Directed by Sharat Raju and written by Julia Ruchman, this weekend's The Walking Dead Season 11 Part 1 penultimate episode "Promises Broken" was a merry-go-round of tension and intrigue that lived up to its title in so many ways. After what might've been the best chapter so far in a season filled with a number of worthy contenders (check out our review here), this episode kept the quality rolling with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) teaching Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari) an important new survival tactic. Meanwhile, our Commonwealth group finds itself clearing walkers to pay off some fines before things go from bad to worse, and Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) interviews for a prominent position within the Milton administration. Finally, Daryl (Norman Reedus) learns some serious backstory intel on the Reapers- and more specifically, on Leah (Lynn Collins)- as Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) encounters a man of God who appears to be as stable as he is (uh-oh). So from this point forward, I'm throwing on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign and throwing down an image spoiler buffer as we look at five key elements that made "Promises Broken" work.
Negan & Maggie: First, let me get this out of the way so you can start yelling at me now. Is is just me, or are they giving off serious "sexy couple" vibes? Yes, I know the backstory. And I'm not saying I support it, but… c'mon! Okay, that aside? These two are definitely moving towards some type of resolution. As much as Maggie wants to drown out the idea, she can't keep the feeling that Negan has changed from creeping in. The fact that he brings certain skill sets that will keep them alive and serves as a much-needed "devil's advocate" only helps to serve his cause. And yet, this is a Maggie with a ton of backstory we don't know about. She's done some things. So would she be willing to break her promise to Negan to not kill him? I don't know- and I like that. Because it comes down to how you read into Maggie's reaction when Negan tells her he regrets not killing all of them when he had the chance. On one level, it's clearly shock and disgust at his saying that to her considering he killed her husband in front of her. But on the other level, could we also be seeing some "flashback-understanding" to some decisions she's had to make? Major props to Morgan and Cohan for painting characters that offer many shades.
Daryl & Lynn: I've developed a new level of respect for the way Reedus has slowly evolved his character, with Daryl demonstrating over the past few episodes that he's gotten pretty damn good at the mind games & manipulation (in a good way). Though having Lynn back in his life must be taking an emotional toll, we've seen he's been willing to use that intimacy with Lynn to keep the others alive and pile up some decent intel on the Reapers. But this was the episode where we got to watch Daryl walk a very thin line in order to learn more about the Reapers and begin slowly driving a wedge between Lynn & Pope (Ritchie Coster) without dying in the process. And more props, this time to Collins for keeping us guessing whether or not Lead was redeemable; quality acting creates that level of confusion. Were we ready to see Daryl put a bullet in her if she followed through on Pope's order to kill that family of survivors? Yup, but thankfully the better angels were able to tap into Leah's humanity.
Elijah & His Sister: Though we haven't had much time to get to know Eme-Akwari's Elijah for too long, he's made a major impression on us in a big way. The fact we've known him & the story of his missing sister for only a short time, and yet it had such an emotional impact as it did- like it happened to a character we've known for seasons- speaks volumes about Eme-Akwari as an actor and Ruchman as a writer. More props to give out, this time to Cohan and Eme-Akwari for that heartbreaking moment when Elijah learned the truth. Even among the horror, a small slice of decency and civility with a moment of quiet hand-holding that said more than three pages of dialogue ever could.
Yumiko & Hornsby: First, let me say how much I appreciate Matsuura's Yumiko being able to unleash her most dangerous weapon: her near-Sherlockian mind. The Commonwealth is giving Yumiko the storyline spotlight the character has so long deserved, and the one who has the best chance of unlocking the secrets behind the now-proven-too-good-to-be-true community, where a new society still plays by some very old societal rules. Just look at how she responded to Tomi (Ian Anthony Dale) being taken. She knows her value and is learning quickly how to weaponize it. And it appears we have the perfect ally, foil, or something in-between for her in Hornsby (Josh Hamilton). Another "gray area" character who I can't tell if I should love or hate. Sure, that move at the end with Eugene (Josh McDermott) did come across as a bit "big bad" but then again it was Eugene's actions that got him there in the first place. And wouldn't it be ironic if it was the Commonwealth who took out the Reapers?
"Father" Gabriel: Or more like "'The Angel of Death' Gabriel," with Gilliam offering us a Gabriel who has evolved (devolved) into something about as 180-degrees from the man we first met- and yet the road he's taken over so many seasons wrote the pages for where we find him now. Since the Season 1o "extra" episode, we've been left to wonder if there was any humanity left in Gabriel or if he was running a one-man gauntlet towards his inevitable death (and looking to take as many bad folks out along the way). Well, we're still not sure. Was Gabriel looking to reach out one last time to another man of faith, or eyeing a symbolic target for when he has a better chance?
All-in-all, another excellent episode of AMC's The Walking Dead, with a ton of meaty storyline potential for next week's "Part 1" finale, the ominous-sounding "For Blood." Oh, and as a teaser? We'll reveal our mindless speculation theory about how Daryl is going to go the way that a certain other character went in the comics before the final credits roll. And let's just say that if we're right, it flips the script on everything moving forward.