Josh Jackson and Jim Vorel review each week’s episode of The Walking Dead in a series of letters
It’s painful to watch The Walking Dead stall for time, Josh.
Imagine if seasons of The Walking Dead didn’t have the “mid-season finale, then regular season finale” format. Without the crutch of “we’re building to a big, 90-minute episode to finish the first half of the season,” there would actually have to be season-long plot arcs and continuity that progressed in a logical way. But the mid-season finales work against this. They allow the show to simply coast for an episode or two as we approach the “big” episode—the one that the producers know will bring in the audience, because it’ll be the one with Big Important Deaths. The format robs the show on some level of its ability to be naturalistic—you can never feel like major characters will die, even when they attempt a plan as stupid as Daryl ramming a truck into the Savior headquarters, because hey—it’s not the mid-season finale yet! Everything about this episode simply seemed to say “Hang in there, and watch next week’s episode, won’t you?”
With that said, the real meat and potatoes of tonight’s episode was Eugene’s Choice. To say that his reasoning for staying on the Savior side has become opaque is a massive understatement. At least when he was initially captured, you could simply make excuses for the guy, saying “Well he has no choice but to do what he’s told.” But now Eugene has been presented with plenty of options, from both Dwight and Gabriel, as to how he can actively work to undermine The Saviors, and he’s passed them all up. Somehow, he’s even attempted to reason that it’s nobler to protect the random citizens of The Sanctuary than it is to kill Negan and protect BOTH the citizens of The Sanctuary, AND those of Alexandria, The Hilltop and The Kingdom. All he’d have to do in order to help everyone is help Dwight kill Negan. That’s all he needs to do, Josh.
And the sad thing is, that’s what I STILL fully expect him to try in the end. It no longer makes any sense, but I’m sticking with my initial prediction—Eugene will betray Negan, and the rationale for doing so will now seem super flimsy as a result of tonight’s episode. Why can’t he just get on board with Dwight, who also wants to protect all of the workers and save his own skin?
Honestly, I like Eugene as a character and always have, but tonight I was finding him somewhat difficult to tolerate, or perhaps that was just Josh McDermitt’s performance. In particular, the way he speaks has always been a weird personal affectation or defense mechanism that suited the character, but it’s hard for me to believe that he wouldn’t switch over to something a little bit more, I dunno, human when under intense duress. Coming in and launching an angry tirade at Gabriel delivered in Eugene’s unique patois just sounds all that more affected and fake to me. Am I alone on this?
Elsewhere, Rick dealt with the stupid consequences of his stupid plan to convince the stupid trash people to join his stupid crusade. My favorite part of this is the way he has seemingly been abandoned by all three of the communities he’s leading—the guy literally walks into an enemy camp alone, despite the fact that his people know he’s going there, and everyone just assumes that everything will be fine. At no point is it suggested that anyone in the Grimes Coalition has any suspicion that things aren’t going peachy with the Trash People. Nobody even mentions it, except for one offhand comment from Rosita. Nobody seems worried about Rick’s condition AT ALL. It’s hilariously weird.
A random observation: I actually thought “Time For After” was one of the best looking episodes of season 8 so far, in terms of cinematography. There were a couple of really well-framed shots, such as Gabriel in bed with Eugene looming over him, and the shot of Negan clutching Lucille from behind, about to lay some mindgames on Eugene. Rays of light in an otherwise dreary episode.
Some questions for you, after watching this thing:
— Why does The Sanctuary have zero medicine to treat Gabriel with, anyway? Shouldn’t they be stockpiled with all kinds of stuff that they steal from all the other communities that they extort? If literally any community in this show should be well-stocked in medicine, it should be The Sanctuary, right?
— Am I forgetting a part in the last episode where Morgan showed up to join Daryl, Rosita, Michonne and Tara, or did he LITERALLY just stroll into the scene from off-camera with none of them having any idea that he was there? I laughed my ass off when this happened because his sudden appearance was so ham-fisted that it hurt me.
— The last we see Negan in this episode, he says that Eugene has a plan to fix everything. We then see Rick looking down from the sniper’s nest into the courtyard, aghast to see no zombies. Where did the living dead go? Did they all stream into the compound? Have they magically all been led away somewhere? What kind of contrived BS is The Walking Dead going to throw at us next week to explain this stuff?
I look forward to you unraveling all of these mysteries for me.
It was certainly a filler episode, but at least it was a deep dive into the psyche of our redneck renaissance man Eugene. Unlike you, I no longer think he’s going to betray Negan. Despite that final scene where his newfound resolve has completely cracked and he’s drowning his sorrows in something more than 1.5 ounces of the giggle juice, I think this episode is where he’s made his final choice. He’s had so many opportunities to betray Negan, and he’s only ever taken half measures. All this has made him one of the more interesting characters on the show and made this episode tolerable.
It was beautifully shot, and I didn’t always mind the slower pacing, especially when it was focused on Eugene. But it’s interesting to compare the approaches of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones when it comes to finales, though. In GoT, it’s almost always the penultimate episode where the major battle takes place. The finales usually still very plot-driven, but (with the exception of last season), not usually one big fight. The Walking Dead usually presents us with the calm before the mid-season or season final storm, and that was the case with “Time for After.”
The whole “Rick single-handedly winning over the Trash People” arc was painful to watch. And Daryl’s plan to single-handedly defeat all of the saviors by breaching one wall is just dumb. There are other exits to that building and solid interior doors. It’s not clear exactly what great plan Eugene had to get the Saviors out of the Sanctuary, but it probably would have been harder if, you know, the AHK army was actually there (with the addition of the Scavengers, I say we start using the acronym SHAK).
