Spoilers are there in this review of The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 19
Does it take more guts to survive than to die in this environment? is a crucial issue posed in the opening montage of this week’s episode of The Walking Dead. A montage of Eugene’s (Josh McDermittworst )’s moments, including pleading with Abraham (Michael Cudlitz in flashback form) to spare his life and teaming up with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) during the Savior era, serve as a reminder of this.
Eugene has never had the bravery to end his life, but he has always been able to do it, in large part because of his talent at prevarication (also known as lying when necessary). Eugene is being faced with his toughest test yet. Will he leave The Commonwealth and lie his ass off for the woman he loves, or will he stay behind and flee to safety with Daryl (Norman Reedus), Rosita (Christian Serratos), and the rest of his friends?
Eugene Porter has had the longest and most challenging journey of any character on The Walking Dead, and it’s to Josh McDermitt’s credit that he manages to keep the character sympathetic after all these years, given some of the horrible things he’s been a part of and done out of cowardice. Eugene is the type of character who focuses on what he hasn’t done and lets that weigh heavily on his mind.
Sure, he’s had a lot of moments of surprising bravery, too, but Eugene is the kind of character who won’t remember all the times he stood up to the threat of walkers (or bit a guy’s penis during a Mexican stand-off in Twice as Far).
While debating with himself on whether to follow the coward’s path and flee with his comrades or be brave and stay behind in The Commonwealth to see if he can lie his way out of trouble, McDermitt has repeatedly enabled Eugene to confront those moments from his past during Variant.
In a few instances, Eugene and Daryl argue to the point where Eugene threatens to get physical because he is split between doing the courageous thing and his intrinsic desire not to die for someone else’s crimes.
Daryl, to his credit, doesn’t chuckle, and Reedus portrays McDermitt perfectly in this situation. It’s not until Daryl learns that Max (Margot Bingham) has been captured by Mercer (Michael James Shaw) and the clamshells that he is willing to find his bravery, override his intelligence, and walk into the arms of the beast after another heartwarming scene with Rosita that feels very much like Eugene saying goodbye for good.
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The phrase “do the safe thing or do the right thing” appears frequently throughout Vivian Tse’s script. Throughout the course of “Variant,” a number of characters, most notably Eugene, Max, and Princess (Paola Lazaro), must accept the results of their decisions and the fact that doing so may cause harm to others.
A nice scene between Max and Mercer occurs in the interrogation room when Max declares that she is no longer willing to make the best of a bad circumstance, echoing Princess’ later statement to Mercer that she deserves better than the best of a bad situation.
Lazaro hasn’t had much to do in the latter half of season 11, but she makes the most of this chance and plays her role to perfection, emotional but not overpowered by them. Thanks to some excellent face and voice work, she gives a fairly traditional “damaged” character to reveal the weight it needs.
Shaw’s expression in those situations indicates that the second thoughts Mercer has always had are beginning to surface as he is having his actions questioned by the two significant people in his life.
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The Commonwealth is essentially a replica of the past, thus it has always been a bit of an unsustainable vision of the future. There are those who have and those who have not, and the wealthy survive by using the work of the underprivileged and the blood and sweat of those like Mercer.
There is no equitable distribution of labor or even an equitable allocation of resources. While others shoot rotters or clean up waste to make sure the wealthy are never harassed and the status quo is never altered, other people have it easy wearing suits and working in offices.
Sebastian Milton may have been killed by Walkers, but the Milton dynasty will actually end thanks to Max Mercer’s cassette recording hoax. Max ripped off the blinders, and ice cream and professional wrestling can’t hide what people are actually witnessing in the world around them.
The opening scene of the variant is filled with screams and mayhem; there are rotters in the walls killing people, and the clamshells appear more concerned with quelling uprisings and scattering the populace than with stopping the zombies before they can kill anybody more.
Pamela Milton’s all-hands search of the neighborhood for Eugene Porter makes matters worse; while it isn’t explicitly stated, it is indicated that not just Virginians from outside the state find themselves roused from their homes during the door-to-door hunt for Eugene.
The disgruntled parts of The Commonwealth won’t be made any happier by that. Director Karen Gaviola doesn’t need to put up a large neon sign on set to remind us that Max’s revelation touched more than a few nerves with the common folk while Pamela diverts her attention to Lance (Josh Hamilton) and zombie Sebastian. The dissent in the populace has been evident since the beginning of The Commonwealth’s arc (Teo Rapp-Olsson).
But considering what Aaron (Ross Marquand) learns while hiding away with a hurt Jerry (Cooper Andrews), Lydia (Cassady McClinchy), and Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari) on the set of a former Renaissance Faire Jerry has taken to calling The Kingdom 2.0, it might all be for naught.
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Aaron learns the hard way that barriers like walls and doors are no longer as secure as they once were. What he believed to be Whisperers are actually just more intelligent zombies—right down to pulling a face-off during an attempted unmasking, which is astonishing. A walker that uses tools to unlock doors, and scales fences to access food is undoubtedly a powerful foe.
Even while Max may make a big deal out of wanting to protect The Commonwealth from the Miltons and others, if the walkers manage to breach the walls, there may be nothing left to defend by the time the inevitable social unrest subsides.
Sebastian Milton has a lot of enemies inside, and Hornsby has enemies outside, so it wouldn’t take much outside pressure from the undead to destroy the entire house of cards. The rocky road ice cream should be enjoyed while it is still available.
First published on Den of Geek, the post The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 19 Review: Variant.