Eugene saves the Saviors but has a change of heart, Negan wreaks havoc and revenge on Rick and the Allies, and Carl is likely not much longer for the world on an overlong, slow, but ultimately surprising Walking Dead mid-season finale.
The Walking Dead loves to have “super-size” episodes for premieres and finales, and it almost never fully works- there ends up being far too much foot dragging involved (ie: close up montages, lots of walking, the camera lingering on mundane details for an exorbitant amount of time, etc.) for the episode, no matter how many important events occur, to truly hold your interest instead of try your patience. This episode is no exception, as even though many important events happen, it all feels uninvolving because of the slow pace.
One important event happens off-screen; we don’t see Eugene’s plan to help the Saviors escape the Sanctuary but we see that it worked.
When Rick and the Scavengers see the truck Daryl used to bust through the Sanctuary wall, the remaining Saviors open fire on them, and the Scavengers run away (this sort of renders the weird plot in which Rick tried to re-recruit the Scavengers kind of pointless-they didn’t stick around to help).
Rick is rescued by Carol and Jerry and they split up shortly after- Rick heads toward Alexandria, Carol and Jerry head back to the Kingdom. Rick eventually makes it back to Alexandria, only to find that Negan is already there and burning the place to the ground after Carl stalled for time by offering to sacrifice himself in exchange for letting the other Alexandrians live. This gave the Alexandrians time to at least escape with their lives into the sewers. Rick enters his house and finds Negan there. They fight, but it ends in a draw, and Michonne helps Rick off to the sewers where they find Carl has been bitten by a Walker on his abdomen, which means it is only a matter of time before Carl dies.
This development with Carl is the most surprising reveal in the episode.
Killing a main character in the early days of the show was the norm, and led to some thrilling TV, as you never knew which characters would survive.
But for years now, there’s been an increasing unwillingness to take out a core character (with the exception of Glen). It has been long assumed that Carl was an “untouchable” character, a character who couldn’t be killed. In the comics, which are on a storyline long after the war on Negan, Carl is alive and well. So Carl dying is a bold departure from the source material for the show. Carl has been a divisive character over the years; no matter what he does, some fans hate him. But before the bite reveal at the end, Chandler Riggs (Carl) does some of his best work, from the conversation with his father in the flashback at the beginning, where he urges Rick to be less vengeful, to when he stands up to Negan offering himself as a sacrifice, buying time for the Alexandrians to flee through the sewers, Carl is more heroic than usual. That will make his death more poignant, and make things even worse for Rick, who will have to deal with losing the war so far, as well as losing a child. This should make Rick’s story compelling when the show returns for the second half of the season.
Maggie and a group of soldiers from the Hilltop are on the road when they get ambushed by Simon and other Saviors, including Dwight. Simon shows Maggie that he has prisoners, and the Hilltop is going to go back to work for Negan or else, and he kills one of Maggie’s people to show he means business. He permits Maggie to leave, and when she and her people get back to the Hilltop, Maggie kills one of the Saviors she holds prisoner in response. She also orders the fence around the community to be fortified. Clearly, Maggie isn’t giving in without a fight, which fits her character to a T. Maggie is still bitter about the death of her husband, Glen, and has become one of the toughest survivors on the show. If anyone can hold the line against Negan until the Allies can regroup, it’s Maggie.
It looks like Carol’s speech to Ezekiel a couple of episodes back about how, even if he wasn’t up for it, the people of the Kingdom need him to be king, finally got through to him.
The Saviors go to the Kingdom to inform the residents that they will be put to work at the Sanctuary, but Ezekiel creates a major distraction which allows his people to escape.
Carol comes to the Kingdom to meet up with him to get him to safety, but he locks her out and is stuck with the Saviors. It’s good to see Ezekiel overcome his anguish in order to save his people- he may end up an even better leader because of the adversity he’s faced. If he survives.
Aaron and Enid head to the Oceanside community with a peace offering of booze they found, to make up for stealing their guns last season. It doesn’t go well, as they end up shooting Oceanside leader Cyndie’s grandmother, and Cyndie has them locked up. This is a weaker plot, as it seems inevitable that Oceanside will join up with the Allies, but they need to delay that until the writers are ready for it. Delay tactics like this are annoying more often than not.
Finally, Eugene seems to have come around to the Allies’ side, after all his soul searching in the last episode. He may have helped the Saviors escape the Walker herd (with a brilliant plan we don’t get to see in action), but he has a change of heart, and helps Gabriel and Dr. Carson escape to the Hilltop. Let’s just hope that Gabriel survives the journey, as his illness has gotten worse.
Overall, turning the tide of the war in Negan’s favor is a solid storytelling choice; (before this, Rick and the Allies seemed to be winning handily, and that’s difficult to get excited about) Carl’s story is well-acted, surprising and gripping, and the other cliffhangers (will Gabriel survive the trip to the Hilltop?
What will the Saviors do with Ezekiel?
Can Rick’s plan be salvaged? Will Aaron and Enid get out of the Oceanside community with an alliance?) are intriguing. It’s too bad that the episode is padded like a teenager’s bra and moves at a glacial pace. It’s not quite boring, but it’s less riveting than it should be because of the bloated run time.
NEXT WEEK: The show is going on break until the end of February. See you then!
*** out of 4 stars
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