And you’re right. If any place on earth should have a stockpile of pharmaceuticals, it’s the Sanctuary. They just took all of Alexandria’s supplies weeks ago. I don’t get that one.
I didn’t have a problem with Morgan’s appearance, though. It makes sense for snipers to be watching the Sanctuary, and he saw Daryl pull up. It wouldn’t have come as a surprise to Daryl that the snipers (including Morgan) were aware of his presence there.
That said, I have no idea how all the walkers just disappeared. I’m sure that mystery will be solved for us next week, involving some clever plan by Eugene—something on a grander scale than his ipod drone. It shouldn’t ever have been that difficult with all the bullets that went flying once Daryl breached the walls.
But the escape of the Saviors has me thinking that the battle will continue to range through the second half of the season. My questions for you:
1. With the Saviors no longer penned in, why wouldn’t the Scavengers just immediately turn on Rick?
2. Negan hinted at going off and making more bullets before a counter-attack. Where do you think his people will strike first?
3. Rick can no longer just negotiate for a sacrifice of Negan. If they’ve escaped, it’s time for all-out war. What does that mean for the prisoners at the Hilltop?
Let me rattle off some quick answers first:
1. The Trash People won’t immediately turn on Rick, despite the fact that he just sold them on a false scenario where The Saviors are ready to surrender, because someone wrote “the scavengers don’t turn on Rick” in the script and that’s all that matters. It won’t make any sense WHY they aren’t just executing Rick and going back to their trash heap; but when is the last time anything made sense on this show?
2. I am certain that Negan and co. will somehow be able to teleport to the site of Eugene’s machine shop, produce 100,000 rounds of ammunition overnight, and then go on the offensive. As for where … I’m thinking he’ll head to The Hilltop, as that seems to have effectively become the capitol of the resistance against him. Note: It would make the most tactical sense to go to either Alexandria or The Kingdom and just raze those places to the ground, but Negan’s own philosophy that “people are a resource” means he won’t go wholesale slaughtering. Like Rick, his primary target is the upper command and fighters, because ultimately he wants to bring things back to the status quo where this network of communities is broken and back to giving him “half their stuff.” The only way to do that is to take out the Big Three: The King, The Widow and Rick.
3. I can’t imagine any scenario where those prisoners actually get executed, if only because the show won’t want to muddy the morality of these two sides much more than it has been. Even if Negan shows up at the gates of The Hilltop and promises to storm the walls, and Maggie counters that they will kill all of the prisoners if he tries, and then he DOES try, I don’t think she’d ever go through with it. The only way I could see those prisoners ending up dead is if Jared manages to engineer a breakout and it devolves into a firefight—which actually seems pretty likely.
As for the Morgan question I brought up, allow me to recreate the timeline, as I’ve gotten a little confused. Morgan takes part in the attack on the Satellite Outpost, where he goes nuts and shoots a bunch of people, then advocates for the killing of the prisoners. He then follows the prisoner train back toward The Hilltop, only to chase after an escaped group of Saviors into the woods, followed by Jesus. He has a spat with Jesus that ends in a kung fu fight in the woods, which ends in him leaving the group and setting off with destination unknown. So he wasn’t one of the people ever stationed at The Sanctuary by Rick, right? That’s why I was so perplexed when he just strolled into the frame this week, in mid-conversation with Daryl, Michonne, Rosita and Tara. I thought he was like, a state away by now—maybe on his way down to Mexico to meet up with the Fear The Walking Dead crew, because he’s supposed to be part of that crossover.
And that’s another thing, Josh, and one of the most obvious questions there is to ask about Rick’s entire war plan: Why did they attack The Sanctuary, lead a herd of walkers to surround the place, and then leave en masse and go back to their own communities? Why didn’t they simply maintain a blockade around The Sanctuary, keeping enough distance from the zombies as to not draw them away? They could easily wait them out from the outside, given that they’d be able to resupply while The Saviors would not. Instead, it seems like Rick’s plan was to leave 2 or 3 people to watch the entire Savior HQ, and he then comes back and is shocked to find that somehow his enemy dealt with the living dead problem.
This war will undoubtedly continue to rage until the end of season 8, and I’m hoping that the ACTUAL season finale a few months from now will bring a decisive end to it. That feels to me like the right time to bring this particular chapter of The Walking Dead to a close. The question is, what will they do after that? Will they actually move forward in time, as Rick saw in his vision of the future? Or was that helicopter sighting a tease for yet another, larger community not drawn from any source in the comics?
The most believable thing here is that Rick is starting to see pushback against his leadership because his plan is pretty dumb. But so is Daryl’s. And now the King is curled up in a ball feeling sorry for himself. This is why Maggie should be named Supreme Empress of the Apocalypse once this war is over.
But when will it be over? If things don’t wrap by the end of this season, The Walking Dead may see another big dip in ratings to open Season 9. But if they do wrap it this season, I’m not sure where you go from here. As the world has gotten bigger, they’ve encountered two psychopathic, charismatic leaders. They could jump ahead to a more established community, which would make the TWD a very different kind of show. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as another season fighting a group of humans led by another Bad Man would feel repetitive.
The other option is that the helicopter leads to a different kind of challenge for our heroes, something less directly antagonistic. They’re pretty close to Washington, D.C., which could provide some interesting twists (and killer set pieces). But I’ve been burned before, Jim. The Governor lasted a lot longer than any of us suspected. Negan could still be the main villain in Season 10 for all I know.
Please don’t die, Dumb Daryl Dixon.
Check back for more letters about the latest episode of The Walking Dead from Josh Jackson and Jim Vorel