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The Walking Dead - The Rotten Core - Review

  The Walking Dead “The Rotten Core” was written by Erik Mountain and Jim Barnes and was directed by Marcus Stokes, whose other credits include 9-1-1, The Flash, and Criminal Minds, which didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in me. As the title promises, the episode starts to really reveal the rotten core of the Commonwealth and Stokes does a fine job of directing – thought surely the show is a finely oiled machine at this point... The episode features some terrific performances with a shout out to Norman Reedus (Daryl) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan) in particular. 

The episode begins essentially where we left off – with a nice close up of the people Carlson (Jason Butler Harner) threw off the roof. Remarkably, some of them are turning – and I adored how the episode circles back to this. Meanwhile, Carlson is on the roof, setting up communications with Hornsby (Josh Hamilton). Hornsby is happy to hear the building is secure, but Carlson tells him they’re still looking for the weapons. Hornsby is surprisingly somewhat sympathetic – though incredibly condescending – and utterly ironic as he compares them to rats who don’t know right from wrong. Carlson is going to deliver “law and order.” But definitely not justice. But, we will circle back to that…

Once again, the show ramps up the tension by cutting back and forth between storylines. Daryl is reporting for work (apparently a little late) and runs into Carol (Melissa McBride) who he was looking for. He asks if she’s heard anything about home, and she says sort of but doesn’t have time to elaborate. They make a “date” for lunch at the diner. I couldn’t help but think of Yvette Nicole Brown when Daryl called it a date!

I loved that Rosita (Christian Serratos) teases Daryl about being a cliché by eating a doughnut! And then eats half of it. Their boss – Vickers (Monique Grant) assigns them a sector together. Sebastian (Teo Rapp-Olsson) is in the station bragging about how good he is at killing walkers. He calls on Daryl to say how good he is with the Rotters. The way Daryl says, “oh yeah… it’s good… stuff” and then does a lame thumbs up and clap is priceless – and clearly gets the message across! Rosita smirks and Sebastian’s girlfriend (Courtney Dietz) stifles a laugh too.

As Rosita and Daryl head out, Alves (J.R. Adduci) and Crowe (Henry Bazemore Jr) stop them and tell them they’ve been re-assigned to help with a swarm outside the walls. Rosita points out that they are only supposed to be on patrol, but they insist and out rank them, so they go.

Back in the apartment, Maggie (Lauren Cohen) and Aaron (Ross Marquand) are clearing a room when Annie (Medina Senghore) appears to get the drop on them, but it’s actually Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari) and Lydia (Cassady McClincy) who get the drop on her. Maggie tells her that they are their to help. Annie asks who she is – and Negan interrupts to say Maggie. Negan defuses the standoff by telling everyone to put their shit back in their pants and zip up – I’m so glad we didn’t have to miss him for long! 

Negan says hello to Lydia first, and she asks what he’s doing there. He moves closer to Annie and says that they live there. It’s clear there’s more than friendship between them. Lydia is clearly happy to see him, but still hurt that he left. Negan tells them that the others don’t have Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) and takes them through the hidden doorway in the closet to the others. Gabriel is happy to see them all, and there are hugs all around.

Maggie asks if they took the guns, and Annie declares she’s sick of them asking! Negan says he is too, and challenges them to “ball up” and just call her a liar. Aaron points out that their boss had skulls on his wall, so he is inclined to call bullshit. Maggie clearly does believe her and says it doesn’t matter, they have to get them out. Annie won’t leave without the rest of her people. Maggie asks her what she wants to do – I wonder if Maggie is being influenced by what Lydia said last week about Maggie simply deciding for everyone. Annie suggests splitting into teams and rounding everyone up and finding a way out together. Negan is ready to go, but Annie tells him to stay because the others need someone they trust protecting them. I loved the look on Aaron’s face and the smug look on Negan’s. Maggie goes with Annie. 

Crowe and Alves bring Rosita and Daryl to a hill overlooking some old mansions which are surrounded by a swarm. They ask where everyone else is and are told there isn’t anyone else. Sebastian shows up and tells them that he wants them to break into a house, and a panic room, and get money for him because “his bitch mother” has cut off his line of credit. There is clearly no love lost between this mother and son! Alves and Crowe won’t do it because they can’t shoot because all the rounds are tracked. He says that they’d probably get “dog piled and suffocate” – and really? Does he not realize that they’d get torn apart and eaten?!?!? Or does he think he can actually sugar-coat it to Daryl and Rosita? He tells them that he believes in them.

