Directed by Greg Nicotero and written by Kevin Deiboldt, "On the Inside" might not be the best episode of the 11th & final season of AMC's The Walking Dead (because that's a tough debate among a number of other winners) but it's the first time in a long that the series has gotten its hands so thematically bloody. Just in case some of you out there forgot TWD was a horror series, Nicotero & Deiboldt offer a chapter that's a chainsaw to your fear-feels as a not-so-friendly reminder. In fact, we're not going to waste any more time so let's throw on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign & throw down an image spoiler buffer, and we'll meet you on the other side for a deep dive into this week's episode.
Welcome back, Connie (Lauren Ridloff)! If you need a perfect example of how best to handle a character's return while also offering her a defining spotlight any she's had before, look no further than the magic Nicotero, Deiboldt, and Ridloff pulled off in this go around. When you have an actor like Ridloff who truly knows her character and combines that with a directing-writing team that knows the universe she's functioning in, the result is a masterclass like the one they put on display in this episode. But consider me a jackass if I was to leave out Kevin Carroll's perfect blend of resolute bravery, all-too-real fear, and self-sacrifice that was his Virgil. The moments between Connie & Virgil were heartfelt, heartbreaking, and touching in ways that impacted me on an emotional level usually reserved for the long-running characters, making the horror around them just that more horrific.
And oh, that horror! With visuals that looked like they came out of a piece of Bernie Wrightston artwork to moments that literally had me looking at the screen through my fingers. From the silent moments shown through Connie's perspective to that brutal walker-on-"ferals" slaughter to the shock of seeing Virgil end up a human pincushion (alive? dead?), I needed to screen the episode more than twice just to make sure I didn't miss anything with the other storylines.
And what about those other storylines? Once again, credit to Deiboldt for weaving a number of narrative threads together in a way that made sense. With the Reapers storyline, we had Norman Reedus demonstrating just how excellent of a "bullshit artist" that Daryl's become, playing on his past with Leah (Lynn Collins) just enough to win her over to his favor (for now?). Ritchie Coster's Pope continues his quiet, threatening ways, and it's a testament to Coster as an actor that he leaves an impression on an episode even when he wasn't in it for long. As for Maggie (Lauren Cohan) & Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), less was definitely more. As much as viewers might want those two going at it in every episode, going to that well too often could leave their storyline dry. Seeing how they matched up with Daryl's storyline gave us just enough of them that we needed for now, and made the preview for the next episode where Maggie & Negan discuss regret feel that much important and must-see. And less you think we don't have a heart, the reunion between Connie and Kelly (Angel Theory) was everything we needed it to be. Yup. My eyes broke open on that one, as did my appreciation for Kelly as a character. More Theory, please!
Check with us next week as we take a look at the Sharat Raju-directed, Julia Ruchman-written "Part 1" penultimate episode "Promises Broken." And I'll be following that up with a review of the second and final season opener of The Walking Dead: World Beyond, "Konsekans" (directed by Loren Yaconelli and written by Matthew Negrete).