Shows usually bust out the big guns when it comes to ensuring viewers return in the new year. Cliffhangers, plot twists, surprise reunions and deaths. The Walking Dead has done this both very well as we saw in the Season 2 mid-season finale when Sophia came stumbling out of Hershel’s barn, and very badly as demonstrated by the outcry caused by Season 6’s “Last Day on Earth” when fans were left wondering who had met their fate at the end of Negan’s beloved baseball bat.
“How It’s Gotta Be” sprung perhaps the most shocking (although heavily foreshadowed) revelation in the show’s history, packing an emotional punch to rival (if not surpass) Glenn’s violent death. Carl Grimes, after standing up to Negan, offering to sacrifice himself for the sake of his people, and leading the survivors to safety, was reunited with his father, only to lift his shirt and reveal a walker bite, presumably from the scuffle he had whilst out in the forest with Siddiq a few episodes back.
While Chandler Riggs turned in some outstanding work in this episode, he was let down somewhat by the framing of Carl’s scenes. The episode was overlong and confusing with unnecessary lingering close-ups over misplaced synth music making this once stylish show look like an 80s TV movie. Flitting between the fragmented groups meant a loss of momentum, and distracted from some really beautiful moments which could have been afforded more space to breathe. From a purely staging point of view, the majority of the episode was set at night, the action cloaked in darkness which made it almost impossible to follow at points, and also drew attention to the fact that this is the first night we’ve seen all season. The time frame has been mystifying at best, but assuming only hours have passed since the assault on The Sanctuary begun, how were the Saviors already running out of supplies? Perhaps more time has passed than is apparent from the on-screen rising and setting of the sun, but I guess we’ll never know!
As I mentioned, Carl’s impending demise was quite heavily hinted at in the opening conversation (in flashback) that Carl had with Rick about the future. Carl hasn’t always been the sweet-natured young man presented in this episode. In fact, it’s been a long an complex road for this character, and there have been times in past seasons where I could picture him going full serial killer. But Carl’s inherent goodness and people skills won through, and over the last couple of years he became someone we could really care about, and who might have offered a new kind of leadership to his father if the show had followed the source material. Usually when a character becomes so pure and good, I start to fear for them (I haven’t forgotten you, my beloved Benjamin) and Carl’s development coupled with the heart-to-heart with his dad set alarm bells ringing.
Elsewhere, all Hell was breaking loose. It seemed at first that Tara and Daryl’s sabotage of Rick’s plan may have been to blame for the Saviors escaping the Sanctuary, although it transpired that Eugene had been the one responsible for luring the zombie horde away from the perimeter. At this stage it seems daft to even question why a mob of insatiably hungry monsters would follow an iPod rather than staying where the meat was, or how there are still so many of Negan’s crew left alive, so I won’t. Eugene, consumed by guilt (and still drinking red wine in shots like a madman!) helped Gabriel escape with the doctor, who needs to attend to Maggie and her non-existent baby bump!
Speaking of Maggie, she was on the road with Jesus and a couple of faceless Hilltoppers when they were ambushed by nasty Simon, who had captured JERRY! This was the point at which I was getting ready to throw my TV at a wall, but Jerry lived to see another day (for now) as Maggie agreed to Simon’s demands. Phew. Simon did shoot a backseat passenger (his name was Neil, and I’m fairly sure that’s the first and last time he appeared!) and Maggie killed a prisoner back at Hilltop in retaliation, and ordered the body to be left somewhere the Saviors would find it. It seems Jesus’ taking of captives has proven useful for now, although for the life of me, I don’t understand why Simon would have let Maggie go, knowing Negan wants her, Rick and Ezekiel on pikes, and that she would probably strike back. Similarly, Ezekiel was captured alive having shaken off his grief-stricken stupor and stepped up to protect his people, leaving Carol free to come to his aid no doubt.
In another bizarre strand, Aaron and Enid headed for Oceanside to persuade the women to join their cause. They stopped at a distillery on the way for a peace offering (would there still be liquor left post-apocalypse?!) but somehow the whole envoy mission ended up with Enid shooting Oceanside matriarch, Natania. I’m sure that’s not going to have any serious repercussions…
Outside Alexandria, Dwight aided Daryl, Tara, Carol, Rosita, and Michonne by making the Savior roadblock ineffectual, enabling them to them to get the remaining Alexadrians to safety in the sewers. He then helped Daryl in a gun fight against his own people and stayed with him after he was outed as a traitor. It remains to be seen whether the uneasy truce between these two men lasts, but I felt like Daryl taking his jacket back suggested that they could become allies.
It was left to Carl to distract Negan at the gates while his people escaped, and his offer to die to make amends for his father’s actions against The Saviors took on a whole new level of poignancy once it was revealed he was already a dead man walking. Props really must go to Chandler Riggs who knocked it out of the park with his noble, defeated delivery as he tried, even in his final hours, to make Negan see reason.
There was a confrontation between the Big Bad and Rick as the two men fought in the burning remains of Rick’s house, but the choreography was frustrating to say the least as both men clumsily blew repeated chances to inflict serious damage on the other. Negan’s promise to chop Rick into tiny pieces and feed him to the zombies should have been more chilling than it was, and after the explosive way in which these two leaders met last year, after everything that’s happened, I wanted to feel more raw anger and hatred than this half-assed tussle supplied.
So now we wait to see what becomes of poor Carl Grimes. It seems a foregone conclusion that he will die, and I’m interested to see what that does to Rick’s arc, given the ‘flash forward’ scenes teased earlier in the season. While I know many will be unhappy that the show has resorted to the death of an original character for dramatic effect, flying in the face of the comics, the fact remains that in a post apocalyptic war, many can and will die at any moment, and Carl’s death is a stark reminder of what’s at stake – something which has been missing from the show in recent times.
Final Grade – C
+ All the kudos to Riggs, who gave some of his best work, and brought moments of genius to an otherwise messy episode.
+ Jerry lives!!!
+ Even in the midst of turmoil, Eugene was so very Eugene!
– So many nonsensical plot threads and characters acting like idiots!
– Morgan had nothing to do at all in this episode.
– What happened to the snipers charged with guarding The Sanctuary?
Extra Thoughts: What was the point of Rick getting the trash people on side, only to have them ditch him at the first sign of trouble? Seriously, what are they even FOR?! And also shoutout to poor Father Gabe, whose imminent death will be massively overshadowed by Carl’s. Better pray he makes a miraculous recovery.
What did you think? Did this episode leave you gagging for more, or wishing for an end to it all? Let us know in the comments, or over on Twitter!