As per any part two, this episode of The Walking Dead continues and builds off the previous episode’s events and themes which this episode did particularly well, giving resolution for all the raised conflicts in the first episode and setting up more conflicts for the rest of the season without being too convoluted. That being said, while not convoluted, a lot did occur and was compelling enough to make the run time feel half its length, which is typically a good sign.
The episode picks up right where it left off, showing Maggie’s (Lauren Cohan, The Vampire Diaries) fall again before the rest of the team enters the subway car and finds that the doors are rusted and Maggie is missing. Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Watchmen), of course, feigns ignorance and, while Alden (Callan McAuliffe, Flipped) does try to go back for Maggie, they decide to forge on.
Of course, as was previously predicted and expected because this is television, Maggie did not, in fact, die and entered the car the rest of the team were on through a lower hatch, wasting no time to reveal what Negan had done. Negan, unsurprisingly, refused to apologize and argued he had no obligation to risk his life for someone who admitted her intention of killing him. Also unsurprisingly, this doesn’t matter much to a majority of the team, though it seems to have reached Gabe (Seth Gilliam, Teen Wolf) and Maggie herself.
While the others in the group didn’t seem inclined to believe or forgive Negan, any question about whether his argument had any merit was thrown to the walkers when Gage (Jackson Pace, Homeland) appeared on another train car and begged entrance when they all realized he hadn’t blocked the doors which let the walkers follow after him.
Despite Gage being one of Lydia’s (Cassidy McClincy, Castle Rock) bullies last season, Negan was the first to try and save Gage—as he had done last episode when Gage was attacked by a walker—though Maggie ordered against his and Alden’s attempts to save the boy. This scene reinforced the validity of Negan’s argument—jury’s still out on whether his argument was the true motive behind his actions—as well as reminded the audience of his soft spot towards kids, such as Lydia, Judith (Cailey Fleming, Peppermint) and Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs, A Million Little Things), and the young boy Milo whom he had known for all of five minutes. While Rick had argued Negan didn’t care about Gage when he saved him last episode, all evidence points to Negan’s penchant for adopting children, which begs the question: Will Negan be spending time with Hershel (Kien Michael Spiller) this season? The answer better be yes.
This scene with Gage was even more impactful as Maggie ordered against saving him before the walkers had even come into view. While Negan had only taken a moment before leaving last episode, Maggie looked Gage in the eye and repeatedly told the others not to let him in, leaving the viewer to wonder whether all the time spent arguing could’ve been enough to save Gage and re-barricade the doors.
As the doors didn’t open, Gage became the first death of the season, opting to stab himself twice in the heart with his own knives rather than be mauled by the walkers. When his zombified form reappeared against the glass, Alden demanded to know why Negan and Gage refused to look at him. Gabe explained that zombie Gage was nothing more than a shell of a man who died a coward. Despite the familiar perspective of suicide being a cowardly way to die, this—understandably—upset Alden who argued that Gage was a scared kid who didn’t want to die in the worst way possible. This led Maggie to tell a horror story about her time away, complete with spooky red campfire lighting, though the story was far less campy and far more sinister. The moral of the story was Maggie lost a part of her that day and she’s almost glad she did as it helps her make the tough decisions and she made a comment about Alexandria that led to Negan stating that no one in all of history ever truly knew how to coexist.
Maggie’s admission, as well as Negan completing her thought, indicates that Maggie’s new perspective and ruthlessness is going to play a major role in the season, and there may be some development or parallels between her and Negan, whether that be Negan of the past or the present.
Meanwhile, while the rest of the team are on the train and embracing the survivalist mindset and world they have lived in for more than a decade, Daryl and the four at The Commonwealth were faced with aspects of the world before and during the fall, both with a commentary on classism and elitism.
Daryl spent most of the episode traversing a tunnel with remnants of those who were trying to survive during the fall. The most notable finds were: a skeleton whose now severed hand is still handcuffed to a briefcase full of untouched cash, a mural depicting the class system during the time of the fall, and a bag full of items left by a young boy for his father, all of which spoke volumes despite the silence.
The skeleton with the briefcase makes sense as the thought process of making sure there is enough money to sustain oneself and family during a crisis is understandable, but it’s the fact that the money has been untouched that shows just how unprepared anyone truly was for what was to come, which makes a much louder statement when taking into consideration the global pandemic that no one truly knew how to weather; there were theories and those who prepared, but it took some time before everyone was able to feel settled and know what to do.
As for the mural, it was very well done and large—the Kid Loki homage was a nice touch—which does beg the question of just how many people worked on it, for how long, and what they thought this would achieve that was important enough to put their energy into; then again, it was probably a good distraction from the end of the world, and it’s murals and written documents that help future historians and give those in the future, such as Daryl, insight into the past, so it does make sense. Regardless, the mural built off of the commentary of the untouched money as it shows how the societally ingrained class system and elitism crumbled during the fall and is a commentary on how society is a construct and there is no true universally ingrained system people need to survive; as was said by Maggie and Negan.
