The Walking Dead S11E14: Negan 2.0 Debut Embraces Tarantino: Review

So it's pretty safe to say that Hornsby (Josh Hamilton) & Toby (Jason Butler Harner) are not nice people. And that's far from our only takeaway from this weekend's episode of AMC's The Walking Dead. Directed by Marcus Stokes and written by Erik Mountain & Jim Barnes, "The Rotten Core" finds Aaron (Ross Marquand), Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Lydia (Cassady McClincy), Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari) & the now-returned Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) along with some new faces finding themselves knee-deep in dead innocents with Toby looking to go scorched earth to get what he wants. Hornsby wants payback for stolen guns & dead Commonwealth soldiers, and that's what Toby plans to do. Meanwhile, Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) were forced to help Sebastian (Teo Rapp-Olsson) make up for his serious lack of funds thanks to his mom Pamela Milton (Laila Robins) with a suicide mission that left them wondering how much of themselves they'll have to give up to make the Commonwealth work.

The Walking Dead S11E14: Negan 2.0 Debut Embraces Tarantino: Review
Image: Screencap

Add into that mix a very conversation-worthy series of exchanges between Negan and Maggie's son (and stowaway) Hershel (Kien Michael Spiller), Mercer (Michael James Shaw) reaching his breaking point, and the reveal of who's been playing the communities against one another, and what we're left with is another excellent chapter in the long-running series' final run of episodes. Now for a closer look at what worked, our thoughts on "Negan 2.0," and why we couldn't help but vibe Quentin Tarantino from start to end, we're throwing on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign and dropping an image spoiler buffer, and we'll meet you on the other side.

The Walking Dead S11E14: Negan 2.0 Debut Embraces Tarantino: Review
The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

If I'm starting to sound like a broken record when it comes to this season, you only have The Walking Dead to blame for it. Stokes' directing style kept the tension building and in-your-face from opener to end credits, while Mountain & Barnes kept the flow from the previous episode flowing strong (and adding to our appreciation of "Warlords" in the process). In many ways, this felt like a season-opener in that it cleaned up some major cliffhangers from previous episodes while setting a seriously dire tone for what to come with the remaining two episodes and the third part later this year. If there was one "thing" that I need to bring up, it's my mixed feelings on last week's and this week's episodes being split. As much as "Warlords" and "The Rotten Core" work on their own, I would love to see a "feature film" cut because these two weeks have definitely vibed big-screen, thought-provoking actioner.

The Walking Dead S11E14: Negan 2.0 Debut Embraces Tarantino: Review
Image: Screencap

The Tarantino Vibe: Speaking of things vibing, did anyone else find themselves making some serious thematic connections between tonight's episode and Tarantino's films? Negan telling Hershel to find him in a couple of years if he needs to make right Negan killing Hershel's father Glenn (Steven Yeun) & Leah's (Lynn Collins) look at the end of the episode (yup, she's the badass taking out everyone) screamed Uma Thurman & Kill Bill. The standoff between Maggie, Aaron, Lydia, Elijah, and Annie (Medina Senghore) before Negan defuses the situation and the shady backroom plans Hornsby & Sebastian each have in play had us seeing Reservoir Dogs. And how isn't Aaron and Gabriel the TWD's version of Jonh Travolta's Vincent and Samuel L. Jackson's Jules from Pulp Fiction? Looking at what we've seen of the Commonwealth so far, it has the same hyper-realized reality with a dark underbelly like in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. And now that we think about it, wouldn't Negan and Josh McDermitt's Eugene fit in perfectly in a Tarantino film with their respective style of speech and individualistic swagger? Just something to put out there, and in case there's any confusion this is meant to be high praise, indeed.

walking dead
Image: AMC Networks

Negan 2.0: While fans will continue to debate whether Rick (Andrew Lincoln) should've let him live or if Maggie should've killed him, it would appear that Negan is proving Rick's redemption theory right (even if we're not sure Rick saw that potential in Negan). Married to community leader/badass Annie with a baby on the way, this Negan seems more than fine with conceding the leadership role and working more directly with his new family. But while this new group may seem him a certain way, Maggie, Aaron, and others either aren't convinced or are too shocked by the reality that even someone like Negan could achieve a state of grace. Even after speaking with Annie and what Negan did to protect Hershel, Maggie still can't bring herself to accept what's in front of her. And that's a very real feeling that Cohan portrays in Maggie, which is why taking sides is damn near impossible. And special props go to Spiller, who not only held his own on-screen with Morgan but demonstrated a skilled art of selling his emotions without uttering a word.

The Walking Dead S11E14: Negan 2.0 Debut Embraces Tarantino: Review
The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Josh Stringer/AMC

Random Thoughts: There were so many major and mini-moments that stuck out to us, so we're just going to throw them at you rapid-fire-style. As much as we hate Sebastian as a character, his use of "rotters" makes us hate him more. Lydia looked like she saw a ghost when Negan showed… just like Negan went "Casper" when Annie & Maggie left on a mission together. Bonus points to Lydia for making a great Whisperers/Commonwealth connection ("different masks"). Next to Rick and Danai Gurira's Michonne, Maggie saying the words, "I have a plan" could be some of the most comforting words that you would want to hear. Ummm… was it just us or were those some slightly "faster" walkers that Daryl was taking on in the basement as he tried to get the power back?

The Walking Dead S11E14: Negan 2.0 Debut Embraces Tarantino: Review
THE WALKING DEAD (Image: Screencap)

And while we felt for April, she did feel like an "extra baggage" metaphor to demonstrate the class differences that existed and still exist. While Mercer understands the realities of how to survive in the Commonwealth, the justice he delivered at the end of the episode makes his breaking point easier and easier to see. And speaking of great facial expression, did anyone else get a sadistic giggle when they saw the look on Carol's face after she turned to leave Hornsby's office? Hornsby damn near got her people killed. There will be a response. And lastly… if there was anyone more perfect to represent past mistakes coming back to haunt you than Leah, then please tell me. Because as much as I had a feeling that that's where this might be going, the camera panning up for the official reveal still got an "Oh, shit!" reaction from me. Let's just say that we're not sure Daryl's ever had to deal with an ex like Leah before… and that's why we can't wait for next week's episode, "Trust." See you then!

The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 14 "The Rotten Core"

The Walking Dead S11E14: Negan 2.0 Debut Embraces Tarantino: Review
Review by Ray Flook

9/10
Directed by Marcus Stokes and written by Erik Mountain & Jim Barnes, Amc's The Walking Dead S11E14 "The Rotten Core" finds Aaron (Ross Marquand), Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Lydia (Cassady McClincy), Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari) & the now-returned Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) along with some new faces finding themselves knee-deep in dead innocents with Toby (Jason Butler Harner) looking to go scorched earth to get what he wants. Hornsby (Josh Hamilton) wants payback for stolen guns & dead Commonwealth soldiers, and that's what Toby plans to do. Meanwhile, Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) were forced to help Sebastian (Teo Rapp-Olsson) make up for his serious lack of funds thanks to his mom Pamela Milton (Laila Robins) with a suicide mission that left them wondering how much of themselves they'll have to give up to make the Commonwealth work. Add into that mix a very conversation-worthy series of exchanges between Negan and Maggie's son (and stowaway) Hershel (Kien Michael Spiller), Mercer (Michael James Shaw) reaching his breaking point, and the reveal of who's been playing the communities against one another, and what we're left with is another excellent chapter in the long-running series' final run of episodes.

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About Ray Flook

Serving as Television Editor since 2018, Ray began five years earlier as a contributing writer/photographer before being brought onto the core BC team in 2017.
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