Early in this episode, we return to the Commonwealth, where Yumiko suggests a new strategy to find her brother and figure out what this place is all about. She can’t believe that the Commonwealth seems real — a structured and secure mini-state. Princess, meanwhile, is more amazed that Yumiko’s bro kept a photo in an actual wallet for 10-plus years. Miko is confident in her plan to confront the powers that be: “Cold as ice, demand results,” she says. “As a lawyer, it comes naturally.” She delivers on that promise, and a stark contrast is drawn between those who’ve emerged as steely leaders and others — well, mostly Eugene — shown signs of buckling under pressure. There are also two major reveals that could not be further apart on the good news/bad news spectrum.
Consider Maggie to be alone at the top of the badass org chart. Of course, she finds a way out of the pickle that Negan left her in — specifically, by crawling under the train (which might have been a much better option for everyone). A whole lotta drama quickly unfolds, starting with her confrontation with Negan, who stands firm in his decision to abandon her. There’s a difference, he insists, between trying to kill her and simply not helping her — and let’s remember, she’s on the record for wanting Negan dead. The guy did get rid of Alpha, too. But no one believes Negan is trying to be a good soldier; Maggie’s pal Agatha says, “Nod and it happens,” with “it” meaning I’ll kill him for you. Doesn’t get any colder than that.
Negan’s saved by Gage, the Hilltopper who fled in the previous episode after Negan’s speech about Maggie leading them all to a certain death. Gage is trapped in the car behind them and it’s filling up with walkers, fast. But Maggie’s concerned that saving Gage will open the zombie floodgates and doom them all. She issues an order to leave the door closed and let Gage fend for himself. It’s a brutal scene as the kid pleads, then gets angry, then apologizes and begs for another chance. Alden wants to help; Gabe agrees with Maggie. The door stays shut and Gage goes out with dramatic flair — he pulls out not one but two knives, stabs himself, and maintains eye contact with Maggie as he falls into the arms and mouths of the walkers. Mags and company can only watch as his chest is torn open and he’s slowly devoured.
Tough as she has become, Maggie’s face suggests she’s still shaken by what unfolded. Seeing that Alden is furious over her decision to let Gage die, she shares a horrifying story that helps to explain why and how she can make those impossible life-or-death decisions. Maggie and little Hershel, she recalls, once found a feeble old man who offered food in exchange for help. Mags suspected all along that he was likely a dangerous man, but the truth was more terrifying than she imagined. Not only did she find a chloroform rag he’d planned to use on her and a trio of deformed attackers, but Maggie also discovered a scene that’s over the top even by TWD standards — four pregnant walkers with their limbs cut off, eyes gouged out, vocal cords removed, and their monster-fetuses still kicking.
What’s worse was her first thought after confronting this horror show: There must be more food here. After listening to Maggie’s tale, Alden seems unlikely to challenge her decisions, heartless as they may seem. What they have in A-town is a rare and precious thing, she says, and Negan agrees. (Perhaps the Commonwealth will prove his theory wrong that no one has figured out how to really live in this world.) Negan also has a rare moment of vulnerability in the train: when Gabe asks why he’s pacing nervously, Negan says only, “Bad memories.” He’s still mouthy and a major asset when the shit goes down, but Maggie is the unquestioned top dog.
Speaking of Dog, his papa Daryl stumbles across a series of bizarre tableaus in the tunnel. There’s a suit-clad corpse that’s missing half an arm; the other end is handcuffed to an open briefcase full of cash (yo AMC, greenlight a spinoff on this dead dude, posthaste!). Then there’s a wild mural titled “The Truth Lies,” depicting scary scenes of the capitol on fire, creepy figures wearing crowns, hanging bodies, zombies feeding, and civil unrest. It’s hard to look at without feeling echoes of January 6, but what does it all really represent? Daryl also finds a $100 bill — one of many references to paper currency so far this season — with a long, sad note about two siblings separated from their parents and keeping hope alive. It all seems to rattle the usually unflappable Daryl, who tells Maggie about the Benjamin but says nothing of the mural. Of course, he ain’t so shook that he’s not ready for a John-Wick-meets-Snowpiercer train clear, which starts with emptying his clip into 16 walkers by my count and ends with the old grenade-in-mouth trick that liquifies a car full of zombies.
Less assured in pretty much anything he does is Eugene, who’s left alone at the Commonwealth while Miko turns the tables and reads the interrogators, Princess takes a pee, and Zeke is who-knows-where. When the “fine-ass dude in the orange suit” demands to know where they’re from and what they were doing out here, Eugene looks like he needs an adult diaper, stat. But give credit to the loquacious mullet head where it’s due — while he spills the tea on his star-crossed radio romance with Stephanie, he makes no mention of A-town.
Eugene is rewarded by reuniting with his pals, who’ve been taken care of quite well, and given the news that they’ve all graduated to Commonwealth orientation. (Funny moment when Fine-Ass Dude reads the official proclamation and notes to Zeke, who derisively presumed he was once a beat cop, “I went to West Point, asshole.”) Then we’re all rewarded as a door opens to reveal a ray of sunshine and a woman in a sundress with red glasses and a strong Lisa Loeb vibe. It’s Eugene’s Iron-Maiden-loving crush, Stephanie, and he looks like he might spontaneously combust at the sight of her.
While Stephanie represents adorableness, hope, and the possible existence of an Urban Outfitters at the Commonwealth, the final reveal isn’t so joyous. Maggie’s crew has emerged from the underground and heads to a secret supply depot before they infiltrate Meridian. That was the plan, at least, until they come across bodies hung upside-down along the roadside. Out of nowhere, Gage’s pal Roy takes an arrow to the face and a knife sinks into Cole’s thigh. As sharp objects fly and the gang takes cover, Daryl sees what’s coming toward them — a phalanx of hooded, mask-wearing thugs walking with purpose and armed to the teeth. Looks like the Reapers aren’t waiting for Maggie to bring the fight to them.