Episode 16, the end of the second third of Season 11. Our heroes are set to take on The Commonwealth from both the inside and out. Hornsby has recruited the last surviving Reaper to his side, and she has a deep personal grudge against the Hilltop crew. But even after the heists, the indiscriminate murders, and the general underhanded nature of the Commonwealth, how can they topple it? This episode will see them take their first steps to answering that questions, and set up the final third of the season.
**SPOILER ALER** for the first steps to answering that question.
1. “Everybody Wins… Not Everybody”
In case you missed the last episode, Leah has joined up with the Commonwealth forces, because… I don’t know, they were there. I take that back. Sometime offscreen, Lance Hornsby learned who The Reapers were, figured out their connection to Hilltop, tracked down the last surviving member, who also happened to be the one who stole their weapons. But either however we got there, we’re here now. Leah and Hornsby have brokered a fragile alliance based on their mutual hatred of Maggie.
This I have no problem with otherwise. As rushed as it was to set up, Leah is desperate for vengeance, and Hornsby is just desperate. It’s only logical to tie the two series antagonists together for one major showdown. Whether or not it’s satisfying is another topic for discussion. But we’ll get to that later. I do like the dynamic between Leah and Hornsby, brief as it is. The paramilitary true believer taking orders from a straight up con man is rife with potential.
2. Whisperer Wormhole
Maggie discovers Negan and crew hiding outside the settlement, in an abandoned spider-hole. One of the biggest payoffs this season’s been teasing has been something between Maggie and Negan. What that something is has been very much up in the air. But it would either be them reconciling their differences, or finally killing each other. As of this episode, it seems to be the previous, as Maggie admits she is finally starting to trust Negan. And Negan admits that Maggie “has big balls.” The face turn is helped greatly by Jeffery Dean Morgan’s performance. Even with the appearance of a pregnant wife, Morgan manages to sell the turn convincingly. Which is good, since he and Lauren Cohan have a spin-off in the works.
3. “One last sweep, then home”
As Magge and Negan are gathering there forces, he Commonwealth needs to deal with their own suspicious survivors. Daryl, Aaron, and Gabriel are all led into a really obvious trap, which they manage to fight their way out of. I do appreciate the series not dragging the Daryl joins the Commonwealth plot on longer than it needed to be believably. But it’s still a little brazen how much of a fake out they tried to pull early in the season. With the second part of Season 11 opening with Daryl arriving in full Commonwealth arnor, a larger betrayal was teased, with the end result almost being a technicality. Regardless, the show does make the point that the Hilltop crew are tested, unlike the vastly better equipped Commonwealth. It clearly sets up how they can survive for the last third of the season.
4. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Max.”
Back in the Commonwealth, Max isn’t 100% cool with what she needs to do. Her and Eugene have grown very close, with their pairings treated with the same level of subtlety has Mercer and Princess last episode. And she wants to help expose the abuses covered up by Pamela MIlton. Doing it just requires some sensitive information that only she has access to. The scenes with Max trying to sneak out the files, liking with the truth about April Martens and the other folks on the list, are wonderfully tense. Especially with Sebastian Milton, creepy weirdo that he is, walking in on her during the act. And seemingly realizing what’s happening. Not enough to inform the guards though. At least not yet.
How Pamela Milton reacts to this should be interesting. The last few episodes have brought into question how much she’s actually in control of the Commonwealth. Clearly she cleans up after her awful kid. But as for how malevolent she is compared to a person like Hornsby is another question. The next batch of episodes should clear up how evil Milton is on her own. But in the meantime, Max helps her own propaganda paper embarrass her. Also, Ezekiel helps. Apparently he has his own network now. Maybe he set it up with the underground hospital. Why does everything happen offscreen in this show now?Continued below
5. “If that ain’t a sign from The Man Upstairs.”
From the beginning of the episode, we see a swarm of locusts gathering above the forest. This isn’t important. It’s only there because symbolism.
We get the clash between Maggie’s crew, Daryl’s folks, and Leah. The climactic fight scene is genuinely great, with Leah more like a terminator than a forest marauder. We get a merciless one woman army driven by a single purpose, who has little-to-no regard for the Commonwealth soldiers who are theoretically her allies. The whole finale made me want to see more of this antagonist, seemingly less human than the walkers surrounding her, versus the regulars. This doesn’t happen unfortunately. Leah captures Maggie, and after some great bits of dialog about revenge not making her happy, dies at the hand of her former lover, Daryl. It’s fitting, but still feels like a waste. Leah was seemingly tacked up at the end of this block of episodes, still managed to be great, but was dropped just as fast. I’m not sure how much more they could have done with her, but the character’s exit did leave me wanting more, regardless of how well it could have actually worked.
But that brings Season 11b to a close. The Milton family is humiliated. Hornsby is building an army, and possibly murdering civilians to prove a point. And Hilltop has a target on it as we enter the final episodes of the series.