The desperate predicament of the failing Alexandria community is once again centre stage in Out of the Ashes, the fifth episode of Season Eleven of The Walking Dead. Three parallel storylines all focus on the efforts of the settlement’s scattered members to secure the help and resources without which Alexandria seems doomed. It’s a pressure cooker environment that sees key characters reacting badly to the acute stress imposed upon them.
In contrast to the singular focus of last week’s Rendition, it’s the interest in giving a wider sense of the forces in play that shapes the narrative of Out of the Ashes. While there’s no sight of the Reapers, the episode brings back into view the crumbling Alexandria and the decimated Hilltop, the stragglers from the ranks of the Whisperers, and gives the first full view of life inside the Commonwealth. And it continues to track Maggie’s efforts to reclaim the stolen supplies from Meridian, an urgent mission that began back in the opening episode Acheron: Part I.
In the absence of other candidates, Aaron has become the de facto operational leader at Alexandria. Although haunted by the experience of loss, he’s determined that the community’s walls must hold and their store cupboards and tool sheds are replenished. When another incursion by walkers proves yet again how vulnerable the settlement is, Aaron, Carol and others decide it’s worth a return scavenger trip to the burnt ruins of Hilltop. Amidst the detritus and corpses, they discover something entirely unexpected.
Maggie and Negan make their way to the rendezvous point, where their isolation and the calamitous state of their mission almost breaks their fragile truce. Negan wants to cut their losses, and head home carrying the meagre food supplies that they have found. Maggie is adamant that they must stick to the plan and await the arrival of the surviving members of their group. At the Commonwealth, Eugene and the others are put through ‘orientation’ in what seems to be a thriving settlement. But their insistence on making radio contact with the Alexandrians leads the group into serious conflict with the Commonwealth’s strictly enforced rules.
Life at the Commonwealth is introduced to newcomers by a cheerfully cheesy promotional video. It's a well-evoked pastiche of 1950s’ American public information films. It’s something that echoes the ambience of the community itself (at least on a superficial, surface-level): the idealised evocation of contented small-town middle-America. What’s already been made clear to Eugene’s group during incarceration is the authoritarian undercurrent running through the Commonwealth. And they’re soon required to take on the role of obedient citizens eager to embrace the social positions they are assigned. It was never going to be a good fit for Ezekiel, Princess and the others.
The contrast between the public projection of the Commonwealth (all freshly baked doughnuts and dutiful public service) and the self-image of the Reapers (nihilistic, theistic death cult) could scarcely be starker. It's difficult to imagine that both worldviews can survive what feels like an inevitable confrontation.
While there’s still a good amount of zombie culling, Out of the Ashes is more obviously defined by the character interactions that texture the drama, and which director Greg Nicotero foregrounds: including some key exchanges between a stressed-out Aaron and a grounded Carol; an upset Judith and an empathic Rosita; and a mischievous Princess and a confused Mercer. There’s also one familial reunion and a lead on the possible whereabouts of another missing compatriot.
As the episode ends, while there are glimpses of hope, the balance of forces remains firmly tipped against the dispersed survivors who call Alexandria home. As different players are moved into position, the pacing of this final series currently feels acutely well-judged.
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: