‘The Walking Dead’ Season 11, Episode 9 Review: The Best Episode In Years

The Walking Dead has been hit or miss over the years. At times, AMC’s zombie drama is powerful and profound. At others, nonsensical and poorly produced.

Rarely has the show ever been as good as it was in tonight’s episode, ‘No Other Way.’ A tense conclusion to the Reapers storyline, a great twist, and one of the best scenes in the entire show’s run all conspire to make this one of The Walking Dead’s best.

Production quality under Angela Kang has gone way up and the show has simply never looked or felt this good before. The music, the cinematography, the action, everything about the Season 11, Part 2 premiere is as good as its ever been. It makes me wonder why AMC released such an uneven, lackluster Part 1.

Adios, Reapers

At the end of Season 11, Episode 8—an episode I found largely obnoxious—Leah (Lynn Collins) and her second-in-command, Carver (Alex Meraz) had taken the vengeful course. Rather than let Daryl (Norman Reedus) and his friends go their merry way, or find some diplomatic solution to their grievances after Pope’s death, Leah unleashes a volley of arrows from the Reapers’ ‘hwacha’—a device that can shoot hundreds of fire arrows all at once.

Things were looking mighty grim for our heroes when the episode ended and the show went on break. Now, we return to the action right where it left off. And it’s a good action sequence.

The hwacha proves largely ineffective, mostly serving to scatter everybody into smaller poockets. Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) runs into the Reaper priest who talks a bunch of mumbo jumbo until Gabriel runs him through without batting an eye.

This more ruthless, no-nonsense Gabriel is so much better than snivelly old Gabriel. He’s become one of my favorite characters. During the six bridge episodes, only the Gabriel/Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) episodes were any good, largely thanks to the strengths of these characters.


Elsewhere, Carver tracks down Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Negan and Maggie’s last remaining follower, Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari) who happens to be badly injured. The three square off in a brawl they very nearly lose to the Reaper fighter—whose fighting skills are clearly on another level.

In the end, with both Elijah and Maggie down, Negan is able to trick the Reaper by throwing sand in his eyes and then ringing his bell…with an actual bell. With Carver and the priest down, the Reapers’ odds are looking worse and worse.

Daryl and company bring their hostage back to the compound yard and Daryl tells Leah and her remaining two Reapers to come out and drop their weapons or he’ll kill Carver. The Reapers come out but don’t drop their weapons. Daryl tells them they can walk but Leah has an ace up her sleeve.

She walkie-talkies a fourth Reaper and suddenly a bullet hits the dirt next to them. A sniper is positioned up above, ready to pick them off one by one. “Do the woman first,” Leah says, clearly not at all the jilted lover. But the sniper shoots Carver in the leg instead.

What neither the audience nor Leah knew is that after Gabriel got through sticking the priest with the pointy end, he took care of the sniper. “Call me Gabriel,” he replies, like a badass. Negan smirks. Leah pales.

“Does the deal still stand?” she asks.

“No,” Maggie says. “You would have killed us all.”

But Daryl still has a soft spot for Leah. He tells her that if they drop their weapons, she and the other two can leave. Carver has to stay. With little choice in the matter, Leah complies and the three hurry off. Maggie kneels down in front of Carver and then looks over at Elijah, laying painfully on the ground where Carver once again almost killed him.

We see her resolve form before she makes a move. The music, at this point, is quite dramatic. Maggie stands up in slow motion. She steps over the downed Carver and starts walking toward the other Reapers. She reaches for the revolver tucked into the back of her pants.

“Holy crap,” I remember thinking. “Are they really going there?” A part of me thought, no surely not, Daryl will stop her—but then she starts firing at them, shooting them in the back as they walk off to safety. I laughed out loud and when the scene was over I rewound it and watched it all over again.

This was one of the best scenes in the history of The Walking Dead, both in terms of its composition and the narrative implications. The whole thing is shot so perfectly. Maggie coming up behind the unsuspecting Reapers. She puts one down but not out and after shooting Leah and the other guy, turns around and puts another bullet in the first guy’s head. Daryl runs past, clearly distressed, while Negan looks on with a thoughtful expression on his face. When Maggie gets back to Carver she’s out of bullets, so she picks up the ice axe (or whatever that thing is) and hacks his chest open.

Absolutely ruthless. Damn. I have never liked Maggie more than I did in that scene.

Leah gets away thanks to Daryl’s mercy, so it’s possible we’ll get a surprise visit from her in the future, but the Reapers—lousy villains for the most part—are no more. The surviving good guys load up a cart with food (all kinds of veggies, including artichokes!) and head back to Alexandria.

Along the way, Maggie has two more encounters. First, she goes back to where they left a wounded Alden (Callan McAuliffe). Surprising no one, Alden is dead. Zombie Alden crawls across the dirty floor and Maggie let’s him get absurdly close to her before sticking a knife into his brain. She weeps over his corpse.

The second encounter is at his burial site. She’s just finished when Negan appears. He’s carrying a club which he seems very close to using. He tells her that he saw what she did to those Reapers and that he knows it’s only a matter of time before she does the same to him, no matter the truce they’ve arrived at.

