The Walking Dead season 11, episode 5 recap – “Out of the Ashes”

September 20, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
AMC, Weekly TV


“Out of the Ashes” is undercut by being overstuffed and a tonal mishmash, but it manages to pull most of its competing subplots together by the end.

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“Out of the Ashes” is undercut by being overstuffed and a tonal mishmash, but it manages to pull most of its competing subplots together by the end.

This recap of The Walking Dead season 11, episode 5, “Out of the Ashes”, contains spoilers.

All good things must come to an end, and that includes, it seems, Alexandria. The place is falling apart. Jerry can’t even empty his bladder in the morning without spotting an errant walker ambling down the street. The walls are falling, literally, and elsewhere they’re tumbling down figuratively. People are abandoning their long-held beliefs and sense of morality. It’s one compromise after another. Out of the ashes, as the episode’s title alludes to, there might be some semblance of hope in the Commonwealth, a united front for people to rally around — provided they follow the rules and toe the line, obviously, which is an abandonment of principle for many in itself. If the end of the world was freedom from all the rules and restrictions and laws and ethical lines that bound us previously, how do you corral these newly free people once more? Does their desperation do it for you?

The Walking Dead season 11, episode 5 recap

Desperation is palpable in the early moments of “Out of the Ashes”. Aaron wakes up from a nightmare guest-starring all the villains of The Walking Dead‘s past to find Alexandria close to collapse. It’s no accident that the cold open is immediately proceeded by the Commonwealth’s chintzy, ’90s-style orientation infomercial, signed off by Pamela Milton herself. If it’s good enough for Eugene, Princess, Yumiko, and Ezekiel, you can see how it might be good enough for everyone. The problem, though, is that it isn’t quite good enough for those guys. Princess might be happy with her new posting in retail — everyone in the Commonwealth is assigned to a suitable role based on what they did before the outbreak — but nobody else is planning on staying. They have friends and in some cases family back in Alexandria, though Yumiko has family here in the Commonwealth. She doesn’t have a posting, per se, but instead a personal invitation to a meeting from someone that wants to discuss state affairs. That gives her a bit more sway with the functionary who gives a voice to the place’s obvious send-up of faceless bureaucracy.

What’s going on at Alexandria makes a neat counterpoint. It’s the furthest thing from offices and job postings; everyone is just doing what they can to keep the place standing. Framing it all in Aaron’s perspective makes sense since he hasn’t ever really been one for moral compromise. He’s principled. He believes this is home, and that home should be fought for and protected. To keep the place standing, he, Carol, Jerry, and Lydia go to the burnt-out ruins of Hilltop to forage for tools to help them repair the walls, and find the charred husks of their friends roaming the ruins, waiting to be put out of a misery that no doubt awaits most of them. It’s a far cry from just nipping to Home Depot.

Meanwhile, Judith tries to keep the kids under control, both by teaching them how to skewer a walker head on a sword and warning the rowdy ones away from the fragile gates, and Maggie and Negan once again find themselves alone, and still on the run from the Reapers. “Out of the Ashes” could have probably stood to excise at least one of these subplots for the sake of pace, and I’m still not sure what we’re supposed to think about Maggie’s character at this point. Her quandary here is whether to cut their losses and take what little food they’ve found back to Alexandria, as Negan advises, or to wait around and see if their people catch up to them before the Reapers do. Since we’ve already seen Maggie make the tough call with Gage, even though it didn’t seem so stuff, her stubbornness here seems contrary to what we’re being told about how much of a fearless any-means-necessary leader she has become in her time off-screen.

Amongst all this, there’s the discovery of a surviving Whisperer at Hilltop, and Eugene’s first proper meeting with Stephanie, which becomes a sneaky effort to cut through the noose of red tape that limns the Commonwealth, where a deputy supervisor explains it’ll take five weeks just to see a supervisor. Again, that sense of the episode being overstuffed creeps in. Judith has a moment, triggered by one of the mop-haired bullies telling her there’s no wonder her mother abandoned her, that probably deserved more screentime to really hit the right emotional note. And when the errant Whisperer, who turns out to rather anticlimactically be named Keith, is discovered to be only one of several survivors hiding out in the Hilltop cellars, it’s frustrating to cut back once again to the Commonwealth.

It doesn’t help that the tonal shifts are so jarring. Eugene, Princess, and Ezekiel trying to skirt around the Commonwealth’s officialdom plays like a caper, then we jump straight back to Aaron torturing Keith, letting a walker take chunks off him until he confesses whether or not the Whisperers are still a threat. It doesn’t seem like they are, which is the point. It’s Carol, of all people, who emerges as the voice of reason, explaining how this isn’t a path he wants to go down, even if he thinks it’s for the right reasons. It’s the logical direction for both Carol and Aaron’s respective arcs to take, but it occurs just a couple of minutes after Princess tells Mercer he has nice eyelashes.

You can give “Out of the Ashes” credit for bringing these subplots together. Rosita and Judith are bonding when Eugene’s radio message comes through, and he’s promptly arrested for his misuse of government property by Mercer, who was obviously accidentally tipped off by Princess. Maggie and Negan’s thread remains distinct, though. They eventually almost come to blows when Negan decides enough is enough, but they’re interrupted by Father Gabriel and another survivor whose name I’m not sure of, and Gabriel declares that they’ll wait as long as it takes. Wasn’t he just coldly executing people like, two episodes ago?

The ending explained

The Commonwealth stuff in The Walking Dead season 11, episode 5 also at least takes on a darker tinge. The gang is arrested and tried as asylum seekers, which is to say as people with no hope of being found innocent, but they’re given a lifeline in the form of Hornsby, the suit-and-tie guy who presented the cheesy video package at the top of the episode. As Stephanie warns, though, even if they’re able to avoid banishment, they’ll have to pay for their crimes “one way or another”. This calls back to something Yumiko’s brother, Tomi, a surgeon masquerading contentedly as a banker, said to her earlier about following the rules. There’s an ominous note to that. The Commonwealth seems to provide all kinds of amenities and upsides for its people, but it obviously comes at a steep cost in personal freedoms.

And at least Aaron is rewarded for his mercy. Keith, now missing a hand, wants to prove that the surviving Whisperers have changed by revealing that he saw Connie escape from the cave-in. Visiting the ruins of Hilltop might not have been the most fruitful excursion ever in a material sense, then, but at least something good came of it. And Aaron realized that it’s probably better not to torture people to death. It might not be the most complex moral lesson ever, but it’s a lesson all the same.

You can stream episodes of The Walking Dead a week early on AMC+.

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