Before you read on, there are spoilers ahead for this week’s review of The Walking Dead. “Out of the Ashes”, the fifth episode of this final season delves deeper into the desperation striking at the heart of Alexandria’s collapsing community, and the bleak state of things is illustrated best through Aaron. Ross Marquand’s performance as one of Alexandria’s longest-serving members is arguably one of the strongest elements of the episode, if not the series, and in this week’s instalment, the former Alexandria recruiter is about to reach his breaking point.
Plagued by a stylish nightmare sequence featuring a host of the show’s most established bad guys, notably the Saviors, Whisperers, and a surprise appearance from Owen, a Wolf last seen fleeing Alexandria following their assault in Season 6, Aaron is about to reach his wit’s end, determined at any cost to protect the failing community and most importantly, to maintain a stable, secure environment for his daughter, Gracie, in the apocalypse.
Considerations are beginning to be made by those within the walls about abandoning the settlement (and it’s probably closer than we think), but Aaron is resolute in his hope to keep Alexandria going despite the radical alterations to life within the walls in the fallout from the Whisperer War. Aaron and a small group later return to Hilltop, what’s left of it, to scavenge, and discover a small group of Whisperers holed up within the cellars.
As the Whisperers escape the Hilltop, Aaron, consumed with paranoia and fear for his daughter and the community, interrogates a Whisperer called Keith (really?) into revealing their location, and if there are more Whisperers out there. Something tells me that, despite the majority of the Whisperers falling over a ravine at the end of Season 10, there may be more left lurking among the undead hordes.
It’s pretty dark for Aaron, but with walkers breaking down the walls and killing residents, it’s clear the survivors cannot withstand another attack from the undead, let alone another group of big bad human beings. Keith is spared as Carol reminds Aaron of all she’d lost and how far she was willing to go to avenge Henry’s death throughout Season 10 before Keith reveals that Connie, is in fact still alive. With a new mission, our group heads off again, and for Carol, towards a shot at redemption in bringing Connie home.
Let’s talk a little bit about Judith. The youngest, and last of the Grimes family is at her best in this episode. Times are tough for the Alexandrians, if not more so for the only surviving member of the Grimes clan. With Rick, Lori, Carl, and Michonne long gone, Judith battles on regardless, revealing her inner Rick as she comes to face off against a particularly obnoxious kid (considering they must be beginning to starve, these kids can be real jerks).
A family memento of Carl’s handprints is later damaged, presumably by the same obnoxious so and so’s. It’s perhaps the only physical reminder of Carl and the family Judith lost so long ago, and it feels like an injustice to watch the most important character after Rick and Carl become swept aside and largely forgotten about.
Elsewhere, in the Commonwealth, and the show’s last major story arc is beginning to gather momentum. A corny orientation video reveals Lance Hornsby, the director of operations at the Commonwealth, a smarmy, dead-eyed Mayor type in a suit welcoming new residents to the community. It’s all too perfect and innocent, and there are some Governor vibes about him. If he has a room full of severed heads, then we know he’s certainly bad news. If there’s one trope we’ve come to remember best in The Walking Dead, it’s that if things appear too good to be true, then something’s undoubtedly wrong.
With more than 50,000 people within the expansive settlement, it’d have to be something short of a miracle for them to survive as long as they have without encountering bandits or god help us, another Savior type situation. Perhaps on the side, they’re paying off a big bad group with cantaloupes to appease a bat-wielding tyrant.
Suffice to say, it’s best not to trust Lance Hornsby. As Eugene and the group are given job assignments and housing, they realise their progress in getting help from Alexandria is hindered, and they put a plan in motion to contact those back at Alexandria. As we come to suspect Stephanie’s ploy of sneaking Eugene into the radio tower is merely a ruse to reveal Alexandria’s location, Eugene and the others are arrested and due to stand before a judge in a hearing at the Commonwealth. Fortunately, they have a fancy British lawyer to defend their case. Enter Yumiko.
Speaking of, Yumiko is this week reunited with her brother Tomi (Ian Anthony Dale). Looking past Dale’s awkward British accent (as unusual as Ritchie Coster’s southern drawl from last week’s “Rendition”), Tomi is a baker and content with his life, but something tells me the homely, happy facade is as dodgy as Dale’s British accent.
Some intriguing crumbs for thought come in the form of Margot Bingham’s first fleeting appearance as Stephanie. Yes, the real one, not Stephanie the spy (Chelle Ramos). Eugene previously shared a conversation on the radio about Rocky Road ice cream with Stephanie, before later encountering a woman in the Commonwealth by the name of Max. As luck would have it, Max collects an ice cream order. This is where Eugene asks if one of the flavors she’s collected is Rocky Road. Max says nothing, and instead gives an awkward glance at Stephanie. Will Eugene begin to suspect, and eventually find out that Max is the real Stephanie? Let’s hope so.
We also see the first signs of Princess/Mercer romance coming into play (Mercer’s reaction to Princess’ compliment about his eyelashes is priceless and meme-worthy). Maggie and Negan, meanwhile, remain at odds about their mission to Meridian and fighting the Reapers. As they arrive at a prearranged rendezvous point, the two come close to blows.
Negan’s realist views on their situation clash with Maggie’s optimism and faith in waiting for the others of the group. If there is, however, one thing they’ll both agree on, it’s that neither will come to accept each other any time soon. That being said, their storyline makes for some thrilling entertainment.
“Out of the Ashes”, as an episode, is like two sides of a coin. We’re offered more light on the inner workings of the Commonwealth, a peaceful utopia for all those that make it past a rigorous interrogation process, but at the same time, reminded of the bleak reality of the world beyond the walls, highlighting how dangerous people can be, and how fear and paranoia in desperate times can affect even the most stable of us.
What do you think of the eleventh season of The Walking Dead so far? Give us your thoughts in the comment section below!