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The Walking Dead - Out of the Ashes - Review

  The Walking Dead “Out of the Ashes” was written by LaToya Morgan and directed by Greg Nicotero. The episode is divided into four storylines. Each reflects the title in a different way. The Commonwealth is a society that has risen from the ashes of civilization – but is it all it seems? Maggie’s (Lauren Cohen) plan rises from the ashes when Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) and Elijah (Okea Erne-Akwari) show up. Judith (Cailey Fleming) is having a hard time finding her place in the new Alexandria without the help of her family – can she emerge from the ashes of her family? But it’s Aaron’s (Ross Marquand) storyline about going to the literal ashes of Hilltop that really encapsulates the title. Can the former Whisperers rise from the ashes of their group like a phoenix and become something new? Even more importantly, however, Carol’s (Melissa McBride) hope rises from the ashes when they finally get news of Connie (Lauren Ridloff) – herself a phoenix who has risen from the ashes… but let’s take a closer look.

The episode enters with Aaron lost in a forest with Gracie (Anabelle Holloway). He’s met by the ghosts of all the groups he’s fought before, but this time he ends up losing Gracie and being killed by them. Meanwhile, it’s morning… 

Jerry (Anderson Cooper) tiptoes over all the people sleeping on the floor to use the bathroom, and while there, he looks out and sees that walkers have broken into Alexandria. He raises the alarm. Before Aaron goes out to help, he makes sure that Gracie promises to hide in the basement until he comes back. She has a whistle to call for help. There’s a flurry of activity as the group gets the fallen panel back in place and others kill the walkers who’ve gotten in. 

It’s clear that the walls are getting weaker. They are also getting low and food and tools. Carol suggests a run to Hilltop to try to scavenge any tools left there. Aaron, Jerry, and Lydia (Cassady McClincy) decide to go. Carol suggests they might hunt on the way there and back. Rosita (Christian Serratos) points out that they have to start thinking of other options, but Aaron insists that Alexandria is their home and he’s not ready to abandon it without a fight.

The group takes the horses to Hilltop. It looks like it’s been picked clean. They recognize their own people as walkers – it’s another great job by Nicotero with many hero walkers! They set about killing their friends. Anderson is particularly good here as Jerry’s distress is clear on his face. 

Lydia notices a group of walkers that are being herded. Aaron says “Whisperers!” and attacks. He finds one (Brad Fleischer), rips off his dead face and is about to kill him when Lydia says she knows him. 

We see Aaron and Jerry from Keith’s perspective as they begin to interrogate him. Aaron asks him name, and Jerry adds “Don’t give us any of that Alpha-Beta garbage!” He tells them Keith right away and he’s clearly terrified. He tells them he’s not hurting anything and that he’s the only one left. Aaron is positive he’s lying because he’s never met a Whisperer who wasn’t. Lydia is right there – and McClinchy’s reaction here is terrific. She’s clearly a bit stunned and hurt by the remark, but Lydia doesn’t use herself to challenge Aaron, instead reminding him of Mary – who Aaron really got killed for telling the truth. But it gives Aaron pause, and he and Carol want to know why she thinks Keith is telling the truth.

She tells them that he wasn’t part of Alpha’s inner circle – in fact, he was afraid of Alpha. Aaron points out that that just proves he had eyes. I mean, who wouldn’t be afraid of that psycho! Keith insists that he snuck food to Lydia during the long winters when Alpha wasn’t looking, but she’s not sure – they all wore masks after all. Lydia can’t convince the others that he’s not lying and it might not be a trap. They decide to lock him in the cellar – and they find more Whisperers there. Aaron finds another mask and goes after Keith, wanting to know how many more there are. The others are cowering in a corner and Lydia tries to get Aaron to stop, pointing out how scared they are and insisting that they are just trying to be people again. 

Jerry finds one of Nabila’s scarves and that’s it for him. Proof that they were in Alexandria and burned down their home. Keith grabs a knife and slashes at Aaron, allowing the others to get away. I loved that Carol is the one to punch Keith and put him on the ground. Aaron then grabs the knife and holds it to Keith’s throat declaring it’s his turn. 

Aaron strings Keith up and threatens him with a walker that he’s skewered on an antler. Carol isn’t happy and Lydia is clearly really disturbed. Carol is also clearly worried about Lydia. Jerry is holding the rope as Aaron keeps asking how many and where are they. Keith yells for help, and then tells Aaron that they pretend to be better than the dead, but at least the dead are honest – his friends are better off – being dead! And that’s it for Aaron, he lets the walker bite Keith and tells him he’d better talk or they won’t cut off his hand to save him. First, he taunts him asking if he feels better off now. Lydia is utterly appalled. 

