“Acheron: Part II” once again raises the question of who you’re supposed to be rooting for, while also proving that even the end of the world isn’t free from faceless bureaucracy.
This recap of The Walking Dead season 11, episode 2, “Acheron: Part II”, contains spoilers. Episodes from the final season air one week early on AMC+.
Not to ruin the surprise for anyone, but Maggie survived the cliff-hanger ending of the Season 11 premiere. After being left for dead by Negan, she was piled-on by a group of enthusiastic walkers but managed to sneak beneath the subway car in which a decent chunk of “Acheron: Part II” takes place, eventually emerging from a hatch in the floor, rather predictably unhappy about the situation. I was pleased to discover that something I said offhandedly in that recap, that Maggie, by her own logic, didn’t really have much right to be annoyed with Negan, turned out to be a nice little prediction. Maggie might have socked him in the mouth out of anger, but his open admission of what he did neatly mirrors her open admission of wanting to kill him in the previous episode. It reduces a potentially murderous rivalry to a rather childish game of tit-for-tat.
But it’s important. In the previous episode, we discussed how this show tends to equate its idea of leadership with moral compromise. I said that the idea isn’t really taking with Maggie, since we’re being told that she’s a great leader, but all we’re being shown is that she’s a pretty terrible one, walking her followers into almost certain death despite objections, mostly to spite Negan. I reasoned that the show intended us to side with Negan in this instance. If that seemed like a reach a week ago, it probably seems a lot less like one now, since it’s pretty difficult to refute the idea that the second half of this opening two-parter isn’t trying to paint Maggie in an especially favorable light.
The Walking Dead season 11, episode 2 recap
“Acheron: Part II” is divided into three separate story strands for most of its runtime, but they eventually coalesce into two. Daryl spends a lot of the episode alone, combing through old communities erected in the tunnels while searching for Dog, who keeps acting up and running off. Eugene, Yumiko, Ezekiel, and Princess continue to spar with the Commonwealth, though more on that in a moment. And Maggie, Negan, and the rest of the Alexandria-Meridian cohort find themselves stuck inside a subway car. That’s where most of the interesting drama is since it’s where the show continues the idea that Maggie and Negan have essentially traded places.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but the evidence is there if you’re looking. Maggie was a fan-favorite character before her departure, but Negan became one in her absence. The premiere’s last-minute flirtation with the idea that Negan was up to his old tricks again was undermined almost as soon as Maggie climbed through the car’s hatch. By mirroring the scene in the previous episode where Maggie confesses to intending to kill Negan, they’re both on the same moral footing. Maggie being basically okay with it — at least after a while — absolves Negan of that; it makes it okay for us to see him as the good guy again. When Maggie refuses to open the car’s doors for Gage, who is trapped outside with a horde of walkers, the implication is pretty clear. Alden expresses his distaste openly. Gage remains visible through the door’s glass as he stabs himself to death and is disemboweled by the walkers in a particularly grim scene. He remains accusingly focused on Maggie the whole time, and when the zombies inevitably break the door down and begin to pursue the group through the car, Gage is once again at the head of the pack.
None of this is particularly subtle (neither is the fact that, when it first becomes apparent that Gage is trapped outside, it’s Negan who immediately rushes to save him.) Maggie refusing to open the doors didn’t feel like a leader having exhausted all her available options and being forced to make a tough call; it felt like she couldn’t wait to sacrifice one of her own to prove her credentials. The aghast responses and the constant focus on Gage seemed to reiterate that idea, at least to me. Later, when Maggie attempts to justify her actions by regaling everyone with a horrific story of pregnant deformed monsters being kept in attics, we get the sense that maybe she lost part of her own humanity there. She says as much if you’re listening. But in that case, she isn’t just a danger to Negan, but to everyone, herself included. It almost plays out like a villain’s origin story.
The Walking Dead season 11, episode 2 ending explained
This eventually amounts to a cliffhanger, one of two that “Acheron: Part II” has. In the first, after escaping the subway car thanks to a well-timed and cool-looking intervention from Daryl, the group head to a hidden supply depot at Arbor Hill, one of several that Georgie set up in case of emergencies, but on their way there, they’re ambushed by a well-armed group in masks. The Reapers, of course.
The second cliffhanger occurs at the Commonwealth and is surprisingly upbeat by the show’s usual standards. You’ll recall that, after finessing an escape thanks in large part to Princess, the group decided to stay, after all, hoping to pass the processing so that Yumiko can find her brother and Eugene can find Stephanie. Luckily, thanks to the note on the wall and Yumiko’s legal experience, she can ask to speak to a manager and make a strong case for expedited processing.
All this stuff is obviously a metaphor for faceless bureaucracy. One by one, the group is split up, starting with Ezekiel, whose cancer makes him the least viable candidate. Eventually, Eugene is left alone, having witnessed all his friends disappear behind a curtain of officialdom. Historically I don’t care for Eugene much, but I felt for him as he broke down to Mercer, confessing about his radio conversations with Stephanie, his virginity, and how he lied about being from a large settlement in order to impress her. There’s so much earnestness in Josh McDermitt’s performance here that Mercer seems to take the settlement thing at face value, so Alexandria remains secretive, for now. But Eugene is finally processed and taken away himself. On the other side, he finds Ezekiel, Yumiko, and Princess, all having been treated well, by all accounts, and all having gained the first stage of citizenship within the Commonwealth. And just like that, Stephanie introduces herself. Eugene got to meet his sweetheart after all. I wonder if it’ll go well?