There are spoilers ahead for this series finale review of The Walking Dead. If you’ve caught up with all twenty-three episodes of Season 11 of The Walking Dead and crave some more content, then make sure to take a look at our most recent review of “Family.”
The first ten minutes of this series finale, we get two big deaths. In those ten minutes, more like nine to be exact, the series says goodbye to a beloved and sadly forgotten character. Luke. Within a barricade set up by Commonwealth troopers, the Coalition forces contend with a handful of walkers. It’s quickly apparent that this finale will not pull its punches, with both Luke and Jules meeting their demises. Luke’s final moments in the abandoned Commonwealth hospital, surrounded by Yumiko, Magna, Connie, and Kelly, signify how heartbreaking his death is.
Furthermore, his death is significant concerning the relevance of his character. After surviving the fall of Oceanside to Lance Hornsby’s subjugation, an event left off-screen, Luke and Jules only returned one episode earlier. It’s easy to argue that their characters were only called back so they could provide some shock value for the big finale – and it’s probably true. It’s rare for me to say this, but I’ll miss these characters. With the hospital abandoned and supplies poached to protect Pamela within the Commonwealth estates, Judith is hanging on, dipping in and out of consciousness as Daryl gives her a blood transfusion to keep her alive.
Walkers breach the hospital, pulling the odd random extra into their clutches to demonstrate the severity of their challenge. The background actors seemingly reappear whenever a scene requires a death count without affecting its main cast, popping up like post-apocalyptic NPCs, and it’s difficult to figure out where they come from. Daryl sees one walker with a brick in its hand, and as a neat throwback to Season 1, the walker breaks the glass with the rock. It’s on the nose, but it works. If Daryl is set to encounter the variant walkers during his France spin-off, this sets up the next chapter in his story neatly.
The group get away in the nick of time, protected by their safety in numbers, years of collective experience in killing walkers, and a dash of plot armour for good measure. With so many characters scattered and far wide, the episode pulls us away every few minutes to drop in from one location to the next. Aaron and Lydia conveniently reconvene with other members of the Coalition, including Ezekiel, Maggie and Negan and board a military truck. Incredibly, despite losing an arm one episode ago, and a lot of blood in the process, Lydia’s doing remarkably fine. Plot armour, what else can I say?
Max and Princess break Mercer from a prison cell following his arrest, and all three groups converge inside a Commonwealth safe house. Tomi, Yumiko’s brother, treats Judith’s wounds, while Lydia struggles with Elijah’s absence, believing he may be dead. Aaron remains hopeful. When Judith comes around, Daryl calls her “little ass kicker,” a nickname he’d first adopted for Rick and Lori’s daughter in Season 3. It’s a sweet throwback to a better time. The focus pulls off Judith once she begins to recover, as the episode tracks forward with themes of family and unity for one last stand against the corrupt Pamela Milton, the Governor of the Commonwealth. Her downfall in this episode has been inevitable for some time, considering Pamela’s actions throughout this swansong season.
As panicked Commonwealth residents attempt to scale the walls into the estate for protection against a swarm of walkers (variants among them), Pamela’s troopers execute those who make it over. Mercer, inside the safe house, supported by yet another predictably empathic speech from Ezekiel, rallies together, uniting as one family to take down Pamela. With Maggie and Negan watching from a vantage point with a sniper (more on these two later), Mercer, his troopers, and the Coalition standoff against Pamela’s loyalists.
Walkers approach the gates (leaving plenty of time for more courageous and defiant moments from the group), including Gabriel walking up to the gates, with guns pointed at him, determined to open them and save the residents, whatever the cost. Once upon a time, he left people to die outside his church to save his life. How times have changed. Daryl gives a speech, proclaiming that they have one enemy and that they “ain’t the walking dead.”
The long-serving lead says Pamela built the Commonwealth to echo the old world order, which has caused so many problems today, telling the Governor that collectively they need to be better than what they are. It’s the same old speech, revised a touch or two, but its meaning is clear. The residents are saved and enter the Commonwealth before Pamela is arrested as her loyalists join Mercer. This is when Pamela spots Lance Hornsby, zombified with an arrow in his neck (having died in Episode 20), snarling and stretching out for her through the gates. Maggie kills Lance with her sniper and saves Pamela right before Lance can give her a quick nip.
With Pamela in a prison cell asking the Coalition how they’ll rise to the challenge of leadership in the Commonwealth, plans are hastily set in motion to destroy the estates with a depot full of fuel barrels and fuses running beneath the sewers. Similarly to the conclusion of the Whisperer War in Season 10, a PA system is used to divert the herds of walkers and lead them into the estates. We’ve got a bit of ‘Living Colour’ from Cult of Personality to play us out before the estates explode spectacularly. It’s a CGI-heavy moment – a sequence of destruction unseen in The Walking Dead. The final shot rises above the burning estates as we see the rest of the Commonwealth unaffected by the chaos. It’s an effective, entertaining way to destroy the swarm, yet everything from the planning to the execution of the sequence felt rushed and anti-climactic.
