As always, before you read on, there are spoilers ahead for this review of The Walking Dead. The Commonwealth saga continues as we catch up this week with Eugene Porter. Surprisingly, the most inept survivor has evolved throughout the seasons into one of the leading characters of The Walking Dead’s final season. This week, he leads the story seeping with revelations and heartbreak. The fallout from these revelations is damning, as the Stephanie story reaches a dramatic conclusion, and secrets begin spilling out.
The show has delivered shocking twists throughout its history, but Episode 11 will not stand among the greats. Instead, this tragic, twisted love story resolves itself at a far later point in the series that many of us would probably like. Cast your mind back to Episode 2 of Season 11 as Stephanie introduced herself in the train car. Considering this is our final season, the showrunners have taken an age to resolve this plotline. The conclusion, however, has been delivered in style.
Eugene is happily integrated into his life at the Commonwealth, and he’s sharing this new life as a budding science fiction writer with Stephanie, the woman he first met on a radio at the Hilltop, or the woman the Commonwealth has led him to believe so. Eugene and Stephanie, by appearances, are in the perfect relationship. Stephanie is supportive of him and his dreams to be a screenwriter. He finds her reading his work as he wakes up, little realising that this woman is digging for information into his background as an Alexandrian.
He provides Stephanie with a key and proclaims his love for her, but this is the moment the cracks begin to show. This scene is painful to watch, and Chelle Ramos delivers the perfect mix of awkward sincerity. These sweet, tender moments are overcast by the foreboding feeling that very soon, the lies and reality of The Commonwealth’s deception will rear its ugly head.
Eugene returns to Stephanie’s apartment and finds her missing. A mysterious stranger, a plumber who goes by the name of Roman Calhoun (yeah, sure), leaves the apartment at the same time. Roman is a member of a rogue group within the community (hence the title) to remove Stephanie from the flat while Eugene picks up the pieces. Stephanie promptly vanishes to avoid the painful fallout from the lies constructed by the Commonwealth. The reasoning is vague other than a brief, coldly calculated speech later in the episode from Lance Hornsby. Eugene discovers that they’d installed Stephanie (whose real name is Shira) into Eugene’s life to manipulate him into revealing details about Alexandria before they arrived at the community.
The ruse, as we know, worked perfectly in the Commonwealth’s favour, and this leaves Eugene a broken-hearted shell of the former man he once was. Later, he burns his script and his files investigating Stephanie’s disappearance. At his absolute lowest point, Eugene’s offered a glimmer of hope in the form of a shadow behind him. A woman. We all know who this is. The woman is Max, who reveals intimate code words shared with Stephanie on the Hilltop radio. Max, as we know, is an assistant to Pamela Milton, caught in the standoff with Tyler from the last episode. More on this story a bit later. Unless this is another trick and the loop goes on and on forever. That would be funny, but Eugene has to catch a break.
As for the bigger picture, it remains unclear what Lance Hornsby intends to do. The under-appreciated second in command to Pamela Milton makes an interesting point to Carol that as a high-ranking representative of the Commonwealth, he has an inner knowledge of how everything works inside the Commonwealth. This, theoretically, makes him the most dangerous villain within this massive community. Plus, nobody would suspect a man everybody ignores.
Lance takes Carol out of the Commonwealth to a poppy farm, where they meet a group of farmers producing opium in the fields for hospital supplies provided to Commonwealth hospitals. Officially, this farm is an unofficial part of the Commonwealth. Lance and Carol have arrived to negotiate new terms with Moto, a farmer demanding higher prices in exchange for the opium they harvest. Nothing’s as simple as it seems. Carol takes on the task of finding out that Moto has been claiming pay rises from Lance instead of handing it out to the workers. To ensure their silence, Moto beats the workers.
This week, Connie is facing an uphill struggle with her editors to write the real story surrounding Tyler. A press release from Pamela Milton is unacceptable, and Connie is out to find the truth. In defiance, Connie investigates the story regardless. After a failed attempt to speak to Tyler at a Commonwealth hospital, where he remains under armed guard, the military keeps tight-lipped on the charges against Tyler.
Eventually, Connie confronts a bloodied Mercer, who takes down a group of walkers to save two largely incompetent Commonwealth soldiers (despite their training, they’re pretty useless). Connie plays her hand and reveals to Mercer that Max is Mercer’s sister. Now, how Connie reached this conclusion is unclear. Mercer is present at the hospital and scowls them away from Tyler’s hospital room, and that’s about it.
Later, Connie receives a mysterious note with a list of names. Tyler Davis is on the list. Meanwhile, Mercer discovers that Tyler has been transferred from the hospital ward without his approval, punching a wall in anger. There are more fearsome powers within the Commonwealth than Mercer and his military. My money would be on Lance.
To conclude this review, “Rogue Element” is a character-centric instalment into the Commonwealth saga led by a ferociously emphatic performance from Josh McDermitt (Eugene), who plays detective to discover his perfect love story has been a ruse for the betterment of the community. Josh Hamilton’s chillingly calm portrayal of Lance Hornsby makes his showdown with Eugene thrilling to watch, proving that Hornsby could be one of the show’s best antagonists in many years.
Mercer broods most of the time while he’s not saving his comrades from the undead, but the sibling revelation was a surprise, while Carol’s poppy farm B-plot was a bit tame and underwhelming. While “Rogue Element” focuses primarily on Eugene’s Stephanie story, it feels that everything else falls below standards.
Unfortunately, this has happened far more often since the show’s golden age faded away. Lastly, it’s important to mention that The Walking Dead’s Michael Cudlitz (who played Abraham through Seasons 4 to 7) directed “Rogue Element,” so it’s nice to see his name back in the credits.
For more The Walking Dead content, Flickluster recently reported that a new spin-off featuring Maggie and Negan would debut on AMC in 2023. 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!