Directed by Greg Nicotero and written by LaToya Morgan, AMC's The Walking Dead Season 11 "Out of the Ashes" shifts the focus from Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Leah (Lynn Collins) back onto three main storylines. First up, Princess (Paola Lázaro), Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Ezekiel (Khary Payton), and Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) begin their orientation into the Commonwealth. Meanwhile, Maggie (Lauren Cohan), and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) continue their journey into the heart of some serious darkness as their search for food & supplies continues. And then back in Alexandria, Aaron's (Ross Marquand) worst fears become a reality when squatters are found at Hilltop. That means our survivors will have to train to fight for their very existence one more time. That includes Judith (Cailey Fleming), who steps up like the "Grimes" (don't start!) that she is to train the children on how to survive- including Anabelle Holloway's Gracie, Kien Michael Spiller's Hershel, and Antony Azor's RJ. So after last week, was the series able to regain its footing and get back to the season's winning ways? We're throwing on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign and throwing down an image spoiler buff as we take a deep dive into "Out of the Ashes."
Okay, a couple of things that need to be said right from the start. First, Nicotero and Morgan not only got things rolling the right way (not that there was any serious doubt) but proved once again one of the many things this series does well: keeping a lot of plates spinning nicely at the same time until they're all eventually spinning at the same time on the same stick. Second? Princess and Mercer (Michael James Shaw). Please make this happen like in the comics. Less than two minutes together and we're already calling them "Princer" and waiting for more scenes of them together. Last thing? As much as viewers were given the heads-up about it, the Commonwealth is truly a visual mindf**k in contrast to the other storylines we're seeing. From the ashes of Hilltop to ice cream & cakes in the Commonwealth, it doesn't get much more "opposite ends of the spectrum" than that. Once again, props to Nicotero and Morgan for creating an almost "secondary show," a new approach that works to add to the enormity of the final season.
Now with that off our plate, let's roll out some thoughts on what worked, what was a bit questionable, and some random observations from "Out of the Ashes":
As much as we appreciate seeing how Seth Gilliam's Gabriel has changed from the fallout from the Robert Patrick-starring Season 10 "extra" episode, it was time to give Marquand the opportunity to get us up-to-speed on the impact the episode had on Aaron (we won't spoil if you haven't seen it). And it wasn't good. From the opening nightmare scene to Carol walking him back from the brink of a big mistake, Aaron was a growing ball of rage, guilt, and fear that was going to explode at some point. Thankfully, Carol was able to use herself as a "cautionary tale" to keep him from repeating her recent mistakes in a scene that should go a long way in redeeming Carol in the eyes of those who still take issue with her actions with the Whisperers.
Cailey Fleming continues to give performance after performance of a caliber well beyond her years, which has us wondering just how scary-good she'll be five or ten years from now. The way Judith handled those bullies and then her won't-let-herself-cry walking away moment demonstrated just how well Fleming gets her character. Judith is a Grimes, by nurture if not by nature. And with that comes an assumption of leadership that has folks forgetting sometimes that they're not perfect… that they feel, too. So while we were proud to see Judith training the kids to fight and defend themselves, we can't help but get a little teary-eyed over just how much of her childhood she's already had to give up to get to this place (though I couldn't help but think "TWD Teen Titans" at one point).
And that's what made the conversation with Rosita (Christian Serratos) so essential. Rosita is a key to the part of Judith's family she knows so little about, so her words resonate (Judith: "I'm worried I'll start to forget about them"). But while it would've been easy for her to try to calm Judith with stories of Rick, Carl, and Michonne, Rosita understands that living in the present & looking to the future is essential, but that doesn't mean the past goes disappears. Even when people leave. Even when wood breaks.
So we're throwing major points Nicotero and Morgan's way for "Out of the Ashes" for bringing AMC's The Walking Dead back out of the doldrums from last week and getting viewers back on the edge of their seats with a quality combination of horror, heart, and hope that viewers were expecting from a final season that looks to be living up to its promise of being "epic."