce. It felt as though Negan was calling back to the high school coach of his past life as he taught Maggie how to round up walkers, complete with encouragement and praise at her abilities. Of course, that wasn’t going to last for long, and it was actually surprised that it wasn’t as deadly as it could have been—with the title being “Broken Promises” and the promise in question being that Maggie wouldn’t try to kill Negan once they completed their mission, there was a lingering threat of betrayal that was only made stronger when Negan decided to upend whatever potential trust they had in each other.
That, of course, is when he looked Maggie in the eye and said that, if he would be able to have done things differently, he would have killed all of them rather than just a few; that, it seemed, his biggest regret was growing attached to some of the original crew. While the knee-jerk reaction was shock and deep betrayal—does his relationship with Carl (Chandler Riggs, A Million Little Things) and Judith (Cailey Fleming, Peppermint) mean nothing to him?—he was able to hold his own against Maggie’s arguments and points, throwing them back at her with such a calm weariness that there was no choice but to genuinely consider what he was saying.
Maggie made great points, especially about Negan killing people in front of their families, and he seemed to acknowledge the brutality of it all, though he remained unmoving. That was the most difficult part of his perspective to hear, more than his admittance of what he would have done differently—if he could do it all over and still remain the leader of the Saviors without needing to be imprisoned for a near-decade, he would have to kill all of the original crew to do it—but Maggie’s perspective had, even more, to glean from. She argued that she and her people didn’t kill families, unlike Negan, not acknowledging a definition of family that goes beyond civil marriage and blood relation, which is pretty close-minded of someone whose people are mainly comprised of found family and community, and that was the hardest part to hear from her perspective; the unintentional dismissal of the lives of people who weren’t parents or had other blood relations was
Overall, she remained firm in her stance, but she wavered far more than Negan did, clearly not wanting to hear the truth behind his words because that would mean she would be agreeing with the very mindset that killed her husband. That being said, she did try to justify her actions in such a way as to separate them from the act of killing itself, instead of focusing on the intention and reasoning, whereas Negan acknowledged the act of killing directly when explaining his perspective on survival. Both saw the killing as a means to an end, but Maggie wanted to distance herself from the actions as much as possible, needing to dehumanize those she killed if she wanted her people to survive, whereas Negan accepted the lives that he took as the real people they were; both are valid perspectives with pros and cons to each, which makes it hard for them, and the audience, to determine where they stand and who is “right,” if anyone even is.
Their conversation and perspectives parallel those of Leah (Lynn Collins, Bosch) and Daryl (Norman Reedus, The Boondock Saints) when they went out to hunt for any non-Reapers in the area. Daryl wondered why they bothered hunting when their group had all the resources and structure, but Leah argued that they were ensuring the safety of everything that they have by making sure they rid themselves of any potential threat; even if those “potential threats” take the form of a helpless man hiding in the bushes and pleading for mercy as he’s frog-marched back to his family at gunpoint.
Like Maggie, Leah focused on the reasoning behind her actions, seeing everyone else as enemies that she must kill, rhetoric established by Pope (Ritchie Coster, Happy!) when he demanded they search for “his enemies,” though he had no idea who they were or what they wanted to do; their very existence was a threat and (just like the government they once served) are not above preemptive strikes. However, Leah’s resolve was soon tested when she was forced to acknowledge the humanity behind the shroud she forcibly cast upon all those she killed; she was ready to kill the father they had run into because she didn’t know him and could thereby dismiss all her initial perceptions and focus on the mission, but when she had to see them as what they were—a dying family struggling to survive—she was unable to kill the mother, even after the father and son had left and the mother gave her consent.
However, while Leah was unable to kill the mother, Daryl was, which wasn’t surprising given his actions in the previous episodes of the season; he knowingly cut Frost’s (Glenn Stanton, The Son) finger off and stood by while Pope shoved a kid’s face into a fire until he died, there are a lot of things he’s willing to do and accept when it comes to survival. That being said, he’s not heartless—quite the opposite, really—but while he’s willing to kill for survival, he does so with the full knowledge that the people he’s killing are human with all the attachments that come with that, which is the same perspective that Negan has.
It may also be the same perspective that Gabe had when he opted out of killing the other priest that was praying over the graves. While Gabe had been more than willing to kill that Reaper who had admitted to attacking them back in episode three, he was far less inclined to do what Maggie suggested when he ran into yet another man of God. He had drawn his machete when it seemed he was going to have to fight for his life, but when the other priest left him be, he didn’t go after him despite having the opportunity to. The reason being Gabe, in general, has shown more restraint and reservations to killing people than some others in the crew, which makes sense considering his past and vocation; like Leah, he can’t kill people that he sees as people, but he doesn’t adhere to the same detachment and dehumanization that she and Maggie use in order to do what they must. If anything, Gabe is the bridge between the two perspectives, which is why he’s the third storyline to take place in the same forest but alone rather than in pairs when the theme is acknowledged.
