(Rob watches tonight’s episode. As the credits roll, he continues to stare, as if he can’t quite believe what he’s seen. He slowly rises from his couch, his head wobbling slightly as if trying to shake off a dream, and walks across the room to a dry-erase board reading “DAYS SINCE THE WALKING DEAD WAS GREAT: 1105.” He wipes off the number, then grabs a marker. He starts to put the pen to the board, pauses suddenly, then slowly and deliberately writes “0” where the other numbers had been, and walks away. Suddenly, without breaking stride, he returns to the board and adds, “You know, comparatively.”)
If you want to pigeonhole this episode with another story genre — and I do, because it’s been amusing me — I’d say conspiracy thriller probably comes closest to describing “Trust.” After all, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Max (Margot Bingham) are hoping to find files related to the disappearance of a surprising number of Commonwealth inhabitants, some of whom we know from last week’s episode died in the service of Governor Milton’s entitled nightmare of a son Kingsley and his desire to get some cash. Those files are for Connie (Lauren Ridloff), who thinks she’s going to write an exposé on the Miltons and their dirty deeds instead of getting imprisoned or killed before her article sees print in whatever newsletter serves as the Commonwealth’s press. Meanwhile, Aaron (Ross Marquand), Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), and Daryl (Norman Reedus) conspire to keep Deputy Governor Hornsby (Josh Hamilton) from learning the truth of what happened last week, specifically their role in killing Carlson and his platoon of Commonwealth soldiers to save the lives of the remaining Riverbenders.
While there have been plenty of solid episodes recently, “Trust” is excellent from the very first frame, which begins with a close-up of the half-eaten face of Carlson. The camera raises into the sky to reveal the entirety of his torn apart, half-eaten body, which is the most wonderfully grisly image The Walking Dead has provided in quite some time. It’s perfectly contrasted with the scene on the roof, as Gabriel and Aaron tell Hornsby the ludicrous story that the Riverbenders managed to kill the former CIA assassin Carlson and his heavily armed and armoured troops, but not, somehow, the two of them. When Daryl vouches for them their skills, Hornsby smiles and says he believes them, but (quite understandably) does not. As a result, he spends the rest of the episode trying to catch them, and eventually Maggie (Lauren Cohan), in their lie to some wonderfully tense, and happily silly moments.
First: on the road to Hilltop, where Hornsby suspects the Riverbenders have taken shelter, the group encounters a large group of zombies. Maliciously claiming he doesn’t want to waste any ammo, he sends Aaron and Gabe to take them all out — after all, they’re such great warriors. The funny thing here is, they are! Daryl joins them to help, but the three of them take out more than a dozen zombies without breaking a sweat. Strike one for Hornsby!
At Hilltop, we finally catch up to the flash-forward to the end of the ninth episode of season 11, where Maggie tells the Commontroopers at Hilltop’s door, “It doesn’t have to be like this,” to which recent enlistee Daryl takes off his Commontrooper helmet and replies, “Yeah it does.” It’s a much less sinister moment than TWD built it up to be since Hilltop isn’t technically in any trouble unless Riverbenders are found there, and Daryl talks to Maggie to prevent the other Commontroopers from busting down the door and hurting/killing a lot of Maggie’s people — as opposed to Daryl having switched sides, as was initially implied.
Hornsby’s first clue: a truck! Truck tracks were found leaving Riverbend, and when Hornsby mentions this, Maggie replies it’s a car they’ve been working on but can’t get to start. Ever so luckily, Hornsby just so happens to be a gear head, and volunteers to look under the hood to see what’s wrong… because if the truck easily works, it’s presumably the one Riverbend was using. Sure enough, Hornby finds two wires that have been conspicuously disconnected from each other, as if by hand, and goes to start it up as Maggie and Daryl watch nervously. But the engine still doesn’t turn over. Strike two!
Increasingly frustrated, Hornsby accosts Maggie’s son Hershel (Kien Michael Spiller), hoping he can get the truth from an innocent child. The Commonwealth deputy governor interrogates Hershel, attempts to intimidate him, and then tries to bribe the kid with the hat Hershel accidentally left at Riverbend after he stowed away. The interview is very suddenly ended by Elijah (kea Eme-Akwari), who sees what’s happening, rips Hornsby away from the kid, throws Hornsby against the wall, and sticks a gun in his face. When Maggie arrives, she points her gun at Hornsby too, which of course means all the Commontroopers level their weapons at Maggie and Elijah. It’s a tense moment indeed, until Daryl convinces Hornsby to tell his troops to stand down because Hilltop has been searched top-to-bottom and the Riverbenders are nowhere to be found. But that’s strike three, and Hornsby! Is! Outta there!
