‘The Walking Dead’ Season 8 Winter Finale: Down the Rabbit Hole

Well, that didn’t end well.

After nearly half a season of “All-Out War,” it seemed like the tide was finally turning for our gang on “The Walking Dead,” but those pesky Saviors and Negan are a little like cockroaches- nothing quite seems to get rid of them, no matter how hard you try. Although, from their point of view, they might say the same thing about Rick and his followers, to be fair.

In “How It’s Gotta Be,” we saw everyone at a crossroads, with Rick scrambling to finish his plan, Daryl suffering the repercussions of his own plan, and Negan and the Saviors trying their best to reassert their authority over everyone. Who would come out on top? Well, if you were looking for clean, easy answers, boy, do you have the wrong show. (Spoilers from here on out.)

We began with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Carl (Chandler Riggs) having a father-son moment, in which Carl lamented how Rick was handling things, wondering if there wasn’t a better, fairer way. After all, if Rick’s objective was simply to wipe the Saviors and anyone else who stood in their way off the face of the Earth, where did that leave them moving forward? Was there any room for any outsiders in his plan?

Needless to say, in the world of “TWD,” whenever anyone has an extended heart-to-heart moment, it tends to be cause for concern, but this was Rick and Carl. Surely, the show wouldn’t go there, right? I mean, they’re pretty much untouchable, in terms of being death proof, as far as this show goes. Maybe so, maybe not.

Moving into the present, we see that the plan enacted by Daryl (Norman Reedus) has failed spectacularly and only seems to have resulted in the surviving Saviors escaping and plotting a retaliation of their own. Separating into several factions, each of their splintered group targets a main location: The Hilltop, The Kingdom, and, of course, Alexandria, with a few remaining behind at the Sanctuary to guard who was left there, as Rick discovered when he arrived with the Garbage People, who promptly abandoned him at the first sign of trouble, as they are wont to do.

Fortunately for Rick, Carol (Melissa McBride) and Jerry (Cooper Andrews) were there to save him and the three headed out, scrambling to get back to their respective homes in hopes of beating the Saviors to the punch and defending their respective territories. But was it already too late?

Not for Maggie (Lauren Cohan). Perhaps unwisely, Simon (Steven Ogg) opts to make a deal with her, saying that, as they are a mostly peace-loving farm community, he will let them off the hook this time if they turn around now and head back home and agree to cooperate moving forward. To show that they mean business and as retribution for the various attacks on the Saviors, Simon kills one of Maggie’s people, right in the car with her.

He also threatens to kill Jerry, who has somehow gotten separated from Carol and Rick and captured by the Saviors. In fact, we don’t see Rick again until the end of the episode, so we don’t quite know what happened there, though Carol later resurfaces at the Kingdom, also separately. I can only assume that they dropped Rick off near Alexandria and headed back to the Kingdom and encountered trouble somewhere along the way there.

Maggie agrees to the deal and her and her people head back to the Hilltop, where she promptly takes out one of the Saviors they captured and shoots him in front of everyone to show she means business. I guess that lot might think twice about calling her cupcake again! Either way, she puts the Savior in question in a coffin that the Saviors provided, ostensibly for the guy Simon killed, and writes a message on it, basically saying how they have X amount of their people and they will kill all of them if they don’t back off. (I think it was 34 in all.) Damn, Maggie!

Meanwhile, back at the Kingdom, Ezekiel (Khary Payton) is still sulking in his theater digs when he hears the Saviors arrive. They demand, via bullhorn, that Ezekiel come out and face the music for his actions. Ezekiel sets up some gas tanks and blows them up, distracting the Saviors so his people can escape, and locks the entrance doors, trapping the Saviors and himself inside. When we last see him, both Carol and Morgan have arrived there and are surveying the scene, determining what to do next.

In Alexandria, Carl overhears the arriving Saviors and readies everyone into action, enacting a plan which saves the people over the place. Basically, he has some people drive out of there in trucks after distracting the Saviors with a series of explosions, and has others escape via the sewers, where he has been stashing Siddiq (Avi Nash) until Rick comes back and he can make a case for him and the rest of Alexandria.

The plan is to blow Alexandria to smithereens and meet up in the sewers later. Basically, it’s the “If we can’t have it, no one can” approach. Kind of iffy, but I get it. The Saviors weren’t about to leave the premises this time, and Alexandria was clearly no longer safe, so…better to destroy it than to let the Saviors have it. Of course, Rick doesn’t know about said plan, so when he finally arrives, the Saviors are waiting for him and he has no idea what the hell is going on, or if anyone is alive or dead.

Fortunately, as far as I could tell, most everyone makes it out of there alive. A group of the Saviors, led by the cooperating turncoat Dwight (Austin Amelio), also leave Alexandria in pursuit of those who flee in vehicles. That group then hides out and waits for the Saviors to show up and then attacks them, killing almost everyone, with an assist from Dwight- though Laura (Lindsley Register) manages to escape, and she’s armed with the knowledge that Dwight is the traitor at hand.

Michonne (Danai Gurira) leaves that group and goes back to Alexandria to check on Carl and see if she can find Rick, who is still MIA. She finds Carl, who tells her to find Rick and take him to the sewers, where they will all meet up. As this is happening, the Saviors are inspecting all of Alexandria, lying in wait, should anyone return, with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) hiding out at Rick’s place.

