‘The Walking Dead’ finally closed its disappointing eighth season with a big finale that exiting show-runner Scott Gimple promised would end the war with Negan in a way that will satisfy every fan who has ever watched the show. You knew that wouldn’t really happen, right?
The finale opens with everyone at the Hilltop feeling optimistic about their plan to kill Negan and win the war. The fact that such a cocky attitude has rarely worked out for them in the past doesn’t cross very many of their minds. Morgan, however, is still acting pretty batty and nearly hurts little Henry. He’s eager to get the battle over with.
Eugene delivers a full shipment of bullets to Negan on schedule and hands him a pistol to test them out. Negan fires several rounds into a dummy with the name “Rick” scrawled on its shirt and smiles his approval. Eugene asks that he be allowed to come along because he wants to see his former friends wiped out. Gee, he sure is super evil now, isn’t he?
For the first stage in his diabolical plan, Negan sends a small group of expendable Saviors to go build a roadblock, fully intending to sacrifice them in order to trick Rick into believing that the intel Gregory gave him was good. Negan confesses this to Gabriel while driving toward a different location. Gabriel jumps out of the moving car and runs off through the woods, but Eugene quickly recaptures him.
Rick’s small army take out the Savior roadblock crew without much fuss and indeed feel damned confident that they’re about to win the day. While trekking, they spot a gigantic herd of Walkers in the distance. (The show’s soft and grainy 16mm photography made this image very difficult to make out in AMC’s garbage quality cable broadcast on Comcast. I honestly only realized that it’s supposed to be a herd from the context of the dialogue.) I assume that’s meant to set up a storyline for next season.
While Rick and his best soldiers are away, a group of Saviors attack the Hilltop. Tara leads a retreat into the woods, but they’re saved when the Oceansiders show up wielding Molotov cocktails, sticks and pitchforks, which are somehow good enough to kill all the Saviors armed with guns. In fact, I don’t believe any of the Saviors fire a single shot. Because if they did, that might give away the big plot twist to follow…
When Rick and his squad reach an open field, they suddenly find themselves surrounded by the sound of the Saviors’ signature whistles. Speaking through a megaphone, Negan boasts, “I ambushed your ambush with an even bigger ambush!” Negan drags out Dwight in order to force him to watch the impending slaughter. He also announces that he’s going to murder Gabriel.
As Negan counts down from Three and barks out his order to attack, every single one of the Saviors’ guns backfires and explodes. The shrapnel kills a significant number of them right off the bat. Negan’s hand is injured. He looks to Eugene and immediately recognizes the betrayal. Before he can do anything, Gabriel punches Negan, then he and Eugene run.
Rick orders his people to charge and attack. The battle is short. They kill a lot of Saviors. Many others surrender, including Negan’s lieutenant Laura (the one who ratted out Dwight).
Rick is injured in his side (or the fighting tears open an old injury), but chases after Negan anyway. He follows him to a tree with some panes of stained glass inexplicably hanging from its branches. Rick shoots a few times but runs out of bullets. He and Negan commence dueling with fisticuffs. Despite his hand injury, Negan gets the better of Rick and beats him down. Rick then begs for peace, because that’s what Carl wanted. He says he only needs ten seconds to make his case. Negan pauses, and in those seconds Rick grabs a jagged piece of glass and slashes Negan’s throat. Gurgling, “Carl didn’t know a damn thing,” Negan collapses to the ground… dead?
Seemingly all of the Alexandrians and Hilltoppers are standing just feet away, watching this entire exchange. (All of them were willing to stand back and let Negan kill Rick?) Rick orders Siddiq to save Negan. Maggie screams her disapproval. She demands that Negan must die for what he did to Glenn, but Rick already has other plans. He tells everyone – Alexandrian, Hilltopper and Savior alike – to go home, speechifying about how this is the start of a new world, and they can either get on board with it or die.
Eugene explains how he tampered with the bullets to cause them all to misfire. Rosita punches him in the face for puking on her, but has obviously forgiven him for everything else. A wounded and bleary-eyed Rick sits beside the tree and cries, catching us up to the flash-forwards that started the season.
Picking Up the Pieces
The Hilltop rebuilds again. The ex-Savior named Alden asks Maggie if he can stay to help. Tara and a group of Alexandrians go to the Sanctuary to assist their former enemies (including Laura) to rebuild there as well.
Daryl drives Dwight out to the woods, seemingly to kill him like he swore he would after the battle was over. Dwight apologizes for everything he’s done and says that he’s ready to die. Instead, Daryl gives him the keys to a car and tells him to leave and never come back. We next see Dwight at the secret rendezvous house he shared with his wife. He finds a cryptic note she left for him there which appears to confirm that she’s waiting for him somewhere else.
Morgan visits Jadis at the dump and tells her that she’s free to join the community at the Hilltop if she’d like. Jadis reveals that her real name is Anne. As she leaves, Morgan stays, saying that he needs some time alone to get his head straight.
Maggie meets in secret with Jesus to talk about what a poor decision it was that Rick didn’t kill Negan. They conspiratorially plot a power play against Rick and Michonne. Daryl steps in from the shadows and says that he’s also on-board.
Negan survives. Rick and Michonne lecture him about how he will be kept alive and forced to watch the world start over without him. He’ll rot in a cell, his life serving as a reminder to others about how bad things used to be and an example of what happens to tyrants.
Garbriel gets his faith back and his sight returns with it.
The episode ends with Rick writing a letter to his dead son Carl, thanking him for showing him that another way was possible.
This season was a pretty big mess. I don’t feel it can be argued otherwise. The finale attempts to tie together a bunch of contradictory ideas (including Rick’s blood-lust for Negan and Carl’s preaching about making peace and finding a better path) and wrap them up in a neat bow. I don’t find it particularly satisfying.
The plot twist with Eugene’s triple-cross is very predictable. I saw that coming from the day he became a Savior. (I wrote a full year ago that I thought Eugene was playing an angle and would redeem himself later.) The specifics of his bullet tampering were obvious as soon as he caught Gabriel botching his bullet production last week. It really strains credibility that Negan believed shooting three bullets from a single pistol was all the testing he needed, and not a single other Savior attempted to fire a round until the battle started – much less that literally all the bullets would misfire exactly according to Eugene’s plan.
The Oceansider stuff is so contrived that the episode makes a point of spending only a bare minimum of time getting it over with. That entire story thread could have been excised from the season with negligible impact.
The writing for the Jesus character is also terribly sloppy. He spends most of the episode lecturing Morgan about how he doesn’t need to kill anymore, even as all of their friends around them are killing Saviors left and right. Then, at the end of the episode. Jesus inexplicably plots with Maggie to murder Negan. It feels like, from scene to scene, completely different teams of writers are scripting this character with none of them ever consulting the others.
I fully agree with Maggie that Rick’s decision to spare Negan’s life was bullshit. It’s just a lame excuse to keep the character around for another season so that he can get out and cause trouble again. We don’t need that. It also seems like a really stupid idea to instantly make peace with all the other Saviors and simply trust that they’ll behave themselves from now on. A lot of these people were full-on psychopaths who enjoyed murdering anyone they considered inferior. That’s not something that can be shrugged off.
With Scott Gimple stepping down as show-runner, I’m trying to hold onto hope that his replacement will breathe some fresh life into the series next season. That small measure of optimism is fleeting, unfortunately. The show’s going to need to work really hard to course-correct after the past two dreary seasons.