Now we’re going to go back to Negan and Maggie. Maggie is determined to kill Pamela, but Negan intervenes. He steals her weapon to take the burden from Maggie, telling her that he’s prepared to act to protect her, knowing that the implications of killing Pamela will be huge. The fallout of such an act is not something Negan wants for Maggie. He further acknowledges how it must have felt for Maggie to watch Negan kill Glenn since he was nearly executed by the Warden’s troopers in Episode 22, and as such, he apologises for Glenn’s death. After Pamela’s fall, Negan and Maggie speak again.
She tells him she’ll never be able to forgive him for his actions and will never love anyone the way she loved Glenn. She says every time she looks at Negan, she is reminded of that fateful night, from his bat and Negan’s tormenting attitude towards the group. She knows Negan’s trying to change, and so is she, but some wounds will never heal. These scenes between Cohan and Dean Morgan are some of the most powerful in the episode. This leaves a door open (fractionally) for the New York spin-off, but it is hard to see where they can take this story since this finale effectively serves as a worthy conclusion.
Another of the finale’s biggest talking points, is Rosita’s death. One of The Walking Dead’s top billers, Rosita’s demise is a surprise, but it calls into question the relevance of it all. Her death, in one opinion, is a statement on the legacy of what comes after for her family and future generations of the Commonwealth. Rosita’s daughter will grow up and learn of her mother’s story on the night Pamela Milton fell, the importance of family and unity in the face of one enemy, etc. However, Rosita’s death feels a tad…, nonessential. Much like Luke and Jules, it feels as if Rosita’s exit has been incorporated into the story for nothing more than shock value.
They need to kill some characters to make this finale seem epic, so there we go – that’s the logic for her demise, probably. Much like the majority of the secondary cast, Rosita fell into the background, offering little to the story. Her final scenes with Eugene, who professes his love for her, whispering to Gabriel that she’s going to die, her eventual death, and Eugene laying flowers at her memorial one year later were beautifully written and handled delicately. Narratively, it’s a bit confusing. Rick’s death, on the other hand, if Andrew Lincoln had survived this far, would have felt worthy to conclude The Walking Dead. This death does not.
Before we move on to the most significant moment of the episode, let’s recap what else happened. We have sweet, wholesome moments, such as a toast to Luke (no reference to Jules – ouch) at a celebratory dinner as the Coalition laugh and drink and chat to Yumiko and Magna’s reconciliation and kiss. Daryl’s appreciative nod to Negan, Eugene’s baby with Max, and Judith’s compass and letter from Negan to help her achieve her dreams. Mercer is now a Lieutenant Governor alongside Ezekiel, who rightfully takes on the leadership role since he considered the Commonwealth his home after the fall of the Kingdom.
The Alexandrians are reunited, and it’s all warm and gooey, and truth be told, some of the weakest, awkward dialogue you’ll ever hear in The Walking Dead. Maggie wants to talk about the “future” with Daryl, a likely reference to her New York adventure, while Daryl heads off on his bike for new shores. It’s ambiguous, but that’s what you expect from this series nowadays. The archer says goodbye to his bestie Carol, who now has the late Lance Hornsby’s job, and rides off. He tells Judith if he can find Rick and Michonne, he’ll bring them back. There’s even a cheeky cameo from director Greg Nicotero as a walker as Daryl rides away to a new adventure.
Now, we need to talk about Andrew Lincoln. A trending topic on Google implied Rick Grimes would be making a comeback since his exit in Season 9, so for me, the appearance of Officer Friendly was a guaranteed certainty. We know a Rick/Michonne spin-off begins filming in 2023, but the five-minute epilogue in the finale sees Lincoln and Gurira reprise their roles before the credits roll. Separated and charting different parts of the world, a CRM helicopter hunts Rick outside what looks like Atlanta, and Michonne is on horseback heading for a swarm of walkers.
Lincoln’s voiceover reflects on those they’ve lost and those they left behind as a montage of The Walking Dead’s most iconic characters occupies the screen. We’ve got Dale, Shane, T-Dog, Lori, Glenn, Daryl, Deanna, and many more. Rick is forced to surrender beneath the descending chopper and sends messages in bottles down a river. The final shot of the series shows Judith and RJ watching from the walls of a new Commonwealth settlement, looking out at lavender fields, rolling hills, and a bright, promising future.
In summary, this episode gets a nine out of ten. Rick and Michonne’s return, the explosive ending to Pamela Milton’s rule, and Negan and Maggie’s interactions were the highlights. The low points include the deaths of Rosita, Luke, and Jules, the handful of awkward happy-ever-after scenes filling the final ten minutes, to Judith and Lydia’s shared life-and-death subplots going absolutely nowhere.