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The Walking Dead season 11 episode 2 recap: the big kick-off we needed

About this episode - Episode 2 (of 24), 'Acheron: Part II' - Written by Angela Kang and Jim Barnes - Directed by Kevin Dowling...

About this episode

- Episode 2 (of 24), 'Acheron: Part II'
- Written by Angela Kang and Jim Barnes
- Directed by Kevin Dowling
★★★★

Spoilers for The Walking Dead season 11 episode 2 follow.

We’re instantly in the action in this second part of the season opener. Trapped in a train car as they head to Meridian, Maggie’s group are outmatched by the undead and decide to keep going on, despite losing her. The ending of last episode had Maggie struggling to escape on the train, and Negan leaving her to die. As the group began to accept losing her, she emerges safe. Main characters don’t die easy in The Walking Dead.

Everyone learns the truth and is ready to kill Negan, but then Gage, a teen survivor who had deserted the group, returns abruptly. He's stuck behind a train car door with walkers on his tail. While Negan and Alden attempt to open it, Maggie ultimately forces them to let Gage die as they can’t take all the walkers on. The creators clearly want this reflection of Maggie versus Negan, where both of these powerful personalities can be villainous when the situation demands it. It’s a delicate and well-executed moment that puts them on the same level as each other. 

Daryl, always the loner, is split from the group as he chases after Dog, taking supplies from a long-abandoned tunnel community. He watches over the left-behind detritus. It feels like filler in this episode, honestly. It’s meant to show what a community in conflict ripping itself apart looks like, but since Daryl is one of the longest serving characters on the show, he and the audience don’t need reminding of this. This side story is more an excuse for Daryl to save the day, when he literally blows walkers up to rescue Maggie’s group.

Kicking things up a notch

Meanwhile, those who have been captured by the Commonwealth are worried that the attempted escape has been found out, leaving all of them on edge. One by one, they’re mysteriously escorted away for ‘processing’. 

Ezekiel is taken first, presumably for his outburst during last episode. Yumiko steps up to the plate to get their admission moving, believing her brother to be among the Commonwealth’s populace. She goes. Princess is soon after, and we are left with just Eugene, isolated and terrified.

Eugene is the least-equipped for this situation. Desperately creating a shiv to use against armored gun-wielding soldiers is the stupidest move made by the smartest character in this episode. When he is inevitably ‘processed’ and told to confess everything to see his friends, he lets rip his insecurities. It’s a vulnerable moment for a character we’ve seen have lots of vulnerable moments in the past, but it feels honest enough to have meaning anyway.

At a moment of uncertainty, Eugene is taken to another train cart. And there’s this sudden relief, as he looks over to his friends, happy to see him. And to top it off, Eugene finally gets a face-to-face introduction with Stephanie. It’s sweet. 

There’s this real feeling of joy and safety that’s a rarity in the show, where it momentarily feels like everything is going to turn out alright. It’s not, of course, but having a chance to breathe amid the worst parts of the apocalypse is always a truly satisfying moment in the show. 

The episode ends with Maggie’s group approaching Arbor Hills, a detour for needed supplies. On the way, they encounter hanging bodies on the road and are suddenly fired upon. The camera cuts to a dozen masked and hooded people walking menacingly: the Reapers. So far, they’ve been a mostly distant threat in the show, but clearly a real one. Seeing 10 more of this group is terrifying for the characters. Saying that, a bunch of adults in skull masks is far less intimidating in the age of Slipknot and Lordi.

Still, ‘Acheron Part II’ delivers where the first part didn’t, concluding plotlines that have been kicking around for a while between big players like Maggie and Negan, as well as preparing us for the potential threats of the Reapers and Commonwealth. This episode makes significant enough changes in the status quo that we're left with excitement at where this journey could end up next, and fearful about the characters we may lose along the way. That’s exactly what you should be feeling when you're watching The Walking Dead, every single time.

Verdict:

As a conclusion to part one, this episode feels like the real kick-off to the season we needed. Maggie and Negan’s shaky relationship is an intriguing hook without being the sole focus of the show, while Eugene’s group feels so personally invested in the mysterious Commonwealth, their reactions to everything are emotionally compelling. Who the characters trust is at the heart of all this gripping conflict, and it represents the show near its best. Still, breaking Maggie and Eugene’s groups into separate episodes might've made for more effective storytelling.

Dead facts

  • Angela Kang, the series showrunner, says on the Episode Insider that the mural Daryl encounters in the tunnel depicts a class conflict that took place. Those who were moneyed and crowned in the old world are now as powerless as the rest in the new one, which eventually tore them apart.
  • Kang confirms that the bagged bodies from the last episode are from the same train tunnel community that developed, not because of the Reapers as Negan implies.
  • The stuffed bunny picked up among the bagged corpses is shown in a picture Daryl finds, held by a girl next to her presumed sibling.
  • The graffiti in the train tunnel, ‘It Comes For Us All’, is an allusion to quote from writer Robert Bolt; ‘Death comes for us all’.
  • Maggie’s group end up at ‘Degard East Market’, another fictional station based on the real Washington Metro. The closest-sounding station it has to a real-life one is ‘Eastern Market’, though it is nowhere near where the group is supposedly heading.
  • The hanged bodies on the road to Arbor Hills are strung up by their feet and do not appear to be zombified. In Renaissance Italy, traitors and thieves were often hanged in a similar way. We know the Reapers mark people for death, and these are likely some of their victims who have broken their laws, such as breaching their territory.
  • The tarot card, The Hanged Man, is also depicted in this manner and often represents bringing a new perspective to new things. It could symbolize that the Reapers' own world view is in complete opposition to the survivors, or may mean Maggie’s group have to confront things they’ve chosen to ignore about themselves before the Reapers.


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