Eugene’s insufferably shtick drags this episode down, but there’s some fun zombie business to enjoy outside of the Commonwealth.
This recap of The Walking Dead season 11, episode 19, “Variant”, contains spoilers.
You know what “Variant” reminded me of? I really can’t stand Eugene.
I know, I know, he has been around a long time and he’s eccentric, so we’re just expected to root for him, but the grossly overwritten pontificating he’s prone to just does nothing for me. I don’t find it funny. And what’s worse is I don’t find it believable, whatever situation he’s in.
The Walking Dead season 11, episode 19 recap
Luckily, this season has somehow managed to foreground his relationship with Max without actually giving him too much screentime, so as much as I don’t buy him as a love interest either, and most certainly not with Margot Bingham, I’ve managed to mostly overlook his irritating quirks. That became impossible here.
The problem is that because Eugene and Max were both intimately involved in exposing the Commonwealth’s rot and thus contributed directly to Sebastian’s death in The Walking Dead season 11, episode 18, they’re bumped right up to prime position in the Commonwealth half of the episode. Pamela wants revenge, so she despatches Mercer to root out both Max and Eugene by interrogating their closest associates – none of whom, predictably, have anything useful to say – and offering handsome rewards to anyone who comes forward with information. Since Max is Mercer’s brother, she’ll be let off with a caution as long as she agrees to recite some prewritten apologetic nonsense, but Eugene is looking at a rigged trial and likely public execution, so it’s generally agreed that he and the Alexandrians ought to get out of Dodge post-haste.
This creates a bit of a conflict since Eugene is being housed in the church by Daryl but Max is on the run, so he can’t stand to leave her to fend for herself or to flee the Commonwealth without her. This results in a pathetic attempt at challenging Daryl to unarmed combat and then a sadsack self-pitying session in which Eugene laments being such a useless lying coward. I mean, he has a point.
The only aspect of this storyline that works is how it relates to Princess’s backstory, littered as it is with abuse and trauma that she’s beginning to see reflected in the Commonwealth’s glossy surface. By framing this realization within the context of her relationship with Mercer, we get some interesting stuff out of her, which also helps to sway Mercer’s loyalty in a more organic way (as does Max’s refusal to toe the line, even after she’s captured.)
The other half of the episode is better, even if I have to question why we’d bother to introduce a “new” subspecies of zombie this late in the game. Nevertheless, this is why the episode is titled “Variant”, so we might as well talk about it.
So, Aaron, Jerry, Lydia, and Elijah – which is an interesting group, to be fair – are making their way back to Oceanside and Alexandria, but they’re forced to camp on the way in a kind of themed town that the endlessly cheery Jerry imagines as an ideal location for The Kingdom 2.0. But they’re all interrupted by a horde of Walkers with seemingly much more sentience than usual. They assume they’re leftover Whisperers, but Aaron – in a fun bit of gore – rips the face off one to discover that they are, in fact, just regular old zombies. I have no idea where this is going, but I suppose it’ll be interesting to find out (also, bravo to Ross Marquand for really selling that scene with Lydia on the ramparts.)
The episode ends with Eugene turning himself in and Pamela siccing the zombified version of Sebastian on Hornsby. I couldn’t say what utility Hornsby is going to have in the coming episodes, but I’m sure he has something up his sleeve, and one imagines that Eugene will provide sufficient motivation to keep the heroes in the Commonwealth for just long enough to get themselves in even more trouble. We’ll see how things go.
You can catch The Walking Dead season 11, episode 19, “Variant”, exclusively on AMC and AMC+.