With just one more episode remaining in the show’s final season, Family needs to set things on a knife edge ahead of next week’s decisive confrontation between the surviving refugees from Alexandria and Hilltop and the embattled loyalists of the Milton regime. This episode assuredly exceeds this aim, in a tense and explosive story that - for those invested in the fate of the show’s key characters - includes some heart-rending moments of sacrifice and loss.
Mercer is now operating as a double-agent for the resistance, putting himself in jeopardy to protect Eugene, who he’s now secreted away beyond Milton’s reach, and shifting the balance of forces in favour of the resistance. Noah and the rest of his party are risking everything in full-on Whisperer mode, as they head back towards The Commonwealth in the midst of a walker horde after realising that they have been played by Milton. With Outpost 22 now recaptured and in the hands of Daryl, Maggie and Negan, the rebels prepare their assault on the Commonwealth citadel. Although these separate groups of insurgents are unaware of the position and plans of their allies, their combined power is impressive. But when Milton anticipates some of her opponents' key moves, and a mega-horde of the undead reaches the perimeter, things quickly descend into bloody chaos within the walls.
Director Sharat Raju invests the multiple action sequences in Family with a great energy, avoiding familiar and predictable tropes to set up some moments of genuine shock (which we won’t spoil here). With viewers acutely aware that the show’s finale is imminent, Raju leans into that sense of jeopardy - amping up the idea that the survival of even The Walking Dead’s longest serving heroes is not guaranteed (apart from those with confirmed spin-off series of their own).
Threaded through the high-stakes combat sequences, are character moments that prove to be prescient. Maggie and Negan continue to wrestle with the almost impossible task of establishing mutual trust, even in the context of the life-and-death struggle against Milton. Judith persuades Daryl and Carol that she is now old enough to honour the legacy left by her parents and join the coming battle, in another great performance by the young Cailey Fleming. And Lydia, someone who’d more recently slipped into the background of The Walking Dead ensemble, is thrust into the action again in chilling scenes that are brilliantly played by Cassady McClincy and Ross Marquand (Aaron).
Laila Robins has ensured that the public and private faces of Pamela Milton have always felt like the devious and duplicitous sides of the same manipulative character. And it’s felt right that the show’s final season antagonist has been something more than a nihilistic, violent bully. Milton’s own story arc has been interesting in its own right, and recent episodes have seen her struggle to maintain the facade of decency as her benign image has cracked. It’s fitting then that it’s her own arrogance and hubris in relation to the walker horde that puts The Commonwealth at risk. It’s just as in-character that she’s able to recalculate her plans under pressure to confront the enemies closing in on her from all sides. It leads her to a fateful act that, at least for a few seconds, shatters her ruthless veneer.
Events end with exactly the sort of horrifying cliffhanger you’d want in The Walking Dead’s penultimate episode. At its heart is a powerful image that consciously harks back to a pivotal moment in the show’s own past. As next week’s endgame approaches, it serves as a potent reminder that this has always been a show about the living, not the dead. And it again highlights that what so often dictates the choices that these survivors make are the bonds of family.
New episodes of THE WALKING DEAD - SEASON 11 premiere Mondays in the UK on DISNEY+/STAR
Read our previous reviews of THE WALKING DEAD below: