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The Stephanie Theory That Changes Everything On TWD Season 11

The Commonwealth is unlike any community that's ever been featured on "The Walking Dead."

It's not because of the heavily-armed guys in full suits of armor. Most places have their own variants of that, though often more crudely outfitted. But the level of organization and security that Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), Princess (Paola Lázaro), and Ezekiel (Khary Payton) encounter as they explore it blows them away. Yumiko's long-lost brother Tomi (Ian Anthony Dale) tells her he's almost forgotten what the outside is like. There's ice cream. There's an orientation video. Who's got the time to make one of those in the post-apocalypse? (Try to imagine Rick and Daryl filming one for Alexandria). For people who have been battling for their survival for years, it's too good to be true.

Unfortunately for them, it sure seems like is. Stephanie (Chelle Ramos), Eugene's guide in the episode "Out of the Ashes," is supposedly the woman he's been talking to on the radio, the one who led him and his group to the Commonwealth. But fans have suspected that something might be up with Stephanie ever since Ramos was announced as playing her. Actress Margot Bingham was also said to be moving into a larger role in Season 11, and she's the one who provided the radio voice version of Stephanie that sent Eugene searching for the Commonwealth during Season 10 in the first place. So why would she be continuing on the show when her part was recast?

Why fans think Stephanie is a decoy

Fans are theorizing that the switcheroo was something that happened in the universe of "The Walking Dead," not ours. It was the Commonwealth that recast Stephanie, not the show itself. And fans think that the ruse is beginning to break down in-universe too, even without the meta-knowledge of casting choices that we the audience have access to.

The evidence for this comes from the scene where "Stephanie" (Ramos) takes Eugene for ice cream. This was an important topic for the pair in their radio chats, with Eugene learning that her favorite flavor was rocky road. The person he believes to be Stephanie eschews it for a different option; but the woman they see while getting it, played by Margot Bingham, picks it and earns a glare from Eugene's guide during the scene. "I think her having Rocky Road ice cream and the lady getting ice cream and not picking Rocky Road, Eugene is being tricked," wrote u/LiterallyCan'tEvenUgh on the show's subreddit.

AMC may have inadvertently spoiled the reveal when it posted photos on its press site from "Out of the Ashes" that identified Ramos as "Decoy Stephanie" and Bingham as "Max FKA Stephanie." The attributions were later changed to just "Stephanie" and "Max," but unless the captions themselves were decoys designed to throw fans off some larger conspiracy, then something is definitely happening here.

What is the Commonwealth planning to do with Eugene?

Whatever the Commonwealth is trying to get out of Eugene and the gang remains to be seen. After all, there's little harm in letting Eugene and his small group of mostly harmless survivors wander around a community as large as the Commonwealth for a little while, closely supervised. They themselves are not a threat. "I definitely think she's [Stephanie] lying about who she is and is trying to get info out of Eugene and the gang," wrote another user.

"The question is, does Eugene know?" asked u/Larcen26. The rocky road clue is a moment where, for once, the audience's knowledge matches the character's. But Eugene ends the episode with bigger problems on his plate after Mercer (Michael James Shaw) and his men discover his unauthorized radio call back to Alexandria and arrest him and the others. It's only through the intervention of "Stephanie" that they're kept from being banished, so the Commonwealth still sees some value toward building that particular bond. But what new information are they trying to get from him? When is she finally going to make the ask? And if in fact, that's not the real Stephanie, what does the real Stephanie think about the Commonwealth's plan?

Three episodes remain in this segment of "The Walking Dead's" eleventh season, airing Sundays on AMC.