NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Walking Dead” are present in this review
I feel like viewers have now gotten a pretty good idea of why the Commonwealth has a seedy underbelly, and why said underbelly should be considered a threat to the protagonists’ communities. According to The Walking Dead’s writers however, that point still hasn’t been driven home hard enough yet. “The Rotten Core” would appear to put the finishing touches on exactly what kind of threat the Commonwealth will present during the climax of The Walking Dead’s final season later this year. Considering that two episodes remain in Season 11B at this point though, I’m a little suspicious that we’re going to keep spending time drilling the same story points over the next two weeks, until The Walking Dead takes another hiatus to accommodate the rest of Fear the Walking Dead’s current season, and no doubt the premiere of anthology series, Tales of the Walking Dead immediately afterward.
Again, it’s the ultimate payoffs of this episode that are most satisfying, which unfortunately means we have another hour of wheel-spinning to look forward to during most of the runtime, as The Walking Dead’s narrative still seems to want to keep viewers guessing about the Commonwealth for whatever reason. We do at least get a small bump up in thrills this week, thanks largely to an opportunistic new layer being unraveled for Sebastian, after he ends up coercing Daryl and Rosita on a mission for some illicit funds. Regarding the Complex however, which press materials have seemingly christened as, “Riverbend”, Carlson and his men remain in the process of routing Negan’s people, as Maggie, Lydia, Elijah and Aaron try to rescue them.
This should create a pretty exciting foundation for this episode, and at times, it does. There are some gory kills and a few impressive action beats across both storylines, as the survivors find themselves wrestling with the darker side of the Commonwealth. Overall though, despite its obvious highlight moments, “The Rotten Core” is too slow-paced and repetitive overall, once again leaving The Walking Dead stuck in a narrative quagmire, as its final season is tasked with burning through its less consequential middle episodes. This tedious stretch is made worse by the fact that it appears to treat Hornsby being a danger as a twist, as well as Sebastian being a greedy sociopath, neither of which should be surprises by now. Hell, Sebastian’s true nature in particular was already bluntly glimpsed during the first third of this season from last year, let alone its current second one!
Putting aside another heaping helping of filler material then, I might as well focus on the end result of both storylines, as the rest simply involves sneaking around walkers and/or Commonwealth soldiers for the most part. In Riverbend, for example, the revelation that Negan is part of the community is eventually given new weight after Hershel is revealed to have stowed away on Maggie’s transport. Negan ends up rescuing the boy, but is eventually forced to confess that he’s responsible for killing Hershel’s father. Around the same time, Maggie also hears from Annie, a Riverbend citizen and Negan’s new wife, that Negan isn’t distinct, because no one has clean hands anymore, and that Negan carries the weight of his former acts as the Saviors’ leader every day, including Glenn’s death. I definitely appreciate the show trying to find some more heartfelt material for Negan that isn’t just about setting up spin-off series, Isle of the Dead in this case, particularly when Negan must talk Hershel down from pointing a gun at him in order to protect Riverbend’s other survivors, before later promising Hershel that, when he’s a bit older, the two can settle Glenn’s death once and for all. I’m not sure if we’ll ever see this promised moment unfold, but it’s nonetheless a standout bit of character growth for both Hershel and Negan, one that also helps Annie quickly find her own important place in the storytelling.
Outside of these great moments between the Smith family and the Rhee family however, the liberation of Riverbend largely goes through the motions, even if some of those motions manage to be pretty cool to watch at times. Aaron cruelly wounding Carlson enough so that he’s alive to fall off the roof, and then be eaten by the re-animated corpses that spawn from his own victims, is also a fantastic final payoff, even if it merely amounts to catching the lead characters up to what viewers figured out a long time ago; There’s corruption in the Commonwealth. It’s becoming easy to see where Maggie eventually comes into active conflict with the Commonwealth though, as someone will inevitably have to answer for Carlson’s grisly death, and like Maggie says, it can’t be Aaron and Gabriel.
Moving on to this episode’s subplot, it has a cool premise, though again, it relies on viewers somehow not being aware that Sebastian is openly corrupt. The circumstances under which Daryl and Rosita are forced onto Sebastian’s mission for funds is a bit suspect too, especially when Mercer later bails them out, only to shoot dead the corrupt soldiers that were working for Sebastian anyway. Mercer implies that Sebastian is both powerful and ruthless around this point, but we don’t currently have a true idea as to how. Hell, Sebastian’s Mommy literally just cut off his capital, and that’s the whole reason why Daryl and Rosita are forced to liberate money from a walker-filled house in the first place, not to mention that Mercer doesn’t seem concerned with offing Sebastian’s lackeys. Why should anyone fear any threats from Sebastian so far? What influence does Sebastian have, exactly? Something here doesn’t add up yet.
Hornsby eventually confirming to Carol that Sebastian sent criminals and desperate people to their deaths over money manages to land better, but again, why do Daryl and Rosita have anything to fear from Sebastian at this point? This feels like further indication that, “The Rotten Core” exists as yet another filler episode for The Walking Dead’s extended final season, one that has to keep circling around issues that we’re already well aware of, for want of catching the show’s crucial characters up regarding how dangerous Hornsby at least is, and how dangerous Sebastian allegedly is. At least I believe the true culprit behind the gun thefts, Leah, to be dangerous though. That’s another decent tease for what’s to come, though hopefully Leah manages to participate in the rest of the final season narrative as something more than an unseen spark behind the inevitable conflict between the survivors and the Commonwealth.
It’s definitely taking longer than it should to wrangle The Walking Dead’s sprawling lead cast into understanding what’s dangerous about the Commonwealth. With only two episodes left in this chunk of the season however, hopefully the show can stop spinning its wheels from here, and properly set the stage for our final batch of episodes later in 2022.
- Some solid action moments across both storylines
- Hershel confronting Negan about his father's death
- Leah being the culprit behind the Commonwealth thefts
- Action is less consistent than it should be
- Sebastian doesn't feel like a credible threat at this point
- It's taking too long to point the lead characters toward the Commonwealth threat