This is a spoiler-free review. Read on below for additional, spoilery notes – plus how to watch online.
In the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead Season 8, the tides of war have changed. Having been trapped at the Sanctuary since Rick (Andrew Lincoln) led a herd of walkers there to engulf them, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), ably aided by Eugene (Josh McDermitt), has escaped his confinement and is looking for nothing more than sweet, bloody, violent revenge against The King, The Widow and Rick. It’s another extended episode, bookended by those painful close-ups of each character reflecting, but everything in between is juicy, loud and enjoyable enough to cover up yet more questionable actions.
For starters, just how did the Saviours escape the Sanctuary? We were aware that Eugene had an escape plan and that is fleetingly referenced again, but the place was flooded with the undead and surrounded by snipers. Did the walkers just decide to pack up and leave or did Eugene have a second flying iPod that not only moved the herd, but played tunes so awful that it sent the snipers insane?
Most importantly of all, was the escape in any way Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) fault? For Daryl has magically appeared back in Alexandria rather than staying and seeing his plan through. Back home, neither Rosita (Christian Serratos) or Michonne (Danai Gurira) seem angry with him for going off script or even after the booming knock of Lucille raps against the Alexandrian gates, signalling the start of the Saviours’ retaliation.
Having been responsible for the death of Glenn back in Season 7, Daryl doesn’t appear to have learned his lesson. Instead, he only adds fuel to the possible civil war fire and almost signs the death certificates for everyone he cares about. Being a mid-season finale, of course, each character must be checked upon, which leads to lots of short scenes interspersed with action sequences. You’d be forgiven for thinking you had missed some vital information that explained the thinking behind some rash decisions on the part of some characters, but don’t worry: you didn’t. The episode tries to squeeze so much in that otherwise difficult character decisions are skipped, leaving them performing unexpected actions.
The only character whose story gets any room to breathe is Carl (Chandler Riggs). One of the only remaining “day one” characters, Carl has literally grown up with the series. He has witnessed horrors no child should have seen, done things no child should ever have to do and yet, within him, there is still a purity that points his moral compass directly North. He saved Siddiq (Avi Nash) from being alone and at risk, bringing him to Alexandria, keeping him hidden, but fed and alive. When Rick and the others marched off for war, it was Carl who was left in charge back home and his defence of the home Rick took shows just how far the character has come from that sometimes-annoying child. When Negan comes knocking, it’s Carl who answers – the child all grown up, rational and full of heart.
How It’s Gotta Be doesn’t shine brightest but provides plenty of enjoyable moments amid some otherwise questionable decisions. The show has a star in Jeffrey Dean Morgan: he brings so much fun to the character of Negan who is at his most enjoyable riffing with the Grimes family. The timeline may be confused – where seasons past would have focused on the journey between points A to B, Season 8 warps between locales – allowing the flow of the episodes to be quicker, the major beats coming thick and fast. Logic is often sacrificed for narrative advancement, but the story has been full of drama and gunfire that stands out from all previous seasons. Rick’s rise up against the torment he suffered has been enjoyable, if not fully fleshed out; just when it looks like he’s about to crescendo, the fat lady sings on his plan. Where The Walking Dead goes from here we will have to wait until the new year. The cliffhanger to end the episode isn’t as terrifying as the end of Season 6, but it brings with it new questions, new conflict and enough emotion to rebuild the Sanctuary 10 times over.
The Walking Dead Season 1 to 8 are available on Sky Box Sets until 30th November 2018. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, for £7.99 a month, with no contract and a 14-day free trial.
Innards and entrails (spoilers)
– What did Carl’s morality and good nature bring him? Nothing but a slow death, as it seems his tussle with the walkers when rescuing Siddiq ended with him being bitten – and not in a place where it can be easily amputated. Just when the character was showing potential as the one to replace Rick and lead the communities into the future, he has been taken from us and it feels awful. When Carl is speaking with Negan, offering his own life to spare Alexandria, we didn’t know he’d been bitten. This speech tugged at the heart strings and felt like a giant, unselfish sacrifice of a boy becoming a man… until the reveal. Knowing that Carl already had a death sentence makes his act of honour tainted, would he still have done it if he wasn’t already dead?
– Carl’s death does bring with it some interesting direction for the series, like just who will step up to put Carl down when he turns. Can Rick actually shoot his own son, or will Michonne have to lend a sword? Feel for Siddiq, who never asked for help, but found humanity in Carl and now, will ultimately be blamed for his death. That is, if Rick doesn’t somehow shift blame onto Daryl – maybe he was supposed to be back at Alexandria and looking after things – to further push the civil war. But Carl isn’t dead yet and if his arc of redemption is to climax anywhere, Carl would likely want it to somehow stop Negan.
– Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Enid (Katelyn Nacon) set back relations with the Oceansiders when Enid accidentally shoots the patriarch. It was a farcical moment that should never have happened, but, to be fair to Enid, they were snuck upon in the dark and had Aaron on the floor – in this world, you can’t expect a friendly parlay. The Saviours had obviously frightened Enid into a shoot first, ask questions later mentality, Oceanside now unlikely to join the fight, not that their part had been of any significance other than providing weapons anyway.
– On the subject of other groups, the Scavengers vanished pretty quickly once danger was near. Having spent a lot of effort in getting them to fight for him, Rick loses them within the first few minutes of the episode. While the Scavengers could never really be trusted, their quick exit could mean they’re still available to play both sides if Negan comes back to their door.
– With Rick being pinned down by gunfire, he is saved by the convenient arrival of Carol (Melissa McBride) and Jerry (Cooper Andrews) and, after a little drive, they all appear to split up and end at different places. Rick is back at Alexandria, Carol is at the Kingdom and Jerry is captured by Simon (Steven Ogg).
– Negan’s revenge is swift: he is immediately able to attack three outposts at the same time, looking to capture The King, The Widow and Rick. Ezekiel (Khary Payton), finally, is able to muster enough courage to save his people, silently manoeuvring oil drums mere feet from the Saviours, but he ultimately looks to be captured. Rick has managed to escape underground, after some tense close quarters combat with Negan and Lucille, but was intended to be captured. Maggie (Lauren Cohen) was stopped on the road, had to witness a red shirt get killed, but was then just let go. The logic is the Hilltop is a farm and will produce for the Saviours, but there appear to be no Saviours returning with Maggie to ensure she sticks to these new rules, so obviously she rebels. Why not capture the Widow and take her with you and send the remaining Hilltoppers home with a Saviour escort? Then they would have found their captured brothers and set them free. If this is all part of Eugene’s plan, it’s a clear oversight on the genius’ part.
Photo: Gene Page / AMC