As always, before you read on, there are spoilers ahead for this week’s review of The Walking Dead. AMC’s long-running horror drama ditches the desolate and storm-ridden Alexandria for the lavish, perfect sanctuary within the Commonwealth in “New Haunts”. Perhaps most surprisingly, there’s an absence of bottle episodes filmed within train cars and lengthy interrogation sequences. The group is scattered far and wide deep within the Commonwealth, and by the appearances alone, everything appears to be perfect. We’ve got Ezekiel petting rabbits, Carol baking cakes, Pamela Milton handing out candy floss, and Daryl taking the kids into a haunted maze full of undead actors.
It’s been thirty days since the group left Alexandria to join the Commonwealth, and on the surface level, everything seems homely and surreal. It’s a culture shock for not only those within the safe haven, but for the fans too, I’d imagine. At one point, we have Carol walking through a thriving hospital like a scene out of Grey’s Anatomy, we’ve got red carpets, swanky galas, and paparazzi snapping shots of Sebastian Milton.
There’s an unmistakable air of pomp and circumstance to proceedings, and the division in class is best illustrated during the episode’s third act at a flashy masquerade ball. Connie, who reclaims her past life as a journalist, openly questions the Commonwealth Governor, Pamela Milton, on the notable class divide at the event. Pamela breezes through Connie’s questions with confidence and a warm smile, while Max, her assistant, (and Eugene’s real ‘Stephanie’, yet to be discovered), keeps the crowds at arm’s length from Milton, including an overly keen Lance Hornsby who isn’t loved by many, and a waiter by the name of Tyler.
For those wondering if they’ve seen his face before, then they’d be right. Tyler is the Commonwealth soldier from the train car during Season 10’s bottle episode, “Splinter”. After Eugene and the group were captured by the Commonwealth and placed in train cars, Princess successfully overpowered the soldier. Tyler has been since stripped of his privileges and rank. Now he’s a waiter with a bitter grudge against Pamela Milton and a score to settle. An attempt at a civil conversation is bluntly rebuffed, and soon enough, it all kicks off. The first cracks of the perfect life within the Commonwealth begin to appear as Tyler takes Max hostage and cracks himself. He’s swiftly arrested by Daryl and returned to the ball, but it’s Sebastian who takes the credit for the arrest.
In his first appearance in “Promises Broken”, he was described as the King Joffrey of The Walking Dead. He holds true to that title, retaining a smug arrogance and stubborn self-entitled attitude. He immediately takes a dislike to Daryl at a personal weapons training session with a less than pleased Mercer running the show. Daryl saves Commonwealth’s top brat from a walker while Pamela passes by with a frosty, unimpressed glare.
Themes of economic inequality and a divide between rich and poor within the Commonwealth are prevalent throughout the episode, from a culture-shocked Judith asking Daryl for an allowance to a conversation between Rosita and Magna, in which they discuss the idea that life in the Commonwealth mimics the world pre-outbreak, particularly with the rich. Finally, in the final scene of the episode, Rosita, now a Commonwealth soldier in her daft Stormtrooper outfit, discovers a secret room during a raid on an apartment. Inside the room, she finds anti-Commonwealth propaganda, supports Tyler’s ramblings at the ball that there are others waiting to rise up.
Concerned, Pamela asks Lance if this could be true. He’s adamant it’s nonsense, but I wouldn’t be so sure. Life elsewhere outside of the Commonwealth can be at times, pretty gruelling. There’s the kill house, a training exercise for the Commonwealth military trainees run by Mercer, including Daryl and Rosita. In teams of two, Mercer tasks them to clear a house of walkers to succeed in the mission. This is all designed to push forward Daryl and Rosita’s story as they integrate into the Commonwealth military.
While Daryl trains with the military, he’s also got his eye on Connie (Lauren Ridloff). With Leah, the last of the Reapers and Daryl’s former lover in the wind, the archer is considering his romantic options. Connie’s at the top of the bill, and probably one of the only women in his life he’ll ever show interest toward, considering how one-note Daryl Dixon a character has been since about Season 4. Some might complain, but it’s true, and mercifully, it appears the writers are seeking ways to give Daryl a new dimension and a future with a wonderful woman.
Ridloff most recently appeared in Marvel’s Eternals. She had the gift of super speed and was awesome. In The Walking Dead, she’s adopted a pastime and returns to a career as a journalist. She has historical ties to Pamela Milton’s past, and there’s a suggestion that Connie will be fighting bigger battles against the Commonwealth, with a focus on the class divide storyline creeping into play. This could make for an exciting storyline if handled right. Season 11 exhausted every other narrative direction within a post-apocalyptic horror drama, particularly with the tiresome Reaper saga last year, so everything about the Commonwealth arc feels refreshing and engaging, especially if they push these narratives in the right direction.
Meanwhile, Carol is up to her old tricks again. Ever-observant, it’s not long before she’s figuring out the kinks of the Commonwealth, bargaining with those in power to help Ezekiel. Sadly, with such a large cast, Ezekiel has been sidelined in The Walking Dead, like many others, as he struggles with his thyroid cancer. Carol spies an underappreciated Lance Hornsby on a mission to select a fine wine for the masquerade ball to win favour with Pamela. Carol tracks down a rare bottle of wine and presents it to Lance in exchange for Ezekiel being bumped up on a waiting list for treatment.
According to Tomi, Yumiko’s brother, (and doctor), Ezekiel’s situation is not promising. If there’s one character you can bet money on exiting The Walking Dead before the show’s finale, it’ll be Khary Payton’s wonderfully enigmatic Kingdom leader. As for Carol, it appears to be the beginning of an alliance with Lance Hornsby, while she and Ezekiel share a reflective moment over a keepsake belonging to Henry and a glass of wine, suggesting that they’ll rekindle their romance before the end.
From one Commonwealth resident to another, let’s talk a bit about Mercer, ever-brooding and dashing in a suit. Despite some hesitation toward Daryl during the training exercises, he has a begrudging respect for the archer and wishes for him to build a life in the Commonwealth. Plus, after Tyler’s arrest, it’s clear Mercer knows Daryl was the one to bring Tyler in, while he quietly smirks in disdain at Sebastian’s smug antics during a weapons training session. Mercer is later suited and booted outside of the masquerade ball, and catches the eye of Princess in the crowd, asking her to attend the event with him. The Commonwealth may be steeped in rich grandiosity, but there’s a feeling that Mercer is in fact a lot more down to earth than those he answers to.
This episode packs a lot in three-quarters of an hour, and for the majority of the runtime, none of it felt rushed. That being said, the one-month time jump at the beginning of the episode was a surprise, and this cuts out the difficult transition period that you come to expect every time the group makes the move to a brand new, strange place, particularly one so heavily protected and unaffected by the outside world. I’m half-expecting Pamela Milton to reveal she’s secretly working for another rogue group of Savior types outside the Commonwealth. Nothing can be this perfect.
To conclude this review, “New Haunts” is a well-rounded, concise episode packed with healthy character development, political and social intrigue, a dashing of bloody action, Daryl in love again, and a reminder of why Carol is one of the best characters in The Walking Dead. What do you think of the eleventh season of The Walking Dead so far at the mid-season break? Give us your thoughts in the comment section below!