“If they won’t end it, you have to. You have to give them a way out.”
It’s the penultimate ep of this season of The Walking Dead, and for the first time in about two years there’s the beginning of some resolution to the plot. That’s not to say this ep has redeemed what went before, or even has the sense of building momentum you’d expect the week before the season finale. But at least there’s some movement.
The script, by David Leslie Johnson and Corey Reed, kept the focus on just three of the current, rather overloaded array of plotlines, and as ever, the political machinations within the Saviors were the most interesting aspect. Can we just have them win and become the main characters, please?
Unsurprisingly, Negan’s unexpected return to the fold dominated the ep, and the lion’s share of screen time was dedicated to the hasty manoeuvring this prompted from both Simon and Dwight. Simon’s mutiny has been the most interesting aspect of this plotline for some while now, and it was good to see it come to a head as the machinations concluded and everyone’s intentions were in plain sight. It was no surprise that their clash came down, ultimately, to a big punchup – that’s perfectly in keeping with what we know of both men.
Admittedly it took a while to get there, but the leadup did hold my attention as each smilingly deceived the other as to their intent. I mean come on, did anyone really expect that, Negan having apparently spared Simon from punishment at that tense meeting, that would be the end of it? Whatever else he may be (and his characterisation has been less than consistent), Negan is not the forgiving type.
It was mildly amusing to see that the Sanctuary onlookers looked less than enthralled watching this mini-Thunderdome; after all, it was one of the more interesting things the show’s done in many weeks. I wasn’t all that surprised at the winner, but I must say I will miss Steven Ogg as Simon – hopefully he’ll be back onscreen in a few weeks when Westworld returns.
Dwight, for his part, must have been extra confused at suddenly becoming a triple agent – is he on Rick’s side, or Negan’s side, or Simon’s side? There wasn’t really much doubt about this for the viewer, but the script had some fun keeping us guessing as to which of the Savior leaders he’d throw his lot in with throughout. Austin Amelio, in his usual cautious, laconic performance, kept us guessing; but when he played his hand it was in the stupidest way possible.
It may be a sign of desperation, but really, trusting Gregory of all people to deliver his Benedict Arnold-like message of betrayal to Rick? The excellent but typecast Xander Berkely stepped up the former Hilltop leader’s sliminess this week, in one of his most weaselly performances yet as he tried (and failed) to ingratiate himself with the apparently ascendant Simon. I think Berkeley’s a great actor – but I do wish people would occasionally give him a different part to play.
The fact that Gregory actually did deliver the message to Rick (well, Maggie anyway) must have come as something of a relief to Negan, who’d presumably expected his treacherous lieutenant to find a more reliable means of delivering the double cross. Still, while it might have been out of character for Gregory, it did immediately confirm my suspicion that the whole plan outlined at the meeting was nothing more than a ruse to trap Rick’s Rabble.
All this was quite a lot of fun, as was the long-overdue focus on Eugene, who’s barely been seen of late. Unlike Dwight, I’m still not sure where Eugene’s loyalties lie, but he always gets marvellous dialogue delivered in Josh McDermitt’s laid back Southern drawl. I may even try his sardine recipe some time…
While this strand was dominated by his travails with Daryl and Rosita, it was interesting to catch up with the seemingly beaten Father Gabriel again. Your mileage may vary as to how tolerable his character is, but I always enjoy watching a man of the cloth having a crisis of faith – and given recent events it wouldn’t surprise me if Gabriel is envying Job these days. It looks like he’s recovering from his illness (though wasn’t it meant to have been contracted from Walker guts, and logically fatal?), but he still seems to be virtually blind.
More interestingly given his previous faith, he’s actually afraid to die – perhaps he thinks he won’t be judged too well. Or perhaps he’s starting to think there’s nothing to judge him after all. Either way, this is a man at the end of his tether. Unlike Eugene apparently, who seems to have overcome the earlier moral qualms driving him to alcoholism and is now all gung-ho for Negan. I wonder if this will turn out to be a ruse – the script made much (finally) of the shortage of, and requirement for, a lot of ammunition. Right now, Eugene is potentially in a position to single handedly decide the outcome of the All Out War.
With all this going on, it was a little uninteresting to continually return to the determined efforts of Aaron (a character you might have forgotten existed) to enlist the help of the Oceansiders. A fair bit was made of this, despite the fact that (even with actor Ross Marquand’s best efforts) Aaron is quite dull, and the Oceansiders not exactly gripping either. My guess is that it’s scene-setting – I suspect the Oceansiders will play a key part in the season finale.
Gore of the week
Despite a plethora of Walkers and the vengeance of Negan, this wasn’t a very gory week. You might have been surprised that the Savior leader didn’t dispose of Simon by bashing his head in with Lucille, but it made for a more humiliating demise to see him as just another Walker pinned to the Sanctuary fence, nothing more than a disposable deterrent:
Given the premise of the show, it’s surprisingly rare to see one of the major characters turn up undead, and it always has more dramatic weight than the gruesome but anonymous corpses infesting most of the episodes.
Gory it may not have been, but top marks for gross out comedy with Eugene’s inventive method of escaping from Rosita – self-induced projectile vomiting all over her:
Not a bad ep overall, but still a lot more slow moving and low key than you’d expect from the penultimate episode of a season that’s been crying out for something interesting to happen most of the time. The Savior politicking was fun, and it was good to see a resolution to the plotline of Simon’s mutiny and have Dwight finally exposed as a double (or triple) agent. Nice too to at least hear Chandler Riggs again, as we finally heard the contents of Carl’s letter to Rick. But next week’s finale will have to work hard to regain the level of interest I had in previous years.