‘The Walking Dead’: The Commonwealth Shows Its True Colors (RECAP)
[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 11, Episode 13, “Warlords.”]
We all knew it was too good to be true, right?
Granted, signs that the Commonwealth was up to no good were appearing earlier on in the season than in “Warlords,” but in this Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Gabriel (Seth Gilliam)-centric hour, it becomes abundantly clear that the new community — or at least, the faction of it that’s under Lance Hornsby’s (Josh Hamilton) thumb — is bad, with a capital “B.” And also brutal, with a capital “B.” Here’s how it happens.
At Hilltop, Lydia (Cassady McClincy) and her friends have a grim encounter with a dying man on horseback. He has a Commonwealth checkpoint pamphlet on him, and his dying words are that Lydia “has to go” and that “they’re slaughtering them.” Maggie (Lauren Cohan) heads out to investigate, taking Lydia and Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari) with her. They go to investigate the Commonwealth checkpoint to find Aaron covered in blood, running and screaming for their attention.
Earlier, Aaron and Gabriel took part in a recruitment mission to invite a group of people living in a crumbling apartment building to the Commonwealth. After seeing the place — how boarded-up and generally unwelcoming it was — Aaron and Gabe had their reservations, but Aaron’s do-gooder boss, Toby (Jason Butler Harner), basically told them to suck it up and go inside.
They are stripped of their weapons, then they meet with the group’s leader, a guy named Ian (Michael Biehn). At first, it seems like he’s Pope 2.0, but he’s even crazier; he points out that the wall of skulls behind his guests are the heads of people who’d wronged his group… and if Aaron and his friends are there to wrong them, they’re next. Things escalate, and all of a sudden Aaron’s do-gooder boss pulls out a gun and shoots all the guards with ease, and he also wounds Ian so that he can’t escape.
Then we get a flashback to an earlier point in time, where Hornsby and Toby meet. Hornsby lays out the real mission, which Aaron and Gabe never knew about. They’re really at the apartment complex to recover a shipment of weapons that Hornsby had sent out and lost, and he believes the warlords stole. At first, Toby refuses to do it: He’s ex-CIA and likes being retired. Charmingly, Lance reminds him that “that can be taken from you.” So, he goes.
In the present, Toby takes Ian and tortures him for information about the guns, which the man insists they never had. Eventually, Toby shoots him and then mocks his corpse (yikes). Gabriel, who tried to stop him from torturing the guy, is kept under watch as he leaves… and Aaron follows him outside, where’s he’s just shot the guy who shows up at Hilltop at the start of the episode. Aaron tries to fight him, but they’re interrupted by soldiers, and in the commotion, he escapes. Then when Toby gets back Gabe’s gone, and the Commonwealth soldier guarding him is dead.
Then we get a flashback to Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) — yay! — who, as it turns out, is part of the Riverbend group and is friends with one of its people, a woman named Annie. They ran into the guy just before he was shot, and Negan told him how to find Hilltop. Negan and Annie snuck in to get Gabriel out of there, and they killed the guards. Toby returns and decries that he “can’t turn his back for one minute.” Not with Negan around, you can’t!
After that, Toby starts rounding up the warlords and throwing them off the roof if they don’t give up the location of the weapons (which they truly, really don’t have). While all of this is happening, Annie convinces their people to fight back, because they know the building better than the soldiers. Negan, Gabriel and the rest of her people go to work… and Maggie, Aaron, Lydia and Elijah arrive to help.
- Another solid installment in what’s proving to be a very solid half (third?)-season. “Warlords” timeline is a little tricky, but the plot twists and timing of each revelation is excellent.
- Also excellent: the addition of Ozark’s Jason Butler Harner as a new villain. He plays this role so well; it was easy to believe him as the “good guy” boss, but also as the ruthless CIA assassin. The Commonwealth is giving us some incredible bad guys!
- Also excellent: Maggie’s conversation with Lydia and Elijah in the car. “These people haven’t been tested in ten years,” she tells them. “Do you want to be there when they are?” While I don’t necessarily agree with her decision-making at this point, this episode helped me understand why she’s doing what she’s doing, and I respect it.
- With Gabe’s actions and prominence in this episode, and the fact that the midseason finale is called “God,” I’m concerned for him. I’d rather he didn’t die — he and Aaron make such a great duo.
- Hopefully, we get some flashbacks to reveal how Negan ended up with the Riverbend people. Maybe next episode.
- I’ve seen the theory floating around that Leah (Lynn Collins) has the weapons, which I would believe. She was in the 11B trailer but we have yet to see her, and her having the weapons would be a good way to re-introduce her.
- Rating: 4.5/5. The flashbacks were tough to follow at times, but “Warlords” is suspenseful, gritty and brings the darkness at the core of the Commonwealth to the forefront.
The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC