Family Is All That’s Left

Dec 26, 2022

Home Horror ‘The Walking Dead’ Season 11 Episode 23 Review: “Family” Is All That’s Left

A middling penultimate episode has family and legacy on its mind as we take the final shambling steps towards the end.

This is it, we’re in the end game of The Walking Dead now. At least, that is what we are being told once more in another opening narration from Judith (Cailey Fleming), reflecting on the past and the road ahead. However, this time we actually see her as opposed to just hearing her. As she picks up the respective weapons of her parents Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) who have each been gone from the show for even longer than she has, the story is practically shouting from the rooftops that they’ll be coming back. It has felt like keys being dangled in front of the audience for the last couple of episodes in a meandering final season that has otherwise struggled to find anything emotionally engaging to focus on.

In the fittingly titled “Family,” a title which serves as yet another hint of a Michonne and Rick return, much of it is centered around the journey to the Commonwealth. After everyone had managed to come together in the last episode, the plan is to now take the fight to them so they can take down Pamela (Laila Robins) once and for all. Before they get there, they have to take a train in order to sneak in without being found out. It makes for a series of rare moments where we hear characters actually get to talk with each other in a way that feels driven by emotion and less plot. Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Ezekiel (Khary Payton) have a moment of bonding after nearly dying when being confined in the same work camp, while Maggie (Lauren Cohan) listens in. Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride) talk with Judith about her past. There are a few other interactions, but these feel the most impactful even as it is all about building to a big final confrontation at the Commonwealth.

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Despite believing that they had the drop on Pamela, the tables are turned almost immediately when the characters get ambushed after arriving. Daryl had noticed something was wrong, but was too late to stop several of their party from being killed while the rest get pinned down. The sequence is rather awkwardly staged and it isn’t always entirely clear where anyone actually is in relation to each other. Instead, it is just about hearing a lot of noises and explosions as they get surrounded on all sides. There is a moment where Pamela even takes a gun herself and takes aim at Maggie. Judith, seeing what is about to happen, rushes to push her out of the way and is shot herself. It is a painful moment that instills everything with some sort of greater emotional tension as the young kid is going to need help fast, but this scene would carry a lot more weight if Judith hadn’t been so absent before it. Still, it is something to drive the remainder of the last part of the episode. After creating a distraction, a desperate Daryl then carries the wounded Judith out into the streets of the Commonwealth. Locked away, we see Pamela getting told that the walls surrounding them have fallen and walkers are swarming in. Rather than try to protect the citizens she is meant to serve, she orders that they effectively be used as human shields to save her and the rest of the upper class of the community.

It is then that Daryl and everyone else still alive gets caught in the middle of a zombie horde that the Commonwealth soldiers are redirecting towards them on Pamela’s orders. Negan quickly notices a lone walker that has managed to scale a barrier which is something they don’t usually do and part of the show introducing a last-minute evolution to what they’re capable of. The group doesn’t have time to make sense of this as they are just trying to get out with their lives. Carol catches sight of an alleyway that they could slip out through, but their window of opportunity is fast closing. The entire group then does what they can to repel the horde so that Daryl can make it through while carrying the wounded Judith. He does, but no one else is able to come with him. Judith, delirious and only semi-conscious, utters the line “daddy” which is meant to be a sad moment though also feels unintentionally humorous with the overly sentimental music that is swelling as she does so. As she then looks back at the zombies that are overrunning everyone they’ve left behind, there is a sense that the next episode may have some significant character deaths even as there are some that are immune as they have to survive for their spinoff series. It isn’t a terrible end to the episode as, odd proclamation aside, it feels like at least some prevailing threat will carry on to the series finale.

The fact that the mission to take down Pamela fell apart so quickly reaffirmed the fear that Judith had been expressing earlier and made clear that the continuing use of violence to survive is all-but-certain to keep ending in bloodshed. Even as the show has been more than willing to revel in that violence in the past, to the point that it feels somewhat stilted to try to reflect on that now so close to the end, there was something a bit more effective to how many of the sequences played out in this episode. Of course, many of the same problems remain as there is still a lack of greater emotional investment and a sluggishness to the storytelling. There are many other moving parts that feel rather busy, including the discovery of a betrayal in the Commonwealth and an unexpected amputation, that just don’t hold nearly the same impact. When the show is able to strip all that away to focus on the core group of characters and the way this story has shaped them, it will occasionally stumble into something potentially intriguing. Whether that will actually come together in the finale and bring back familiar faces in a way that feels fitting is what all of this show’s legacy is now hinging on.

Rating: C+

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