There’s something almost universally true about how the anticipation for a big payoff will inevitably leave one disappointed. Last night, after upwards of 40 episodes of teasing a final showdown between Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Rick (Andrew Lincoln), that showdown finally happened. And it played out like a wet fart.
The first half of the episode was a retread of all the countless montages that have come before, with members of Alexandria, The Hilltop, and the few that remain from The Kingdom suiting up for battle, giving exposition-laden pep talks to one another while a quiet, somber score plays in the background. They’re going to war, and this time that means something.
The back half was another overly wordy collection of expositions and slow-fades which felt like an epilogue that rivaled Boogie Nights in its tedium. Old storylines were wrapped up. New storylines began to take shape.
Somewhere in the middle, for about 4 minutes, came the actual war in “All Out War,” a profound exercise in underwhelming pop-culture spectacles.
Rick and company march through an open field with virtually no cover before they hear The Saviors’ telltale whistle. It echoed their first meaningful encounter with the group as they carried Maggie (Lauren Cohan) through the woods as she suffered a terrible bout of plot convenience disease (who may or may not be pregnant considering how they’ve ignored that aspect for the past year-and-a-half or so),. That was the night they first met Negan. That was the night Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) were killed.
Now, out in the open in broad daylight, there was the Ricktatorship, once again surrounded. Negan’s plan to feed fake information to Dwight (Austin Amelio) led them right into his trap. Soon would come another long-winded speech from Rick, one that paled in comparison to his plea to The Governor (David Morse) back in season four’s “Too Far Gone.” Then would come a shootout, perhaps poorly choreographed but peppered with emotional moments where we watch characters cut down in battle.
Instead we got a moment that was so GIF-ably hilarious it might rank with some of the greatest slapstick of all time. Right as the moment was about to happen, The Saviors took aim, then literally all of their guns backfired at once.
It was a put into play by Eugene (Josh McDermitt), who’s been serving as The Saviors’ bullet manufacturer for most of the past season. In mounting up their arsenal, Eugene noticed that Gabriel (Seth Gillam) was making them incorrectly — and on purpose. After Eugene’s escapade with Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) last week, he put Gabriel back on the line. Then, presumably, loaded all the faulty bullets into the Saviors’ arsenal.
Several of them died outright, several more were injured, and Negan was left with a badly wounded hand after attempting execute Dwight. He and Rick had a showdown near a tree that was conveniently adorned with some framed stained glass. After some tussling, Rick has a weapon to slash Negan’s throat with. Just not enough to kill him, inexplicably giving Rick some surgeon-like accuracy with a hunk of broken glass.
Rick then continues his faded xeroxed copy of his “Too Far Gone” plea, and told the surviving Saviors that they’d be moving forward to once more rebuild a society like the one they once knew. Part of that involved keeping Negan alive as a reminder of all this.
It was this last decision that led to the only intriguing moment of the whole episode (really, this whole damn fiasco), which was Maggie’s vehement opposition to Rick’s executive decision. It, too, echoed the aftermath of their most painful encounter with The Saviors, when Maggie tearfully pleaded with a newly-broken Rick that the “have to go fight him.”
Later, as she sits in her office at The Hilltop, she sows her discord with Daryl (Norman Reedus), an intriguing development, and Jesus (Tom Payne) which… why? This was the same guy who condescendingly told Morgan (Lennie James) — earlier in this very episode — to not use the pointy end of his stick on the living. Suddenly the smarmiest goddamn camp counselor you were forced to spend an entire summer with that one year is gonna be in favor of taking Rick down because he left Negan alive?
At best, the episode was a collective sigh of relief that we can finally, FINALLY move past “All Out War,” which went had overstayed its welcome by at least 20 episodes or so. And Jesus’ presence aside, the idea of Maggie slowly evolving into Rick’s foil is a promising alternative to rolling out another mustache-twirling big bad for another 40 goddamn episodes.