The Walking Dead season 11, episode 19 review: "The future feels excitingly unpredictable"

The latest episode of The Walking Dead season 11 confirms two menacing threats, as it changes the game and puts our heroes on the back foot

Ross Marquand as Aaron in The Walking Dead season 11
(Image: © AMC)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Supporting characters get some much-deserved screen time, villains emerge, and a terrifying new zombie variant is introduced in the emotional and exciting new installment

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Warning! This review contains major spoilers for The Walking Dead season 11, episode 19. Turn back now if you've yet to catch up with the show.

After weeks of having us wonder who or what the main threat to our survivors would be in the final chapter of The Walking Dead's final season, two enemies have finally come to the fore: Pamela Milton and wall-climbing, doorknob-turning walkers – and they're a welcome (and formidable) addition to help keep the characters on their toes.

As made clear by the montage of old clips at the beginning of episode 19, Josh McDermitt's Eugene is a focal point of the latest installment. After inadvertently causing the death of Pamela's son Sebastian, he spends most of it hiding out from the vengeful Governor as Rosita, Daryl, and the gang plot to get him out of the Commonwealth. With Pamela out to make an example of Eugene and get his rebellious lover – and her assistant – Max (Margot Bingham) to fall back in line, Max's brother Mercer (Michael James Shaw) finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place. As army general, does he follow orders, or help his sister and pals get away? Unfortunately for Max, he errs towards the former.

Now, Eugene has never been the most interesting character. Historically a bit of a weasel, he's lied and tricked his way through the apocalypse; often flipping allegiances so as to give himself the best chance of survival. It's been a challenge to root for him. 'Variant', though, highlights how much he's changed in recent months, as he vows not to leave until Max agrees to go with them, or they can at least confirm she'll be safe in their absence – expanding McDermitt's role beyond cookie-cutter comic relief. 

When Max gets taken into custody by Mercer, he turns himself in – something the old Eugene would never have done, especially after a teary-eyed Rosita tells him "it's not" going to be okay. The growth of the characters on The Walking Dead has always been one of its most fascinating aspects, and this turn is undeniably moving and, more importantly, feels earned.

Josh McDermitt as Eugene in The Walking Dead season 11

(Image credit: AMC)

While Eugene is busy growing a pair, Mercer's seemingly blinkered dedication to bringing him in causes a rift between him and his girlfriend Princess (Paola Lázaro). This subplot arguably gets the episode's meatiest stuff, as a plea from him to not leave ("It could be worse") prompts her to open up about her dark past. When she was a kid, her stepfather and stepbrother used to abuse her – and her mother would often argue that it was worth it because they still had a roof over their head. "Fuck that thinking," she growls at Mercer during the emotional moment. "It could be better, too. It should be." It feels a little clunky and rushed; a last ditch attempt to add depth to a zany character the show has never really known what to do with – but Lázaro sells it beautifully. 

Elsewhere, Eugene isn't the only one Pamela has it in for. In another scene that echoes those involving David Morrissey's Governor in seasons 3 and 4, Pamela lives up to her title, throwing her zombified son Sebastian into a padded cell with Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton). 

Unlike The Governor, who used a similar tactic to kill Angela (remember her?) way back when, Pamela gives Lance out – she leaves him with a knife and a "still warm" dead body, suggesting he feed the corpse to the undead Sebastian. The deceased was shot in the head, so won't reanimate – how deliciously dark would that have been?! – but it's still a sadistic side to her we've not seen before, and Laila Robins is clearly reveling in playing such a complex, slow-burn villain. 

Before, it seemed like Lance or Sebastian were the ones our survivors had to worry about, but this scene really establishes her as a menacing big bad as we head into the last few episodes. The Terminus and Alexandra years covered that ground briefly with Rick, but when it comes to its straight-up antagonists, The Walking Dead has never really charted a character's descent into darkness before. Up until now, they're already at that point by the time we meet them. 

It's a real treat, then, to see it here – and how we see it is a real treat as well, as the show continues to jazz up its visuals. At one point, the camera captures the kneeling Lance from face on, as Pamela's hand creeps into frame to put his decision-making coin in his top pocket. It looks almost walker-esque, drawing a fun parallel between her and the dangers beyond the community walls. 

Laila Robins as Pamela Milton in The Walking Dead season 11

(Image credit: Jace Downs/AMC)

While all this is going on at the Commonwealth, Aaron (Ross Marquand), Jerry (Cooper Andrews), Lydia (Cassady McClincy), and Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari) travel to Oceanside to deliver some supplies. On the journey, Jerry is injured and they're forced to set up camp in an abandoned Renaissance fair building. 

Three episodes into this final batch, and we've seen a handful of moments where certain characters bring up those they’ve lost to other characters. Previously, Daryl name-dropped Glenn and, in the prior episode, Lydia mentioned her brief romantic involvement with Carol's "son" Henry. 

This week sees Aaron sweetly encourage Lydia to embrace her blossoming romance with Elijah as he remembers his late husband Eric. Given that the likes of Daryl, Maggie, and Negan are getting their own shows beyond The Walking Dead, it’s refreshing to see some of its supporting characters get some much-deserved screen time. Marquand is so compelling as Aaron; the perfect blend of vulnerable warmth and warrior-like strength – and in 'Variant', he's able to explore both sides. 

True to the title of the episode, it's in this storyline that we see the introduction of the new strain of walkers. Ambushed during their overnight stay, the foursome immediately assume that the more intelligent infected must be Whisperers, and they scramble to come up with a plan to isolate them from the horde. (They've dealt with them before, they can do this, right?) While Elijah and Lydia flank the undead from the rear, Aaron protects Jerry on a rooftop, but one walker manages to climb up. He angrily beats it before shouting, "Goddamn Whisperers!" and ripping its "mask" off. Only it's not a mask. His eyes widen in fright as Jerry exclaims from behind, "How the hell did a walker do that?!"

With just five episodes of the long-running horror drama left, we figured that not everyone was going to make it "out" alive, but given the confirmation of spin-off series, how lacking recent episodes have been in the stakes department, and how superhero-esque the main characters have become over the years, it was hard to believe it. With 'Variant', writer Vivian Tse and director Karen Gaviola change the game – and the future feels excitingly unpredictable. Boasting tons of tension, some exciting zombie action, and an all-too-rare jump scare, it makes the world of The Walking Dead feel dangerous again. It's about damn time. 

Make sure you never miss an episode with our The Walking Dead season 11 release schedule, and check out our how to watch The Walking Dead guide if you're wanting to watch/rewatch the main series and its spin-offs.

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GenreSurvival Horror
Amy West

I am an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things TV and film across our Total Film and SFX sections. Elsewhere, my words have been published by the likes of Digital Spy, SciFiNow, PinkNews, FANDOM, Radio Times, and Total Film magazine.