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The Walking Dead 11.23 Review – ‘Family’

November 13, 2022 | Posted by Katie Hallahan
The Walking Dead 11-23 Maggie Image Credit: Jace Downs/AMC
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The Walking Dead 11.23 Review – ‘Family’  

This week on The Walking Dead, hell yes, these are the gut punches to the feels I’ve been waiting for! Our survivors have taken up arms to save their future once again, and literally everyone is in danger.

Image Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

The plot: Everyone in Alexandria is gearing up for the fight, and Judith isn’t going to left out. She arms herself, hands off the Grimes hat to RJ, and reminds Daryl & Carol that she’s coming to fight for the future her family has always fought for, to make the world better for everyone. The group returns to the train to fast travel back to the Commonwealth, on the way making contact and arranging a meet-up with Mercer. Mercer has gotten Eugene hidden away in an empty apartment, but the plan to give Pamela the boot hits a snag when she calls in another herd brought close enough to the walls to trigger a lockdown emergency and get the protestors off the streets. Eugene takes out a trooper doing door-to-door searches and slips out into the empty streets while Yumiko and Max head to Union Station to meet up with the other survivors as they come in. Meanwhile, Aaron, Jerry, Lydia and friends are mixed in with the approaching herd and find an RV to slip into, but some of them aren’t able to get away from the pull of the herd to do so, and Lydia is bitten trying to get Elijah inside. Jerry and Aaron have to cut her arm off to stop the infection from spreading, and Jerry later goes back out into the herd to find the others. Mercer is arrested at the wall just before it’s discovered that there are climbers among this herd, one of which scales the supports and kills the trooper near the controls, causing him to trigger the gates opening as he dies. The survivors reach Union Station, but it’s a trap and Pamela’s personal black ops guard start firing on them to take them all out. Pamela herself joins in and ends up shooting Judith when she saves Maggie from being hit, stunning the governor into fleeing the scene. When Pamela then hears about the herd, she instructs the troopers to protect the Estates (aka the rich people) and divert the herd to the lower wards (aka the poors) to buy time. The survivors race through the wards to get Judith help at the clinic only to find they’re being penned in with the herd that has reached the city itself, and only Daryl and the dying Judith slip away while the others are surrounded.

Image Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

The Walking Dead has always known how to do an emotional gut punch that catches you off-guard, and tonight was a final reminder of that. In all my guesses and plot calculations on who was most likely to die, or even to be grievously injured or threatened, Judith Grimes never entered my mind. Which is why it’s without doubt the best choice from a story perspective: Judith is someone who is clearly innocent, who is loved by all, respected even, who has pulled off that miracle of being a precocious but not aggravating child character. The reasons for that range from writing to acting to directing and never relying too heavily on the character as a focal point, any show looking to have a well-loved young character should study how they used and portrayed Judith. But damn, the absolute gut punch of her being shot had my jaw on the floor, and I’m legitimately unsure if she’s going to live or not.

After all, the hat has officially been passed to RJ now, and all previous bearers of it have been lost (for varying definitions of ‘lost’) while saving others. Judith pushed Maggie out of the way from taking a bullet–is it her time to go? Is the death of a young girl at the hands of Pamela Milton, on top of her fuck-ups leading to the herd getting inside the walls and her choices after that to protect the elite at the expense of the common citizens, going to be what finally brings an end to the governor’s reign in the Commonwealth? I’d been thinking that was more likely to be Eugene or Ezekiel with how the season’s been shaking out, and while I don’t think those two are necessarily safe, Judith’s death would be a chilling and striking symbol that would no doubt rally the people.

I am, however, hoping that her injury at Pamela’s hands will be enough instead, though. Judith dying, so young, without ever seeing her parents again, without even a proper goodbye to her brother, would be absolutely heartbreaking.

Image Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

But first, they need to survive the battle before they can get to the revolution! This group has faced horrible odds plenty of times, even with a sizeable herd. The first arc of Season 6 was entirely focused on taking out a herd that threatened Alexandria, and it took all of them fighting as one to save the town. Can they pull off another miracle like that here? Coordinate the people of the Commonwealth to take up arms and fight off the herd? It’s a high ask, but if they don’t get help, there’s no way they can survive this, and that goes both ways. If Mercer gets free, of course, it’s possible some troopers will rebel with him and go to the rescue of the lower wards. Of course, they’ve also got the new breed of walker to watch out for, too–even staying indoors and above the ground floor won’t help them now. I wasn’t loving the introduction of climbers, and I’m still not entirely sold on them, but I will say that easing into working them into the fabric of the show has been done fairly well. They showed us in one episode just how dangerous they can be with how close Aaron’s group came to being wiped out with just one of them present. This herd has several, and at least one of them has a knife! For the unprepared who think they know how walkers work, the climbers are a huge threat.

Image Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

That said…okay, here are my gripes with the episode. Overall, because TWD generally handles details so well and generally handles everything so well, I’m fine giving these a pass. They’ve played fast and loose with some stuff, especially timelines, in this last arc but they have a lot of goodwill in my book. However, in this episode a few things stuck out to me more than usual. One, how is trooper armor so bad at protecting from walker attacks? Every trooper in full armor, helmet included, has managed to get bitten! Today’s egregious example is the trooper in the tower who ends up opening the gates. I mean, he even had his helmet on! I suppose one could say the climbers are also better able to target exposed flesh maybe? It’s a weak excuse at best, though. Second, while the exact location of the Commonwealth is unknown, we do know it’s in Ohio. We also know that Aaron & co have been blending into the walker herd since they were outside Oceanside, roughly near Alexandria. It is over 400 miles from Alexandria, VA to the lowest tip of Ohio. That’s over 5 days of straight walking! How the hell have they been walking in this herd, non-stop, for more than 5 days?! It’s too much to accept without comment. These things aren’t getting in the way of my enjoyment of the last few episodes, but they are breaking the suspense of disbelief a little. Dramatically, I don’t mind, but usually this show nails things like this much more cleanly.

Image Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

Okay, moving on, but sticking with the herd, another heart wrenching moment I did not expect? Lydia gets bitten! This was shocking enough, as though she hasn’t been through enough in her life, but Lydia’s desperation to not leave Elijah alone to the point of not caring about her fate was crushing. But the cry-on-command moment of all of this is Aaron telling her, with full sincerity in this dark moment, “You are so loved, Lydia.” That hit me squarely in the feels, as I realized this is something that Lydia has probably never been told in her entire life. Rarely has she even been comforted when in pain, and without hesitating, Aaron and Jerry stepped up and were the perfect apocalypse dads here. In a fast-moving episode and a frantic scene, it was a beautiful moment.

Another ‘cue the sobbing’ moment happened in a much quieter scene, this time on the train. There were a number of quick but heartfelt emotional moments here: Kelly, Connie, Princess, and Magna forgiving Tyler, telling him he can still make a difference; Gabriel gazing at Rosita with such love as she laid out the plan to save their daughter, telling her how faith he has in her; Daryl, Carol and Judith talking about remembering their loved ones and plans to tell Judith more about all the people who’ve loved her. All of them, good reminders of the found family at the core of this show, the thing that’s made it tick and last this long, and the things they believe in and want to fight for.

Image Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

But the one that got me was Negan and Ezekiel; Negan asks Ezekiel why he saved him, and in true Ezekiel fashion, there’s a bit of bite in there, but mostly it’s just him being the good man he’s always been, inspiring others to be the same. Going out a martyr was too easy, he says, which echoes the warden’s words but far more kindly, and he goes on to add that Negan having to live on and make something positive of his life would keep him, Ezekiel, from being so angry at what he lost, would keep him from living in bitterness. In a way it’s Ezekiel choosing himself over Negan, and that could be called selfish, but I don’t think it is. Ezekiel doesn’t like Negan, he never will and he’s told what he thinks he deserves. All of that’s true, and yet, that isn’t the kind of man he is or wants to be. He doesn’t want to be the man who gives in to that anger, who dwells in that bitterness and lets that rule his life. It’s his version of choosing mercy over wrath. He’s the one who faces these things… and yet he smiles. “The dead came for me, and yet I smile. War came for me, yeah, and yet I smile. Cancer. Yet I smile.” They brought back “And yet I smile”! Cue, again, the tears. A beautiful callback and reminder of who this man is, and the perfect and unexpected layer to this is that he’s saying it to Negan. The very man who prompted his infamous “And yet I smile” speech, now on the receiving end of it. And you can tell it’s sinking in–Negan smiles. He admits that he gave himself up in an effort to do something good, to be better than the stories that people remember of him so far, to save people he knows are better than he is. So that his kid would know “when it mattered, I did something right.”

