Review: The Walking Dead Season 11, Episode 14 – “The Rotten Core”

There are spoilers ahead for this week’s review of The Walking Dead“The Rotten Core” serves as the second of an unofficial two-parter with last week’s “Warlords”. A rogue unit of Commonwealth soldiers, led by Toby Carlson, a former CIA operative, locks down a building complex while searching for stolen weapons. Maggie leads a small group into the building to find Gabriel and take down the Commonwealth unit as all hell breaks loose and Toby runs amok.

The episode echoes the raid on the Saviors satellite post from Season 6 as Maggie, Aaron, Lydia and Elijah stealthily evade Toby’s teams through hallways and secret rooms. It’s an episode full of high stakes at the complex and elsewhere with the Commonwealth B-plot that we’ll get to later. For now, we’ll stick with the A-plot. Toby reports back to Lance at the Commonwealth. With the complex secure Toby’s team remain no closer to retrieving a cache of stolen weapons. Hiding out in a secret room, Maggie’s group reunites with Gabriel and learns of Negan’s allegiance to the cult, along with his wife Annie.

With the two warring factions relatively evened out, they plan to sweep the place floor by floor, recover survivors and find a way out together. As sounds of bloodshed echo through the complex, Maggie learns that Annie is pregnant with Negan’s child. Stunned, Maggie is then forced to contend with the realisation that Hershel, her son, is in the building too. After being saved by Negan, Maggie has to trust, if she can, the man who killed her husband to protect her son. While Annie is aware of Negan’s past, she believes that Negan is a changed man and one that’ll protect Maggie’s son at all costs.

Negan and Hershel and a Phone - The Walking Dead.
Negan and Hershel and a Phone – The Walking Dead. (Pic: AMC).

In one of the best scenes of the series, Negan reveals to Hershel that he’d killed his father. Hershel pulls a gun onto the former Savior tyrant, relenting out of fear of attracting unwanted attention from the Commonwealth soldiers. Negan affirms that in the future, they’ll settle their feud. This particularly dark chapter of the Commonwealth saga concludes with Toby and his team being ambushed on the roof by Maggie’s group. A vengeful Aaron pumps bullets into Toby, sending him falling from the roof. He’s left to be eaten half alive by the cult members, now turned that he pushed from the building roof in the previous episode.

I’m partly disappointed with Toby Carlson’s early exit from the show. Behind his charm and bravado, he was a likeable villain and a despicable one. With Lance waiting in the wings, it’s perhaps fitting that they focus their attention on one big bad rather than several. Toby Carlson however, is certainly one of the most original villains this series has seen. His death is further justified and appropriate considering his actions in the last episode. Maggie’s group prepare plans to help the survivors of the complex, expecting Lance to come searching for them. The question hanging over them remains, who stole the weapons that led to the Commonwealth raid on the complex in the first place. A flashback from two weeks earlier reveals that Leah, Daryl’s lover, and former Reaper, ambushed the convoy and killed the soldiers for their caches. 

Daryl and Rosita, in their daft Commonwealth trooper outfits, are informed by two soldiers, Alves and Castle, to clear a herd of undead at a Commonwealth perimeter point. Led out into a valley, Sebastian Milton, the King Joffrey of the apocalypse, instructs them to head down the valley and retrieve caches of money from the house. Not to mention the fact the house is surrounded on all sides by a herd of zombies. No problem. Sebastian has concocted this audacious scheme to simply support his lifestyle. Naturally, Daryl and Rosita are putting up red flags and initially refuse until Sebastian coolly threatens Daryl’s family. The archer concedes, and together with Rosita, they enter the house to find a woman called April. She, along with eleven others, had been sent to the house to retrieve money for Sebastian. With the group turning on each other, April found herself locked in the safe room as the power went off, leaving her trapped inside.

Daryl and Sebastian - The Walking Dead.
Daryl and Sebastian – The Walking Dead. (Pic: AMC).

As Daryl takes down a handful of zombies with no real sense of danger, they succeed in getting April out of the vault and recovering Sebastian’s money. However, an alarm is tripped, alerting the herd outside. Mercer and Carol, astonishingly, save the day. They shoot through the hordes and reach Daryl, Rosita, and April. Plot armor trumps real-world logic. How did Carol and Mercer shoot through the undead without the need to slather themselves in guts? The only way out involves a weak slathering of guts and a painfully slow crawl through a handful of zombies.

Once upon a time, these types of sequences were mildly nerve-wracking to watch. With the amount of plot armor protecting these characters, and not to mention the Commonwealth armor, we’re anticipating the inevitable. Sadly, the show says goodbye to April, who fails to take down four zombies with a knife in her hand. Got to imagine in that situation, despite the fear and panic, you’d at least attempt to fight back.

April, however, does nothing at all and simply falls over, taking them with her to be devoured. Daryl, Carol, and Mercer return with the money with the military commander looking ready to spill blood. He kills Alves and Castle for their actions, warning Daryl and Rosita to hand the money to Sebastian. He tells them it’ll be a fight they cannot win. Back home, a care-free Sebastian smugly collects his money, giving Daryl and Rosita a cut of the money for their work. After Carol discloses details of Sebastian’s despicable schemes on innocent people to Lance in his office, the slimy Commonwealth representative reveals that he had knowledge of the operation. Lance’s concern for the money rankles the most. It leaves Carol horrified and angry too.

Toby Carlson - The Walking Dead.
Toby Carlson – The Walking Dead. (Pic: AMC).

Pamela’s second-in-command hasn’t cared about Sebastian’s actions or the many innocent people killed as a result. Lance explains that innocent people made bad choices or disobeyed the rules imposed by the Commonwealth. Despite offering them a lifeline, Lance explains everyone has a part to play, which leads to the system falling apart. Carol plays along at the moment, but she’s silently fuming as she exits his office.

“The Rotten Core” is rotten all the way. Behind the champagne, fancy galas, and pomp and circumstance, the show’s exploration of the Commonwealth’s strict class system is illustrated best by Sebastian Milton. His utter disregard for human life and complete selfishness for money to satisfy his own lifestyle choices leaves a bitter taste. Teo Rapp-Olsson is superb in the role and plays the spoilt rich kid to perfection. His interactions with Daryl, particularly after bragging to Commonwealth soldiers, are some of the top highlights of the episode. He’s left with egg on his face as Daryl sarcastically applauds him.

The Commonwealth soldiers, and even Sebastian’s girlfriend, can’t help but laugh at Sebastian’s expense. Sebastian’s schemes further support Mercer’s development. He’s more and more likeable with each episode, a high-ranking figure within the Commonwealth who perhaps doesn’t favour the rank he serves. The conclusion to Toby’s raid on the cult complex was thrilling and gruesome. Toby’s death was justified, while Aaron’s act of revenge against the ex-CIA operative was even more so. “The Rotten Core”, in three words, is dark, despicable, and compelling. Plus, keep an eye out for Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s phone slip during his scene with Hershel. It’s in his back pocket. For more The Walking Dead content, check out last week’s review for “Warlords”. What do you think of the eleventh season of The Walking Dead at this stage? Give us your thoughts in the comment section below!

Maggie - The Walking Dead.
Maggie – The Walking Dead. (Pic: AMC).
Matt Bailey

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