Season 11, episode 12, "The Lucky Ones"

Season 11, episode 12, “The Lucky Ones”

The Walking Dead

Michael James Shaw as Mercer on The Walking Dead
Photo: Josh Stringer/AMC

You know Benjamin Franklin’s maxim about how those who would give up liberty to purchase temporary security deserve neither? Funny thing about the people who tend to quote it: You don’t often see them scrambling to avoid starvation. So while Maggie is perfectly content to blow off Lance Hornsby and Pamela Milton, the well-to-do overseers of the Commonwealth, in their quest to make a goods-for-infrastructure deal with Hilltop, it’s a lot harder for her to hear it coming from her own people. Especially when those people then leave—because in their mind, she was too proud to take the deal. Ignoring pompous wealthy types? No problem. Being called out by people she trusts and respects for possibly letting her pride put their entire community at risk? Ouch.

“The Lucky Ones” is one of those table-setting episodes of The Walking Dead that manages to wring some drama from a few conversations, thanks to the long-lasting effects the decisions made will have upon the rest of the season. The Commonwealth offered a seemingly benevolent assistance program to each of our three beleaguered communities: Security, infrastructure, and more, with guaranteed protections that would come with the outposts essentially turning into remote sites for an expanding Commonwealth empire. Lance tells Aaron that all three locations need to agree, or else none of them get the deal. Alexandria happily said yes. Oceanside said it would do whatever Hilltop did. And Hilltop—well, Maggie is running Hilltop, and Maggie doesn’t like people who think others need to fall in line beneath them. Yes, that’s ironic.

At the very least, we finally get an argument in favor of the Commonwealth that sounds a lot more plausible than the “this place sucks” introduction it got at the beginning of the season. Lance may not realize just how bad he comes off most of the time, but his sales pitch to Maggie is actually quite compelling. Proposing a brighter future for her child is the smartest way to the Hilltop leader’s heart, and he makes the most of it. Safe travels between all the communities, as easy as visiting a friend? Riding up the river, maybe even to a school Herschel could attend? Culture, arts, safety? He makes it sounds awfully good. And her people certainly want her to say yes.

Lauren Cohan

Lauren Cohan
Photo: Josh Stringer/AMC

So why doesn’t she? The simplest answer is also the simplest imagery: After the Commonwealth stormtroopers help put down the walker attack on Hilltop, Maggie looks to one side, where she sees grunts, soldiers, being ordered to fall in line or risk punishment. Then she turns to the other, and sees Milton, Hornsby, and the other leaders laughing and strolling around, as though there weren’t just a life and death struggle. It’s a disparity that’s too much for her to accept. It’s like she says to Milton when she rejects their offer: “Everything costs something.” And the cost here isn’t one she can accept—even if the alternative costs her Hilltop itself. You can see why Dianne would be pissed. And then leave.

This also offers at least a little more explanation for why the others are making their peace with the Commonwealth. The Alexandrians all see it as a temporary situationat stopgap residence until their home can be rebuilt. “It works for now,” Rosita says to Eugene, summing up why so many of them are rolling with the punches, both metaphorical and literal. Aaron and the others still living in that husk of a home desperately need the wealthy community’s aid. Even Daryl sees a chance to not have to lose sleep every night worrying about Judith and the rest of his people. (Though Daryl is also ignoring some gigantic red flags from his new buddy, Mercer. Seriously, Daryl—you’re just going to shrug off his, “Remember: They’re always watching”?!)

Image for article titled The true villain is revealed as The Walking Dead surveys what's left

Photo: Josh Stringer/AMC

Structurally, this episode was perfectly fine, a little limp at times but successfully cross-cutting between the various plots, even if it’s tough to remember they’re all happening simultaneously, given how much we’ve jumped backward and forward in time recently. And although the Ezekiel plot was the thinnest, it also happily didn’t give in to the character’s own personal hand-wringing about being bumped to the top of the surgery list. He makes his concerns known to Carol, and then next time we see him, he’s drugged and being wheeled into the operating room. Points for efficiency.

And the other subplot—Eugene learning about the “true” Stephanie, aka Mercer’s sister, Max—actually ends up nailing some strong character beats. ace it turns out, Eugene’s not the only one who suffered thanks to his dalliance with the fake Stephanie; after Mercer discovers his sister is the one illegally communicateating with Eugene, he forces her to break off contact, informing her that Hornsby has been listening in. So when someone appears, pretending to be her and taking up with EugeneMax has to stand by and watch this person easily fool the man who supposedly got to know her on a profound level.

It’s a moment that lands for how simple and relatable her sense of betrayal feels, once she articulates it. “How could you not know it wasn’t me?” she says, and actor Margot Bingham lands the necessary blend of hurt and accusation—just as Josh McDermitt, again doing yeoman’s work in an oft-thankless role, buffets Eugene’s shame with the appropriate sense of pitiable desperation. When he explains how the very fact that fake-Stephanie didn’t push him away, as any prior romantic interest has done, helped him believe the lie, you can almost feel the sadness that has been a core part of him for so long. Kudos to episode director Tawnia McKiernan for lingering just the right amount of time.

And then: That ending. We already knew Lance Hornsby was a creep—honestly, Josh Hamilton’s intentionally shit-eating grin has sort of telegraphed it from the very start, in a fun manner just this side of campy (someone’s been watching Jeffrey Dean Morgan on the show!)—but now, it’s out in the open. Pamela M.Ilton isn’t ill-intentioned, just out of touch and unaware of how actual people are affected by the cruel class striations of her society. (In other words, she’s sort of a Biden Democrat.) But Hornsby wants power, and in getting permission from the governor to pursue his plan of taking over the remote communities, he’s got a blank check to cash. Yikes.

Stray sightings

  • It’s always enjoyable to see a veteran character actor join the show and do their thing, and Josh Hamilton is nailing the very particular type of oily superciliousness needed for Hornsby to come alive. It’s absurd good fun.
  • Lydia, telegraphing her own desire to be out of there and relocate to wherever the fuck Negan is: “How do you know when it’s time to walk away?”
  • Enough people have now confessed they miss the “freedom” of Alexandria that it’s clearly going to tip into resistance within the next episode or two, no? Even with the whole flash-forward to Stormtrooper Daryl confronting Maggie at Hilltop, which I’m still convinced is a feint. (See: Maggie asking why Daryl would trust anyone, Commonwealth or no. Daryl: “When do I ever?”)
  • Nice to see Oceanside, even if just for a few minutes. And even the governor isn’t immune to the appeal of dipping her toes in the ocean.
  • Maggie, explaining to every rich person ever why they don’t make their own goddamn luck: “Luck is about opportunity—and I don’t know anyone who’s had more opportunity than you.”
  • Seriously, though, Daryl: So many red flags from Mercer about the Commonwealth! “You got your role to play. I got mine.” Mercer may as well hand him a “Join the resistance—ask me how!” business card.


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