After two seasons of Team Rick vs. The Saviors, we finally got the showdown to end the war this week, and the finale brought us full circle to the season premiere, revealing the truth behind those troubling images of Rick clutching his bleeding stomach, and muttering about his “Mercy” prevailing over his “Wrath”. But although Carl’s plea for a more peaceable way of life may have ultimately won his father round, there was still plenty of bloodshed to satisfy those hoping to see Negan get his comeuppance.
Having let Gregory take false intel back to Hilltop, Negan went on the offensive, sacrificing some Saviors in the process, and taking Eugene and Father Gabriel along for the ride. Like any good baddy, Negan disclosed his evil machinations at length, under the pretext of ‘confessing’ to Gabe, so it was hardly surprising the good father jumped out of the car on the way. Being nearly blind, he was almost munched by a walker then recaptured, but for some reason, Negan decided it would be better to kill him in front of Rick rather than just shoot him in the woods. These people never learn! Dwight too was given a stay of execution, with Negan instead opting to make him watch the slaughter he would have been inadvertently responsible for.
Rick’s squad thought they’d got the jump on the Saviors, but eventually found themselves on open ground, surrounded by the enemy, with Negan addressing them on some kind of loud hailer, his signature whistle drifting across the fields. Things looked pretty bleak there for a minute but, as I predicted last week (she says smugly), Eugene had sabotaged the ammo, so when The Saviors opened fire, they all got their hands blown off. Ouch. Eugene was particularly verbose this week, and his mullet especially lustrous, and although Rosita jacked his jaw for puking on her last week, he looks set to be accepted back into the fold. It’s hard to say how long he was planning his endgame for, but his redemption arc has been pretty well signposted.
Forgiveness was the name of the game with a surprise double twist in the much anticipated face-off between Rick and Negan. Negan, his hand badly damaged, was pursued to the oft-seen tree of Rick’s ‘visions’ and the two men exchanged words as well as blows. Negan, by now intent on ending Rick once and for all, was swayed momentarily by Rick’s talk of a truce and a better way, and of Carl. But the second Negan faltered, Rick slashed his throat with a shard of glass, only to instruct Siddiq to stem the bleeding and save his life – much to Maggie’s horror. I guess by this point, Negan and Rick have swapped viewpoints to the extent that they identify with one another too much for their hatred to be black and white, and their shared respect for Carl was always going to be the thing that stayed Rick’s hand. However, the mercy shown came a little too late for me, when Rick killed so many so coldly just a couple of episodes back, and Morgan’s calling him out on it was both warranted and a tad hypocritical. He made a valid point in saying that they were both worse than they used to be, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before, and it never stops them doing incredibly dubious and morally bankrupt deeds. It also seemed somewhat disingenuous and a bit twisted to spare Negan’s life only to keep him locked up forever as a kind of weird totem, and Rick’s decision to work alongside the surviving Saviors came with a sinister caveat which basically echoed Negan’s mantra: Do it my way – or else!
Over at Hilltop, Tara hung back to protect the remaining Hilltoppers (although not Gregory who everyone is agreed is an utter shit), and this gave reformed Savior Alden a chance to demonstrate how good and selfless and heroic he is. He needn’t have bothered though, as the Aaron and the Oceansiders showed up just in time to Molotov some problematic Saviors, a bit like when the Elves turned up at Helm’s Deep. Morgan visited Jadis at the trash heap, and offered her a place in Rick’s new utopia, which she readily accepted, and even revealed that her real name is Anne. Morgan decided to stay at the dump, having literally just given a little speech about how people are not meant to be alone. It was very much ‘do as I say, not as I do’ week on The Walking Dead. Confusingly, that’s probably the last we’ll see of Morgan in this show as he transitions to Fear the Walking Dead, and given that his mental state is frail at best and he nearly killed Henry in the grip of an hallucination, I can’t imagine that’s going to go well.
I was expecting the finale to be a long, drawn-out affair given the pacing of the season overall, but the battle was actually all resolved pretty neatly in the action-heavy front of the episode. The last act was reserved for tying loose ends with Daryl taking Dwight into the woods for what we were led to assume would be an execution, but actually ended up letting him go. I’m not sure why Dwight wasn’t afforded the same amnesty as everyone else, but at least he was left with a chance of reuniting with his estranged wife.
By far the most puzzling turn of events was Maggie’s sudden transformation into a James Bond villain. I understand her being upset by Rick’s decision to let Negan live, but her Machiavellian scheming with Jesus and Daryl, of all people, implied that there will be some kind of major conflict next year. Maggie has always been ridiculously human and pragmatic in the face of terrible loss, and I can possibly see that her husband’s murderer walking about might be the final straw for her. Even Daryl I can sort of imagine being massively put out by Negan’s continued breathing, but Jesus? The guy hasn’t been around for weeks, and then spent most of this episode telling Morgan he didn’t need to kill people anymore. Jesus is the poster boy for not taking human lives, and he risked a lot more by bringing Saviors back to Hilltop against orders. He’s called JESUS FFS! Why an earth would he suddenly be up for secret revenge plots against Rick and Michonne?
More promisingly, the enormous horde of zombies and the posts in the field where the battle happened might be clues to potential adversaries next season, but for now, harmony has been kind of restored and the scene set for a new way of life for the survivors and the allied communities.
Final Grade: B-
+ Jerry got to cuss twice. Can we please have more Jerry next year?
+ The pacing was a bit uneven, but this episode actually sped by.
+ I liked the visuals this week – the Western-style tree with stained-glass hanging from it as the site of the showdown, the back-firing guns, the zombie masses on the horizon.
– Rick’s mercy was overshadowed by his acts in recent weeks.
– Maggie’s promise to teach Rick and Michonne a lesson seemed super out of character.
– Although this felt like a satisfying end to a long-running battle, there were few surprises, and after eight seasons, viewers may have been expecting something less safe from a finale.
Extra Thought: It was odd that Gregory was absent throughout the episode, given that he was the messenger. Perhaps he and Negan will be cellmates next year.
What did you think? Did this episode incur your wrath, or fill you with a sense of peace? Sound off in the comments or over on Twitter!