So to recap the last few episodes we largely have the conflict with the Saviours. People have their own mini character arcs but primarily the Saviours are maneuvering to attack Hilltop, with occasional distractions along the way.
Negan is determined to continue to do his Saviour thing, scaring people into submission because people are a resource (which is true - wiped out people can’t grow food for you) and to keep maintaining his highly dubious self image that he’s a good guy doing good things
Except Saviour no.2 Simon doesn’t agree - he’s already massacred the Garbage people (thank you gods! Simon, all is forgiven for sparing me ever having to listen to Jardis’s garbage accent again) and thinks that should be the way forward with everyone. In some ways he has a point as he tells Dwight, Rick, Maggie and Ezekiel are pretty resistant to being intimidated and scared. But Negan’s also right that people are a resource and without these colonies providing supplies how do the Saviours go on? Simon does get to take over when Negan is separated when Rick crashes his car into Negan’s in a convoy and Simon and Dwight only do the bare minimum to try and find Negan. The very fact that Simon and Dwight don’t actively hunt down Negan and ensure that their nemesis is dead is evidence of their unfitness to lead. It’s coup 101, kill the old leader! You’re going to get nowhere with this half-arsed coup.
That leaves Negan and Rick to dramatically posture at each other for half an episode without actually achieving anything because they both have infinite plot armour. They both still hate each other unsurprisingly.
After that fiasco Negan gets captured by Jardis because MY GODS WHY IS SHE STILL EVEN ALIVE!? After an episode where we get to examine Jardis’s feelings (don’t care) and Negan’s (care less) she lets him go because of course she does. Jardis, can you do just one thing right. One damn thing. It leaves the audience wondering what the hell is the point of her character. Are we really supposed to believe that Jardis captured the man responsible for the slaughter of her people and just decided to let him go because reasons? There’s nothing Negan should have been able to say to make that action possible. Writers need to stop putting their characters into this position when they know damn well they cannot fire the gun they pointed.
Before the fighting, we have a woman, Georgie, visit Hilltop with an offer of knowledge of windmills and stuff to build a better future in exchange for supplies. Maggie really really doesn’t trust her, but Michonne encourages her to take the chance and not just steal Georgie’s stuff. And it turns out Georgie is genuine, so much that she doesn’t even take the food offered since she sees they need it more. I’m going to assume she has invisible fairy bodyguards or something which is why she hasn’t been eaten. Or maybe the divine spirit of Carl protects her since we’re hitting this theme of a New Future with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer
Meanwhile there’s lots of fighting and ambushes and the Hilltop is defended but depleted. Negan’s plan of infecting the weapons causing some of the injured to return as Walkers works but only really kills off a few extras (also, why in the name of all that is sensible, aren’t there guards on the hospital? Seriously even without the infected weapons we KNOW that anyone who dies becomes a Walker and you are living in a limited antibiotic setting you will have people dying from wounds. Why were there not people with knives lurking over the hospital beds?) About the only thing it did was kill off guy-whose-name-I’m-not-going-to-pretend-to-remember who Carol kinda liked so her way is clear to jump Ezekiel’s royal bones. Also Maggie’s Saviour hostages don’t work at all because Simon doesn’t give a shit. But it does give the Saviour captives motive to join up. Other than that this big plan of diseased weapons doesn’t do a whole lot.
The rest of the Saviour hostages manage to escape thanks to Henry, the child who Morgan and Carol are playing angel-and-devil over, hunting down the murderer of his brother. Rick and Morgan decide to follow them and murder them all. Despite Rick offering them sanctuary, even despite one of them saving his life. Classy Rick. Classy. What Would Carl Do, Rick? Haven’t you seen Michonne’s new bracelet?
Simon tries to organise a coup against Negan, on account of Negan not being brutal enough for his tastes and Negan playing with Jadis gives him the chance. He doesn’t do a whole lot, Dwight tries to play all sides against the other and Simon ends up dead - and Dwight exposed. But not before Negan uses him to give some fake intel to Rick for the final battle plan. Rick walks right into the trap…Gee, who saw that coming?
