This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 10
If there was even a starker contrast between two places, it hits the very opening moments of “New Haunts,” the first episode of The Walking Dead to show what life is like in the Commonwealth for the hungry, bedraggled survivors from Alexandria. Sure, they’ve had 30 days to get adjusted, but that’s barely enough time to get used to not having to fight marauders for crumbs. By and large, Daryl (Norman Reedus) and company are still trying to adjust to the new world, which feels suspiciously like the old world in all the wrong ways.
The Commonwealth is so insulated from the world around them that something like a zombie-filled haunted house is just part of the community Halloween celebration, rather than the real world outside the community’s walls. It seems to be in poor taste, but the people in The Commonwealth aren’t concerned about it. They’re keeping the holidays in their own way, and part of that way is with scaring children with pretend walkers, rather than the actual walkers The Commonwealth keeps on hand to train security teams. If nothing else, that’s an improvement over Woodbury’s zombie gladiatorial games, but it’s not exactly the best idea for a pair of traumatized kids, even if they know it’s all in good fun and are fine with it by the end.
The Commonwealth has been isolated from the zombie threat for a long time. Possibly, the entire time, based on just how the community seems to act. That’s emphasized in Daryl and Rosita’s (Christian Serratos) training with the incoming crop of soldiers serving under Mercer. They’re capable enough from a physical standpoint, but Rosita’s partnership goes much better than Daryl’s, and it isn’t exactly Daryl’s fault for being stuck with a lemon as a partner. The security forces must be compensated pretty well, because the former guard that Princess beat up last season is now reduced to serving food at a banquet, toiling away as one of the underclass who serve anonymously at the beck and call of Pamela Milton (Laila Robins) and the worthless higher-ups of society like her son Sebastian (Teo Rapp-Olsson), who might be playing the most instantly hatable character the show has ever introduced.
Every time Sebastian is on screen, my skin crawls. He’s simply the worst, most entitled spoiled little rich boy character the show has ever had; he makes Spencer Monroe (Deanna’s son from the early days of Alexandria) look like the reincarnation of Abraham by comparison. He pushes his luck with people lesser than him and sucks up to people higher on the totem pole than him, and does it in the most obvious way possible. It’s a credit to Magali Lozano’s script that this kid turns out so loathsome, and it’s brilliant work by Teo Rapp-Olsson to maximize this wheedling simp’s frustrating unlikability with every slack-mouthed expression and every dismissive scoff. He’s just the worst sort of fail son imaginable, and yet, he’s got an insane amount of power behind The Commonwealth’s walls, so Daryl has to make nice with him simply to continue getting paid for soldier work.
That’s right, paid for protecting the community. Fiat currency is back, and bigger than ever! You work to get paid, you use your pay to get food and luxury goods, and thus, a middle class existence is back in the middle of the end of the world. It’s not something any of the survivors had envisioned, Lozano puts a nice throw-away line in there about Rosita’s worrying over money, and how that was something she thought was dead. Judith’s inability to buy a Motorhead record, because she doesn’t have an allowance, is another nod to just how different the world is outside of the walls of The Commonwealth, and how nothing has changed within the safety of Mercer’s protection.
The push from Rick was always for a new world, a new society, a safe place that refuses to make the mistakes of the past. The Commonwealth is not that place; there’s very much a hierarchy in place, and if you’re a pre-fall lawyer, you’ll be important. If you’re a pre-fall waiter, you’ll be carrying a tray of drinks. What someone has accomplished since the fall means nothing to the people of the Commonwealth, which is why Magna (Nadia Hilker) is serving drinks to Yumiko and Daryl and Rosita are going through ‘basic training’ with people who have never fought a real walker led by someone who may or may not have less combat experience than the two of them.
There are flaws in any society, particularly one where the stratification is returning with the solidity of The Commonwealth. Jon Amiel makes sure that the Halloween parties look great, and that there’s an appropriately eye-catching cocktail party celebration, but the parallels to ancient Rome go past the harp players. If you’re a have, or someone important, you want for nothing. If you’re a lowly guard or a waiter, then you’re living hand to mouth and hoping to make ends meet without rising in status. What you were before makes you what you are in The Commonwealth, even if you’ve been a king among men, a fearless zombie killer, or the best wilderness tracker since Kit Carson.
Connections over usefulness, paper skills over practical skills, and who you know over what you can actually do. For some people, like Tomi (Ian Anthony Dale), The Commonwealth is a gilded cage. For others, like Lance (Josh Hamilton), The Commonwealth is the only way they know how to live anymore. Their society is less a return to something safe and sane and more of a reset to pre-outbreak life, and if the servant class is unhappy about being returned to wage slavery, then they better hope they don’t get caught spray-painting graffiti and passing out leaflets. The old world had prisons where problems were locked away and forgotten about; the new world has a walker-filled wasteland where problems go to disappear permanently.