In a way, Maggie and her group had to see from the perspective of the walkers, in a certain sense. They had to learn how to walk like them in order to herd them, unable to react the way they normally would for fear of them being caught out, which forced them to see things from the walkers perspective in order to use it to their advantage; so, in a way, it ties in with the theme.
However, back at discount Disneyland, the differing perspectives were less fatal and more irritating. While it was cute, at first, to see Eugene (Josh McDermitt, The Loudest Voice) and Stephanie (Chelle Ramos, Outer Banks) killing walkers on their second date—a natural escalation from ice cream and treason—it soon became difficult to watch as they faced more of the social and government politics. From the very real fear Ezekiel (Khary Payton, Invincible) had of his hospital visit putting them deeper into debt—can anyone say: U.S. Healthcare—to how afraid Tomi (Ian Anthony Dale, All Rise) was of people finding out he was a doctor, right before he was kidnapped by the police as leverage against Yumiko (Eleanor Mastura, Into the Badlands), it was a system so foreign to the group that there was no way they could win, especially when everyone just expected them to pick everything up right away.
The most frustrating—and fascinating—aspect of The Commonwealth, however, was how similar it is to current society. Of course, it was clearly stated from the beginning that The Commonwealth was created by people who wanted to return to the time before the fall, but the Disneyland-like aesthetics and fascist police-state was one thing; the obnoxious elitism was another.
It was already frustrating to see the special treatment Yumiko received due to her past credentials—she had called out this desperate elitism within in episode two, one of the best scenes of the season so far—but while bureaucratic favoritism and bias was one thing, social elitism was another; and if the microaggressions were infuriating, Sebastian Milton (Teo Rapp-Olson) provoked a level of rage deserving of more than the tap on the nose Eugene dealt; though the pure joy that came from that punch was unparalleled.
It was one thing to see people happy without the want for amenities, food, medical supplies, and other resources, but there was always a sense of awe and appreciation; Princess (Paola Lázaro, Lethal Weapon) had been ecstatic over the news of toilet paper, and her amazement when Ezekiel brought them lollipops—as well as her knee-jerk reaction to make sure Ezekiel could share the experience—are perfect examples of that. However, this episode introduced the social aspect of elitism, as well as the familiar class structure and power imbalance that had been so thoroughly condemned in episode two; which, of course, is the point.
While Sebastian Milton was obnoxious in of himself, the true culture shock had come from his very existence. Like Stephanie had said, it had been some time since she had to kill walkers, but to see someone so far removed from the established reality of The Walking Dead that he had reverted back to the elitist mindset that Yumiko had deemed obsolete due to the circumstances after the fall. To see someone so far removed from the reality of the rest of the world that they turned their nose up at janitors and other laborers who maintained the perfect world they took for granted was a shock, to say the least.
It was meant to feel absurd and laughable—not to mention infuriating—but it was also meant to highlight the reason why The Commonwealth is so unnerving; it’s meant to parallel current U.S. society, with its class disparity, elitism, and miles of red tape that makes it so those in power gain more power while those without losing whatever they have left, which was perfectly depicted when Eugene was exploited and manipulated into revealing the location of Alexandria as he was desperate to help them, all while knowing he didn’t have many options left due to the same people who think they gave him all the chances in the world when, really, they were just waiting for him to fail.
It’s a functioning system for those who are deemed acceptable, but behind the facade is a broken system that affects the majority of people; even those like Tomi who just keep their heads down and follow the rules aren’t safe unless they have the power to run the system.
While everyone else is trying to come to terms with how they justify killing other people, The Commonwealth has bred a new generation of yacht club boys and WASPS who are not above verbally assaulting minimum wage workers for doing their jobs in order to maintain the spotless world around them; Sebastian even lashed out at Mercer (Michael James Shaw, Avengers: Endgame) whose job goes beyond playing bodyguard but, even if it wasn’t, is still integral to Sebastian’s survival, but now he takes that for granted.
There was a reason the final line before Eugene’s arrest was, “Don’t you know who that is?” because that—as ridiculous as it always has been—once again, matters.
Overall, this episode furthered the plot along drastically: The Commonwealth gang now truly out of chances, the people of Alexandria potentially at risk, and Maggie’s group leading a hoard of walkers right to Daryl and the Reapers; with more being revealed about who the characters are as people, as well as where they stand with each other—except for Maggie and Negan who seem to oscillate between enemies-to-lovers to just enemies to the grave—it will be interesting to see what happens next.