It's a phrase that we've gotten used to saying a lot when it comes to AMC's The Walking Dead. Well, it was nice while it lasted. Even though it would be a bitter pill to swallow, Carol (Melissa McBride) and Pamela (Laila Robins) struck a deal that would give our heroes a clean slate, with the option to stay with the Commonwealth or head back to their settlements ( with enough supplies to help fix them back up). In return, Lance (Josh Hamilton) will be brought to justice for the crimes he committed… as well as Sebastian's (Teo Rapp-Olsson). But a combination of Lance putting his failsafe plan into play and Max (Margot Bingham) exposing the truth behind the Commonwealth has left Sebastian dead and the people out for blood. Meanwhile, Pamela plans on dealing with Lance personally… and more. She wants a scapegoat among our heroes as a sacrifice… and it looks like she has Eugene (Josh McDermitt) in her sights. Meanwhile, Aaron (Ross Marquand) starts having that conversation, the one about walkers who can climb and open doors. The kind that he, Jerry (Cooper Andrews), Lydia (Cassady McClincy), and Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari) are about to experience firsthand. Now, that's a lot for S11E19 "Variant" to tackle… but was it able to pull it off? In ways that make it the best episode so far since its return. From this point forward, we're throwing on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign and throwing down an image spoiler buffer, and then we'll meet you on the other side regarding our thoughts on this week's chapter.
The Walking Dead Season 11 Ep. 19 "Variant" Thoughts & Observations
Once again, these are some powerful openers they're running to kick off these final episodes, and I've always wondered what the dynamic would be like this season if Abraham (Micheal Cudlitz) had lived.
As we saw earlier this week, "Variant" picks up right where things left off… with Daryl (Norman Reedus) smartly getting Eugene off the streets and out of the clutches of the Commonwealth:
Is it just me, or is the title card getting bloodier?
"I need an example. Someone to remind these people that actions have consequences" is not the line you want to hear from Pamela if you're Mercer (Michael James Shaw)… especially after the way she spoke about Max being able to be helped "before it's too late." And that's where Pamela put sit out there. If Mercer wants Max protected, then it's time to bring in Eugene. I'm seriously impressed with how easily Robins can flip the switch on Pamela so easily to shift her into "angry dictator mode."
Well, we know what Mercer's decision was because the round-up of our heroes is underway…
Meanwhile, Aaron, Jerry, Lydia & Elijah are making their way to Oceanside, with Aaron looking to get there sooner rather than later. So, yeah… looks like we're going to learn one of the reasons why the episode is entitled "Variant" sooner rather than later (and it won't require a boat ride to France to pull it off).
After that sweetly personal exchange between the two last episodes, Christian Serratos does an excellent job of conveying Rosita's hurt, disbelief, and anger over Mercer coming at her as if she's just some suspect that he hasn't gotten to know. Sorry, Mercer, but none of that shit is working on Rosita, who first disarms him by bringing up Max when conveying her conversation with Eugene. And then hitting Mercer with that line about how she'll call him if Eugene comes around? Excellent! And the topper? Rosita chuckles as she walks out of the room, with Mercer's attempt at a threat/warning left on the floor.
Now, the race is on for Rosita to find Max so our heroes can get out of the Commonwealth at dawn. Big problem? Pamela just broadcast a bounty on Eugene's head and the heads of anyone helping him, promising. threatening "swift and final justice."
Jerry's hurt? Okay… time to repeat this… IF ANYTHING HAPPENS TO JERRY, WE RIOT! Thank you…
So close to that kiss, Elijah! But after her confession to Carol last week, it's easy to understand how Lydia's feeling. And that look on Aaron's face? Props to Marquand for his Rick Grimes-like ability to switch from killer badass to uber-dad in a heartbeat. That said, something's eating at Aaron (thankfully, not literally), and he's on edge.
The scene from the previously-released preview, with Pamela and Sebastian, finally having the mother-son honesty the two so desperately needed well before now. Again, serious props to Robins for portraying a heartbroken mother and conveying the inevitability of the moment that they both now share:
And then there's Princess (Paola Lázaro), who is holding Mercer's ass to fire, and rightfully so. Princess knows that the Commonwealth plans on executing Eugene, and she demands to know how Mercer can be okay with that. Lázaro crushed my heart explaining to Mercer why Eugene is important to her… why he's a good person.
Princess with the important question in all of this: "What is the point of this place if a good man is put to death?"
Remember when I mentioned that Marquand was giving off serious Rick Grimes vibes in this episode? Look no further than that beautifully touching & heartbreaking exchange he had with Lydia about knowing when to let yourself live.
And then we learn that we have climbing walkers now, too. Fun.
Dammit. They got Max. Though as much as I love her, I never had the feeling that she would be able to be on the run for long without help from our heroes. But Rosita arrived a minute too late… and now, she looks pissed. Meanwhile, Mercer wants Max to sign a confession saying her actions were due to mental illness and her not taking her meds, and that the recordings were doctored. Just a reminder? Max is Mercer's sister. Max won't sell out Eugene and take the pardon, while Mercer makes it clear that they're looking to execute her for treason. Bingham and Shaw excel here, with Bingham selling it as a sister who needs her brother to understand why she's doing what she's doing. And then there's Shaw, who mixes his love & concern for his sister with his growing frustration over the realities of the commonwealth in a way that conveys Merce to be the slow-burning power keg that he should be at this point. And that part about their father being ashamed of what Mercer's doing? Ouch.
"You'd be wise to step aside, hoss," was probably the funniest line so far. No disrespect to Eugene, but… c'mon! Yup, Eugene is squaring up on Daryl! LOL And yet, Daryl respects his willingness to fight… even him. An impressive moment of respect that Reedus handled like a pro by recognizing that it required a "less-is-more" approach from him. And that's because Daryl knew Eugene wouldn't leave… not because Eugene's a coward (look what he did with the Saviors) but because he's smart. And yet, Eugene still can't see what he's brought to our heroes over the years.
I love that moment between Princess and Ezekiel (Khary Payton), with both offering soulfully persuasive arguments for leaving and staying. The way Lázaro had Princess convey her understanding that maybe she deserves more than "the best of a bad situation" was empowering, even if it comes with possible heartbreak.
And now? The real confrontation that we've been waiting for… Pamela & Lance. And what did it take? Ten seconds? Maybe not even that long for Lance to spill the beans to "mommy" Pamela. To quote Megan Thee Stallion? Pamela is a bad bitch, especially with that move with the coin. "Body's still warm. Feed my son, Lance" was a "10" on the badass exit line scale, as Lance learns all too well how he still has a role to play in serving the Miltons.
The way Lázaro conveys the heartbreak of Princess' past with the hope for something better that she still holds onto with both hands in such a beautiful, tears-inducing way that made me want to hug my monitor. Because even with off of that darkness in her backstory, she never gives up on the idea that "things could be better."
Yup. That "monster" line to Mercer? All the tears!!!!
Meanwhile… JERRY, MASTER SWORDSMAN! Of course, there's not much time to celebrate with that wave of "smart walkers" that found its way inside. Our foursome is about to learn firsthand as a walker tries to open the door. Uh-oh… Though it makes sense for Aaron to assume Whisperers first. But when he goes for that "Scooby-Doo" ending by ripping off the mask, well… let's just say that Aaron learns pretty quickly that the Whisperers are not the problem. So it's time for Aaron and Jerry to have that sobering conversation about the possibility of there being a lot more walker variants out there.
Only thing I like better in these minutes than Elijah and Lydia kissing? The prospect of a "King Jerry" (with no disrespect meant towards King Ezekiel).
Serratos' Rita understands why Eugene's making the decision to turn himself in, yet she wonderfully conveys the anger and frustration of someone who doesn't want to see a person they love to die for something wrong, something unjust. And that ending hug and tears from Rosita only drove the knife deeper into our hearts.
Eugene pulling a Seven move by walking into the middle of the police station was a pretty pimp move on his part. An even bigger pimp move? Exonerating Max while looking Mercer in the eye.
And then, just before Rosita is about to join the others? Pamela puts her "black ops" action into play, and it looks like S11E20 "What's Been Lost" (directed by Aisha Tyler and written by Erik Mountain).