Lydia tells him to stop, and Aaron insists he just needs the truth, but Lydia sees that he really wants revenge and declares she doesn’t have to watch and leaves. Jerry is clearly at the point of enough and begs Keith to tell the truth. And like all torture victims, Keith says he’ll say anything – he just wants to know what Aaron wants to hear. Carol just takes action and shoots the walker in the head.

Aaron is furious, but Carol tells him she’s stopping him from doing something he’ll regret. He insists that he’s just trying to protect everyone and insists that Carol of all people should understand it. This is a great scene between Marquand – who is criminally underused in the series – and McBride. He points out that they are standing on the ashes of their home and Gracie is going hungry – and Cooper’s face here is great – he has no lines but we clearly see Jerry’s emotions – he feels the same way. Aaron insists that there are people in the world who can’t be saved and he’s not going to let them show up on his doorstep. This is such a sad moment for Aaron, who was the one going out to try to save people when we first met him. It also dovetails back to his dream at the beginning. He’s tried again and again to save people only to have it blow up in his face.

Carol stops him. She confesses to him how she felt after Henry and the dark path she let it take her down. She tells him that with everything she does now, she carries the guilt of what she did. She tells him it’s a path he doesn’t want to go down. She tells him to let Keith go. Jerry releases Keith to the ground and Aaron tells him that he can cut Keith’s hand off or he can do it himself.

While the others are away from Alexandria, Judith is drilling the other kids on basic self defense against walkers. She notices some other, older kids tormenting a child walker – played incidentally by Gus Morgan – the sun of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Hilary Burton Morgan! It’s both cruel and dangerous, so Judith tries to put a stop to it. She’s used to being listened to – and really as the daughter of Rick and Michonne, she’s also used to being treated with deference – but they are gone now, and clearly forgotten by or not known by these nasty kids. 

When Judith tells the leader that if they don’t stop she’ll tell Rosita, he pushes her down, telling her she talks to much and it’s no wonder her mother abandoned her. At first it looks like Judith is going to cry – which is no doubt what he expects. What he doesn’t expect is for her to jump up and hold her katana to his throat, telling him to say it again. Gracie steps in and tells her not to. The bully calls her a psycho and tells her to stay away from him. Judith walks off, but it’s clear that she is holding back the tears. Once again Fleming owns the scene – she’s just brilliant.

Judith arrives home to where all the kids seem to congregate and finds the boards with her and Carl’s handprints broken on the floor. She accuses the bully from before, and he denies it. Gracie, RJ (Antony Azor), and Hershel all offer to help her put it back together. It’s a nice metaphor for helping her put her home back together. It’s also a nice shout out to the next generation of leaders who will help to bring order out of chaos. 

Rosita comes upon Judith looking at the pieces and tells her she remembers when they were made – when Judith was so small. She tells her that Carl wanted her to have them as a memory together. Fleming just kills in this scene. She tells Judith that now they are broken and Carl is gone – like everybody – her eyes filling with the tears that she can’t hold back now. 

Rosita tells her that she misses them all too. She doesn’t lie and say it gets easier. Judith worries that she’ll forget about them. Rosita tells her that she never knew her Dad and that her Mom died when she was about Judith’s age. She says that for a long time it was just the two of them and they moved around a lot, but she always kept them going. Rosita sees know that she was teaching her to be ok and survive on her own – and Carl and Rick did the same for Judith, so she could get through the tough times. Pieces of wood are nice, but she doesn’t really need it to remember them. Rosita tells her that she’s really good at fixing things – and she’ll help.

Luckily, Rosita and Judith are right by the radio fixing the boards when Eugene makes contact on the radio. Eugene tells them that they are all safe. Rosita tells him that the war is over, Alpha and Beta are dead, but Alexandria is trashed and they are running out of food. And then they lose the signal….

The Commonwealth storyline begins with a cheesy – and pretty glitchy – sales video for the Commonwealth, hosted by Director of Operations, Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton). We learn that Pamela Milton is their leader – and did anyone else immediately think of Milton – the Governor’s right hand man? I wonder if they are any relation? Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), Princess (Paola L├ízaro), Eugene (Josh McDermitt), and Ezekiel (Khary Payton) watch the video and are then handed pieces of paper with their work and housing assignments. Eugene has been assigned to the high school teaching pool as his work assignment, Princess gets her 2 dollar bill back and sees it as a good sign. When they question it, the guy (Ryan Vo) keeps telling them to talk to their case supervisor. And here’s where the story falls apart. Eugene tells him that they weren’t looking to take up permanent residency and to the others he reminds them that they are only there to get help… Um, what? All along they’ve been denying they are from a larger community and now they are going to ask for help for the non-existent community????

