The eve of war is almost upon us, as is the season finale, and the lines between good and evil were somewhat blurred this week, as Negan demonstrated a moral code of sorts, and Rick used force and coercion to get the Oceansiders to surrender their weapons.
Having confessed to Rick about the stash of weapons at the all-female colony, Tara led an expedition to Oceanside to persuade the women to join them in their fight against The Saviors, and to take their arsenal by force if they refused. Setting up a perimeter of explosives, the Alexandrians corralled the Oceansiders and held them hostage, with Michonne acting as a sniper, declaring they would be taking the guns whether or not the women became allies. They managed to win over a few new recruits to the cause, most notably Cyndie, who KOed her own grandmother to protect Tara from a bullet.
The noise of the bombs outside the walls of Oceanside attracted a horde of waterlogged walkers with barnacled skin (Tara’s intel that the woods in the surrounding area were relatively zombie free was clearly whack), and the enforced collaboration between the women and Rick’s group made for an exciting set piece as they put aside their differences and fought off their undead attackers. But the strong-arming of the self-exiled colonists would have left a bad taste in many viewers’ mouths. We’ve seen Rick go through many iterations as leader, and his dictatorial leanings in this episode were underlined by his ordering Dwight to his knees – Negan style – when the Savior came to Alexandria with Rosita, pledging his allegiance at the end of the episode.
Meanwhile, over at The Sanctuary, it transpired that Sasha had survived her kamikaze mission to kill Negan single-handedly, and was languishing in a cell as Daryl had before her. After being threatened sexually by a particularly nasty piece of work called David, Sasha was ‘rescued’ by Negan, who took exception to the assault and killed the would-be rapist. Admiring her ‘beach ball sized lady balls’ (a phrase the scriptwriters were bafflingly so pleased with, they used it twice), Negan offered Sasha a knife and several choices: try to take him out, kill herself, or destroy the her reanimated attacker and join The Saviors.
Having meted such a strong warning to the Alexandrians at the opening of this season, it seems like Negan has changed tact rather dramatically, offering a place in his ranks to anyone who tries to assassinate him. Of course, he’s a bag of contradictions anyway, taking the moral high ground with sex offender David when he has a harem of ‘wives’ who frequently have to sleep with him against their will, gutting Spencer for plotting against Rick, and taking on Eugene who is a far cry from the defiant Carl or the gung-ho Sasha in terms of the qualities he claims to hold in esteem. I can’t work out at this point if we’re supposed to see Negan as wildly unpredictable and all the more dangerous for it, as an evil genius who uses wrong-footing and fear to cling to power, or as someone who genuinely believes in his own rules and ethics, in the greater good, and as a valid leader to match Rick in terms of loyalty from his people.
Certainly Eugene seems to be under Negan’s spell. He came to offer Sasha some creature comforts and advise her to join the community at The Sanctuary. His rationale was that he never again wanted to be as scared as he was that night of the Season 7 opener, kneeling in the woods, although I would argue his proximity to Negan and current usefulness don’t assure his safety, especially given that he’s lied about his qualifications, and having witnessed Negan incinerate The Sanctuary’s doctor, you’d think Eugene would realise that too! It remains to be seen whether Eugene’s loyalty to his friends will sway him back once battle commences, or if fear will keep him faithful to his new master. Sasha, for now at least, seems to be playing along until she can take her shot at Negan or escape, much as Daryl did.
Things are looking decidedly shaky for Gregory at Hilltop as well. Having done rather nicely under Negan’s protection so far – drinking whiskey pretty much constantly and without ever getting his hands dirty putting down walkers – Gregory followed Maggie outside the walls to help her bring back a blueberry bush. After briefly considering stabbing the woman who has commandeered the hearts of his people, Gregory got into a spot of bother with a walker and had to be saved by his pregnant rival. After exposing his inexperience when it comes to survival, Gregory appeared willing to talk to Maggie about how to run things, but was then seen fleeing Hilltop, presumably to join his Savior BFF, Simon.
So The Walking Dead has spent the latter half of this season moving people into position for an epic battle. Only many of them are not where we might have expected as this point. With people like Sherry and Heath potentially out there somewhere, Sasha captured, and Eugene, Dwight, and Gregory having all potentially betrayed their groups, there are some interesting outliers in this chess game. We also have The Kingdom, Oceanside, and The Heapsters in play. Negan seems to have an inkling that Rick is up to something, but we don’t know how. Only one thing is certain – nothing is black and white with these characters anymore, and it looks like our empathy and loyalties will be tested by next week’s finale.
Final Grade: C+
+ I loved Tara giving Oceanside’s mini-psychopath Rachel the finger.
+ I also like that Maggie hasn’t been turned into an invalid now she’s pregnant. May she stay fierce and queenly until her due date and beyond!
+ Negan is confusing me, but I think that’s a good thing. He needs to be multi-faceted if we’re to see him as more than a nightmarish caricature.
– It seemed bizarre that Jesus was the only one concerned about Sasha and Rosita having gone on a suicide mission!
– While Andrew Lincoln is always outstanding, Rick’s single-mindedness after what’s been relatively little screen-time this season has made him a much harder MC to root for.
– How has Gregory survived this long without ever having dispatched a walker? It just doesn’t seem plausible.
Extra Thoughts: Was Carl’s admission to Enid that he thinks about the people he didn’t kill as well as those he did, an expression of regret at not having killed Negan while he had the chance? Or perhaps something deeper. Will we see Carl and Negan brought together by the coming war in unexpected ways, as was hinted at earlier this season?
How did you find this penultimate installment? Who do you think will bite it next week, and who will live to see another season? Tell us in the comments or sound off on Twitter!