Except, in what may be the most (and, indeed, only because damn this season has been dull and far too drawn out) epic moment of the season all the bullets Eugene made misfire and the saviours are all injured. Ok, go Eugene, all praise to the mullet master. But seriously, there’s absolutely no way Eugene could have sabotaged every last bullet, no way. But I’ll let it slide because we NEED THIS WAR TO END. And he and Rosita are good again, in case any of you cared. This of course makes Eugene team good guy again but I cannot help but wonder how many chances they are going to give this coward? Eugene has lied to them, endangered them and actively turned on them but yeah, suddenly they are all good. It’s worth noting that Father Gabriel had to work so much hard for his redemption and submit himself to Rick for judgement before the group was willing to forgive him (and despite all the praying, Gabriel didn’t get a miracle to help).
We get lots of epic but slightly implausible awesome moments. Like the remaining Saviour Survivors in hilltop prove themselves by willing to fight the Saviours even unarmed. Oceanside joining simply because Aaron basically nearly died from exhaustion around them. Ineptitude is inspiring, apparently. And of course Rick has to take Negan on 1-on-1 and even with his hand half blown up Negan nearly wins because Good Guys Must Lose first - and then Rick distracts him with Carl’s vision of peace just long enough to slit his neck with a dubiously convenient shard of glass
Using his son’s vision of peace to commit murder. That’s cold.
Then to prove he’s redeemed after some dull flashbacks, he tells Siddiq to save Negan. What, is Siddiq a miracle worker now? You slit his fecking throat in a medieval medicine setting. Maggie is incensed about him being spared - and rightly so. Which ends up with epic peace speech from Rick about peaceful unity and a new world and absolutely no-one hits him upside the head for epic hypocrisy. Was anyone else hearing Captain Kirk? All Rick needed to add to that speech was a few badly timed pauses.
Negan is imprisoned with Michonne and Rick taunting him as a relic of how bad it was before the new era of Carl’s promised land. It’s all very hopey and saccharine
So it took far far far far too long for us to get through this season with lots of circling round doing nothing and bizarre garbage people - but it’s worth checking some character arcs:
Maggie: Deserved More. Damn it. While every other leader was basically deposed, running, or grieving Maggie kept it together. Her leadership was held, she gave everyone a base to fall back on, a Sanctuary. She made hard choices without having episode upon episode of navel gazing, moping or wrangling conscience. She just made the hard choices without us paying her the same attention. She wrestles with the captives, she holds out against Simon, she’s roundly praised by her people while worried she’s not doing enough or is too driven by revenge. She protects her people while still making good choices, still being willing to listen and be willing to trust. Maggie is everything Rick should have been this episode with half the praise
I’m especially annoyed with Maggie deciding to build a better future - which is awesome and who better to do it? But also deciding to plot against Rick and Michonne and act like a shadowy ominous conspiracy to do it? Maggie has EARNED the right to have her objections heard and to displace Rick without having to resort to this. It very much seems like The Walking Dead is just going to continue on with its trend of creating horrible female leaders. And I deeply resent her being set up as a villain for next season. And recruiting Daryl and Jesus? What nonsense decision making is this? The Rick loyalist (who just spared Dwight) and the pacifist?
Gabriel: Oh. Who Fecking Cares. Really. Every minute this show wasted on his hand wringing was a minute I’m owed back.
Morgan, Carol and little kid Henry somewhat represent the core of the moral conflict this season. Henry is still hunting the man who killed his brother among the captured Saviours. Carol (and Ezekiel) are trying to back him away from revenge. While Morgan is pushing more more murder and encouraging revenge and darkness and the world they live in.
