Now that’s how you do an All-Out War!
Eight episodes in, The Walking Dead finally delivered the tense, heart-stopping showdown we’d been waiting for ever since Negan killed Abraham and Glenn over a year ago in. The success of the midseason finale doesn’t negate the sins of this overall lackluster half-season, and it suffered from 20-30 minutes of bloat, but overall it was the best episode of Walking Dead in years. And also, they killed Carl!
Carl’s death by walker bite — Walking Dead showrunner Scott Gimple confirmed that he'll die in the upcoming midseason premiere on Talking Dead, and Chandler Riggs and Andrew Lincoln spoke about it in interviews, so it’s definitely happening — is the biggest move the show has pulled since killing Andrea back in Season 3, and it will definitely have a bigger impact on all of the series’ leads. And it’s easily the most surprising death in the show’s history, since the other big deaths we’ve seen happened in the comics, and even Andrea’s death was sort of a mercy kill given how badly they bungled her character.
Carl’s death feels devastating and huge, even if his flashback scenes where he sprouted his newfound zen philosophy were bad (and way too obviously foreshadowing; Walking Dead has pulled this move about a zillion times). It’s so huge that I wonder if many fans who tuned out over the past couple of seasons due to quality decline will tune in this spring just to see if Carl’s death can bring this struggling show back to life.
I also like that it wasn’t Negan who killed Carl during the Sanctuary’s comeback Night of Terror, that he’ll die an accidental casualty of war instead. This was a good episode for Negan — having zero juvenile dick jokes was a huge plus — and introducing Carl to Lucille would have been about several steps too far into irredeemable territory.
And speaking of irredeemable, can we talk about our boy Daryl? Because as much as the show tried to remind us that Eugene (also irredeemable; despite helping Gabriel and Dr. What’s-His-Face escape) made the Saviors’ improbable escape happen, it’s undeniable that Daryl, Tara, and Morgan should have stuck around the Sanctuary with really big guns to make sure this exact thing didn’t happen.
But they didn’t, so the midseason finale found Hilltop, Alexandria, and Kingdom besieged by the Saviors and it’s basically Daryl’s fault. (It also found Enid and Aaron taken by the Oceanside ladies after killing Cyndie’s grandma in a roadside misunderstanding, but the less we talk about the one plot line that absolutely should have been saved for a later episode, the better.)
After the aforementioned cringey, foreshadowing scenes of Carl serenely telling Rick that they shouldn’t be killing so many freaking people, we rejoin Rick plus the Scavengers in present day, in front of the Sanctuary. Rick realizes the Saviors escaped and ran off with Carol and Jerry, while a group led by Negan, Dwight, and Laura attack Alexandria, Gavin’s group hit the Kingdom, and Simon and co. interrupted Maggie, Jesus, and the rest of the Hilltoppers on the road.
In Alexandria, Negan banged on the gate and gloated with his usual dramatic flair; asking for Rick and for every member of the community to apologize to him personally — the person with the lamest response would meet Lucille. This gave Carl, who as heir to the Iron Throne is in charge now, enough time to formulate a genius plan: He would distract Negan by surrendering to him personally, giving the rest of the community enough time to escape in a convoy.
His plan worked — no one else from Alexandria died — but the community burnt to the ground and he, you know, died. Dwight pulled a major assist by leading a group of Saviors into an ambush by Daryl, Michonne, Tara, and Rosita, then shooting at his own people before being discovered and clipped by Laura. Tara and Daryl nearly murdered him for his trouble, but Dwight convinced them of his usefulness in the battles to come, and lived to see another day.
Rick eventually came home and had a knock-down, drag-out fight with Negan, but both men (plus Michonne, who returned to the burning Alexandria I think to check on Carl) escaped relatively unscathed. Rick and Michonne hobbled down to the sewers and met their fellow refugees, which is where Rick came across his son (plus Siddiq) and learned the awful truth — Carl had been bitten; probably when bringing Siddiq back to Alexandria, which would explain his earlier difficulty in writing a letter to Rick, but we can’t be 100 percent sure.
Meanwhile, Ezekiel finally managed to show up for his Kingdom. He heard the Saviors approaching his high school auditorium and managed to escape; listening from afar as Gavin promised to enslave the Kingdom-ers and force them to rebuild the Sanctuary while the Saviors set up camp in their old home. Ezekiel set off an explosion and drove a school bus to distract them, then rushed his people out and told a just-returned Carol to lock the gate with him inside, asking her to save his people like she had saved him.
So Ezekiel might be toast when the show returns from break, but Morgan overheard Gavin describe Negan’s (graphic) plans for Ezekiel, so who knows — Carol’s future husband might just live to see another day.
Back on the road, Maggie, Jesus, Diane, and a random new Hilltopper we’d never met before, Neil, were intercepted by the insufferable Simon. Simon and his crew had just kidnapped Jerry, and Simon threatened to shoot him if Maggie didn’t give up the group’s guns, then go back to Hilltop and start producing crops — due to their usefulness, they would be the only community spared a hellish fate.
Maggie said yes, but she definitely had her fingers crossed behind her back because girl had zero intention of farming. Instead she returned to Hilltop, grabbed that Savior who tried to kill Jesus, and shot him point-blank. Simon ended up killing red shirt Neil instead of Jerry (I honestly have no idea what happened to Jerry), and Maggie asked him to give her Sasha’s old coffin, which Simon randomly had on-hand, to use to bury him. Simon said yes to that for some reason, but Maggie filled it with the mouthy Savior instead, and sent it back to Negan with a message: “we have 38 more; stand down.”
He won’t, obviously, but for the first time in a while I’m actually excited to find out what will happen next on Walking Dead. Deviating from the comics in such a definitive way is a bold and necessary move, and hopefully one that will inspire the writer’s room after such a long creative rut.
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