The Walking Dead season 11, episode 1 recap – “Acheron: Part I”

August 23, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
Weekly TV
3.5

Summary

“Acheron: Part I” reignites an old rivalry and begins to flesh out the Commonwealth.

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3.5

Summary

“Acheron: Part I” reignites an old rivalry and begins to flesh out the Commonwealth.

This recap of The Walking Dead season 11, episode 1, “Acheron: Part I”, contains spoilers.


Redeeming a TV villain isn’t an easy thing to do, especially not for a show like The Walking Dead, which returns for its eleventh and final season in “Acheron: Part I” to make good on its promise of tensions between Maggie and Negan being brought dangerously to the boil. Maggie, long absent since the show’s time-skip and uptick in quality, hasn’t quite forgotten that Negan smashed her baby daddy’s head to mush with a baseball bat, even if the show would prefer it if the audience did. You don’t spend two seasons getting the old villain into position to kill the new one unless you’re making a point, after all.

The point is that Negan has changed – sort of, anyway. There’s only so much you can change in a show that basically demands a morally flexible dilemma each week, but at least Negan doesn’t whistle anymore, which has to count for something. Maggie’s problem is that she’s acting as if two seasons and ten years of in-universe character development haven’t happened; like we pressed pause the whole time she was away. It’s understandable that she doesn’t like Negan, but her returning out of nowhere acting like no time has elapsed since she left is a tough sell. The Season 10C finale might have implied that their rivalry would continue as it was left, but the Season 11 premiere has other ideas. Its best one is highlighting how ridiculous that idea is.

The Walking Dead season 11, episode 1 recap

It comes down to leadership. In the post-apocalypse, being a leader means being a psychopath at least 50% of the time while the audience looks the other way. In any other show, Rick Grimes would have been a villain. Here, though, he’s the growly embodiment of whatever-it-takes idealism. You could always rely on him to be doing something in the best interests of the group. In his absence, the show doesn’t have a figure like that. We’re expected to believe that in her absence, Maggie has become a version of it, but with a fundamental difference. “Acheron: Part I” frames her mentality as dangerous and immoral and un-leaderlike, particularly in contrast to Negan.

It’s interesting to see how the same qualities are perceived differently in different characters. Take Carol, for instance. In the opening scene of this episode, some of the Alexandrians pull off a daring heist of military rations from a warehouse filled with seemingly sleeping walkers. I’m not sure the logic holds up, but the execution is great. After it all kicks off, though, Carol makes a dangerous dash for more supplies, and I immediately thought, “Here she goes again.” If Rick had done that, I wouldn’t have questioned it. He’s the leader. But with Carol, it reads like dangerous impulsivity. We see a similar thing with Maggie. We’re told she’s a leader now. She has loyal followers and harrowing stories about how hardened she has become. Yet it’s hard to see her behavior as anything but nuts.

The show isn’t shy about having Negan point this out. When a group of Alexandria’s finest head out to liberate Maggie’s old community of Meridian from the Reapers, Maggie assumes leadership and proceeds to make one illogical decision after another just for the sake of being in charge. Negan knows that she plans on murdering him at the first opportunity, and everyone else not only knows this but seems quite okay with it. Even when Negan raises it outright, she basically admits it but continues to pretend that he’s necessary for navigating the territory. It’s not hard to imagine who the writers are intending us to side with here. At one point, Negan makes a nasty remark about Glenn’s death, and bizarrely it comes across as out of character. At this point, Negan hasn’t been a villain for as long as he was one. Maggie’s antagonism doesn’t sit right, and nobody else is calling her out for it; when the group finds themselves cornered by a horde of walkers, it seems like just desserts for her determined incompetence.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see why Negan leaves her for dead, which is the cliffhanger ending of “Acheron: Part I”, even though it’s obvious she’ll be fine. Of course, it isn’t particularly heroic for Negan to just leave Maggie to her fate, but then again, he’s not a leader. Not anymore, anyway. As with Carol, his behavior is read a different way. He’s a smart guy who knows this woman means him harm, and that she’s so determined to do him harm that she’s endangering everyone else in the process. He’s well within his rights not to help her in her time of need, and by her own logic, she shouldn’t even be mad about it. We’ll see whether or not that’s true when she inevitably turns up alive in the next episode.

Elsewhere, Eugene, Yumiko, Ezekiel, and Princess being interrogated by the Commonwealth is less morally complex but more mysterious. The invasive questioning is designed to fill in details of the Commonwealth that we haven’t yet been made privy to; we know they’re particularly fixated on medical and employment records, suggesting that they’re looking for people who’ll benefit the community long-term. This is good news for Yumiko, who was a lawyer, and bad news for Ezekiel, who’s dying of thyroid cancer. Eugene still, on some level, sees the whole thing as a fairytale romance, since he’s adamant about meeting up with Stephanie, their long-distance relationship being what led the group here in the first place.

And yet it’s Princess, the least intellectually qualified of them all, who not only determines that they need to get out of there but finesses a way to do so by analyzing the guards’ body language, figuring out their personal relationships, and stealing their uniforms. They’re all but free when they discover a wall of pictures of people whose admission into the Commonwealth, according to a notice, would be expedited. Among them is Yumiko, which means her brother is already there. Naturally, then, she decides to stay, and the rest of the group with her. Crucially, though, none of them know what they’re getting into. Not yet, anyway.

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