There are spoilers ahead for this review of The Walking Dead. This week’s episode is a bit slow – until the final ten minutes, after which it isn’t. There’s a character death in this episode that comes as a surprise. Not only in the execution but in the significance of their demise. More on that to come. It’s Founders Day, an annual Commonwealth event to celebrate the people and longevity of the sanctuary. A place still standing, through thick and thin, blood, gore, and bullets, all these years later. As preparations get underway inside, Lance Hornsby and his forces have Daryl’s group surrounded, and a poorly-executed ambush leaves them outnumbered.
There’s another F-bomb in the opening scene, followed by what’ll become one of Daryl’s more memorable moments. As Mercer and Pamela break up the conflict and instigate a new deal between the communities, Daryl stabs Lance through the hand to ensure he gets some form of revenge on the Deputy of the Commonwealth. If he’s not permitted to kill Lance, he can at least hurt him, and he does so spectacularly. As the series taps the brakes on Lance’s takeover campaign, everyone else takes stock of the new situation.
With Lance stricken of his titles and facing a trial as the fall guy for Sebastian Milton’s actions, the Commonwealth offers Daryl’s group the resources and supplies they’d need to rebuild their communities and cut ties with the Commonwealth once and for all. Not everyone, however, wants in on the deal. Ezekiel, for one, decides to stay in the Commonwealth. It’s his place, he says, and a chance at a new life, later referring to his former fallen home, the Kingdom, last seen in the finale of Season 9.
Meanwhile, an enraged Max is determined to see Sebastian pay for his actions from Episode 14, despite Pamela publicly playing it down and letting Lance take the fall. As Sebastian begrudgingly rehearses a pre-written speech for Founders Day, Max successfully records him lamenting the values of the Commonwealth, ridiculing the poor, and championing the rich for being able to do whatever they want. With Sebastian set to make a big speech in front of the Commonwealth public, most of us can already see where this is going. As Sebastian takes to the stage and addresses the crowd, the recording plays, and the celebrations descend into chaos. But for more than one reason.
Despite languishing in a prison cell, Lance has hired his two best spies (who, as it turns out, are also hired assassins), Calhoun and Shira (fake Stephanie) to kill a group of lowly Commonwealth janitors. None of them, however, are shot in the head, indicating that they’ll reanimate. Sure enough, they come back to life just in time to cause absolute carnage during the Founders Day celebrations. Scarily, slimy Lance still has the power to orchestrate chaos in the Commonwealth from a prison cell while enjoying a toffee apple. Lance further suggests that ‘alliances’ made to serve the Commonwealth could run into problems in the event of something happening to him. The scene is cloudy on the details, but there’s a suggestion of the Civic Republic Military’s involvement, a massive group established in The Walking Dead: World Beyond.
The crowds scatter, Commonwealth residents are attacked, and Mercer and his men rally into action. At the same time, Judith takes Rick’s gun to defend the Commonwealth, neatly bringing her episode arc full circle as she embraces the past to protect the present. Much like the Alexandrians during Season 5, most of the Commonwealth residents within the safety of the walls are utterly unprepared for the threats they suddenly face. This adds to the panic and confusion and a wave of deaths.
An enraged Sebastian, meanwhile, hunts down Max and attempts to kill her for releasing the recording. With a walker bearing down on Max, Eugene steps in and throws the walker on Sebastian, who is fatally bitten and dies. As a crowd begins to gather around Sebastian, the implications of his death sink in, particularly for Eugene. In saving Max from the walker, his actions indirectly lead to Sebastian’s demise. The timing of his death is also unexpected when one considers the outcome of the comic books.
So, the highlights. We’ve got Daryl’s stabbing Lance through the hand with his big ol’ knife pre-credits moment. This is a scene to be remembered. It’s arguably one of Daryl’s ‘Ricktator’ moments, and it pays off. Speaking about the former Sheriff of Atlanta, Rick’s Python revolver makes an appearance in the episode. Judith struggles with the legacy of what her father’s gun represents, and despite her early reluctance to take it back, when the time comes, Rick’s only surviving daughter is ready to take on the mantle from her father. This has to be the main highlight of the episode, supported by another monologue from Judith.
The emphasis on Judith’s character in this episode brings me back to an earlier argument made in these reviews that Judith became one of the most underutilised characters in the series. As Rick’s only surviving daughter, she’s been sidelined more often than not. Other highlights include Negan and Annie’s pregnancy scan, to the increasing class-divide tensions within the Commonwealth.
The series brings back a wealth of familiar faces, notably Lydia and Elijah, who have now begun a relationship. Not much to write about here. The plot is an off-screen storyline to fill in the gaps. Lacklustre. Like the majority of the secondary cast, the audience is left to assume and fill in the blanks for themselves. Gabriel delivers a sermon to an empty church, and Rosita pushes a baby buggy around in her free time from Commonwealth soldier duties. These once vibrant, interesting characters are just not that interesting anymore, and there’s not much else to say about them.
“A New Deal” dials down on the pacing and plods through narrative beats at a comfortable rate before carefully ramping up the ante for the third act, where the episode shines at its best. In a savage and relentless sequence of chaos and bloodshed, the surprise is not in the perfectly crafted twists and turns but in that the dead felt more threatening in this scene than they’d done for most of the season. The significance of Sebastian’s death cannot be overstated, considering his role in the comic book source material and the direction in which the showrunners have decided to go for the TV series.
For more The Walking Dead content, check out last week’s review of “Lockdown”. What do you think of the eleventh season of The Walking Dead at this stage? Give us your thoughts in the comment section below!