Josh Jackson and Jim Vorel review each week’s episode of The Walking Dead in a series of letters
Negan put his house back in order tonight. He not only uncovered Simon’s betrayal and killed off the disloyal Saviors, he also used Dwight’s treachery against the Hilltop, sending false plans to Rick. Even Eugene, who’d been resisting in subtle ways, is now fully on board with doing everything he can to help the Savior cause thanks to a botched kidnapping that made him realize there’s no going back to the friends he sold out.
So everything is tilting the scales back in favor of Negan as we approach the finale next week, including what seemed like a fully re-stocked army at the Sanctuary. And any thoughts of simply getting the Hilltop in line have disappeared, as Negan made perfectly clear to Michonne tonight. The stakes are now as high as they could be.
But aside from Negan’s big fight with Simon and the reveal that he’s used Dwight against the Hilltop, this episode was as much about set-ups as payoffs. The whole Eugene kidnapping ended up with him right back in the bullet factory. Aaron passed out after fighting some walkers and gave a pep talk to Oceanside. And Carl’s parting words fell on two pairs of relatively deaf ears.
Next week is what we’ve been waiting for since Negan’s name started popping up in Season 6. So it’s hard to look at this episode on its own merits rather than just as the final set up to the big war. We learned Simon was behind some of the worst atrocities of the Saviors, including killing the men—and boys—of Oceanside. We saw Gregory give a rousing speech full of bullshit. And we saw Eugene puke up some sardine mac and cheese all over Rosita.
What did you think? Was this a worthy prep episode for the big day? Too many spinning wheels and not enough useful action? Of all the varied scenes from Rick reading Carl’s letter to Gabriel’s tearful breakdown to Dwight’s surprise guest at the end, did anything stick out in particular?
And did it make sense to you that Negan just forgave Simon in that Godfather scene where he stands behind him with a bat and tells him to get on his knees? He didn’t bring up Simon’s disobedience at the Junkyard, so he knew that Simon was already beyond forgiveness. Do you think he was just trying to draw out any other disloyal Saviors?
Tonight we saw Negan at his most devious and mastermind-y. I suppose that’s a good thing for the chief antagonist of multiple seasons of a TV series to be, but it must be stressed that he played pretty much everyone like a fiddle. I suppose he had a long time to think up this plan while he was driving back to the Sanctuary, especially after picking up Laura along the way.
Think about it. First he played Dwight, while already knowing that he was feeding information to Rick. Then he played Simon, as you suggested, into making a play for a desperate coup, discovering in the process everyone else who might be loyal to Simon. And then finally he played Dwight for a second time by feeding him false information which he then knew would be passed onto Rick, so the Grimes Coalition also got played in the process. He thoroughly outsmarted every single other character, this time around. Credit where credit is due.
I liked the format of Carl’s letters bookending the episode, but I honestly have to question the practicality of the philosophy he’s advocating. I feel like we, the audience, are supposed to hear Carl’s words and think “he’s the one person who has the right idea,” but let’s be honest—Carl’s dying wishes were hopelessly naive. Yes, perhaps peace could someday exist between communities such as The Hilltop and The Saviors, but for him to advocate for Rick to actually make peace with Negan himself is lunacy. If Carl is indeed intelligent—as I believe I’m supposed to think he is—then he should know that Negan is too powerful a personality for anyone to live in harmony with. Surely Carl should know this better than anyone. Yes, you might be able to make peace with The Saviors, but you’ll only be able to do so after Negan has been removed from power, and a reasonable human being has been installed. Carl’s views are as if the Allies in World War II were saying “You really need to talk some sense into that irascible Hitler fellow.”
Speaking of The Saviors, and sorry to change the subject, but have you ever noticed that every single person at The Sanctuary wears the same types of dusty grey, black, and maybe dark blue clothing? Where did they all find these perfectly identical clothes? You’d think there would be at least one guy in a neon pink shirt scavenged from a Goodwill or something. But seriously—it’s a really cheap tactic to coach the audience to see all those people as “less than” our individualistic heroes, and it sucks.
Otherwise, you’re right—not quite as much happened here as I was expecting. Aaron is apparently employing the “hang around within earshot and hope that something eventually changes” strategy, while Eugene is making umami mac ‘n cheese. The mere fact that he was chewing out Gabriel irritated me, I must admit. Does he even recall that he was the one who freed Gabriel from The Sanctuary? This might be the first time in watching eight seasons of The Walking Dead when I honestly sort of wanted Eugene dead.
