TV Review: The Walking Dead, 11×14, “The Rotten Core”

Aaron Neuwirth reviews The Walking Dead season 11 episode 14, "The Rotten Core," in which a rescue mission is matched with deadly results.

There is nothing like a solid use of foreshadowing to open an episode of The Walking Dead. “The Rotten Core” gives us a brief look at the awakening dead bodies thrown from the roof last week, and I kept telling myself we’d be seeing them again. The payoff was wonderful, and while I was at first conflicted about the choice to split up the action in the rest of this episode, it turned out to all connect in the right sort of way.

I wonder if Carlson would have been more successful if he had resisted the urge to drink. After it’s made clear he’s been sober for years, watching him holding onto a liquor bottle while terminating residents of the apartment complex with extreme prejudice certainly didn’t spell out a positive final outcome for him.

In this half of the episode, watching Maggie, Aaron, Gabriel, and our heroes take on the Commonwealth stormtrooper squad never presented too much tension (this group knows how to take care of business), but it did invite some more solid character work. For Maggie, she had a chance to be upset about Negan with someone other than Negan for a change, developing his new wife, Annie, in the process. They shared at least one great scene, and Maggie’s additional fear coming in the form of the contrived but not terrible use of lil’ Hershell worked out for the better.

Negan’s side of this plot had plenty to go on, as Jeffrey Dean Morgan once again showed himself as one of the top actors in this cast. I can’t even go after him for putting on a sad face and showing remorse because he does it effectively and is given some great dialogue that somewhat sidesteps more please for forgiveness. Hearing him talk Hershel down for the sake of everyone else hiding in the same room was a nice bit of acting. The exchanged looks said plenty in various moments.

The rest of this episode focused on coming up with the best plan to stop Carlson. Sure, there was an attempt at tension, but with such a stacked set of warriors in that apartment building, there was never any doubt that he would meet his end. However, it was pleasing to see it become a rooftop showdown, complete with Carlson’s tumble off the building (after being shot by Aaron), followed by being eaten. I enjoyed the energy Jason Butler Harner brought to this short-lived character, but the show knew how to deal with him quickly.

Meanwhile, Daryl and Rosita find themselves dealing with a dangerous task for Sebastian. Sensing a lack of respect, Sebastian continues to prove himself as the worst-living person in the Commonwealth, forcing the two to infiltrate a mansion surrounded by walkers. This makes for a fine set-piece of sorts. It feels like the budget shows a bit, as we only get a far shot of the mansion and see three rooms inside, which never convey a huge amount of space compared to how it looks on the outside. Still, the importance comes with the results.

Once inside, yes, Daryl and Rosita do the work to get the money Sebastian wants and learn about the previous attempts to complete this mission. This involves the short-lived character, April, who survived one attempt by getting locked inside a safe room, only to be killed by the walkers during the escape plan. It rightfully bums everyone out.

Here’s the other thing – Mercer. Carol has the proper sense to bring him in out of worry for Daryl. How they ended up finding Daryl and Rosita, I’m not sure, but regardless, Mercer helps save everyone and shows where he can draw a line. Not pleased with what Sebastian has been pulling, Mercer murders his two cronies and gives just about the best stoic look one can have as we watch him think through what just happened. Michael James Shaw has done terrific work with this character so far, and the show is doing right by him.

I was initially annoyed to have this plot up against the seemingly more urgent Maggie/Aaron/Negan side of things, but it turned out for the better. As it turns out, Lance is a central character in all of this. Learning that he more or less knew what Sebastian was up to was a neat twist of sorts. Between that and the stuff with the apartment complex, it’s becoming clearer what to expect as far as what was teased at the beginning of this part of the season. Now I just wonder how Leah’s actions as the person who actually raided the Commonwealth supplies will factor into this.

“The Rotten Core” is a solid episode that finds the right ways to mix the action with the character work. Keeping it a little weird by featuring some unhinged performances and wrinkles in the plans coming in the form of unforeseen confrontations only adds to it all. Given the build-up to the end of this portion of the season, it seems as though tensions are in the right place, so here’s hoping the show doesn’t throw itself off the roof before it stops for part three of the season.

Dead Bits:

  • Zombie Kill of the Week: Daryl took a baseball bat and swung away at the right time.
  • Daryl giving a little clap to “honor” Sebastian – funny stuff.
  • That threat to the kids is not going to just go away in any of their minds.
  • “Says the guy that rolled up with the Gestapo.” – Negan always has an answer.
  • Negan is married, and he and Annie are expecting. This guy really moved on.
  • Alarms – when all else fails, just hit them very hard.
  • Daryl is an electrician, a safecracker, and a bag man. What can’t he do?
  • Seeing Carlson hit the ground after his fall – chef’s kiss!
  • Thanks for reading, and feel free to hear what me and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on The Walking Dead TV Podcast.

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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