The season 11 premiere of The Walking Dead gave a little more insight on the Commonwealth — but why is the mysterious group so interested in burning pre-apocalypse money? Multiple instances throughout Walking Dead‘s season 11’s premiere, “Acheron: Part 1,” highlight the group’s obsession with currency, including stripping new members of their money and destroying it after. Here is an explanation of why the Commonwealth might want to seize and destroy the old world’s currency.
The Commonwealth, first introduced in The Walking Dead comics by Robert Kirkman, is a large, established community. After Eugene makes contact with a woman named Stephanie over the radio, Eugene, Kimiko, and Ezekiel attempt to meet her and her group in person, coming across the flamboyant Princess along the way. When their meeting ends in an ambush, the group finds themself put through a series of invasive questioning in order to determine whether they’d be a good fit for the community. One portion of the questioning focused heavily on whether they still had money on their person, and they were especially eager to find Princess carried a $2 bill. Upon attempting their escape, the group realizes the Walking Dead‘s Commonwealth is collecting and destroying money when they discover a large bin filled with money labeled “confiscated for incineration.”
One of the most likely reasons the Commonwealth is destroying money is that money equals power within the community. In the comics, it’s revealed that the Commonwealth runs on a caste system; those who had money pre-Apocalypse are at the top of the hierarchy, and those who didn’t are at the bottom. While they dismiss Eugene and Princess in the comics for having low-paying jobs, they revere Michonne for her previous position as a lawyer. The ability to move up the caste system is strictly regulated; jobs are determined by your ranking, and community members are reimbursed accordingly; if people were allowed to bring in outside money, it has the possibility of disrupting the class system, putting those who are used to being in power at risk.
The process is also about breaking people down. Repetitive, inane questioning for hours, keeping people separated, and putting them through “reprocessing” are all tactics the Commonwealth uses in The Walking Dead to make possible entrees compliant. When the group is eating in their holding cell, they encounter a couple also going through the entry process who don’t even know how many months they’d been waiting to enter because the reprocessing program had made time a blur. There are plenty of things that can be taken from a person in an attempt to make them powerless, but money serves a double purpose as a connection to their pre-apocalypse life. By stripping people of their money and destroying it, the Commonwealth makes them compliant while destroying another connection to the old world.
Robert Kirkman has previously confirmed that the Commonwealth serves as a commentary on classism and race. Those that run the Commonwealth, like Pamela Milton, are used to being in power in the old world and they’re doing everything within their means to keep things that way. Kirkman points out that it’s impossible to separate classism and racism; with three out of four in the group being a racial minority, it may be part of the reason they aren’t welcomed warmly by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is unlike any other villain that The Walking Dead has previously encountered; they control not through violence, but through structural oppression.