Image Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

It’s also interesting that Maggie clearly overhears this entire exchange. We don’t hear her thoughts on any of it, but I think this will factor in later. Especially since earlier, Negan came to her to emphasize that as long as Pamela lives, none of them are safe, and to suggest that the two of them could go in and get this thing done without endangering the others. Maggie rejects this, possibly largely because of the implied ‘we’. But this is also something that they all once believed about Negan, but Rick made the very specific choice to not kill him, to show that there was another way forward. Maggie left because Rick made that choice, because she couldn’t stand to be in a place where the man who killed Glenn was allowed to live, yet here they are, Negan a very changed man, who even saved her son’s life. All this has me wondering just what will Pamela’s fate be, between the reminders about thinking to the future, of the ability of even the very worst people to change, and in last week’s episode, the ideals of law and justice being at the forefront. Pamela has represented a very skewed and corrupt kind of law and order, but that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for what those words ought to really mean, and what they could still mean yet. It’s Pamela’s system who sentenced a man to death, after all–the system that opposes her, that would do better, would need to be one that would not make the same choice.

Image Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

Speaking of Pamela, here’s someone who only gets worse under pressure. I don’t think that, deep down, Pamela is as terrible as she’s being right now. But I do think she’s selfish and self-serving to the point of being a terrible choice for public office, to say the least. I’m by no means saying she should get a pass, but I do see the series of events that have lead to spiral of ever worsening decisions. Her hold on the Commonwealth has been threatened by outsiders, one of her own people, Hornsby, who had been loyal for years turned on her, her son’s failings piled up and then ultimately lead to his gruesome and public death, and now she’s facing an outright potential revolution, and an actual walker herd on top of possibly having killed a child! Even with her anger at her son and treatment of him, his loss is still enormous and extremely personal, and all of these things have thrown her own failings in her face again and again. Someone owning up to their failures and being willing to learn from them and turn things around, as Negan is trying to do, is extremely rare. Pamela’s reaction, on the other hand, is far more likely: doubling down, fingers in her ears, refusing to listen to any counsel telling her to change her position, and then taking what looks like a perfect solution to keep her hands “clean”. After all, the walker herd cleaning out the lower ward will conveniently kill anyone protesting her decisions of late, won’t it?

Again, none of these are excuses. She’s a villain, hands down. But she’s also human, and these things make it easy to see how she ended up here.

Image Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

So now, for the last time, our TWD family is facing impossible odds and a dire situation. Everyone’s life is on the line. There are innocents at stake, children being shot, emotional gut punches, the dead being wielded as a weapon against them by a government that’s tried to label itself as a return to the safety and civility of the ‘old world’, and in the middle of it all, our survivors, fighting for their lives and for the future. Because it’s not just about surviving, it’s also about what comes after.

Who do you think will live? Who will die? What will happen to Pamela, and to the Commonwealth, when this is all over? What are your hopes for the epic finale of this show? What other callbacks do you hope we get, what cameos (if any)? Think we’ll see or hear Michonne or Rick before the credits roll? Sound off in the comments below and join me here next week, one last time!

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
A true return to form for this show, this episode had it all: tense action, lives at risk, perfect callbacks, emotional and heartbreaking moments, and twists that legit made me gasp aloud. The previous episodes put the pieces in place and this episode has begun to knock them down for its final tour de force. A few stretches of believability hamper it, but the tension, twists, and execution are otherwise some of the best we've gotten from TWD.

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The Walking Dead, Katie Hallahan