For the first half of season eight, dubbed “All Out War” between Rick and Negan, there’s been surprisingly little development, and even fewer casualties of note. Outside of The Kingdom’s army full of redshirts, and Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson) prior to that, The Walking Dead has hesitated making significant waves, and instead has been mostly treading water. Which is one of the show’s most dependable qualities.
Outside of season premieres and finales (and, thanks to this show, mid-season premieres and finales), nothing much worthwhile takes place, aside from a few trite moments of character development that are really only there to set the stage for a later episode that either begins or ends a season (or half-season).
Last night’s mid-season finale upped its game up a little bit, mostly by replaying some of the show’s greatest hits moments, particularly from the season six finale, “Last Day On Earth,” which saw the walls starting to close in on Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) group, not to mention the long-promised introduction of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). It also revealed a major casualty, albeit in a profoundly underwhelming way. More on that in a bit.
First, it’s confirmed that Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) idiotic plan to crash a truck into The Sanctuary has cost his side the upper hand. Rather than being surrounded by walkers on all sides, they made their way in, and were picked off one-by-one, eventually allowing The Saviors to escape. Some head to The Kingdom, where they announce they’ll be making it their new home, while promising a gruesome death to one of its citizens unless they provide the whereabouts of Ezekiel (Khary Payton).
As Ezekiel watches this from afar he creates a distraction, allowing his followers to leave unharmed while he eventually ends up in The Saviors’ grasp. Although Morgan (Lennie James) was conveniently listening in on the other side of the fence, likely setting up another inane plot point for this season’s back-half.
With Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and the rest of The Hilltop moving in a caravan, she sees a downed tree blocking the road. “It could’ve happened on its own, trees do that,” posits Jesus (Tom Jayne), who’s been filled with nothing but stupid fucking ideas since his character’s been introduced.
Maggie, however, knows better, and before long a group of Saviors show up led by Simon (Steven Ogg), who reveals that they’ve taken Jerry (Cooper Andrews) as their prisoner. He gives her the option to let one of her people die at their hands as an apology, then kills the passenger riding in her truck to underscore his point.
Rather inexplicably, she gets released from their blockade, and takes the coffin they’d brought to prove their point (another callback) to bury Neil, the newly-dead Hilltopper. Instead, when back inside The Hilltop, Maggie takes one prisoner from the pen and executes him in cold blood, before writing on the coffin ‘One Down, 38 To Go — Stand Down,’ telling her people to put it somewhere where Negan will find it.
Maggie’s ruthlessness has been a long time coming (again, since “Last Day On Earth”) and it was nice to see it come to fruition in such a definitive matter. It’s also refreshing that she stopped listening to Jesus and his idiotic, happy-go-lucky approach to conflict.
Finally, the big moment, Negan shows up at the gates of Alexandria (again), but this time, he’s mad (again). Instead of meeting him at the gate, Carl (Chandler Riggs) stands there and offers himself as a sacrifice while the rest of the Alexandrians make their way through a safe spot in the sewer. It’s a worthwhile distraction, and manages to piss Negan off enough (“I thought we were having a moment, you little asshole!”) to order the bombing of Alexandria to commence.
Echoing the destruction of the prison in season four’s “Too Far Gone,” Carl runs aimlessly through the streets, lighting of smoke bombs in an effort to confuse The Saviors. Rick manages to show up, too, and goes straight to his house (one of the few that wasn’t on fire) looking for Carl — which also happened to be where Negan was waiting.
You’d think a conflict that’d been building for all this time would’ve been a worthwhile spectacle, but no. They trade a few punches, Rick gets ahold of Lucille at one point, then drops it, grabs his gun, and after getting thrown out a window decides to bale on the whole thing. Instead of, you know, potentially ending the entire conflict right there. It’s almost as if he hasn’t learned anything from his repeated dealings with The Governor (David Morrissey) — because clearly he has not.
Meanwhile, Dwight (Austin Amelio) sets up a faulty roadblock outside the gate, allowing several principle cast members to escape, and later gives Dwight a true shot at redemption by killing off several Saviors himself, costing him a bullet to the arm, an implausible escape from the lone survivor, and the pending trust of the Alexandrians. It also gives Daryl back his vest.
Between all the screentime he’d gotten this episode, not to mention the flashback with him and Rick that was obtusely dropped in near the beginning, he was fitting a tried-and-true formula for The Walking Dead. With almost all the key characters having convened in the sewer (including those who’d already escaped, for some reason), Rick sees Siddiq (Avi Nash) among them, while Carl explains that he went back to look for him, just before revealing that he’d been bitten on the chest by a walker much earlier. Luckily, the show has never shied away from ‘convenient plot disease,’ so Carl was able to carry on, despite other characters turning in a matter of moments.
Then, much as they gathered around a mortally wounded Andrea (Laurie Holden) in the season three finale — minus the extended shots of his feet — the episode ends, and Rick faces another profound loss that he could’ve prevented had he not been so adept at proving himself the worst leader ever.
Still, it’s likely that Rick will use his (soon to be late) son’s newfound humanity to not only allow Siddiq into the fold, but leans heavy into the ‘mercy vs. vengeance’ subplot of this half-season, and will likely play out in a significant way whenever the conflict between him and Negan eventually concludes.