The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 23 Review: And Yet They Smile

Directed by Sharat Raju and written by Magali Lozano, Erik Mountain & Kevin Deiboldt, AMC's The Walking Dead S11E23 "Family" did an excellent job of meeting the essential requirements of an effective penultimate episode. First, it brought a number of storylines much closer together in a way that made sense and never felt rushed, setting up our overarching narrative nicely for an effective series end. Along with that, the episode also served as an important reminder of a key concept that the long-running series has always emphasized. That is, in the toughest of times (and a walker apocalypse is a pretty tough time), family isn't defined by blood but by who's willing to stand by your side even through the worst of times. By offering us a steady rhythm of reminders of just how true that adage is, Raju, Lozano, Mountain & Deiboldt were able to thread the emotional punches to our "feels" throughout the action- an impressively difficult feat. And last but certainly not least… you need to feed me some "Oh, s**t!"-level cliffhangers to keep my "dumpster fires of random speculation" raging for the next week. As we throw on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign and throw down an image spoiler buffer, we can safely say that it was "mission accomplished" on that front. And with that in mind, what follows is a quick rundown of what worked for us, followed by pure speculation about the series finale based on what went down with one of our major players. It may not be easy to read, but so that you know? It wasn't easy for me to write…

The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 23 – Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

The Walking Dead S11E23 Lives Up to Its Name… "Family"

I mean, where to begin? From the opening scene in Alexandria to the way they collectively opened fire on Pamela (Laila Robins) after Judith (Cailey Fleming) went down saving Maggie (Lauren Cohan), we were treated to one reminder after another of how essential the concept of family is for everyone survival. In fact, with a few exceptions aside, the show doesn't exactly make the strongest argument that blood-related family members are the best way to go. But the two scenes that stood out the most for me? When Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Ezekiel (Khary Payton) have a chance to speak when Negan explains that he was willing to die to save them because he knows they're worth it… that he knows they're better than him. A powerful scene made even more impactful by the look Cohan goes with for Maggie as we see that she's heard everything that Negan had to say. And then there's that moment when Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Jerry (Cooper Andrews) are preparing to amputate a bitten Lydia's (Cassady McClincy) arm. Aaron looks Lydia in the eye and, through almost gritted teeth to emphasize what he's about to say and to hold back the tears, hits her with, "You are so loved, Lydia." Marquand demonstrated a passionate intensity in that scene that resonated with anyone who's been bedside by a loved one during the most heartbreaking of times. That's why it was so poetic to have Payton's Ezekiel revisit his "And yet I smile," because as much as it spoke of his journey, the speech is a truth that each of them could speak from.

Since it's time to speculate about the series finale, we're throwing on the "MAJOR SPECULATION AHEAD!" sign and throwing down an image speculation buffer. And with that, a friendly reminder that this is pure speculation and has a very good chance of being either partially or completely wrong. So with that in mind, let's talk about Judith…

The Walking Dead Season 11 Ep. 23 Review: Why We're Worried For Judith
The Walking Dead (Image: AMC Screencap)

TWD Series Finale Speculation You Don't Want to Read But Should

So from what we see in the series finale promo for "Rest in Peace" (yikes!), Daryl (Norman Reedus) is rushing into the Commonwealth's medical center with a badly wounded Judith in his arms. Okay, now this is where things may not take such a good turn because, from this point forward, we're running under an assumption that Judith dies. I know! I know! I'm not saying I'm rooting for this in any way, shape, or form, so please don't kill the "speculator." But if the series is looking to stay true to the themes of the comics, having Judith pass would be on par with Rick dying in the comics. Clearly, there would be a demand for Pamela to be executed, especially considering what she had in store for Eugene. And that's where things would get tricky. Remember back to the beginning of the season, when Daryl was studying the drawings in the subway that demonstrated how the societal structures fell apart? Those had a huge impact on him, as we've seen Daryl questioning more & more about what's next and arguing how just going from fight to fight isn't any way of living. So not wanting to see the Commonwealth be torn apart any further, this might be the moment when Daryl shocks everyone by asking for Pamela's life to be spared.

Now, I don't see this sitting well with Maggie, who's already suffering from pangs of guilt over Judith being killed while saving her from Pamela. And I could see Maggie stepping up to offer a counter-argument as to why Pamela needs to be executed for this and her other actions, driving the point home over & over again that Pamela's irredeemable and has forfeited her right to be a part of their community. And that's when Negan speaks up on behalf of sparing Pamela, seeing Daryl's perspective while also having his own personal reasons for the Commonwealth to work. In doing so, he owns up to his own past and uses himself as an example of how people can change… even in the worst of times. The decision is made to spare Pamela, which righteously angers Maggie. Why is that important? Because it would explain the animosity that reportedly exists between Maggie and Negan heading into The Walking Dead: Dead City. And as for Daryl, his guilt and shame would be more than enough reason for him to leave the community and strike out on his own. From there, we can think of any number of scenarios that could result in him ending up on a boat to France for The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon.

The Walking Dead Season 11 Ep. 23 Review: Why We're Worried For Judith
Image: AMC Screencap

Of course, there's always "The Andrew Lincoln Factor," which would hopefully make what we just shared with you into something that's nothing more than fan-based paranoia. We'll see you here next to see how the 11-season journey ends!

The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 23 "Family"

The Walking Dead
Review by Ray Flook

9/10
Directed by Sharat Raju and written by Magali Lozano, Erik Mountain & Kevin Deiboldt, AMC's The Walking Dead S11E23 "Family" did an excellent job of meeting the essential requirements of an effective penultimate episode. First, it brought a number of storylines much closer together in a way that made sense and never felt rushed, setting up our overarching narrative nicely for an effective series end. Along with that, the episode also served as an important reminder of a key concept that the long-running series has always emphasized. That is, in the toughest of times (and a walker apocalypse is a pretty tough time), family isn't defined by blood but by who's willing to stand by your side even through the worst of times. By offering us a steady rhythm of reminders of just how true that adage is, Raju, Lozano, Mountain & Deiboldt were able to thread the emotional punches to our "feels" throughout the action- an impressively difficult feat. And last but certainly not least... you need to feed me some "Oh, s**t!"-level cliffhangers to keep my "dumpster fires of random speculation" raging for the next week. As we throw on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign, we can safely say that it was "mission accomplished" on that front.

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Ray FlookAbout 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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