Sure enough, Rick arrives, and having no idea what’s happening, goes straight to his house, where Negan and him go at it, with both getting in some good hits- at one point, Rick even gets a hold of Negan’s beloved Lucille- but ultimately, Rick is forced to flee, for his own sake, escaping and finding an arriving Michonne, who fills him in on what happened, and lets him know that everyone is safe.

Except that it’s not completely true. When Rick and Michonne arrive, they are happy to see the residents of Alexandria mostly intact in the sewers, including a defected Dwight, whose cover is officially blown, and, of course, Siddiq, who had already been living there for the time being. In a shocking twist, though, Carl, who was injured in one of the explosions, turns out to have been bitten by a walker at some point, which means he’s as good as dead, much to Rick’s horror.

That is where we leave things for now, sadly, so we’ll have to wait until February to see what happens next, unfortunately. Of course, Carl is pretty much doomed, so that’s not exactly a cliffhanger, but the fates of the other areas are decidedly more in question, with Ezekiel, Carol and Morgan in particularly calamitous positions, what with the Saviors breathing down their necks at the Kingdom; and Maggie preparing for war at the Hilltop, which is likely forthcoming sooner than later.

There’s also Eugene (Josh McDermitt), who opted to let Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) and Dr. Karson (R. Keith Harris) go, drugging a Savior guard and securing the use of a vehicle for the two to escape. That will almost certainly have repercussions for him, though we also discover that he was the one who figured out how to get the walkers out of the Sanctuary to allow the Saviors to also escape in the first place, so maybe he deserves to pay the price for that, given what happened.

That leads me to one of the more unfortunate gambits of this season, which is the weird tendency of the show to make things way more convoluted than they need to be. In this episode alone, we aren’t sure how Rick (or others, for that matter) gets from point A to point B and how exactly the Saviors boot and rally themselves for a coordinated attack on everyone else. I mean, not that we necessarily need to, but you just know there’s going to be flashbacks in a future episode showing how it happened, and what we missed along the way.

I mean, I get that they wanted an element of surprise to the proceedings, but that cat was already out of the bag last week, if you saw the preview for this episode and watched the clip on “Talking Dead,” so… not sure what purpose it served to do things the way they did. If you look at movies that have done this sort of thing, there’s usually a point to it, i.e. “Pulp Fiction” and “Memento.” Ditto TV shows that do it, like “Lost” or “American Horror Story.”

In those cases, crucial plot points have been left out on purpose to surprise the viewer when we get to a certain point in the story. Here, it was just complicated for the sake of being complicated, and it just made things confusing more than anything. People just kept showing up in random places and we didn’t quite know where they had been and how they got there and so forth. It was kind of pointless to do it that way.

I mean, don’t get me wrong- I don’t mind that the show occasionally does an episode devoted to a particular contingent of the cast, dealing mostly with one area. That’s fine, and if they have to backtrack a bit here and there in order to pull it off, I get that. But this was just weirdly plotted and conceived from the get go, and not for the first time this season, either. Looking at things in retrospect, it’s like they were being convoluted for no good reason, unlike last season, where the more stand-alone episodes had more of a purpose.

I get that some people don’t like that latter approach, especially if they don’t care about the characters being highlighted, but this season’s style, while focusing less on that type of approach, has often been needlessly confusing, for no good reason, and that, to me, is actually worse. I get doing that sort of thing- by which I mean, purposefully withholding information- in order to surprise the viewer with some new revelation on down the line, but that’s not really what they’re doing here.

It’s more like they’re just complicating things by messing with the structure in an attempt to be cleverer than the show really is. I’d understand if there was a big twist, but there hasn’t been, really. Aside from a few deaths, some of which were somewhat unnecessary (Shiva!) and could have been handled better (couldn’t she have died taking out the Saviors in the war instead of by some random toxic zombies?), there haven’t really been any major twists, unless you include the return of Morales, who didn’t last long.

Don’t get me wrong- the season has been action-packed, and after a more downbeat prior season, which saw Rick’s people beaten down and battered and nearly defeated completely, we needed some wins for our group, and got them in spades. If anything, it all seemed spiraling towards an inevitable life-or-death confrontation between Rick and Negan. I guess you could say that the Saviors NOT being defeated so easily could qualify as a twist of sorts, but that’s about it.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed the season so far. The action has been intense, and it was nice seeing our gang back in charge of things. But the show needs to be careful about the sort of thing I mentioned. When you have an extended episode, better to use it to further the plot along than to try and be complicated for no good reason. There were issues with this finale that could have easily been taken care of with a quick rewrite, you know?

But that said, it was a decent enough episode, with a lot of surprising developments. I just wish they’d handled it better on the whole, instead of trying to over-complicate things by leaving key elements out for future reference. There’s no point in it, especially since we now have to wait a good two months for the outcome, by which point, we won’t care as much anymore how it happened. Oh well.

So, what do you think will happen next? Is Carl doomed? Is sure seems that way. How will the Hilltop fare against the Saviors? What will Ezekiel’s fate be? Will Morgan be able to save him? Or Carol? How screwed will Eugene be when the Saviors return to find the doctor and Gabriel gone? What will the denizens of Alexandria do now that they have no home? Will they join forces with the Hilltop? Or the outcasts from the Kingdom? Or will all of the above join forces as one and finish this together, as they should?

Make your predictions down below, and let me know what you thought of the episode and the season in general. Thanks for reading, and have a great holiday season!