In the past chunk of Season 11, we’ve had the true villain revealed, giving us a better idea of how exactly The Commonwealth’s corruption actually works. Or at least the more imperial side of it. At this point, the question is no longer “Who stays, who goes?” It’s become a matter of “Why would anyone want to stay?” And given that it takes Daryl six months to lead an army straight to the walls of Hilltop, that may take a little extra explaining. Assuming that wasn’t a bit of a misdirection, which “Warlords” offers a plenty. Also, as far as the six months label goes, anyone keeping track may want to adjust their timelines a bit. Because we jump around this time around.
**SPOILERS** for jumping around on the timeline.
1. A New Challenger Appears
We open with Lydia setting out towards the Commonwealth, and Elijah awkwardly trying to ask her out. Then a bloody messenger arrives on horseback with a map, ranting about devils. Apart from being a hook we’ve all used in at least one D&D campaign, this sets up a question at the core of the episode: Is there another antagonist out there? Or maybe a returning one. After all, dialog later in the episode makes it clear the Commonwealth hasn’t actually been tested, despite their apparent effectiveness. Maggie is hesitant to help out, as the Hilltop’s forces are dwindled. Which is consistent with her characterization this whole season as someone who has to make the hard, seemingly cold decisions. And it’s more logical in this case, as oppose to some sillier examples earlier. But since we still need a show to happen, Lydia and Elijah decide to go on their own. Which causes Maggie to change her mind.
2. Road Trip
On the ride to the spot, we get a bit of debate over Maggie’s decision not to join The Commonwealth, with Lydia making the point that it’s probably not worth just trying to survive. To illustrate her position, Maggie tells a story about a developer who tried to buy the Greene farm during a drought. Not only did they keep upping the price, they would leave care packages for the family. Which Hershel and family let rot to prove a point. You see, if they were to accept the care package, then the developers would know they needed them. It’s cool little story that is somewhat lessened by the overly obvious parallel later in the episode (even if it’s somewhat subverted). But it at least sets up the ideological differences between Lydia and Maggie. Or at least their differing approaches to the matter at hand. Elijah is kind of my favorite part of the scene though, because he just sort of sits awkwardly in the backseat and goes along with whatever Lydia says. The trip is cut short by the appearance of Aaron.
3. One Week Ago
I’m going to be honest with you all. I’ve lost track of where we are on the timeline. Maybe like three months out? But wherever we are, this episode takes a moment to roll it back a week. Aaron is attending Gabriel’s spiffy new Commonwealth church, and the sermon of the day focuses on the parable of the Prodigal Son. For later symbolic reasons. Gabriel is content with his new life. So obviously things are about to go wrong. A happy character in The Walking Dead might as well come with a countdown clock.
Aaron’s been part of the Commonwealth’s new immigration and outreach initiative, reaching out to small pockets of survivors in the waste with two others. The first being Toby Carlson, who seems a bit off. A little too cocky and oddly flighty for a sensitive operation. The second being a first timer named Jesse, who we’ve already seen, only bloodier, and carrying a map. There’s a group of about forty survivors holed up in an apartment building. The Commonwealth ones to make contact, but there are concerns this group may be hostile. Gabriel’s presence may help, because they’re supposedly religious types. Hint hint.
If the show doesn’t want us to think Leah’s returning, it could have maybe picked a different locale. We already have a group of religious militia fighters that may or may not be a little on the homicidal side. But the building they’re holed up in has the same flickering light haunted house aesthetic as every Reaper hideout ever. Not quite sure what this particular red herring serves, other than prompt a few memories from the first part of the season. But this group is led by a man named Ian, played by Terminator star Michael Biehn. Kyle Reese himself! The Commonwealth have been leaving them food rations in an effort to gain their trust. Which sounds a bit familiar. But this particular group have been fending off murderers and cannibals all this time, leaving them less than hospitable to strangers. He even holds the cocky Carlson at gunpoint for a pick, accusing him of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, looking for “meat.” This does lead to my favorite line in the entire episode: “Cannibals who came in with pre-packaged MREs?”Continued below
It’s a great sequence. Sets up Biehn as a threat. And even realistically shows his Ian start to come around on his visitors. Then Carlson grabs his gun and starts blasting.
4. One Week and One Hour Ago
Time to reset the timer again. A flashback further cements the idea that Lance Hornsby is the true big bad of the series. And the fact his scene is filmed in a dark office, despite it being daytime outside, kind of gives you that impression as well. Commonwealth don’t got time for subtlety.
Turns out that Hornsby is the reason Carlson went all murder-y. We’re given the background that Carlson is a former CIA assassin turned pacifist, and he’s been out of the killing game since arriving in his new home. But some weapons have gone missing, taken from a handful of murdered Commonwealthers. Hornsby doesnt want to draw Milton’s attention with a full on assault, so he’s pulling Carlson out of retirement for a more “surgical” solution. It’s an effective origin story for our villain’s newest henchmen. And Ozark actor Jason Butler Harner is clearly having a blast in the role. But more importantly, the show doesn’t forget to add the most obvious question, considering how randomly cartoonishly evil Hornsby has gotten: Are there really any weapons?
Not that it really matters in the end. For all the hostility Ian showed our heroes, Carlson goes the extra mile. The episode ends with him throwing folks off the building. Even takes a few shots at poor Jesse who tries to escape. But while Aaron manages to fight his way out, that’s not who gave the unfortunately young one the map.
5. Twelve Hours Ago
Turns out, before Jesse set off to Hilltop, he had a bit of a run in with Negan. Who not only was helpful, even went back and helped his friends escape the building. You see, he returned. Just like the Prodigal S— look, some of the symbolism this episode is laid on a bit thick. With Maggie on her way, this likely means we get more of their great dynamic from the last few episodes. Or at least set up that spin-off they’re supposed to get sometime in the future. Plus odds are he was somewhere in the meantime, so whether he was just living off the land or doing something productive, it may come into play somehow. But even if it doesn’t, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is always a delight. Overall this was a solid episode, even with a few quirks here and there. The show’s been doing a lot to smooth out some of the rough patches from the first chunk of the season. Although there’s only so realistic you can make The Commonwealth.