The Commonwealth’s American dream crumbles into chaos, and our hard-nosed survivors begin to realize they’re the true leaders of a ruined world.
This recap of The Walking Dead season 11, episode 18, “A New Deal”, contains spoilers.
If I’m being completely honest, it never really made sense to me how the Commonwealth had survived even this long. Don’t get me wrong, the resources were there, and the stringent entry requirements kept undesirables out, but it always seemed like a community built on denial. Since they used Walkers for target practice and political purposes, the Commonwealth – or at least its upper management – at least had an awareness of the world outside the walls, but the actual culture fostered within them was a facile simulacrum of the American dream. There’s a reason the place is designed to look like some Midwestern city center from the ‘50s – it’s a throwback fantasy to a time long since passed.
The Walking Dead season 11, episode 18 recap
“A New Day” is when all this catches up to the Miltons and the Commonwealth’s citizens. After the events of The Walking Dead season 11, episode 17, with Daryl having captured Hornsby, and Carol and Negan having pulled Sebastian from his hidden panic room, the working idea is to frame the former for all of the latter’s crimes. The citizenry will swallow it wholesale with the help of some professional wrestling – changed from football in the comics due to Covid restrictions, but still a thinly-veiled form of propaganda either way – and a (rigged) lottery, not to mention a pre-written speech for Sebastian that explains he’s definitely very sorry and remorseful and loves the Commonwealth so very much.
Sebastian is a great character not just because he’s awful and easy to despise but because the script really understands he’s awful and wants you to despise him all the more. The collapse of the Commonwealth is really catalyzed by a profound understanding of Sebastian and the specific kind of inherited power he wields. Pamela knows he’s a spoiled, selfish, slightly sadistic little brat, but she also knows that he’s fated to run the place eventually – she thinks he’ll become a shrewd politician like her because it’s in his DNA, whereas the actual script understands that he’s already quite a shrewd politician because he has figured out that hereditary leadership really just amounts to leaning on the legacy of a name and parroting the ideals of the people who were actually smart in the first place.
So, while Sebastian knows and openly admits to Max that he disagrees with every word of the script he’s provided, and in fact with the Commonwealth itself at its very core, he also has a plan to not read it aloud and still curry favor with the crowd by instead letting the recorded words of his grandfather, who gave a speech on the first Founder’s Day, speak for him. If Sebastian isn’t cut out for politics, then, he’s at the very least cut out for power.
But Max has him figured out. So, when he cuts to the tape, he discovers to his horror that she has switched it with a recording of him mocking the Commonwealth and its citizens. When the crowd hears this, they go ballistic. When they realize that Walkers have infiltrated the walls, thanks to Hornsby’s pet assassins, they panic and scatter, and within the chaos, Sebastian is torn apart while the citizens he thought so little of stand by and watch.
This is a fitting end for Sebastian, but it hardly solves everyone’s problems, since the usual crew feels obligated to help, and still have to make sure they all escape to the relative safety of the much humbler communities such as Alexandria and Hilltop that they have built with their own honest, working-class hands. After all, most of the citizens of the Commonwealth are innocent, guilty of only having bought what was being sold to them at an enticingly discounted rate. Judith, with the DNA and gun of Rick Grimes and the life lessons of Michonne, can’t just stand by and watch bad things happen to ostensibly decent people. Now that everyone has suddenly woken up from the American Dream, there’s a harsh real world to navigate, and nobody is better suited to lead people through it than the hard-nosed survivors of eleven whole seasons.
You can catch The Walking Dead season 11, episode 18, “A New Deal”, exclusively on AMC and AMC+.