Princess has been assigned retail clerk – and she’s thrilled. Ezekiel is assigned to animal control. The roles are a pretty good fit, but totally underestimate the abilities of all of them. Ezekiel points out that the jobs are based on what they did before the fall. Yumiko, however, has been given an invitation to meet with someone and “explore the opportunities withing their community.” Eugene insists they stay on mission. Ezekiel decides to go see their case supervisor, and Princess decides to tag along to see more of the Commonwealth. Eugene goes to meet with Stephanie (Chelle Ramos), and Yumiko asks the paper pusher for help. When he sees her letter, he’s all ready to help – and sets to work to find her Tomi (Ian Anthony Dale).

Yumiko ends up in an amazing bakery – which is where her brother is working! He’s so surprised to see her that he drops the wedding cake that he just made. He’s not even the boss…

Stephanie buys Eugene an ice cream. As she’s being served, she’s interrupted by someone from Pamela Milton’s office who is there to pick up Milton’s “order.” There’s clearly a very well-defined hierarchy. Stephanie waits while their ice cream melts, and when Eugene asks if one of the flavors is Rocky Road, the woman just looks at him like he’s beneath her. It doesn’t look like Eugene got Rocky Road, so is the best also reserved for those in the top tier of this society? And why doesn’t she speak… would her voice be familiar to him? Is she the “real” Stephanie???

Eugene enjoys his ice cream anyway and tells Stephanie that the place has all kinds of creature comforts that he didn’t even know he missed. Their idyllic date and idyllic town square with families is undercut by the armed guards standing around and the recruitment posters and posters about regulations lining the streets behind them. Eugene tells her that he’d like to stay, but that’s not who he is anymore. He has to go back and help his friends. Stephanie wishes she could help cut through the red tape, but she’s not sure how.

As they sit on a bench, Eugene looks at the radio tower. Stephanie suggests that he’d feel better if he could talk to his friends at home but he was afraid to ask. Which now begs the question of how she was ever able to contact him if it’s so difficult? Was the whole thing a set up after all? He tells her he doesn’t want to get her into trouble. She tells him that she works in “Comms” but to get official access would take a couple of weeks. 

Ezekiel and Princess join them and say that they found the Deputy Supervisor, but it will take five weeks to see their boss. Which is ridiculous and makes no sense. Eugene then asks Stephanie if there is a “non-official” version of her offer. I loved her little smile as a yes. Eugene gives Princess what’s left of his ice cream – and she’s thrilled. They all follow Stephanie – but Mercer (Michael James Shaw) is watching.

They all go into an official looking building. I’m pretty sure that this is also the building they used as the Museum a few seasons ago. Stephanie and Eugene head to the radio room while Princess and Ezekiel take up watch in the lobby. There are Stormtroopers everywhere!

Meanwhile, Yumiko and Tomi catch up. She tells him about her prowess with bow and arrow and slingshot. She asks him how he even found the Commonwealth. He’d fled from Chicago and headed for Washington at the very beginning, met up with some good people, and has been there since the start. He gives all the credit to the “Miltons” (so clearly there is or was more than just Pamela). He tells her that it started as just a few secure blocks and expanded… Sounds like it could have been Woodbury or Alexandria… Tomi tells her that he almost forgets what’s going on outside the walls – and that’s clearly the point. Keep most of the populace happy and compliant and they’ll be easier to rule…

She can’t believe that he’s just making cakes when he was a surgeon. He tells her that he likes baking. And that she hasn’t changed – she’s still trying to run other people’s lives. She insists that she just wants what’s best for him – clearly, according to her. He asks when she’d ever seen him happy and contented? He clearly likes his life now much better than he liked being a surgeon. This tells us everything we need to know about him – and what his likely storyarc is going to be. He doesn’t want to be in charge, he doesn’t want to help other people, and he doesn’t like the responsibility of helping people. It’s clear to me that not only is Yumiko going to blow up his life, she’s also going to get him killed. Alternatively, he could become Alexandria’s doctor – but that’s a death sentence too! Yumiko asks if the Commonwealth is as good as it seems and he says better. She then asks about getting help. He tells her anything is possible as long as she follows the rules.

Princess sees Mercer coming – clearly on a mission – and tries to distract and delay him at the least. First, she clearly flusters him by complimenting his abs. Then she tells him that she wants to thank him for getting her two dollar bill back to her. He tells her there’s no need. He was just returning her property – and then he calls her Princess – it’s adorable – and I thought she had chemistry with Eugene! He then asks if there’s anything else, and she says yeah… he has really beautiful eyelashes! OMG! I LOVED this scene! Once again Shaw nails it. Just a quick blink and look to one side convey his discomfort – and pleasure in the compliment! 

