It’s nothing new for The Walking Dead to frequently dole out oversized episodes, and tonight was no exception. With season eight’s mid-season cliffhanger ending on the reveal that Carl (Chandler Riggs) had been bitten, it was clear that he’d be getting a long, drawn-out goodbye. One that they decided wouldn’t fit within the confines of their standard hour-long runtime, so they tacked on an extra 23 minutes just in case.
Starting things off is one of the show’s most derided tropes: its goddamn penchant for indie rock songs, which started way back in season three when Beth (Emily Kinney) bafflingly serenades the Ricktatorship with her a cappella rendition of Tom Waits’ “Hold On.” This week, we got Bright Eyes’ “In The Bottom Of Everything.” Not just a snippet, either. The whole fucking song. Which is what happens when you’re the highest-rated show on cable, not to mention AMC’s only reliable cash cow.
Now, The Walking Dead has always gone out of its loosely defined the rules of its own in-show universe to make necessary adjustments for plot convenience, and none of these has been more blatant than how long, exactly, it takes to go from bitten/dead to zombie. Some characters die/are bitten and turn into gnarling threats inside of a few seconds.
Carl, on the other hand, has time to change shirts, bandage his wound, write everyone a goodbye note, finger-paint with Judith, take a couple selfies, enact his plan to out-maneuver The Saviors’ siege of Alexandria, and find the time to hide Siddiq (Avi Nash), all before breaking a fever — all while underscored by the warbling voice of Conor Oberst.
The bulk of the episode is spent where “How It’s Gotta Be” ended, with the Alexandrians huddled into a sewer under their compound, quietly waiting out The Saviors’ destruction. This gives plenty of time for Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) to alternate giving Carl their teary, exposition-filled farewells. And also for Daryl (Norman Reedus) to throw out another triumphantly stupid idea, which he’s been wearing like a badge of honor since being responsible for Glenn’s (Steven Yeun) death back at the beginning of season seven.
We do get to spend some time at what remains of The Kingdom, where Morgan (Lenny James) and Carol (Melissa McCarthy) work to free Ezekiel (Khary Payton) from the clutches of The Saviors. Morgan’s also very much off his “no-killing” bullshit, to the point where he pulls out someone’s intestines through a bullet wound. I ponder what point in my life this would’ve been considered a shocking moment to see on basic cable, instead of how it played out, which was more-or-less like warmed-over, humorless slapstick.
But after a few cutaways, it was always back in the mossy tunnels of Alexandria’s sewer (which none of The Saviors thought to check), for more heaping helpings of misery porn. Perhaps never more obvious when we finally got some context to those soft-focused flash-forwards that have appeared throughout the first-half of season eight.
What seems like some kind of idyllic resolution to the constant blood-spattered struggle that more-or-less defines The Walking Dead, with Rick sporting a white beard and cane, hobbling around his home in a new-and-improved Alexandria, it turns out it was all Carl’s zombie-bite fever dream. It could’ve played out as some kind of jaw-dropping revelation, particularly with the appearance of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) sporting an equally gray beard, speaking to Carl’s plea to his father about returning to a more peaceful mindset. Instead, it just made the moment seem like little more than unintentional comedy.
It’s not like it was all bad, though. Rick did manage to correctly pronounce Carl’s name correctly every time, so… congratulations, I guess.
Now we’re left to figure out what the significance is behind a bloodied, red-eyed Rick sitting under a tree adorned with stained-glass windows. Can’t wait until that’s revealed in another 7 to 16 episodes.