This is a spoiler-lite review of Episode 16 of Season 8. Already seen the episode? Read on below for full spoilers.
After all the anticipation, all the hype, the deaths, the treachery and the insults, the all-out war between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) reaches its climax with The Walking Dead’s Season 8 finale. It has taken a long time to get here and with all the main survivors joining the fight – and The Walking Dead’s recent insistence for a big-name death in just about every season finale – the stakes are very real and very high. Fairly early on in the episode, all the characters are drawn into a refreshingly different locale, a large and empty field, and just as the war looks like it is about to begin, it’s over. Wrath is the denouement to the season, and as spoken by showrunner Scott M. Gimple to Entertainment Weekly, “being sort of the conclusion of the first eight seasons” – yet what it gives us, in terms of a fight, is more anti-climactic than the Millennium Bug.
The final episode does deliver on the key final confrontation between the two leaders. The scene drips with tension, as Rick and Negan square off underneath that tree we’ve seen in flash-forwards earlier in the season – the one with curiously hanging stained glass windows. Throughout the season, and indeed the series, the taking of another person’s life has been the biggest battle any of the survivors have faced. We have seen characters wrestling with this concept like little internal zombies eating away at them and it’s never decided what the right answer should be. Carl believed in people, he pleaded with his Dad to find another way, to end the fighting and start a new world of peace and harmony, and maybe his beliefs are finally beginning to sink in. By the end of the episode, the fighting truly has stopped, but the effects may continue to ripple into future seasons.
The morality and humanity debate rages on inside Morgan’s (Lennie James) head more than any other survivor and he has constantly been to-ing and fro-ing between wanting to lead a peaceful life and going on a violent rampage. His visions return to haunt him again, which could spell danger for the survivors he calls his friends. Morgan comes close to fighting his demons, but doesn’t face any consequences from his actions. Instead, he is wrapped up, far too conveniently ready for his crossover into Fear the Walking Dead.
Almost everything about the finale wraps up opportunely, leaving a blank slate from which to build the show, and honestly, it could do with freshening up. Because this is a final episode, there has to be a hint of danger for the future and it comes from one scene packaged between the many others that tie all loose ends into neat little bows. It is something that has been hinted at earlier in the season, but now looks to be growing that thought between some of the other survivors. While the appearance of Georgie (Jayne Atkinson) in Episode 12 (The Key) probably means one storyline from the comics will eventually be introduced, the series is now more than established enough to go it alone and this tiny glimpse of what to come has potential to elevate the series above the source material.
When looked at as a complete episode, Wrath succeeds in providing a fitting conclusion to this chapter of the series. If we were to look at the individual parts, some don’t work as well as others, while some leave us with more questions and some feel so out of character that they’ve just been put in there to close off a story gap. The final fight in the war might not satisfy our investment, but in reality, it is, and always has been, about Negan. His story might have been full of childish innuendo but there’s so much depth to him. From his very first on-screen appearance he’s given us more to fear than any of the undead and once the dust has settled over our survivors, his name will still mean something.
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Innards and entrails (spoilers)
– Rick has let Carl show him the way to another tomorrow, but how long will it last? For so long, the show has gone back and forth on its moral compass. Rick finally making a firm decision is great for this episode, but what about when it doesn’t fit the narrative? Will he revert to ripping someone’s throat out with his teeth?
– Poor Aaron (Ross Marquand), stranded on his own trying to recruit Oceanside, starving, wet and with only walkers for company. Then, from out of nowhere, Oceanside, led by Aaron, appear at the Hilltop to wipe out some Saviours with Molotov Cocktails. For all the time it has taken Aaron to get these women on side, and all the time we’ve spent at their camp this season, this final scene is really insignificant. If it hadn’t been included, we would just have assumed all the Saviours were out in the fields.
– There’s a civil war brewing at the Hilltop. Maggie (Lauren Cohen), the only one who disagreed with (at least vocally) Rick’s decision to keep Negan alive, is quietly stewing and plotting her revenge. But why is she telling Jesus (Tom Payne) her plans? Jesus has been on the straight and narrow for as long as we’ve known him. He wanted to keep the Saviour prisoners alive, he even convinces Morgan to stop using the pointy end of his stick on the living, so why would he want to cause a rift within the ranks? This could be Maggie pulling a Negan, knowing Jesus will spill the beans, but more likely. they just wanted anyone to sit in that chair knowing they’d be forgotten about when Daryl (Norman Reedus) steps out from the shadows to concur.
– This has great potential, if it is done correctly, to be a defining moment in the show’s run, but it can’t end up just being a repeat of this season. Stealth and underhand tactics mixed with espionage and intelligence could make for a very interesting Season 9.
– Can Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) honestly see again or is he talking metaphorically and he can see the right path he needs to find God? If it’s the former, that’s another conveniently wrapped up story arc, no matter how frustrating it was to have several Gabriel point-of-view scenes. If it’s the latter, expect Gabriel to rebuild the church and welcome a new flock to his door.
– Dwight (Austin Amelio) is being kept alive, because seeing Rick and company die thanks to his mistake would be more agony than death. Dwight didn’t seem to fear death, even taking an iron to the face to protect the ones he loves. Yet after the war is over – and he’s taken into the woods by Daryl, presumably to die – he shows a different side. Although accepting that he should die, he doesn’t want to, and so Daryl leaves him the keys to the truck and sends him on his merry way. Finding a note, Dwight now knows where to find his wife. This would have been a perfect opportunity for the pair of them to join Fear the Walking Dead. Daryl promises Dwight death if he shows his face again, but we’re hopeful this isn’t the last we’ll see of Dwight.
– Eugene (Josh McDermitt) has earned himself a reprieve. All along he was making faulty bullets that would backfire on the Saviours. Again, conveniently, the bullets go untested apart from a few in a handgun given to Negan, but it was a rush job, so who has the time? Eugene has been accepted a little too easily back into the fold at Alexandria, although he takes a whack to the chin for vomiting on Rosita (Christian Serratos). Eugene is the reason the war was over before it could even begin, and even though he has saved his friends, he will still be kept under close eye. If he can manufacture bullets that will backfire, he’s smarter than we gave him credit for.
– Negan is alive. He is going to be made an example of, by being imprisoned at Alexandria. Although all his Saviours were willing to bend the knee when he walked into the room, they were quick to raise their hands when Rick approached them. There may be some Saviours left alive who sympathise with Negan and might lead a revolt, but we are meant to believe that this is the end of that chapter. We’ve seen what Negan can do, how he can talk himself out of any situation, so Rick needs to be absolutely certain that Negan is pacified at all times, or he risks his entire newly-unionised world. Anyone following along with the comics knows there is a future for Negan, but he will probably be kept off screen for a while. But he is alive and that can only be a good thing for everyone.