NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Walking Dead” are present in this review
If one thing has been particularly evident on The Walking Dead recently, it’s the world of difference between the Commonwealth, and the protagonists’ usual survivor communities. That discrepancy came into especially sharp focus during this week’s episode, “The Lucky Ones”, which sees Pamela Milton go on a tour of Alexandria, Oceanside and the revived Hilltop. While that’s going on, a few character conflicts unfold within the Commonwealth proper, as Eugene struggles to process that there actually was a real ‘Stephanie’ the whole time, sort of, and Ezekiel learns some unexpected good news about his cancer, only to take offense to his good fortune coming at the expense of others.
When this week’s narrative moves outside of the Commonwealth, it tends to be at its strongest. This is ironic, considering that this final season of The Walking Dead has previously been weaker when it attempts to divert focus away from the Commonwealth and its citizens. This time though, the plot situation is reversed, with the Commonwealth subplots being strangely underwhelming in this case, while the core plot that spans the survivor communities stands as the most interesting and suspenseful.
Even then though, the fact that The Walking Dead’s midseason premiere already foreshadowed a major conflict between the Commonwealth and Maggie’s new Hilltop completely ruins the major payoff to this episode before it can happen. We already know that Maggie will eventually stand against the Commonwealth, so Maggie ultimately rejecting their offer of alliance is inevitable. Even putting that shaky flash-forward from the midseason premiere aside, had Maggie said yes when Pamela offered to take in her and the other Hilltop survivors, with Maggie’s approval also being contingent on Oceanside accepting a Commonwealth alliance, this series would effectively be over. Sure, The Walking Dead is now in its final season anyway, but we still need one last major conflict to send this flagship series off with a bang, especially now that fans have received confirmation that Maggie, along with the currently-separated Negan, will be headlining their own spin-off series, Isle of the Dead next year. Clearly, things at Hilltop and the Commonwealth alike can’t work out for Maggie, in that case.
Fortunately, when Pamela and Hornsby discuss their separate agendas for the communities, the narrative really excels here. It’s refreshing to see a sprawling mega-community like the Commonwealth avoid the cliche of being shallow dicks and schemers for a change, things that even the CRM came off as throughout much of The Walking Dead: World Beyond. Even Hornsby, despite his clear ambition of ruling the survivor communities that would align with the Commonwealth, seems to want to be in charge for altruistic reasons. Hornsby eventually confides in Maggie that he wants to create a world wherein the Commonwealth has even more entertainment, health care and resource options, and that’s hard to disagree with on paper. Pamela isn’t eager to expand, by contrast, but she also tries to win Maggie to her side honestly, with the two hunting together, discussing leadership philosophies, and just generally acting like real human beings and political leaders. It’s a great change from the Saviors and the Whisperers, who were both very obvious villain communities that leaned especially hard into The Walking Dead’s comic book foundation, even if they could be fun at times because of that.
Speaking of things that are ridiculous, the Commonwealth subplots unfortunately falter in this episode, as I mentioned. It feels like the writers wanted to fully focus on the Commonwealth’s diplomatic mission to the other communities this week, but they nonetheless needed to fill time. Thus, we have Ezekiel weirdly biting Carol’s head off for getting him moved to the front of a queue for life-saving surgery, while Eugene and Max take turns being pissed at each other over the Shira/Hornsby deception. This pair of conflicts felt pretty forced, and like they belong in high school, even though the concepts behind these issues were at least sound.
To be fair, it is nice that Eugene got another chance at love, even if it takes time for him to get there. Eugene struggling to process Max’s claim that she’s the real Stephanie, and that she’s the sister of Mercer, would logically lead to Eugene running off and getting overwhelmed too. Rosita calming Eugene down by the water afterward is also a nice scene that believably allows Eugene to let Max in. It’s just annoying that Eugene, a man that’s well into his forties, and Max, a woman who is probably in her early-to-mid thirties, have to squabble and overreact like teenagers, with Max in particular sometimes getting strangely huffy about Eugene being manipulated by Shira, as if that’s his fault somehow. This would have been fine if Max was established as socially awkward or emotional, but as Pamela’s assistant, she’s only really been shown as professional, smart and grounded before now, outside of that one forced ice cream moment with Shira, and you could just as easily attribute that to Pamela, Hornsby and/or Mercer simply wanting Max to stay away from Eugene.
As for the brief spat between Carol and Ezekiel (and I do mean brief!), it’s another good idea that’s ruined by painstakingly forced drama. I can understand Ezekiel being upset at the revelation that he unfairly moved ahead in the surgical queue, because he’s a noble character that’s used to giving to others. The fact that Ezekiel completely ignored Carol’s not-inconsiderable efforts to save his life however, on top of inexplicably biting her head off in the process, only served to make Ezekiel look like a jerk, something that is out-of-character for him, especially when Carol is his ex-wife! It seems that even this episode’s script agrees with how strange Ezekiel’s reaction is too, because a few scenes later, the plot forgets about it. Ezekiel simply submits to the cancer removal surgery, and that’s that. Why go through all the fuss of making Ezekiel blow up at Carol then? It’s pointless, and it’s not true to who Ezekiel has always been on this series.
“The Lucky Ones” presents a very interesting examination of just how different life in the Commonwealth has been, especially for its longstanding leaders, compared to the harder, yet freer existence of struggling communities like Hilltop. Pamela and Hornsby will likely be antagonists before The Walking Dead is done, but their journey to that role thankfully isn’t framing them as villains. They’re interesting, relatable characters that want to do good in their own way, and aren’t just more violent, murder-happy psychopaths, no offense to the reformed Negan. This creates an interpretive, complex conflict that leaves The Walking Dead feeling more intriguing than it has in a while, especially after we had to slog through those sub-par Reaper storylines during this season’s first third. As much as Maggie’s reasons for rejecting the Commonwealth alliance are currently a bit unclear (this Commonwealth rejection by Hilltop and Oceanside only seems to be happening because the plot demands it), they could later set the foundation for the most challenging enemy encounter that Alexandria, Hilltop and Oceanside have had during this show’s entire run, which is a pretty promising note for The Walking Dead’s overall climax to unfold on.
- Interesting highlighting of the dichotomy between the Commonwealth and the communities
- Maggie's and Pamela's interpretive, well-meaning diplomacy
- Hornsby's ambition avoids making him another over-the-top villain
- Pointless Ezekiel/Carol conflict
- Eugene/Max conflict feels too juvenile
- Maggie not having a truly good reason to reject the Commonwealth at this point