Carl is back on ‘The Walking Dead’ already! That didn’t take long!
He’s back momentarily, in a manner of speaking, anyway. Episode ‘Worth’ opens with Rick pondering the very lengthy letter Carl wrote to him, which Chandler Riggs reads in voiceover. (I assume he recorded it before leaving the show, not that the producers dragged him back for an extra recording session.) The message is more of the same sort of stuff Carl had been bleating about before he died – that his father needs to stop killing and find a way to make peace with Negan, etc.
While Rick cries some more about that, Michonne picks up the letter that Carl had written to Negan.
Believing that Negan is dead, Simon boasts to Gregory that he’s now the man in charge. Ever the schemer, Gregory tries to kiss his ass while pitching himself as a political advisor who can help Simon run the Savior operations. Simon has little patience for Gregory’s prattle and intends to kill him. This sends Gregory off on a deluded rant about how he’s too important and has built too much to be discarded so easily. Simon throws him to the floor and knocks the wind out of him, but decides that he sees something he likes in Gregory after all and lets him live.
Having arrived back the prior night, Negan reveals himself first to Dwight, and pulls his usual routine of intimidating him. Whatever the point of Negan’s secrecy may have been, he quickly forgets it and holds a meeting to announce his return to all his lieutenants. Downplaying his attempts to take over, Simon acknowledges that he went overboard with the attack on the Hilltop and asks Negan to give him a pass on this one failure. Negan struts around and acts like he’s going to bash Simon in the head with Lucille, but then tells him that all is forgiven.
Negan then announces his new plan to isolate the Hilltop, starve them out, and slowly pick them off little by little anytime someone leaves the compound. Dwight pays close attention to all this and makes notes on a map that he intends to deliver to Rick.
Of course, Simon isn’t done plotting against Negan. He tells Dwight that he’s assembled a group of like-minded individuals who are ready for new leadership and are planning to make a move. Dwight says that he’s on board.
Simon convenes a secret meeting with Dwight, Gregory, and other supporters in the open courtyard where anyone can see them. He lays out his plan to take out Negan, and offers Dwight the kill.
Just then, Negan steps out and thanks Dwight for tipping him off to Simon’s treachery. Some of his loyal followers move in and shoot everybody except Simon and Gregory. Telling Simon, “You wanna be the man, you gotta beat the man,” Negan offers him a shot to duel with him in a fair fistfight in front of everyone. They assemble the whole Sanctuary horde in the foundry room and commence brawling.
While nobody else is looking, Dwight grabs Gregory, gives him the maps and note, and tells him that his only chance to stay alive is to deliver them to Rick, then points him in the direction of a car he can take.
Simon gets in some good blows, but Negan eventually overcomes him and strangles him to death, declaring “What an asshole!” as he brushes himself off.
While heading out to go fishing, some kids from Oceanside come across Aaron in the woods, looking starved and half dead. They elect to leave him there to die.
Aaron later has to fight off a group of Walkers in the rain, losing his knife in the mud in the process. He barely survives. The Oceansiders return and find him passed out on the ground. He wakes up just enough to make a pitch about how important it is that they join the fight against the Saviors (exactly the same stuff he’d said previously).
The Bullet Factory
Eugene has turned into a stern task-master. While fueling himself on a disgusting diet of sardine mac & cheese, he lectures his workers about how they’ll never meet the unrealistic quota Simon has set for them, and will have to work very hard to produce a minimum number of bullets. He’s particularly cruel to Gabriel when he detects that he’s been deliberately making useless bullets. Gabriel cowers in fear of him, and admits that he’s afraid to die. Gabriel’s faith is seemingly now gone.
When Eugene steps outside for a break, Daryl and Rosita swoop in and kidnap him. Eugene cowers and tries to play on their sympathy for him as a former friend, but Rosita’s not having any of it. She tells him that they may not kill him, but they’re going to stick him in a hole and only let him out when they need him to work. He’ll live, but the rest of his life will be miserable.
As Daryl and Rosita are distracted fighting off a small herd of Walkers, Dwight sticks his fingers down his throat and vomits his mac & cheese all over Rosita, then runs away. She’s only taken aback by this for about two seconds, but that’s apparently plenty of time for Eugene to skedaddle like Speedy Gonzales, run half a mile away, and completely camouflage himself in a pile of burnt cinders before Rosita and Daryl run right past him.
Eugene returns to the factory in a huff and declares to one of Negan’s lieutenants that they will make the full quota of bullets, even if they all have to work until their fingers bleed.
The Plot Twist
With Simon dead, Negan pulls Dwight aside and offers to make him his right-hand man, seemingly unaware that Dwight has acted against him. It’s a fake-out, though. As soon as they get to Dwight’s room, Laura (the only Savior to survive Dwight’s double-cross at Alexandria) is waiting for him inside. This obviously must be who Negan picked up on the way back to the Sanctuary. Negan gleefully reveals that he played Dwight and gave him fake plans that he knew Dwight would slip to Rick. It’s all an elaborate trap.
Zombified Simon gets chained to the gate outside the Sanctuary. Michonne comes within close enough distance to radio Negan on his walkie-talkie and tell him that Carl left a letter for him. She reads it to him, and it’s basically a shorter version of the same message Carl had written to his dad, ending with, “The way out is working together.” Negan calls BS on that and declares that he’s going to kill every last one of them. Shouting “No more talk!”, he smashes his walkie on the ground.
As far as this lackluster season goes, the penultimate episode is, surprisingly, not too bad. It sets up the finale pretty well and shows Negan actually using his head to develop a war strategy rather than just blustering through everything.
That’s not to say that I can’t find any fault in it. The Oceanside stuff with Aaron is basically a waste of time. It’s obviously just setting the stage for the Oceansiders to join Rick’s side, but the plotting required to make that happen is lazily written and makes little sense. Eugene’s kidnapping and escape are also pretty ridiculous.
Even worse, the idea that Negan would potentially put his life on the line to have a fistfight with Simon rather than just kill him right away is absurd. I’m sure someone will argue that Negan needed to re-assert his dominance in front of his people, but there are smarter ways to do that. The fact that Negan conveniently wins the fight without much effort is simply hackneyed writing. The scene never feels like it has any basis in reality.