Now that The Walking Dead season 11 has spent a few episodes getting us up to speed with the Commonwealth, it’s time for our characters to get down to business. “Warlords” sees Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) travel to Riverbend, a super-hostile community, with the aim of offering them a new life in the Commonwealth. The episode’s focus on one plotline featuring many of our favorite characters makes it probably the best episode of season 11 so far. Let’s dive in!
Here’s your SPOILER warning for this week.
Maggie, Elijah and Lydia
We begin at the Hilltop, where Lydia (Cassady McClincy) and Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari) are keeping watch. Before we get into the main plot, we get a bit of interesting dialogue between Elijah and Lydia that hints at a potential romance. While we don’t get much more than a subtle hint, that’s worth bearing in mind for future episodes.
Before long, they see a strange, badly injured man riding towards them. We don’t know who he is, but we do learn that he is a member of the Commonwealth. The man, who we later find out to be Jesse (Connor Hammond), drops a map. Lydia and Elijah want to go and check it out. As they’re driving to see what the problem is (which I found strange, since the Hilltop normally doesn’t have working cars), they encounter a trio of zombified Commonwealth soldiers. What’s more, they find Aaron, in a panic, calling them from a distance. We’re left wondering what the hell is going on. It’s flashback time.
Aaron and Gabriel
We cut to one week earlier (yes, this is another time-jumpy episode) where Aaron and Gabriel are sent out alongside ex-CIA man Toby Carlson (Jason Butler) and young apprentice Jesse (Connor Hammond) to recruit a new group of survivors for the Commonwealth. Their target is a hostile religious cult living in an apartment complex. They’re not nearly as sophisticated as the Commonwealth, or even Alexandria. Commonwealth scouts say the group is pretty small, no more than 40 survivors.
Aaron is sent because he’s experienced in recruitment. For instance, he was the person who brought Rick and our group into Alexandria all those seasons ago. Meanwhile, Gabriel is there because of his skills as a priest: they’re targeting a religious group, after all. Carlson is the leader of the expedition, and we quickly learn that he’s completely excitable and enthusiastic to bring more people into the community. In fact, at times he seems a little too excited — there is a reason for that.
I like how the show goes back to the Aaron-Gabriel partnership. They had a whole episode together in season 10, “One More,” which was one of the stand-out episodes of the season. Bringing them back together is a fantastic idea. Funnily enough, they find themselves in a very similar situation. Last time, they fought Mays (played by Terminator 2’s Robert Patrick), and this time they’re met by Ian inside Riverbend. Ian is played by Michael Biehn, who portrayed Kyle Reese in Terminator. Who will they be fighting next? Arnold Schwarzenegger? Skynet?
Anyway, once our group is allowed inside Riverbend (after surrendering their weapons) they’re formally greeted by Ian, who is (shocker) an unhinged, angry, intolerable person. These people remind me of the Reapers. Ian is less than impressed by their proposal, but Aaron talks up the Commonwealth as much as he can. He even shows Ian photos of the community on an iPhone 4. It was totally bizarre seeing a character holding an iPhone. I suppose it goes to show just how advanced the Commonwealth is.
Ian gets gradually more upset when Aaron, Gabriel and Carlson don’t answer his questions. He eventually reaches a boiling point and threatens to shoot Carlson. But once Aaron and Gabriel manage to calm him down, Carlson makes his move. He takes down Ian, steals the gun, and shoots Ian’s men. It turns out the entire plan was a ruse that Gabriel and Aaron were not in on.
If anyone is setting themselves up to be the overarching big bad of the final season, it’s Lance (Josh Hamilton). Nothing happens within the Commonwealth without his seal of approval, and there’s nothing he misses.
After Ian’s group gets defeated, we go back to “one week and one hour” ago, where we see Carlson speaking with Lance in the Commonwealth. It turns out that the plan was never for the Commonwealth to invite the people of Riverbend into their community, but instead to destroy them from the inside. So when Carlson goes on his killing spree, it’s all at the request of Lance. Carlson is basically Lance’s assassin, sent to do his dirty work. Yikes!
This twist certainly caught me off guard. The episode lures us into thinking that the people of Riverbend are the villains when in reality it’s Carlson who poses the biggest threat. That’s not to say Ian’s people are good. The whole reason Lance wanted to kill them is because they had stolen weapons from the Commonwealth.
The last time we saw Negan, he walked away from Maggie and started off on his own path. Given that his exit felt much like his final scene in the comics, some fans thought this would be the last we see of him. However, he quickly returns to the show and actually helps our group out. Better the devil you know, after all.
Carlson enacts the classic Walking Dead line-up where he gets the group on their knees on top of the building and pushes them off one by one until they tell him where the Commonwealth weapons are. Of course, Aaron and Gabriel do not want to be a part of this, so they turn against the Commonwealth. This could have huge implications going forward. We already know how harshly they punish traitors.
That’s when Negan infiltrates the building and takes down several Commonwealth soldiers. Once again, he’s proving that he’s a valuable asset to the group. This is basically where the episode ends. It concludes suddenly, just as things are heating up. I would’ve liked this episode to get a proper ending rather than a cliffhanger, but I suppose now we’ve got to wait another week. There are tons of loose ends to tie up:
“Warlords” is quite possibly the best episode of The Walking Dead season 11 so far. Sometimes it feels like the writers took the best elements from season 10C and blended them together in this episode, including the team-up between Aaron and Gabriel and the constant flashbacks along the lines of what we saw in “Here’s Negan.”
My biggest issue is how abruptly it ends. We’re just getting into the thick of the action, it’s all about to go down… and then it ends. I felt a bit let down by it. That said, my reaction to the ending says a lot about how engrossed I was. This is the first time this season I’ve felt desperate for more after the credits roll.
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