TV review: The Walking Dead: Season 11, Episode 14 (The Rotten Core)
Money, money, money
The Rotten Core continues the story started in Warlords and raises the stakes when a stowaway from Hilltop is found lurking around outside the complex and captured. The infiltration at Riverbend is interspersed with another at a manor on the outskirts of the Commonwealth when Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) are blackmailed by the boy heir to the Commonwealth, Sebastian (Teo Rapp-Olsson), into retrieving, of all things, piles of money.
The episode again highlights the different lives that those at the Commonwealth have lived compared to those survivors fighting hand-to-hand against the undead for the past decade, and this may end up circling back to Connie’s investigation into the class divide within the community. When briefed about their mission to walk through a small herd of walkers just to retrieve cash, Daryl and Rosita are rightly as confused as we are. What does money mean in this world? The Commonwealth residents themselves had a huge bin full of the stuff at their assimilation camps and in Part A of this season, Daryl found a note written on a hundred-dollar bill. Money is nothing outside of the walls other than notepaper, yet inside the Commonwealth it is still regarded as the almighty.
Reward aside, the mission does re-create that feeling of claustrophobic tension that we have experienced before when walking with the dead and of course, when things do go south, it creates some more satisfying slicing and dicing that has been sorely lacking in this second chapter of season. For, when you have guns like the Commonwealth do, why would you think of any other creative or gruesome way to kill your prey?
Thank goodness for Daryl, still able to surprise and use whatever is nearby in close-quarters combat, and his new best friend, Mercer (Michael James Shaw), and his powerful axe. Standing side by side creates a new understanding and respect between the General of the Commonwealth’s army and our unwashed angel.
Together, they give the episode the more visceral violence that can be shown on screen, while most of the horror at Riverbend happens off screen – at least until the final bloody scene, which is pure joy to watch and another example of the visual effects team excelling themselves. This makes up for the otherwise lacklustre “plan” devised by Maggie (Lauren Cohan) for her and her team to escape.
They are escaping the Commonwealth, led by Carlson (Jason Butler Harner), who is sweeping the building for the missing weapons cache, killing anyone they find, with a plan to burn the building down. Most of the Riverbend residents hide in a secret room, protected by someone who has gained their trust in an awfully short space of time: Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
As well as the faith of the group, Negan has also made a rather close friend with one of their leaders, Annie (Medina Senghore). The revelation about just how close they have become is a bit of a shock considering only a few months have passed since he left. But it doesn’t matter about his revelation or indeed how quickly it happened; this needs to give something back to the character and the story. And it doesn’t, other than add another thread to Negan’s ever-growing tapestry about how he has changed.
There is a whole section dedicated to Negan showing us, once again, his compassion and guilt. It feels superfluous, as we already know he’s changed. It is only Maggie who thinks he still has hatred inside him, and one scene where he smashes in a Commonwealth’s soldiers skull won’t help her forget. Just as we, the viewers, are about to switch off to this show of emotional grief, a fun twist happens that we didn’t see coming.
This trip to Riverbend has helped us, and Lydia (Cassady McClincy), see this rotten core of the Commonwealth for who they truly are. Lydia puts it best saying they are just like the Whisperers, only wearing different masks. The episode builds to finally catching up with the flashforward from the first episode in this part of the season, but so far, Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton) has found that the communities of Alexandria and Hilltop aren’t the right fit for the Commonwealth – he needs people he can control and he will never be able to do that to Maggie.