If you felt a bit of whiplash with this episode, perhaps that’s because we’ve jumped backward, which is still forward, and then slowed things way down. We last saw Maggie facing off with Daryl six months after the Commonwealth crew arrived at A-town, which was in shambles. Maggie appeared to be at Hilltop, and Daryl was decked out in stormtrooper guard, ordering her to open the gates. Now, we’ve skipped the awkward get-to-know-you stage of this new relationship and moved right in — 30 days past Lance’s invitation to join the Commonwealth, most of the gang has taken him up on the offer and settled into their new lives (sort of). There’s still plenty of awkwardness to go around as the newcomers try to adapt to something resembling the old normal, which, as they quickly learn, ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
One would think that when every day is Halloween, you might want to lean into a slightly less terrifying holiday, but at the Commonwealth, All Hallows Eve is celebrated with a carnival by day and a masquerade ball by night. Most folks seem to be adjusting well — Zeke is appropriately in charge of the petting zoo, Carol’s got a job at the bakery, Princess runs a home goods shop, and Connie has returned to her old gig as a reporter. Daryl rightly seems a bit freaked out by it all. “Always somethin’ you gotta do to make it work,” he says to Carol, foreshadowing the pride he’ll need to swallow later. Perhaps most shocking is Judith’s radical transformation from adorable zombie-slaying munchkin to “Jude,” the vinyl-loving, floral-dress-wearing hipster who’s unironically into a mediocre Motörhead record.
Most of the subplots point toward the ball and its host, Pamela Milton, the Commonwealth’s leader and mother of possibly the douchebaggiest human still alive. She greets the crowd at the carnival and awards lottery tickets to the winner of a kiddie costume contest (which in itself is a red flag, raising serious questions about exposing young children to gambling). The “prize” turns out to be an invite to the evening’s masquerade party, which itself turns out to be an elitist shindig. Rosita comments on how weird it is to need money again; Daryl’s living with Judith and RJ in an apartment that’s louder than a frat house on a Friday night. (Among the themes I did not anticipate in this final season: class struggle, housing insecurity, income inequality.)
Ahead of the big shindig, Carol snoops around and learns Zeke is buried deep on the waiting list for a life-saving surgery. Her solution: helping Lance score some appropriately snobby vino for the party in exchange for fast-tracking Zeke’s health care. (How sad would it have been if Carol made it all this way just to bite it in a wine cellar because some rich a-holes needed better booze?) As the ball kicks off, Princess flirts with Mercer, who flirts right back and somehow does not burst out of the tailored suit that’s barely containing his Schwarzenegger-circa-1984 physique. Daryl and Rosita are working security; Magna is serving drinks to her ex-flame, Miko, who’s now among the upper crust.
Before we get to the party’s big moment, let’s discuss Sebastian, the Veruca Salt of the apocalypse. After Daryl and Rosita finish training in the “kill house” — which is little more than an excuse for some much-needed zombie-slaying — Sebastian demands a private “advanced military training” session, which is mostly him trying to swing a variety of sharp A-towner weapons without stabbing himself. In a very on-brand moment, he allows Rosita to join the fun because she’s hot; in another, he disrespects Judith’s sword, an offense which really cannot go unpunished. Of course, everyone knows Sebastian is a useless pissant — note Pamela’s scorn when she returns from a hunt and shoots him a look of disgust. Credit Mercer for giving Daryl some advice he’ll later heed in order to become a valuable asset.
Things go south at the masquerade ball when one of the waiters takes Pamela’s assistant hostage at knifepoint and rages against “fancy parties and painting.” He’s a semi-familiar face: it’s the soldier kid who Princess punked in the train car, which led to losing his job, his digs, and now, his cool. After he eventually releases his hostage and flees, Daryl — who can surely relate to working-class woes — talks him out of self-harm, cuffs him, and then smartly allows Sebastian to take credit for the collar. Everyone, including Mercer and Pamela, knows damn well it was Daryl who saved the day, and the reward for his strategic pride-swallowing is graduation from basic training. Uncomfortable as it is to see Daryl kowtow to such a weasel and become a company man, his motivations are clear and noble — it’s all for Rick and Michonne’s kids, who want to stick around even after A-town is rebuilt. (Speaking of which, Pamela mentions interest in a meeting about A-town, suggesting she’s perhaps not so eager to see it rise from the ashes and risk losing some valuable new citizens.)
As Judith spins her wax and rocks out to “Eat the Rich,” Rosita leads a raid on what turns out to be a resistance hideout, covered in posters with slogans like “For the Workers” and trooper helmets splattered in red. Breadcrumbs are abound for who might be among the rebel faction: Suspect numero uno is Pamela’s assistant, who whispered “I’m like you” to the knife-wielding waiter who held her hostage. Miko’s bro chugged wine and expressed his disgust for the high-society types at the ball, and even Lance is a suspect, given his proximity to power and his failure to properly satisfy Pamela’s oenophile tastes.
Daryl seems destined to make a tough choice between keeping the kiddos happy and serving a corrupt regime, not to mention his own nagging distaste for authority (especially of the snobby variety). No doubt that Connie’s reporting will reveal some unsavory business like whatever was going on with those envelopes of cash after the party. Is it really too much to ask that Daryl and Connie team up to topple the Commonwealth overlords and give birth to both a more perfect union and a crap-ton of badass babies?