In recap of last weekI wrote the following: “Do you ever feel tense watching The Walking Dead more? Is the TV show ever really surprise you more? I’m sure it’s been a while since TWD made me feel like a character was in real danger or did something that made me wondering what was going to happen Next.” I’m happy to report that tonight’s episode surprised me, made me anxious, and left me wondering what’s next week.
Now, given that next week’s episode of The Walking Dead is also the series finale, you’d have every right to think it’s way too little and way too late. But I’m grateful that the series has finally started to feel a bit like a series finale, as opposed to the status quo. When “Family” begins, Alexandria has been completely liberated from the occupying Commonwealth forces after last week’s episode – which you think could make for an interesting hour of television, but apparently not – and all the protagonists who don’t aren’t stuck in Alexandria (Eugene, Yumiko, Max, and Mercer) or trapped in a horde of zombies (Aaron, Lydia, Jerry, Ezekiel, Lucas, and Jules) raise their arms, board the train, and head to the Commonwealth to save their children and get Pam out.
Before, during, and after their train ride, the characters have emotionally meaningful conversations that merely reframe the plot or recreate the same old character rhythms. Judith has a strong case for being allowed to join the assault to honor her father Rick, her mother Michonne, her brother Carl and even her biological mother Lori, whom she never met, and help ensure the peaceful and better future than they envisioned (…sometimes). Later, Daryl promises to tell her “all the stories of everyone who ever loved you,” which I kinda liked. Negan confesses to Ezekiel that he is well aware that everyone he rides with is a better person than him, and if Ezekiel can’t see it, well, someone hasn’t been paying attention.
Perhaps the best “Family” line comes out of the train. As the Commontroopers herd the zombies to the Commonwealth, Aaron, Jerry, and Lydia manage to sneak into an abandoned RV, but Elijah, Luke, and Jules are swept away before they can enter. Lydia tries to attract her boyfriend Elijah, but only manages to getting your wrist bitten by a zombie. Yes, a zombie actually bit one of the protagonists! Of course, she has to have her arm cut off to avoid becoming a zombie herself – something Aaron is uniquely adept at dealing with, since the same thing happened to him. But instead, Jerry does the punches, while Aaron comforts her. Just before the blade fell, Aaron empathetically told her, “You are so loved, Lydia.” It’s beautiful, and I’m not sure it’s true, but it’s still a wonderful moment.
Inside the Commonwealth people are justifiably angry with Governor Pam so she calls for a ‘B17’ i.e. troops leading a giant horde of zombies to the front gates of the city so she can justify a citywide lockdown. Unfortunately, no one informed her of the Variants, the smarter-than-average undead who can scale walls and eat soldiers, one of whom accidentally lands on the “open door lever” while being eaten, allowing several thousand zombies to escape. direct access to residential and commercial areas of the Commonwealth. This is bad news for everyone except the viewers: Variants are back! They had a significant impact on the script! They’ll probably be back next week too! Oh, what an abundance of riches.
Princess manages to contact Mercer from the train and explains the plan to him, so Mercer withdraws his troops from the station which the Alexandria team will be sneaking into. Unfortunately, Pam hears about the redeployment, has Mercer arrested, and parks her armed henchmen inside so they can take down the Alexandrians when they arrive. Oddly, Pam is also there to join in the action and begins firing an assault rifle at Maggie, only for the adorable Judith to push her aside and get shot instead. Judith is down! Prepare to riot!
As if the show’s characters know the franchise will lose all goodwill if Judith dies, the group regroups, escapes the station, and begins heading for the Commonwealth Doctor. Even Pamela has the decency to be appalled to have shot a child while shouting to the Alexandrians: “You did that! deflect blame. Pam escapes, only to be informed that a giant herd of zombies is coming to town. She orders the Commontroopers to direct the zombies to the “Lower Wards”, aka the poor part of the city and protect the “states”, i.e. the houses of the rich people. It is the most actively and blatantly the evil classism that Pam has ever exhibited, and it clearly doesn’t sit well with the new army chief, Vickers.
However, Vickers at least partially does as he is told and begins deploying troops to lead the zombies – and the group just lands between two barricades with the horde heading straight for them. The Alexandrians manage to fend off enough zombies to let Daryl, carrying Judith, escape down an alley, but the episode ends with the rest of them swarming away.
I have no idea how they’re going to get out of this, and I love it. I’m sure the answer will be silly or require a bit of hindsight, but I like feeling that these characters, especially Judith, are in real danger, even though they probably aren’t. I love that Lydia got bitten by a zombie, because it makes me feel like somewhere in my dumb lizard brain watching TV, that other characters can get eaten too. I love that the Variant zombies have turned what was a bad but contained situation into an utter disaster, proving that they’re far more dangerous than the zombies we’ve been watching for over a decade, even if they need help. luck on their side. I like not knowing exactly what will happen next.
Check that I am grateful of all that. The episode wasn’t so great that I didn’t wonder how Pam controls half the commonwealth army without Mercer knowing anything about it, or how she has troops who are completely and evenly on board to lead thousands of zombies to their hometown of hers or why again she just doesn’t lie and tell people that a herd of zombies has been spotted then martial law must be in place instead to truly bring zombies to their front door – a door far enough from the city, as we see tonight, that it’s highly unlikely a civilian would ever find out if the threat was real or not. It’s useless, Pam. Do some streamlining!
Still, my only real gripe about “Family” is that this episode should have aired weeks ago, or at least an episode like this. If I hadn’t spent so much time watching and recapping this show, I would honestly be a little disappointed that there was only one episode left. But since The Walking Dead has been content to spin its wheels for much of the previous six episodes, I’m glad there’s only an hour left. I just hope it’s as good as this one.
- Oh, I was annoyed when Mercer talked about having legal grounds to remove Pamela from her job. Listen guys, either the Commonwealth has a working legal system that you can use to legally dismiss the bad rich woman, or you can stage an armed coup, but not both. Choose a path.
- I found it delightfully creepy when Aaron and the others whispered to each other in the zombie horde so as not to be detected. Whisperer tech, man – they were crazy, but they knew what they were doing.
- Speaking of which, another Commonwealth Jeep bites the dust offscreen. Has the budget for this last season decreased or…?
- Man, looks like Jerry is going to die, doesn’t it? Aaron and Lydia — even Jerry himself — made it seem like the last time they were going to see each other. Jerry even says, “See you on the other side.” But the reason he goes there is to help Elijah, Luke, and Jules, who are either dead, captured, or still trapped in hiding in the horde, and a single person couldn’t help them in any of those three situations.
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