This is a spoiler-lite review of Episode 15 of Season 8. Already seen the episode? Read on below for full spoilers.
What is most peculiar about this season of The Walking Dead is how it has felt like the war between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) has taken an overly long time to reach a conclusion. In the last episode, there was so much more story to tell within each of their own camps, particularly at the Sanctuary, where Negan returned in secret, having been presumed missing or dead. Now, everything that was built is rushed over in order for both sides to be ready to clash in the finale, but it has been at the expense of what could have been fabulous storytelling.
The show has been criticised for missed opportunities in the past and for dragging out plots that should have ended several episodes earlier. This criticism stems from linear characters being handled poorly, yet when there is an opportunity for change, a character shows signs of promise then reverts back to their normal path quicker than Daryl (Normal Reedus) can reload his crossbow. Negan, for example. He has been an arrogant, cocky villain since his introduction, hell bent on childish one liners and joking about what’s in his trousers. Then, we see a change in him: when being told of Carl’s death he shows remorse. When talking to Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) and Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) about his past, he shows vulnerability. When he was abandoned by his own people, he returned to his home in secret, which could have led to nail-biting conversations full of dramatic irony between Saviours, presenting a fresh view of Negan and the entire Sanctuary’s role within the show. It could even have been a conclusion to the war, with Negan coming to realise he is fighting for the wrong side. Alas, this isn’t to be. The whole secret-return angle lasts less than a minute, before Negan whistles his way back into the board room and the chess pieces are back as they were.
Being the penultimate episode means that we also have to check in with most of the survivors just to remind us that they still exist. Aaron (Ross Marquand) is still off trying to recruit the Oceansiders by staging some sort of hunger protest and fending off zombies to protect them. Aaron is battling a lost cause, when his skills would be put to better use defending Alexandria, and when his scenes are over, he hasn’t gained anything new. Daryl and Rosita (Christian Serratos) are keeping a close eye on Eugene (Josh McDermitt), but again, by the end of the episode their actions haven’t changed anything. Michonne (Danai Gurira) decides to play messenger and deliver Carl’s note to Negan, but, well, you can see where this is going.
Mostly, though, Worth is centred around the Sanctuary and the conflict going on inside it. Simon (Steven Ogg) must face the consequences of his actions and, surprisingly, just when it looks like nothing will change, something does. Although it’s the most likely outcome, as Gregory (Xander Berkeley) suggests to Simon, it’s “breathlessly stupid”. Once again, The Walking Dead fails in its opportunity to elevate above expectations and do something bold and different. This has quickly become a paint-by-numbers exercise, the final spots filled in to complete the picture as someone else drew it, instead of creating something new and refreshing.
Bookended by Carl’s notes being narrated against soppy music, there are some saving graces to take from the episode. Although it isn’t handled in the most elegant of ways, Negan’s return still provides some tense confrontations and his trickery over the plan of attack provides a delightful reveal. This isn’t enough to stop us getting frustrated with the episode, though, which, like the last, feels like it was just added to meet the quota. The all-out war will end in the finale – here’s hoping that the show dares to do something that isn’t by the book.
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Innards and entrails (spoilers)
– It was always going to come to blows between Negan and Simon, but instead of being Fight Club, it was more Boy’s Club – all it was missing was a “my Dad is stronger than your Dad” line. Simon did deserve to die for what he did, but he shouldn’t have died in that way. Simon had become one of the more genuinely frightening characters on the show, more than any zombie. His instability meant every conversation with him felt like it was taking place on a knife’s edge and his coup within the Saviours could have been something glorious. He had soldiers on his side, he could very easily have gone off and started his own group to add another dimension to the war, but as quickly as Simon suggests they take out Negan, his army is gone. (Seriously, how did none of them spot Negan hiding behind that dumpster?) Simon’s death is probably the most significant since Glenn’s, more so than Carl. At least with Carl’s death there was some kind of meaning behind it, no matter how much we disagree with the decision. Simon’s death was a death for death’s sake, one that won’t have a lasting impact on anyone which is the real tragedy. As one of the show’s most entertaining characters, Simon will be missed.
– Rosita and Daryl wanted to take Eugene back to use his brains to their advantage, something they didn’t do when he was an Alexandrian. Is there nobody else within the communities that knows how to make bullets, or find a library to teach them? The recent visit from the mysterious woman who left plans on farm buildings probably has information on weapons too: there doesn’t have to be a single man dependency. All their efforts are for nothing anyway, though, after Eugene distracts Rosita long enough to escape by vomiting on her. It was the most bodily fluid expelled in this episode, which did include Negan getting Lucille dirty, albeit off camera.
– Has Rick finally understood Carl’s letter? From the position both groups are in, it doesn’t look like any amount of remorse or pleads for change are going to change the course this fight will take, leaving Carl’s death in vain. Michonne wasn’t able to get through to Negan, who unapologetically tells her the fight is coming before stomping the walkie-talkie to pieces. Again, a potentially sombre and meaningful moment for Negan is relayed to him over radio instead of face to face.
– Dwight appears to be destined for death no matter what camp he ends up in. Having given false information to Rick, he is leading them into a trap that will be tough to forgive if there are any survivors. The mystery passenger Negan picked up is revealed to be Laura (Lindsley Register), the Saviour who knows about Dwight’s treachery and she’s turned him in. It is just her word against his, yet Negan pieces everything together and reveals he has tricked Dwight into giving Rick wrong information. Dwight’s death is saved for another day, unless he manages to wrangle away from both groups, perhaps going off in search of his wife on his own.