A zombie apocalypse might not seem like the ideal setting for personal reflection and soul searching, but Eugene and Maggie find themselves facing some serious introspection thanks to recent developments. Shattered after learning he’d been duped, Eugene struggles to find a path forward after this crushing disappointment, which cements his status as the Charlie Brown of the new world — always one tug of the football away from landing flat on his back. Meanwhile, Maggie holds more power than she even realizes, and her decision to either unite with the Commonwealth or go it alone turns out to be a fraught one, with impacts far beyond Hilltop’s flimsy walls.
First, Eugene finally gets some clarity on the Stephanie catfish situation, courtesy of the Real Fake Stephanie, a.k.a. Max. It all started when she found old parts in a dumpster and turned someone’s trash into a fully functional radio. Her CB rendezvous with Eugene led to genuine emotions, but when your brother is the head of security and he learns you’re planning to meet a stranger at a rail yard, it’s good-bye, meet-cute. Next thing Max knows, Fake Fake Stephanie (a.k.a. Shira) is going on ice cream dates with a smitten Eugene; given Max’s proximity to Governor Pamela and Lance Hornsby, she decides just to let this happen, lay low, and let Eugene be happy. This decision makes sense as a self-protection move, but it’s still really weird — Max was ready to risk everything to meet her mystery man, then watches as he’s duped by someone who must have intercepted his calls.
It’s a crushing gut punch for Eugene, who runs away as Max looks after him with great bespectacled concern. For a second there, it seemed like he might stand up from that lakeside bench and take a permanent dip in the water. Luckily he’s got a real friend in Rosita, who lends a shoulder to cry on. She says two things of note: Her new gig as a cop is “a lot” (yet somehow she always looks like she’s fresh out of the Commonwealth’s spa), and that when A-town is fixed up, it will be worth considering moving back (which seems a lot easier said than done).
The comfort of an old friend awakens some perspective in Eugene, who remembers a time when he himself played the role of con man — telling Rosita and the Sarge he was a scientist en route to Washington just to avoid life on his own. That deception was more than emotional betrayal; it could have ended with all of them dead. Rosita’s forgiveness for his past sins inspires Eugene to give and seek the same from Max. Their nerdy banter is pretty adorable (“Was a sepulchre involved?” she asks of his novel. “Obviously,” he replies), and soon it looks like Eugene might finally find a little happiness. Or, given his track record on that front, Max’s odds of survival may have plummeted.
Speaking of survival odds, Zeke is about to get surgery on his tumor, despite a moment of outrage over jumping the queue. Kudos to Carol for effectively absolving his guilt with a great line: “Lesser men have been given more and done nothing with it.” She has made a lot of questionable choices, but this was an ace move. Here’s hoping Zeke pulls through and continues his righteous campaign against pineapple on pizza.
No one faces weightier decisions more than Maggie, who ends up at the center of the Commonwealth’s — actually, make that Lance Hornsby’s — plan to expand the realm. Pam is not convinced that aligning with A-town, Hilltop, and Oceanside (remember them?) is a good idea, yet she has agreed to make the trip from Ohio to Virginia to tour all three communities anyway, along with a ton of soldiers in tow. The first stop is A-town, and after Aaron nervously tries to put their best foot forward, it’s Daryl who seems to convince her A-town is worth saving. Pam actually knew A-town’s founder, Deanna Monroe, back in the good old days, and Daryl praises her compassion and leadership. Of course, Aaron also admits Deanna got bit and had to be “put down,” but it’s the way Daryl frames A-town’s fighting spirit that earns Pam’s respect.
Pam barely has time to sink her perfectly pedicured piggies into the sand at Oceanside before that visit ends, as Rachel — once the spittin’ kid Tara flipped off, now the community’s leader — says they’re only on board if Maggie joins too. So the fate of all three communities lies with Maggie, who is skeptical from the moment Pam’s caravan rolls into town. The ice between them seems to thaw when Pam orchestrates some one-on-one time for them to bond: The guv appreciates Maggie’s philosophy on leadership (as shaped by Deanna and the still-mysterious Georgie) and devotion to her people; Mags respects that Pam can talk about building a future for their kids one second and then blow a zombie’s face off in the next.
But despite all the pleasantries and provisions, something doesn’t sit right with Maggie. Maybe it’s Lance’s metaphor-alert convo about his lucky gold piece that’s actually just a “lowly nickel” that is dressed up to look fancy. Or maybe it’s seeing Mercer tell “Dixon” to fall in line and then watching her rebel pal obey orders. (What really should have been the deal-breaker was the ruckus that ensues outside the gates, which ends with Mercer’s army firing directly at him and Maggie in the process of taking out some zombies. Who knew the Commonwealth soldiers were such crack shots?)
Maggie flips Pam’s words against her: Everything has a cost, and Maggie wants no part of whatever unspoken debt she’d owe the Commonwealth. This might be a shock to Pam and Lance, but not us, since we’ve already seen Daryl in the future outside Hilltop’s gates and speaking to Mags in a less cordial tone. Slightly more surprising is Lance’s reaction to the deal falling through: He pumps lead into a few walkers and tells Aaron that everything is fine, really, just swell, nothing to see here at all. “We’re going to remake the world,” he says, just before putting one last bullet in a zombie’s head. Aaron’s look says what Pam already knows — this dude is not to be trusted.