On the other end of the spectrum, I definitely laughed out loud at Simon hurling Gregory to the ground after the disgraced former leader of The Hilltop proclaimed “I am the juice!” Lord, I love how utterly pathetic Gregory is in all things, and I hope he never perishes.
I’ve been operating this entire season under the assumption that the “Negan storyline,” the war with The Saviors, will end at the close of season 8. But with only one more episode to go—albeit what is probably a long and eventful one—I suddenly find myself wondering if AMC would dare to string this thing out even farther. So I ask you: Do you think this conflict comes to a decisive end in next week’s episode, which is named “Wrath”? Or do you think we somehow, some way end up continuing with Grimes Gang vs. Saviors all the way into season 9? Can we please move on and start investigating the helicopter people and Georgie’s well-to-do community?
We saw how the battle with the Governor was stretched out much farther than anyone anticipated. But I have to hope that the Saviors story gets resolved next week. Negan is about to draw out the Hilltop’s remaining soldiers. He has absolute control of the Saviors again and the will to wipe out all of Rick’s people. There’s no reason for this battle to be anything but the final chapter in this particular war.
Or maybe it will end with another dumb cliffhanger.
I don’t know if you saw the previews, but everyone’s favorite trash-person, Jadis, will be making an appearance in the season finale. How could she possibly matter in this war when she’s already let Negan go free. Does that mean we’ll see helicopters in the ultimate battle? Or will it be the women of Oceanside who finally turn the tide thanks to Aaron’s heroic lack of self-care?
And last week I predicted the most likely to die, so I have a different question for you this week: Who will future generations tell tales about in this battle. Rick was the hero in the battle against Woodbury. Carol was the hero who defeated the Terminus legion. Who is it going to be this time?
I can’t help but get the feeling that the “hero” of this fight will probably also be the martyr of this fight. It will be the person who goes down, guns blazing, buying enough time for the final deus ex machina device to arrive and deliver the Hilltoppers and Grimes Coalition from evil. So in that sense, it’s not all that much different from the question I asked about “Who will die?”
As you suggested last week, there are some options on the table that seem sort of obvious. You mentioned Eugene, but it doesn’t really make much sense why he would even be involved in a final battle. Tara is the big, sore thumb of this bunch—her character has seemed ready to go to the grave for a couple of seasons now, but at this point I almost feel like she might be a bit too obvious to be the big martyr. That isn’t to say that she won’t die, because I think she probably will before too long, but might I suggest another possibility in the form of Ezekiel? There’s something about Ezekiel, his kingly bearing and the fact that we’ve gotten to know him and like him over the last few seasons, that makes me think he really fits the bill of heroic martyr. If someone is going to make a brave last stand against too many foes, I have a weird feeling that it might be Ezekiel, because I sense that the audience has a deeper emotional connection with him than they do with the likes of Tara or Rosita.
I didn’t notice that there would be Jadis next week, but like you, I am perplexed. The only reason I want to see any more of Jadis is to understand what the hell the true nature of the junkyard really was and what her connection is to the helicopter people, but I don’t think the show will be so kind as to reveal any of those things. I think it’s much more likely that they just want to see me suffer.
Speaking of, I have a hard time believing that the helicopter people would actually be given a full-on introduction during the final battle, if only because it would sort of narratively rob the Rick v. Negan dynamic of a proper (and fair) conclusion. You can’t just have another community we’ve never met show up and save the day, throwing away the blood and sweat that so many of the characters have put in to survive this long. It’s part of the reason why I was a little bit surprised that they’ve already been introducing elements like the helicopters or Georgie’s people while the war with the Saviors is just coming to its conclusion. I would have expected them to be laser-focused on the story at hand, but it’s probably a good thing that they did take some time to sow the seeds of future storylines now, rather than simply wrapping things up in the next episode and ending on a “we’ll see you next season for a fresh storyline” promise. This way, we at least have something to think about inbetween seasons. You know, as much as anyone is really thinking about The Walking Dead these days.
One more episode, Josh. All of my wishes will simply be for one thing: A final, decisive end to the war with The Saviors. Whether or not Negan dies, it’s definitely time to move on. Let’s hope they can do what needs to be done.
Please don’t die, Daryl Dixon.