The letter from the boy to the father was particularly impactful in a very interesting way. Firstly, to see an untouched bag of items from a son to his father to try and stay connected and reunite amidst the end of the world is heartbreaking when the knowledge the audience has now is paired with a child trying to adapt to this strange and dangerous world with a major focus being reuniting his family. Secondly, and possibly most important, is the picture of the boys that reveals the plush rabbit Maggie had picked up was his.
Daryl’s solo journey was a perfect inclusion for the second part to the final season’s beginning. While there are many instances where characters see things from before the fall and what people have left behind or died with, the humanity of it all cannot be overstated when there’s so little humanity left, at least in the way of the current world. With everyone so hardened as their entire lives have become survival, even the characters who are more down to earth and entertaining do not necessarily invoke a familiarity for the viewer, more novel than anything else. Seeing the mural and how people perceived the current class structure during the fall and the bag left for the family’s father, complete with pictures, helps to put everything into perspective for audience members who have gotten used to the hardened world of The Walking Dead and don’t necessarily remember all the small instances of societal remnants when thinking back to the previous seasons.
While Daryl and Maggie’s team traverse through the subway tunnels and cars, the four at The Commonwealth aborted their escape plan and returned to find a way to connect with Yumiko’s (Eleanor Matsuura, Into the Badlands) brother. In her attempt to expedite their processing, Yumiko made a great point that audience members ought to remember: It’s okay to be a Karen when it comes to your rights; to be clear, this does not include not wearing a mask when establishments require them.
When Yumiko is in interrogation, she makes points that connect with the mural that Daryl had seen and states the implied aspects of The Commonwealth from the previous episode, making sure that everything is understood clearly. She points out how desperate they and the people with them are for a sense of normalcy from before the fall that they try to make themselves feel useful and important because the elitist world they lived in where the uneducated people who do manual labor are now far more needed and respected than those who can make lists and schedule meetings; your PhD doesn’t matter when you need to grow food. That being said, while she pointed out the desperation, she also validated the want for order and their attempt to try and keep everyone alive, and she pointed out that their other forms of questions were meant to test their boundaries and to judge whether or not the people they’re vetting can be trusted and fit in, which also indicates that, no matter how hard they try, they can’t return to life before the fall because the new normal demands different ways of thinking.
The other scenes of this plot thread were far more character driven, especially for Eugene (Josh McDermitt, The Loudest Voice), though the scene where Princess (Paola Lázaro, Lethal Weapon) found out The Commonwealth has plumbing and toilet paper was both heartbreaking and adorable, as an armed guard followed after her as if a teenager who sees toilet paper as a luxury is a risk to the entire community; then again, the pandemic has shown the world just how ferocious the want for toilet paper can be, and Princess has proven just how capable she is in the most unexpected of ways.
The gaslighting and intimidation techniques of the guards, while understandable and a great aspect of the episode in terms of writing and to raise the stakes for Eugene’s own interrogation, was upsetting to witness when it’s clear they’re trying to whittle down his confidence and make him more unsure of himself and his own mind; The Commonwealth has already made it clear they’re not above psychologically abusing people to get their way, which is not a good sign for the future.
Eugene’s interrogation was a true testament to his character and resolve—as well as McDermitt’s own performance skills—as it truly felt as though Eugene would tell the truth about Alexandria and his friends. However, he played to his strengths—or, arguably, his perceived weaknesses—perfectly and when it became clear he wouldn’t snitch, his character was truly solidified for this season as one who won’t betray anyone’s confidence without a fight.
The reunion of the four was a positive end to the plot thread, especially with Ezekiel’s (Khan Payton, Invincible) news that they gave him medicine to help with his cough and that he feels much better. In contrast to the end of the main plot line, this end promised more hope for the future, especially when Eugene and Stephanie finally met face-to-face; a truly relatable feeling for those stuck in lockdown. Of course, that hope won’t last for long, especially with the way The Commonwealth has set itself up, but the nice ending and Mercer’s (Michael James Shaw, Avengers: Endgame) “I went to West Point. Asshole,” line was still a nice tonal reprieve, and considering the end of the two-part plot threads for the main plot line, the secondary plot threads deserved a more pleasant conclusion.
But while Eugene’s entrance into a train car led to reunions and new beginnings, Maggie’s team in their train car yielded only two positives, neither of which lasted very long. The first and most short lived was when, after Gage and the other walkers broke through the doors and another group of walkers began to approach from the side they were trying to escape through, Maggie gave Negan a gun so he could help fight.
The second was when Daryl somehow got onto the train and appeared like Luke Skywalker in The Mandalorian, taking out all the walkers and saving the rest of the crew.
Unfortunately, the good vibes didn’t last as Maggie and Negan had a tense stare off when he returned the gun, holding on for far too long, then they had to take a detour to gather supplies in Arbor Hills which led them to a forest pass with dead humans dangling upside down from the trees and a large group of masked figures who ambushed them.
Overall, this was a strong episode and a great end to the two-part premiere. The Commonwealth and this masked group seem to be the main antagonists of the season and it will be interesting to see how things play out, especially with the tension between Negan and Maggie.