Throughout the conflict, Morgan begins to hallucinate and generally succumbs to despair, repeatedly saying that Carol saves people, that Rick saves people - but that he doesn’t. He just watches everyone die. And everyone does die - and turn. This is Morgan’s repeated mantra as everyone tries to reach out to him right up to the massacre of the Savior prisoners and Morgan telling Henry that he’d killed the man who killed his brother (getting an “I’m sorry” from Henry, in return showing he’s pretty much come down on Carol’s side). Morgan, the eternally unstable one, is not in a good place with lots and lots of hallucinations. And, as always, he pretty much serves as an object lesson to what Rick may become. He’s less a character and more a walking PSA for Rick (especially given his dark statement about killing the survivors and how they’ve both lost everything). Jesus and Carol are both trying to pull Morgan back from the edge but he’s really there to be the walking avatar of What Rick May Becomee.
Carol is bonding more with Ezekiel though telling her story and finding hope in finding Henry alive. Like Morgan, she’s also had a lot of ups and downs, losing Sofia, falling to despair but she’s come back with the people around her. She has a better lesson - sometimes she will lose herself, but she can always come back, repaired and maybe even stronger. Carol has her bleak moments but she bounces back even if, as Ezekiel mentions, you have to fake it to make it. Hopefully this represents a new stability
There’s also a little moment with Ezekiel and Jerry with Jerry showing respect for Ezekiel, in full king mode, but not following the same convoluted language and eventually getting a fist bump. I’m hoping this is sign, a message, that Ezekiel will still be respected and followed without the need for cosplay.
Daryl, Tara and Dwight pursue their own little redemption drama. Tara and Daryl start on the same page, hating Dwight as the man who killed Denise (Tara’s partner who was thrown away 2 seconds after it was revealed they were in a relationship). Even this motive seems to be held onto less and merged more into the ongoing theme of “kill them all & eat their corpses vs kumbaya hugs and kittens”. Despite this, Tara begins to thaw towards Dwight recognising that he did change sides and also realising that she was in much the same position when she was one of the Governor’s people. If it weren’t for Rick, she’d be propping up an evil megalomaniac too. This is reinforced when, in the battle with plagued weapons, she is shot by Dwight but not infected, telling her he deliberately used a clean weapon.
Daryl isn’t convinced and is still on team vengeance but is derailed by Tara making it clear if he pursues this he’s doing it for himself alone and not for her. I think this matters a lot to Daryl because the most intriguing element of his character is that he is beta. He doesn’t lead, he follows which is odd for such an alpha male character in our media. Just looking how he clings to Rick says a lot about this. He even thinks that if Merle were still alive he’d probably be with a group like the Saviours or even worse: just like Tara and reflecting what a follower he is.
While that’s intriguing I still am leery of Tara being the one to back off… after all Tara is the one who lost a loved one. Why is Daryl the one who seems to be the most angry and the most hurt? Again, it really felt like Denise’s death was used to introduce this plot line, but then quickly dismissed as the real motivator or actually important
Michonne have you accepted Carl as your Lord and Saviour? Look, we will be the first people to welcome Michonne having more emotional complexity than the Eternally Angry One and Walking Dead seemed to be taking some good steps that way. And it was also nice to see Michonne try and intervene in Rick’s utter denial of his pain. But turning her into the Chief Disciple of the Cult of Carl is not great either. I mean, by all means make her an advocate of peace, unity and a better future -but make it her idea, make it her input, make it her thinking. Don’t turn it into the recitations of the Book of Carl. It feels like it robs her of any real creation or involvement - she becomes a messenger. Michonne herself is lost… her emotions, her story, her actions is all just kind submerged into what others want and it didn’t feel real - especially her sudden decision that Negan Must Live. This is the woman who nailed the Governor’s penis to a plank of wood for crying out loud!
I don’t have a lot to say about Rick to be honest - if anything the closing scene of killing Negan and then saving him (both possible from sheerly implausible plot points) kind of sums him up. Incoherent, trying to paint some kind of emotional conflict with little actual examination of it, 180 degree moral turns so abrupt they could give you whiplash and a whole lot of self-serving angst, all of which supposedly justified by his ENDLESS MANPAIN which seems to be replacing plot, logic and development. But all of it is smoothed over by one of his patented speeches. Honestly I am done with close ups of his red rimmed eyes: put the onions down man.