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After weeks of buildup, Sunday night's episode of The Walking Dead finally introduced The Commonwealth, the biggest and best-organized settlement in the show's long history of exploring the state of civilization in the wake of the zombie apocalypse.
The scale of The Commonwealth, as well as the system it operates under, is unlike anything viewers of the show have seen before, and that's exactly the point. In the comics, the location was one of the last — and largest — settlements ever seen, and represented a key part of the saga's endgame. With the flagship TV series in the midst of its super-sized final season, that throughline will likely remain until the end.
As showrunner Angela Kang explained to Entertainment Weekly in a post-mortem on this week's episode, "Out of the Ashes," the introduction of The Commonwealth is meant to at least suggest the idea of a return to "normal" after years of encountering settlements that are anything but.
"And for us, we knew that the comic book Commonwealth — to a greater extent more than any other place they've come into — feels kind of like a normal world," Kang explained. "You got a little bit of that feel with Woodbury and you got a little bit of that feel when you come across Alexandria, but now you're talking about something where people can shop, they can go to work, they dress up, there are lawyers and doctors and all of these things that we've never had on that scale. So for our characters, they're coming in and we wanted that sort of surreal experience of like, we just didn't think a place like this could exist anymore. We had no inkling that anything beyond a small town could even be up and running and as successfully as it is right now."
As it's introduced in The Walking Dead comics, The Commonwealth is not just one community, but dozens of communities all working together to bring thousands of survivors under the control of a single government, complete with class systems to make sure everyone has a job to do, a standing army, and an economic system built on actual payments rather than simple communal living. A community of that scale meant the show needed sets to match, and so the production team got to work on a Commonwealth set that's one of the biggest we've seen on the show, taking over space once reserved for both the prison earlier in the series and the original Saviors compound.
"It took many, many months to build this while the pandemic was going, so everybody worked incredibly hard," Kang said. "You're building a town, a lot of it is facades and sets obviously, but they built a whole giant room with all these details. So a lot of it really came from the brain of our art department team and the production designer."
So, now that the Commonwealth has been established and our heroes are under its umbrella, what does that mean for the future of the show? Though Walking Dead comics readers can probably guess some of it, Kang didn't offer all that much in the way of plot teases. What she did note, though, is that Stephanie's (Chelle Ramos) declaration that the group will have to "pay" is not just a reference to the settlement's economy, but perhaps a sign of things to come.
"The Commonwealth operates on a cash economy and you've got debt. So she's really saying, 'No, you don't get anything for free here. If he does something for you, and if he scratches your back, you're going to have to scratch him one way or another,'" Kang said. "Whether that is massive consequences or minor or whatever, or an inconvenience, it's just kind of saying like, this is not a place where people just do favors for you just to be nice."
The Walking Dead airs Sundays on AMC.