Reedus is just fabulous in this scene. He cuts Sebastian off and tells him that they aren’t doing it. Sebastian has brought a walker which he has killed so that they can slime up to get through the horde – they’re doing it. Daryl says “or what?” And then Sebastian makes what is almost the biggest mistake of his life when he asks Daryl how his kids are and if Coco is walking. Daryl pulls his knife and goes right for Sebastian’s throat. I loved how this scene was shot with them framed against the blue sky and horizon on the top of that hill. Daryl glares straight in his eyes as he tells him if he threatens his kids again, he will gut him. Sebastian back peddles – but clearly doesn’t really comprehend how much danger he’s in. He says no one was threatening to hurt kids, but he can make their life easier. Alves pipes in with ‘or make them orphans.’ It’s Rosita who breaks first as she asks  - if we do this, that’s it? Like it ever would be – and Sebastian’s “totally” is clearly insincere.

Rosita and Daryl do goo themselves up and head in. They get into the house and find the power off. There are also fresh walkers – and they find April (Wynn Everett) locked in the panic room. She was in debt in the Commonwealth and a man showed up at her door one day offering her a way out of it… There were originally 12 of them, but only 3 made it inside, and she got locked in the room when the generator went out. Daryl goes to find the generator and Rosita stays with April. FYI – April Kelly was one of the names on the list with Tyler Davis that was given to Connie (Lauren Ridloff).

Negan moves around his people, reassuring them, and Lydia takes the opportunity to confront him about leaving without saying anything. He tells her that he left because he ‘gave a shit’ – it’s what everyone needed. Aaron asks about Annie – and Negan just holds up his hand – he’s MARRIED to Annie! Lydia is surprised, but Aaron just jumps right over it and says it fits, asking if Negan helped put any of the skulls on that wall. Negan counters, “says the guy who rolled in with the Gestapo!” Gabriel quickly says that they didn’t know. Gabriel tells him that the place they’re living now isn’t like anywhere else they’ve lived. Lydia interrupts to prove that she’s a keen observer. She tells them the Commonwealth is just like the Whisperers – they may wear different masks but they just want to swallow up other communities. 

They’re interrupted by Annie checking in on the walkie. Negan is clearly worried about her, and it’s easy to think that he’s just worried about what Maggie might tell her about him. As Negan looks out the window, he says “oh shit” – and we cut to a trooper who has Hershel (Kien Michael Spiller) who had been hiding in the truck. Negan crowbars him from behind and then drives him through the face as Hershel watches.

Maggie and Annie hide from the troopers as they try to move through the building to get the others out. Annie is nibbling on ginger and explains to Maggie that she’s pregnant – 12 weeks – and it’s his. Negan interrupts them to tell them he’s found Hershel. Maggie immediately wants to come to him, but Negan tells her to stay focussed and to stay with Annie. He promises that anything that’s going to happen to Hershel will have to happen to him first. We already know that Negan would never hurt a child. Annie tells her that he’s in good hands, and Maggie tells her that he’s in the hands of the man who killed his father. Annie tells her that he knows who he is and what he did. Clearly, Negan was only concerned for Annie’s safety – not that she would learn anything about him. Maggie is shocked that she’s still with Negan. Annie points out that none of them have clean hands – and she’s not wrong. She’s says that all they can do now is try to be better – like him. Maggie says she just needs to forget. Annie tells her what matters to her is who he is now.

Hershel tells Negan that his mom told him to stay away from him and asks why. Negan tells him that is was something bad that happened a long time ago. Hershel asks if he’s a bad man, and Negan tells him that he was. While Negan turns away, Hershel pulls a gun and says that his mom told him a bad man killed his dad and asks if Negan is that man. Negan doesn’t deny it. He sits to be eye to eye with him. He tells him that there’s nothing he can say to make it better – at this point the people in the next room realize that something is happening and come to the door. Negan doesn’t plead for his life, but he points out that if Hershel pulls the trigger, he’ll alert the troopers and get everyone else killed. Morgan is great in this scene (despite having forgotten that his cell phone was in his back pocket), and Negan tells Hershel that while he may deserve to die, the others don’t. Hershel lowers the gun and Lydia takes it away from him. 

Daryl finds the generator and a few more walkers. It seems to take him a little more effort than normal to kill them all, and with the flashing lights it’s hard to make sense of the fight. However, he kills them all – leaving us wondering where these ones came from – and gets the generator running.

They get into the panic room and April immediately hugs Rosita. An alarm starts going off and Rosita makes it worse – attracting the horde outside. Daryl works on the safe and rather than simply pulling the wires out of the wall, Rosita smashes the alarm with her helmet. It’s easy to hear that the horde is inside the house, and Rosita and Daryl block the door with a heavy table. They get ready to try to get out with the blood they have, giving some of their armor to April. 

Suddenly, there’s gunfire, and they open the door to find Carol – who got worried when Daryl didn’t show up for lunch – and Mercer (Michael James Shaw)! Somebody – I couldn’t catch the name, but I think it was Alves – told Mercer that they’d come in to steal money. Daryl told him that did not happen. Mercer asks if they’re looting houses now. Rosita tells him that Sebastian made them by threatening their kids. April tells him her story. Mercer looks pissed – but not surprised. 