“I’m not gonna let you do that,” he says, ominously. She reaches for her knife. “I’m gonna go on my own way,” he says and turns around and walks away. Negan, it appears, has left the group for good, bringing an end to the tedious rivalry between the two (alas, just when things between them had actually gotten interesting).

Will he return? Will he have some part to play in the coming conflict between Maggie’s people and the Commonwealth? We shall see. I can’t imagine this is the last we see of Negan, however.

It’s interesting. Earlier this season, when Maggie and Negan were talking about him killing Glenn and Abraham. She thought he was going to apologize. Instead, he told her he should have killed all of them. And he was right. Allowing Rick and his gang to live was the downfall of Negan and the Saviors. To protect his people, he should have ended Rick and all the others who murdered Saviors in their sleep.

One can’t help but think Maggie took this to heart, that she remembered these very words when she put down the rest of the Reapers. It makes sense in a savage world like this one, where you live and die by the sword.

Saving Gracie

In my review of Episode 8 I was very critical of Gracie (Anabelle Holloway) for her several stupid and terrible decisions in that episode, like standing next to windows while zombies invaded, or going down into the basement by herself during said zombie attack / massive storm.

Some said I was kinda mean, picking on such a small child like that.

But, of course, I’m not actually picking on the kid, I’m critiquing the bad writing that forced her into making such poor choices. This is a girl who has grown up surrounded on all sides by terrors we can’t imagine. She is of a generation raised in a zombie apocalypse, accustomed to the dangers and survival tactics needed to navigate such a perilous existence.

Why, then, is she acting like a kid who has never seen a zombie before? Why is Judith (Cailey Fleming) so savvy and brave and skilled, but Gracie is an idiot child?

Yes, lots of people got mad at me for calling her that—but again, this is because I don’t think she would be. I think the writers wrote her into a corner—or, a basement, really—that makes no sense for a kid raised the way she has been.

In any case, it’s no great surprise that the second story going on this episode was all about Aaron saving the two girls from the zombies. This is not the first time we’ve seen Aaron find like a demon and he does not disappoint taking on a small horde of half-submerged zombies in a pretty invigorating rescue.

Things only fall apart a little when Lydia (Cassady McClincy) shows up and magics Aaron out of the basement. This is classic Walking Dead. They don’t really show her get him out. One minute he’s hanging from some broken pipes above the flooded basement floor, zombies grabbing at his legs, the next moment Lydia is there and says “I’ll be right back!” Then, magically, she’s helping him through the window as he climbs out on a rope. But we’re not shown how the rope got to him, why it seems so taught as though it’s been attached to the opposite wall of the basement. I mean, maybe she tossed it to him and he just climbed up it, but couldn’t he have just climbed out of the basement window without a rope? How is the rope helping him and why aren’t you showing us that?

It’s frustrating. This is a minor point of the whole story, obviously, and I can roll my eyes and move on, but it’s one of this show’s worst tendencies and even in an otherwise really good episode, here we go again.

Oh, Hello Commonwealth

Daryl and Maggie and Gabriel and Elijah—minus Negan, Alden and all the others—return with the food cart to Alexandria. Daryl is overjoyed to see Connie (Lauren Ridloff) safe and sound. It’s a fond reunion all around, though Lydia is visibly upset to learn that Negan isn’t coming back (I wish Judith had also gotten a reaction here).

Of course, nothing good can ever last, and just as things started looking better (though, I fear a couple horses worth of meat would feed everyone longer than a cart of vegetables but whatever) an alarm is sounded. Someone—or something—is coming.

Naturally, it’s the Commonwealth. A group of silly looking Storm Troopers in white and red armor have arrived, and just as everyone aims their weapons at one another, in bounces Eugene (Josh McDermitt) assuring everyone that we’re all friends here, no need for this show of force.

Eugene decided to spill the beans on his allies, giving up their location to Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton). Now Hornsby and the Commonwealth have arrived. Hornsby explains that they would be more than happy to provide resources to help Alexandria rebuild. But, he adds, I have a more tantalizing offer for you: Come live in the Commonwealth and see what all the fuss is about. (This is implied, not said.)

From here, there’s a six month time-jump. Maggie and some of her people are standing behind the walls at what appears to be a somewhat rebuilt Hilltop. Below, a troop of Commonwealth soldiers stands in formation.

“It doesn’t have to be this way!” Maggie calls down.

A Commonwealth soldier steps forward and takes his helmet off. “Yes. Yes it does,” Daryl replies. Oh damn!

Here’s an interesting twist that should help fuel the next eight episodes. We know that Episode 10 takes place at the Commonwealth just after the events of this episode, and before the six month time jump. I get the feeling we’ll work through the next six episodes on our way to this showdown between Maggie and Daryl. In the meantime, we’ll learn bits and pieces as they drag us along by our curiosity.

All told, this was a very strong, very exciting episode and a real return to form for The Walking Dead after . . . quite a long lull. The six bridge episodes were pretty weak other than a couple and the first 8 episodes of Season 11 were pretty lackluster as well (other than a couple). Even the Whisperer War dragged on for way too long.

If they could just keep up the intensity and excitement of episodes like this, The Walking Dead would be an amazing show. As it stands, I’m just happy we got this one and I’m excited to watch next week’s.

What did you think of Episode 9?

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The Tycoon Herald