In sharp contrast to the singular focus on the “house of horrors” in last week’s On the Inside, seventh episode Promises Broken switches attention across multiple settings as players are moved into position ahead of next week’s part-season finale.
As punishment for their transgressions in the Commonwealth, Eugene, Princess and the others are on walker clearing detail just outside the perimeter fence. It’s risky, hands-on work that sees Stephanie stand side-by-side with Eugene. Worried by Ezekiel’s continuing ill-health, Princess insists that he accepts some medical care from the Commonwealth’s well-equipped facilities. Yukimo meanwhile is trying to acclimatise to the seeming ‘new normal’ inside the Commonwealth and is preparing for a sit-down with the mysterious Ms Milton to discuss her appointment as a legal counsel.
Back on their mission, Maggie and Negan continue to argue about both tactics and morality. Determined to press on, Maggie adopts a surprising form of subterfuge to increase their chance of reaching Meridian and of overwhelming those defending it. Elsewhere, Daryl and Leah are sent out by Reapers’ leader Pope to track down and eliminate those he considers his enemies. Daryl could abscond, and track down Maggie. Instead he hopes to use their time alone to get beneath the surface of Leah’s tough new persona to see if he can reconnect with the woman he nearly committed himself to back in the events of last season’s Find Me.
One of the clearest senses running through Promises Broken is the speed with which things are building towards a series of showdowns. Although it’s far from obvious how those looming confrontations will play out, it’s clear that they are coming. Since the assaults on Maggie’s group, the Reapers have had no contact with the Alexandrians (although Maggie’s working hard on changing that), while both groups (Eugene’s party excepted) have no idea of the existence or the scale of the Commonwealth. All of that seems certain to change.
As pieces are moved into position, there are some strong character moments. Director Sharat Raju handles that combination of action and reflection well. The highlight of the episode is Maggie’s fireside exchange with an unrepentant Negan. It’s a conversation that manages to avoid the predictable beats, and reaffirm how improbable it is that the pair will ever be truly reconciled. Princess also steps out from behind her surface kookiness to demonstrate her growing connection and concern with those who have accepted her as one of their own.
Daryl walks a careful line between deceit and disclosure in her conflicted relationship with the formidable Leah. When Leah demonstrates that her essential humanity remains intact, and reveals her willingness to lie to Pope, Daryl almost comes clean with her about his real intentions before pulling back. There’s melancholy too, as members of Maggie’s group find evidence that family and friends that they lost contact with in their flight from the Reapers have become walkers.
As evidence emerges of the existence of a privileged elite within the Commonwealth (complete with ungrateful spoiled brats), Eugene again finds himself in conflict with the authorities when he acts from his conscience. When he’s invited to betray the location of his home settlement, some uncomfortable parallels between the motivations of the Commonwealth and the Reapers emerge.
There are also more signposts about the Reapers' history. Leah confides to Daryl how Pope’s confidence and righteousness made him a compelling saviour; while Gabriel watches a Reaper vocalise his warped religious convictions, alone in a graveyard. The fanaticism underpinning the Reapers’ brutality is increasingly apparent.
The most unsettling visuals of Promises Broken come from Maggie’s recognition that her depleted ranks need to be disguised and reinforced in order to reach the boundaries of Meridian. Even as it triggers some unpleasant memories, it’s the clearest evidence yet that Maggie’s resolve is as steely as ever. And it’s a decision that delivers the episode’s extraordinary closing shot.
Promises Broken covers a lot of ground, as Julia Ruchman’s packed script moves between equally fraught situations. There’s no word on how dire things might have become at Alexandria as supplies begin to run out. But that aside, the episode offers a sweeping vista of the different sets of protagonists squaring up against one another, not all of whom will survive the encounter. It's not as thrilling as last week's On the Inside, but there's real substance to the theme of commitments between survivors (both honoured and abandoned) under scrutiny here. The first cliffhanger of the final season now beckons.
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: