In comparison to some of its other recent over-long episodes, the mid-season finale of ‘The Walking Dead’ at least has a lot of plot and incident to fill up its 90 minutes of screen time (less when you factor out commercials, of course). However, it still ultimately feels slight.
As I sit here to write this recap, I realize that most of the episode’s storylines can be summed up in a few succinct sentences. For example:
- Maggie is still at the Hilltop. Gregory is still a dick. Everyone at the Hilltop (except Gregory) likes Maggie. Maggie makes moves to take over Gregory’s position as leader.
- Daryl breaks out of the Sanctuary. He kills a simpering fat guy who sees him and begs for his life. Jesus helps Daryl get away.
- Rick and Aaron cross the zombie-filled lake in a leaky boat to get to a barge filled with supplies. Aaron is pulled into the water, but because he knows how to swim and zombies don’t know how to swim, it’s really not a big deal. They find a bunch of food and guns on the barge, but no ammo. As they load up their truck and leave, they’re spied on by someone (face unseen) wearing fancy boots. Is this the owner of the property they just stole from?
- Michonne rides with the Savior lady she kidnapped and ordered to bring her to Negan. The Savior lady drives her far away until they stop and see something down the road in the distance (a bunch of Saviors, maybe a bunch of zombies, I’m not sure?). She says “We are all Negan” and tells Michonne that she ought to just kill her and turn around. Michonne kills her and turns around. What the point of this storyline is, I have no idea.
- At the Kingdom, King Ezekiel’s right-hand man, Richard, has a talk with Carol and Morgan, asking for their help convincing Ezekiel to pre-emptively attack and kill the Saviors. (I guess he doesn’t know how poorly that went for the Alexandrians. Then again, I guess Carol and Morgan don’t really know how poorly that went for the Alexandrians either.) Carol tells him to screw off, because she wants nothing to do with his stupid war. Morgan is still playing pacifist and declines as well.
- The fancy boots are seen again in a post-credits teaser. The person wearing them apparently followed Rick and Aaron back to Alexandria and is seen spying on the community.
The meat of the episode all happens inside Alexandria.
Negan shaves his beard. This is a mistake. He was both more attractive and more threatening before shaving. He makes Carl and Olivia sit and have an awkward meal while he waits for Rick to return. He gets impatient.
When Rick and Aaron return home, a couple of the Saviors beat the hell out of Aaron for flimsy reasons and make Rick watch.
Spencer tries to ingratiate himself with Negan by bringing him the gift of a bottle of booze and telling him which house has a pool table. Negan has his people bring the pool table out into the street so he and Spencer can play in view of everyone.
Spencer badmouths Rick and talks himself up as a replacement leader who will play ball with everything Negan wants. He badly misjudges what it is that Negan wants. Negan is not impressed with his back-stabbing. What impresses him is the way Rick swallowed his pride and his hate and went out to get shit done anyway. He thinks Spencer is a pussy (fair evaluation) and tells him he has no guts, then stabs him in the stomach with a big knife, spilling his guts into the street. Spencer falls dead.
Rosita (who’d had a brief fling with Spencer) watches this happen and has had enough. She pulls her gun and fires her one bullet. Unfortunately, she misses. The bullet hits Lucille the bat. Negan is furious. His henchwoman Arat tackles Rosita and holds a knife to her neck. Negan picks up the shell casing and can tell that the bullet is homemade. He demands to know who made it, and doesn’t believe Rosita when she claims that she did it herself.
Arat makes a little cut on Rosita’s face, but Negan doesn’t want her dead. That isn’t how he operates. Instead, he tells Arat to choose a victim. Arat spins around and shoots Olivia in the face.
Rick interrupts but of course can’t do anything. Negan insists that he’s been exceedingly reasonable, considering that Carl and Rosita both tried to assassinate him yet he let them both live and only executed one other person. He demands again to know who made the bullet, and Eugene confesses. Negan has his men grab Eugene to take with them, and tells Rick that he’s even deeper in debt and will owe more the next time they see each other. Then he rounds up his people and leaves.
Spencer zombs out and Rick stabs him in the head. He’s probably been waiting to do that for a long time.
Michonne returns home and gives Rick an inspirational speech about how now is the time to fight, not to accept their current situation. Rick agrees. He knows now that they have to kill Negan.
Maggie is on watch duty at the Hilltop fence when she sees Rick, Michonne, Carl, Rosita, Tara and others walk to the gate. She lets them in. Daryl and Jesus are already there. Many hugs are shared. Daryl gives Rick his famous pistol back. (He stole it on his way out of the Sanctuary.)
Now reunited and with a new sense of determination, the whole group turn and walk toward Gregory’s mansion.
The final scene of this episode (before credits) is obviously meant to inspire cheers of delight as all the fans’ favorite characters get back together and finally get their mojo back, but I’m left questioning if it’s too little, too late. This whole first half of the season has just been a slowly meandering preamble to something exciting hopefully happening next year (fingers crossed!). Even this episode doesn’t really amount to much more than a suggestion of better things to come.
Spencer was a tool and his comeuppance is enjoyable, but that hardly seems worthy of being the focal point of the episode. Poor Olivia biting it is meant to be sad, but her character wasn’t significant enough to be greatly missed or mourned.
Clearly, the next half of the season will be about Rick convincing the various other communities (the Hilltop, the Kingdom, Oceanside) to band together and take down Negan. I guess that’s a good thing, but the rest of the season already seems so very predictable from this point forward. Will the show hold any surprises? We’ll have to wait until February 12th to find out.