They all head out into the now full house, walking slowly, eyes down. April is clearly terrified, looking around. You know there’s no way that she’s making it out. It’s ridiculous, however, when she gets caught on a walker because of the armor. They end up clearing the room of walkers, but April dies anyway. Rosita and Daryl have both lost their armor by now – but Rosita makes sure to bring the money.

Back at the apartment, Carlson tells the troopers that they find the guns in an hour or burn the place to the ground. Maggie and Annie come out of a room. Maggie radios in and tells Aaron that they have a plan… Meanwhile, Carlson, who is carrying a bottle of alcohol, and his troopers search the room outside the hidden room. The others leave, but Carlson whistles them back when he sees a footprint. He’s about to open the curtain, when he hears Gabriel.

Carlson chases Gabriel and Aaron to the roof. He only has two troopers with him. All three are focused on Gabriel and Aaron, as Carlson questions why they’d turn on the Commonwealth. Meanwhile Elijah sneaks up and takes out the troopers. When Carlson turns his gun on Elijah, Aaron smashes his wrist with his mace. Carlson tries to call all the other troopers to the roof, but they are otherwise occupied defending themselves. Carlson rises to his feet – he looks drunk at this point. He tries bargaining – things just got a little out of hand… he tells them to take a breath as Annie and Maggie join them on the roof. He says that they just need to talk things out – and Aaron unloads Carlson’s own gun into him. Carlson falls off the roof – and luckily is not quite dead yet! The walkers he created finish him off. It’s delightfully satisfying!

Rosita, Carol, Daryl and Mercer arrive back at the top of the hill. Mercer tells Crowe and Alves that they could have used their help. Alves tells Mercer that they don’t answer to him – and ask if the money is in the bags. Carol asks how many others were sent in before. They don’t even know, saying maybe 30 or 40. Mercer shocks everyone by shooting both of them in the head! And it’s suddenly clear whose side Mercer is really on – YEAH!!!!!!!!! I absolutely love Michael James Shaw and want him firmly on OUR team!

Mercer tells them that they have to give Sebastian the money or he’ll come after them. Mercer tells the that he’ll carry the bags through the gate because they won’t search him. He’s still firmly on their side.

Back at the station, Sebastian is as irritating as always – can we please shoot him, throw him off a building and feed him to the walkers soon? Please???? Rosita, Daryl, and Mercer are there, but it takes Sebastian quite a while to realize that his two henchmen are missing – and he doesn’t care that they didn’t come back. He leaves them with “their cut.” Daryl just looks at Mercer – and Mercer looks back. They both know about getting along with the rich white folks… It becomes clearer why Mercer was so interested in the fact that Daryl held a leadership position in Alexandria. The Commonwealth may have all the “comforts” of modern society, but it has none of the political and societal advantages of Alexandria.

Hornsby is frantically trying to raise Carlson on the radio. He’s interrupted by Carol as he goes back to work. He tells her it’s late and asks where she’s been. She tells him that she was helping some friends out of a jam. She tells him about what Sebastian is up to. He sounds concerned that Sebastian sent her friends. But when he asks if they got the money – both Carol and ourselves start to realize that he knew about the others that had been sent in as he says finally. She asks why he sent the other people. He tells her that they put themselves in stupid places – usually by failing to “play by the rules.” He tells her that the Commonwealth works because everyone plays their part. Everyone suffers if you don’t or won’t play along. They can’t let the system break down. Carol tells him she understands – people are either part of the problem or part of the solution. And we know Carol well enough to know who she sees as falling into both camps. Hornsby’s please that she gets it and tells her that it’s nice to be able to talk to someone who sees the big picture. He’d better worry if she brings him a plate of cookies!

Back at the apartment, Negan approaches Hershel and tells him that they have unfinished business. He tells Hershel to go home with his mother and help her rebuild their home. In a few years, when he’s grown up a bit, come find him, and Negan promises that they’ll settle it. Maggie arrives at the end and asks what he said. Hershel doesn’t tell her – this is between the men.

Maggie tells Gabriel and Aaron that they can’t go back to the Commonwealth – but they have to. They also have the immediate problem of what to do with the new group – it seems obvious that Maggie take them in, but will that include Negan and Annie? Gabriel points out that they still don’t know who actually took the guns – and that’s still a problem. We get a flashback to two weeks ago – and the vicious destruction of the convoy. Was anyone surprised that it was Leah (Lynn Collins)? I was a bit surprised by how feral she looked though.

This was another really great episode. It feels like the show is coming a bit back on track as we head to the end. Great performances from Morgan, Reedus, and Cohen. We all knew that the Commonwealth was too good to be true, but I loved how Lydia described it. It is rotten to the core – but we are starting to see the allies gain strength. Leah is definitely a wild card. Does she have a new group? We also start to see how Daryl and the troopers are going to end up outside Hilltop’s walls. I’m betting they are there for Annie and Negan’s group. Best of all, I think, was the super satisfying death of Carlson… What about you? What did you think of the episode? What surprised you? Let me know in the comments below?


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