Mercer bursts in and arrests Eugene and Stephanie right after Eugene loses the signal – and isn’t that convenient. That tiny broadcast gives them the name of Alexandria and what’s going on – they’ve been at war and need help – clearly not a thriving community. Eugene is pushed to floor and zip-tied while Stephanie just stands with hands up. When Eugene gets up, we see Ezekiel and Princess have also been arrested.

They are taken to a supervisor’s (Franco Barberis) office and told they are being charged with a bunch of offenses and have a hearing within the hour. Apparently their justice system doesn’t take five weeks to do everything! It all smacks of a set up to get rid of them. They are dangerous – they are independent thinkers! Eugene tries to explain, but the Supervisor tells him to tell it to the judge. He suggests it’s useless as they’ve been there less than a day and broken several laws – it will mean they are taken far outside the boundaries and will be forbidden to return… 

Princess then pipes up and wants their lawyer. Ezekiel says she’s a good one, and if they like rules so much, they have to let them have one. The Supervisor says rules are for citizens and they are Asylum seekers – which is clearly what their defence will be! If the rules don’t apply, then neither should the laws that they aren’t aware of… though ignorance of the law is never a defence.

Eugene asks to talk to Stephanie who will vouch for them. The Supervisor tells him that she’s also being charged – as a citizen. And then Stephanie comes in with Hornsby, who tells the Supervisor to let them go. He says he can’t as they’ve been charged. Hornsby tells him not to move them and goes to find Mercer. The Supervisor and some of the Stormtroopers also leave. Stephanie tells them they can trust Hornsby. Eugene thanks her, but she tells them that Hornsby can keep them from getting banished but one way or another, they’ll have to pay for what they’ve done. Eugene looks worried.

Maggie and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) continue fighting their way to the safe house and the rendez vous. There’s a great shot of them tag-teaming a walker. Negan again suggests that they might be the only ones left. He points out that the only way it works is if they trust each other. Maggie asks him why she would ever do that! He points out that they both want to stay alive. She tells him that if she stays alive it will be in spite of him. He turns to her and says he doesn’t know why she hasn’t just put him down already – and then she whips out a knife and throws it – narrowly missing him to kill the walker behind him. She tells him she asks the same question every day – and he knows she means it. 

Negan and Maggie make it to the safe house. There are weapons and food. Negan wants to take the food back. Maggie asks him how long he’d like someone to wait for him, and she insists that the food is nothing when they have to feed an entire community. Negan tells her that she needs to know when to cut her losses, and she points out that the losses are her people. He reminds her of Hershel (Kien Michael Spiller), and she tells him, Hershel is why she’s doing this. Negan suggests that they give it to sundown – and if the others haven’t shown by then, they aren’t going to.

Negan packs up and is ready to leave, declaring the mission over. He and Maggie get into a bit of a shoving match, but before it can really escalate, Gabriel and Elijah arrive. Maggie fills them in on what they know of the others. Gabriel declares they wait, and Maggie is clearly happy to have someone else in her corner. Negan reluctantly sits back down… to wait.

In the final scene, Lydia bandages Keith’s hands. He’s pretty philosophical all things considered. He says he understands and that if Alpha were there, she would have done worse! Carol leaves him with a bag of food – mushrooms. And I was left to wonder what kind… Keith thanks her for the food and her words, saying that they weren’t all like Alpha. Some of them just wanted to survive. He then says that they don’t think they’ve changed. Jerry says it’s not for him to say. 

And then Keith drops a bomb to prove it. He tells them that they saw a woman come out of the cave – and she’s alive. Lydia recognizes the cave he talks about. Carol is ready to go after Connie right away. Aaron insists that it’s getting dark. They can start at first light, and Carol agrees. They take the wagon full of tools and head back to Alexandria as the other Whisperer survivors come out of where they were hiding to join Keith in the ruins of Hilltop.

This felt like a somewhat disjointed episode, but we do finally get to see some movement on a couple of storylines. Now that things are heating up, I expect we will see more dedicated episodes to one or the other of them. It looks like we will finally catch up with Connie. How long will Maggie and company wait? How will Alexandria feed itself, and Judith really needs to put that bully finally in his place. We’ll need at least an episode or two to sort out what’s going on with Daryl (Norman Reedus). And what is going on with the Commonwealth? I’m betting things really aren’t as rosey as they are made out to be. There are tiny little hints after all. And of course, the big rumor out there is that this is an imposter Stephanie – and there’s ample evidence to support that. What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


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