This is actually fine with him because one of his soldiers runs up to say they’ve found something, but it turns out that something isn’t the trail of the Riverbenders, who are presumably somewhere near Hilltop. Instead, it’s a single campsite — inhabited by Leah (Lynn Collins), cleaning all of the weapons she stole from Hornsby’s secret Commonwealth convoy. After Leah uses her military skills to hide and expertly wound some of the soldiers, Hornsby asks for a ceasefire and, out of nowhere, offers her a job. Roll credits.
It’s an odd scene and an odd development, since Hornsby has been dead set on getting his missing weapons cache back, and he doesn’t seem to be the type of guy who would allow someone a second chance to potentially endanger his nefarious plans. Especially when he has no idea who Leah is, or whether she’s one of the zombie apocalypse’s main lunatics. Likewise, why would Leah trust this total stranger other than to get revenge on Maggie and Daryl — but neither she nor Hornsby have any idea the other knows of them. Still, I presume Leah’s going to become Hornsby’s secret right-hand-woman, and that hand will be holding many, many weapons.
Honestly, the All the President’s Men-type attempts to discover the ugly truths of the Commonwealth don’t go much of anywhere; Connie can’t write her article until she gets proof, which Eugene and Max haven’t gotten yet, although the two of them reconcile with a kiss. The next biggest storyline is that Ezekiel (Khary Payton), given a new lease on life via his successful throat surgery, asks Yumiko’s brother Tomi (Ian Anthony Dale) if he’d do an appendectomy operation off the books for a poor woman who would rather die than leave her family in debt. The two immediately get caught stealing medical supplies and arrested only to be freed under Carol’s (Melissa McBride) orders. It turns out working for Hornsby comes with a great many privileges.
The trio head to Ezekiel’s vet clinic, where Carol and Tomi discover he’s also been running a secret medical clinic in the back for those people who can’t afford the Commonwealth’s medical care or to wait. This all works fine for the woman with the appendix, but more importantly, Ezekiel knows Carol must have gotten tight with someone in a position of power (in this case, Hornsby) in order to move him to the top of the surgery list.
What really makes this episode so much fun is that it feels like there’s more awesome gore than in the rest of season 11 combined. Besides the incredible first shot of the remains of Carlson, when Hornsby sends Aaron and Gabriel to fight those zombies, we see Aaron use his spike fist to turn a zombie head into a firework of blood and viscera, flying at the camera. Gabriel uses his machete to cut the top half of a zombie’s skull off, but diagonally, so all the horrid, corroded brains are visible on screen. Then Daryl stabs a zombie in the face with his assault rifle’s bayonet, then shoots another zombie in the head while the gun is still in the first zombie’s brains! It’s wonderful.
Also wonderful: the hilariously ominous and overwrought music. I can’t imagine why they thought everything in this episode deserved frequent, minor-key power chords, but they were delightful. They’re exactly the sort of thing that would/will still be awesome if they return in next week’s episode, which happens to be the final episode of this second portion of The Walking Dead’s final season. They would also be mildly pleasant if they stuck around for the fall premiere of the third collection of episodes, but then they’d likely be vastly irritating afterward. But tonight, the overblown music was fun as hell.
(Rob hits save on his Word document, then leans back and stretches, relieved another recap is finished. It’s been a long slog — 10 years — since he first started recapping The Walking Dead, filled with some highs and an unfathomable number of lows. He still has months to go, and he’s tried… so, so tired. But then he glances at the sign: “DAYS SINCE THE WALKING DEAD WAS AWESOME: 0.” And Rob smiles. It’s going to be ok, he thinks. Probably.)
- Max is mad at her brother Mercer (Michael James Shaw) for not using his position of power to make the Commonwealth a better place. But he’s resigned himself to living in a civilisation that has the same flaws as the old world did. He also, interestingly, has been very upset that he killed those two guards last week — he’s not the stone-faced enforcer he originally presented himself as.
- On the other hand, Mercer is also on the Commonwealth’s propaganda posters telling everyone to “do their part.” While most fascist dictatorships might like to publicly be seen as a legitimate, caring government, Mercer’s furious face all but says “OR I WILL KILL YOU.”
- Mercer has one of the best, most realistic “acting while pumping serious iron” scenes I think I’ve ever seen. All credit to Shaw for a great performance here while also being ripped as hell.
- I feel bad for Tomi. All he wanted to do was work in a low-stress job like his bakery, only for his sister Yumiko to bully him about not being a surgeon anymore. This got around and Tomi was conscripted into the Commonwealth’s medical division, where he is absolutely miserable, just like he was before the apocalypse. It’s sad, especially because I’m fairly confident he won’t live through the season.
- So what’s the deal with the truck? It seems obvious that Maggie disconnected that wire in the chance that Hornsby decided to try it out, which was some pretty quick thinking on her part. But when Hornsby connects the wires, it still didn’t work. Were the wires a decoy for some reason? Did they sabotage the car in a second, less obvious way? If so, why were they all sweating bullets when Hornsby tried to start the car? Did Maggie and Hilltop just get extremely lucky? It’s all weird and I’m done thinking about it because I suspect TWD is, too.
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