The Walking Dead
This episode’s title is rather on-the-nose regarding the theme that ties its multiple storylines together — in the midst of all the corruption and shady business within the Commonwealth, who can be trusted? Zeke has a mysterious side hustle that requires help from Miko’s brother and Carol. Eugene needs Max and Mercer to risk their lives in order to figure out the connection between Sebastian and that list of names. And then there’s Lance Hornsby, who doesn’t seem to care that he’s alienated Daryl, Maggie, and all of Hilltop, especially now that he may have a new, powerful, and very pissed-off ally.
The least consequential story belongs to Zeke. While it’s great to see the former king recovering nicely from surgery, the details of his underground entrepreneurial venture aren’t very compelling. He recruits Tomichi, Miko’s low-key-boozehound bro, to help him smuggle medical supplies, then gets rescued once again by Carol when they’re caught red-handed. It turns out he’s set up a secret triage space hidden inside his “veterinary treatment area” where they can care for folks who aren’t so lucky to qualify for aid under Miltoncare. After a few tense moments, a very sweaty Tomichi completes a rogue appendectomy. Where is this headed? I have no idea. What’s more intriguing than Zeke’s side hustle are his words to Carol: While you’d think life at the Commonwealth would be easier, there’s really just more shades of gray (true), and also, she’s stuck with him for the long haul (meaning one of them, likely Zeke, is a goner).
There’s also the matter of the list of names that ended up in Connie’s hands. Rosita and Eugene meet with Connie and her sis to explain the secret Sebastian death missions, and they realize April — the woman who was trapped in the safe room and ended up as a zombie catch of the day — is included on that very list. But who are the others? And what does all of this mean? Perhaps Lance has been using Sebastian to do his dirty work, rounding up anti-Commonwealth radicals — another dangling plot that needs resolution — and sending them on suicide missions. Whatever the answer, Eugene asks Max to help him snoop around, knowing she would not only risk her career but likely her life.
Max can’t do this alone, but it’s a tough time to ask her brother for help, as Mercer is all in his feelings after assassinating two of his soldiers. Sure, they were vile dirtbags, but murder isn’t Mercer’s game (or should we call him Mike? His name is Mike. One mystery solved!) Luckily, the big man has a strong woman in his corner, as Princess establishes two facts: The two of them have great sex, and although she talks constantly, she’ll listen whenever Mercer needs to talk (which seems to be far less often than he needs sex).
Thankfully for all the Mercer fans in the audience, Max interrupts his kettlebell workout to ask for answers regarding what the hot hell is going on behind the scenes in this crazy town. Glistening with perspiration yet barely out of breath, Mercer waxes philosophic: What happens if the Commonwealth falls? Who will protect these 50,000 people (an estimate which seems about as accurate as the Trump inauguration crowd, based on the foot traffic we’ve witnessed thus far)? Max calls bullshit on Mercer’s claim that he’s “just a soldier,” as there’s literally a poster on the wall that proves he’s more superhero than grunt. Max’s rebuke, along with seeing his image next to the slogan “Do Your Part,” touch a nerve, prompting Mercer to release the crossover cables in a reckless manner that would certainly earn a reprimand at Planet Fitness. Surely he will join whatever fight is coming, especially now that Max agrees to steal whatever intel Eugene needs.
Whether it’s Zeke’s hidden hospital or Eugene’s search for the truth, the shadow of Lance Hornsby looms over everything that isn’t quite right about the Commonwealth. His obsession with locating the stolen weapons first led him to Riverbend, where he’s not buying that a “priest and a one-armed guy” managed to survive a massacre that left Carlson’s entire unit dead. So he’s off to Hilltop, which brings us full circle to the beginning of episode nine: Daryl stands outside the gates in soldier’s gear, telling Maggie that something needs to happen. That something is a search of the Hilltop grounds for not only guns but evidence that it’s Maggie’s team that took out Carlson’s squad.
Lance thinks he’s found the proof he needs with a vintage Dodge that may have been their Riverbend escape vehicle, but no dice — the ol’ gal won’t turn over. However, he’s been sitting on a rather damning piece of evidence: a baseball cap that just happens to fit little Hershel’s noggin perfectly. Lance gets a little too confrontational with the kid (Take any trips lately? How about your mom?), and quicker than you can say, O.K. Corral, guns are drawn by Maggie, Daryl, and every soldier on the premises. Daryl has had enough of Lance’s orders, his mistrust of Maggie, and threats toward their kids; you know it’s serious when he drops a rare TWD f-bomb (“You’ve turned this place upside down, and you’ve found nothin’,” he says to Hornsby. “So unless you wanna die for nuthin’, tell them to drop the guns before something really fucking bad happens.”)
Barrels are lowered, and Lance sarcastically remarks that it’s a “shame we couldn’t be friends” before leaving Hilltop empty-handed. But the smarm-master isn’t done searching for those guns, and as luck would have it, his big break comes in the darkness of night. Somehow, his troops locate a small, heavily armed tent, where two soldiers are promptly shot without warning. The gun-toting camper is Leah, of course, and Lance, knowing his enemy’s enemy is his friend, is smart enough to see her as less a threat than as a potential ally. He’s got a thing for folks who aren’t living the good life — note his creepy arousal earlier as Daryl, Aaron, and Gabe wiped out those walkers with head-splitting precision. Now, Lance sees a woman who single-handedly stole his guns, killed his soldiers, and is surviving all alone. Just wait until he discovers she also has a major ax to grind with Daryl and the Hilltoppers.