Welp, here we are. The midseason finale. After eight episodes, all that really happened is Rick and Co.'s plan didn't work (is it any surprise? I'm not even sure they had one) and Negan and the Saviors shifted the momentum of the fight. All the dark and foreboding elements of the first half seemed only to foreshadow the literal darkness of “How It's Gotta Be”—seriously, we couldn't see anything the entire 90 minutes. And the big reveal fell flat. It seemed inconsequential and tossed in for dramatic effect as it had nothing to do with the current storyline.
This show has fallen off the rails, and I had hoped it could regain its momentum and right the ship—but as Carl opines throughout the episode, “It's more than just hope.”
From displays of dominance to faction elimination, a look at which characters saw their prospects rise this week.
Adam Wagner: Maggie
Maggie’s had to make some tough decisions as of late, and she’s handled it all better than any other “leader” of any other camp. Sure, she missed her opportunity to kill King Douchebag of the POW Saviors, but she took a stand at the Hilltop and refuses to give up. She’s doing what she needs to do to ensure her people remain safe while still planning to make a stand when the time comes. Once again, as everyone else seems to be running around like idiots, Maggie remains calm, collected, and strong in the face of trouble. I’m glad she’ll be at the helm when the Hilltop makes its “last stand.” (That is if we ever get there…)
Pritpaul Bains: Ezekiel
The King chose a good (if convenient) time to snap out of his stupor, as His Majesty finally sprang back into action when he saw the opportunity to save his people and atone for his past transgressions in one fell swoop. Ezekiel commits a truly kingly act by giving himself up to the Saviors in order to let his people escape, but damn, everyone Carol might have a romantic interest in ends up in chains or insanely angry. Her whisper of “your majesty” at the end implies she's bought into Ezekiel's gimmick—or at the very least she's on board with why he does what he does in the first place.
Joe Brosnan: Judith
Looks like we've got a new favorite child! With Carl on the way out, there's suddenly a new spot for Rick's right-hand help. We know that a five-year jump is coming at some point, which means Judith's storyline can be accelerated and finally relevant. Of course, this could all go south from Walking Tall to Walking Hard, but I don't think Rick's that cold-blooded.
From poor decisions to lost lives, a look at which characters lost ground this week.
I've spent so long loathing this show that I completely forgot that once upon a time it was capable of packing an emotional punch. Carl is unquestionably my favorite character, and it's due to a variety of reasons. Creatively, Carl's character—a child growing up in the age of a zombie apocalypse—offers us a unique storyline that cannot be experienced through the other adult characters.
Emotionally, Carl's path has pulled very few punches: from being shot in the stomach, then shooting his mother, only to be shot in the eye later on. I will forever stand by the claim that the single best episode of the series is when Carl sneaks into Negan's camp. And sentimentally, I've loved watching Chandler Riggs grow up from an awkward child to a semi-less-awkward teenager.
The show won't feel the same without him, nor does it deserve to. Scott Gimple, the showrunner of late, has completely butchered this show—a fact made even more pathetic when you take into account that he has pages upon pages of source material from which to work. We deserved better, and Carl deserved better.
Just when she (like Father Gabriel) was starting to become likable too. Surely there was a way to decommission the elderly leader of the group you want to form an alliance with without shooting a grandma in the head? Rick's group is having some major issues with both finding and selecting allies.
A tribute to the late, great Hershel Greene, this section searches for the best displays of humanity amidst chaos this week.
The “shocking twist” that TWD showrunners had been promising since last week was … well, actually pretty shocking for a change. While some part of me initially held out that the show might push some kind of immunity angle, subsequent interviews with the writers and Chandler Riggs himself indicate that this is, in fact, a decision with some finality behind it.
If Carl is gonna go out, he's gonna go out trying to save whatever last spark of humanity remains in his father: “You don't just … hope. It takes more than that.” That line has to serve not only to move Rick forward but also the show, collectively. If TWD wants to preserve viewer interest going forward, it has to offer something other than unrelenting grimdark for its characters and viewers alike. There has to be hope and something human that's interesting to watch—because death and darkness have been totally played out in the last couple of years.
Carl didn't just stop at trying to heal Rick, though. He openly had Negan questioning himself as well. “Hey, was this the plan? Was it supposed to be this way? Is this who you wanted to be?” He shows a magnanimity in death that he didn't always possess in life. So long as he can convince Rick to rediscover his humanity, his death will have been worthwhile; I really hope that happens because I don't think I can even hate-watch another half-season of angsty Rick again.
JB: These Next 8 Weeks
Because they'll spare us from having to watch this mess of a show.
Ezekiel failed his people and it nearly crushed him. But the King left the building at just the right time to distract the Saviors and allow his people enough time to escape. Giving himself up so others can live may not have been a common act of royalty, but it is the kind of thing a Hershel’s Hero would do.
- Was I the only one who half-expected Carl to break into a Broadway-style sad solo as they panned away from his big reveal with that spotlight shining just on him? (AW)
- I didn't think it was possible, but the Sand Snakes have officially been dethroned. The Garbage People are officially the worst characters in the history of television. (JB)
- Can Negan do anything other than just be smug or hokey-menacing in every single goddamn scene he's in? That whistle is just obnoxious. (PB)
- Can't wait for the zombified shark to wash up at Oceanside next season and for Aaron to jump over it while attempting to escape. (JB)
- I can't tell if nothing happened in the episode or if I just couldn't see anything happen in the episode. (AW)
- Come on, Maggie. You want to send a message and you don't even kill the douchiest Savior?! (PB)
- Hey Maggie, why not kill that other dirtbag? (JB)
- Welp. Dwight's choice is now crystal-clear. He's gutsy, I'll give him that. (PB)
- Daryl, it should have been you. (JB)
- “It worked.” How many times must Daryl and Tara learn that they have to see something with their own two eyes in this world to ensure its success? (PB)
- “Scorched Earth, YOU DICK!” A+ dialogue, as usual. (AW)
- Gotta say it's nice to see Tara cracking a joke again. Dark and desperate doesn't suit her. (PB)
- Siddiq, you better not suck. (JB)
- I genuinely like Gavin. I believe him when he says he doesn't want to be a Savior enforcer with respect to the Kingdom. (PB)
- Simon, with a passing aside, verifies the Saviors do think Sasha suffocated and don't suspect Eugene. (PB)
- Hope the guard was wearing his shitting pants before Eugene’s catastrophic crapping concoction. (AW)
- Nice to see a little of the old Eugene seep through at the end with Gabriel and the doctor. (PB)
- Awww Dwight’s sorry 🙁 (AW)
- So where were all Negan's cronies again? Shouldn't they have come running when they heard the fighting inside Rick's house? Or when Michonne rage-killed that other guy? (JB)
- King Ezekiel = Ms. Frizzle: Confirmed. (AW)
- Despite the big reveal at the end, it's hard to ignore that the show is really progressing at a snail's pace. We get a 90-minute episode to close things out, and the only major progression we've seen from the season premiere is that we've gone from Rick leading an assault to Negan countering it. If this season doesn't end with the resolution of this war, it'll be a bad, bad decision. (PB)
- We ended the first half like we started the first half: with a weird montage of True Detective-intro-style fade in/fade outs of all the heavy hitting characters. I'm surprised they only needed 90 minutes this week! (AW)
This time, the zombie gets the kill!