The Walking Dead: Season 8, Episode 16 – Wrath

“All this is just what was. There’s gotta be something after.”

(SPOILER WARNING!)

So finally, FINALLY, that’s a wrap on the All Out War, in a mostly satisfying and thoughtful season finale for The Walking Dead. It’s been two and a half seasons since we first encountered antagonists the Saviors; that’s over two years ago now. Their presence has been, since then, almost a default format for the show, and it’s a format that’s got real tired. Thank heavens the series can finally do something else.

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This season finale was also the last bow for Scott Gimple as showrunner, and it had a feeling of finality to it not just for the season but, potentially, the show as a whole. Certainly the cold open, a flashback to a pre-apocalypse Rick with a young Carl who most definitely was not Chandler Riggs, suggested that this bookend might mark the Final End. On a smaller scale, it also bookended the season as we finally caught up to the tearful Rick under that glinting stained glass window that was inexplicably hanging from a tree.

First, though, we had to get there – and thankfully the script, by Gimple, Angela Kang and Matthew Negrete, didn’t mess around by keeping us waiting. This was a shorter episode than most of the recent ones (47 minutes as opposed to 50-something), but after all those draggy eps of intrigue and manoeuvring, it got to the battle with nearly half the ep remaining.

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Well, I say “battle”, but this was hardly the fire and fury that Negan had presumably envisaged. Last week I theorised that Eugene, with his vital bullet factory, might be the key to single-handedly ending the All Out War. Turns out I was right. If I’d had any doubt about it, that was put to rest by his “nudge nudge, wink wink” remarks to the not-quite-escaping Gabriel about having faith when all looked lost. That might have passed Negan by, but it didn’t escape me; nor, I suspect, any of the viewers. I was right about the Oceansiders turning up too, with handy Molotov cocktails to rescue the Hilltop in the nick of time. To be fair, though, last week’s script made it pretty obvious that was going to happen.

Still, after all this time it was undoubtedly deeply satisfying as the Saviors’ skirmish line fell apart, their guns exploding in their hands. If I have a complaint at all, it’s that the end came very abruptly after so long; but fair’s fair, I’ve wished many times that the whole Savior story could have been told with this much narrative economy.

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And if it was action you wanted, there was still plenty of fisticuffs in the wake of the realisation that guns didn’t work. It was logical (and fun) that at least some of the Saviors wouldn’t just lie down without a fight, even without firearms; and we got to see plenty of our heroes throwing well-aimed punches. Including some we haven’t actually seen for a while, Jesus being an obvious example. It’s a demonstration of how large the show’s ensemble cast has become that some of the characters can now go for several weeks without being seen. The flipside of that is that (hopefully) there can be more of the eps that feature one or two characters in depth.

Of course, I didn’t expect that here. This was a season finale, and you expect to see the whole sick crew. You also expect the plot to dominate over character development, but here the ep surprised, spending nearly half its length on the aftermath of the battle and the beginnings of What Comes Next. That said, I’d have felt cheated if the finale hadn’t delivered a long overdue punchup between Rick and Negan, and we duly got that. With the surprise that Rick, having slashed Negan’s throat in what you’d call a decisive victory, then ordered new medico Saddiq to save his life.

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It was a good development, in keeping with Carl’s admonitory words to his dad in his final letter. It was also, sadly, not a surprise for anyone who’s read the comics. As I’ve deliberately not mentioned for the last couple of years (not least in case the showrunners changed it), Negan doesn’t die in the comics either, finding himself imprisoned in that handy cell that Morgan was constructing in Alexandria waaay back in season 6. I assume that means we haven’t seen the last of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, though his involvement will likely be greatly reduced.

We have, though, seen the last of Lennie James as Morgan Jones. Again, this didn’t come as too much of a surprise to me, but for different reasons; Morgan in the comics has been long dead by this point. No, I’d made the mistake of reading in various entertainment websites that James was leaving the show. But not the franchise – if you kept watching till after the commercials, there he was again, only now in spinoff show Fear the Walking Dead. Rick, Carol and Jesus popped up too, to see him off by talking at him from a chair.

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That’s an interesting development for both shows – they haven’t done a crossover before, and now a major character from one has transitioned to the other. It also means that Fear, previously touted as a prequel and set a couple of years before the parent show, is now taking place in the same time frame (actually a little later along, given how long it must have taken Morgan to get from Virginia to the Pacific South West). That opens up the possibility of even more crossovers, something which could be good now Fear has started to have an identity of its own beyond just being Walking Dead: LA.

Back in the main show, despite the battle being won a little over halfway through the ep, the remainder of the time served up some welcome character development. It also set up some intriguing future plotlines, particularly that Maggie most definitely did not agree with Rick’s decision to leave. As of the ending here, it looks like she, and Daryl and (surprisingly) Jesus will be at odds with their Fearless Leader. That has the potential to be very interesting, though I gather Lauren Cohan has some scheduling conflicts with other shows next season which could limit Maggie’s appearances somewhat.

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Gore of the week

Actually very little. There were a few painful looking hand injuries, I suppose:

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But even Negan’s throat-slitting was pretty low key – just as well, since Rick didn’t actually want to kill him:

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So the best was probably Morgan’s hallucination of the Walker-chewed Jared:

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This was a pretty good season finale, though its main strength was in ticking off a lot of necessary boxes to finally get us past the Negan/Saviors arc after far, far too long. As several fellow fans have noted, the show could have done this whole arc in probably less than half the number of episodes; it certainly did, and well, with the Governor/Woodbury plotline from the comics. Still, this finale made the most of its ending and didn’t neglect the show’s roster of rich characters, so I have to give it better marks than last season’s lacklustre effort. Remember that? Me neither.

So where now for the show? As I said, this actually looked like it could have been a proper ending, what with Rick’s big Churchillian speeches about starting all over again in the Brave New World with Negan behind bars. But no, unsurprisingly given its still-strong ratings, it’s been renewed for a ninth season, now in the hands of new showrunner Angela Kang. Kang’s a veteran of the show, having been writing episodes since way back in season 2, under a different showrunner, so she certainly knows it well enough. And Scott Gimple may be relinquishing the role of showrunner himself, but goes on to be something called Chief Content Officer for both this show and its spinoff. So it’s fair to say it’s unlikely to change much.

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Which, sadly, doesn’t fill me with confidence. Not because of any particular faults with Kang or Gimple, but simply, as I’ve said before, because I’m doubtful there’s much more you can do with this premise. The Walking Dead, and its offshoot Fear the Walking Dead, have now amassed enough screentime to encompass dozens of zombie movies, and explored the zombie apocalypse pretty thoroughly. Sure, we’ve got seeds for some future plotlines already set; along with Maggie’s potential insurrection, there’s Georgie, that big herd, and that mysterious helicopter (still somehow unremarked on by anybody). But they’ll have to work damn hard to take the show anywhere it hasn’t been before.

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