Spoiler Warning for the Season 8 Finale (Season 8, Episode 16) of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed. Minor spoilers from “Fear the Walking Dead” will also be discussed.
All Out War is officially over. The final battle has been fought. After two and a half seasons of fighting, the conflict with the Saviors has finally come to an end. The Season 8 Finale of “The Walking Dead” is a mixed bag of emotions and resolution that closes the chapter of the longest arc of the series. While not perfect, this is an excellent conclusion to a bumpy season; a season that began with mercy concludes with wrath…but also…mercy. This is the end of an era for the series, but it also sets up “a new beginning” for the story. Peace is finally here…and it’s about damn time.
There’s something truly beautiful about seeing all of the principal characters together; this is what the series was built on and it’s a shame that the most recent seasons seem to have forgotten that. The finale opens up with the characters preparing for their final battle, all together and united likee in the good ‘ole days. Inside Barrington House, Rick checks on baby Gracie and glances at himself in a mirror, symbolizing that he is at a good place both mentally and morally (note that in “Still Gotta Mean Something,” he glances at a broken mirror after killing Saviors, representing his fractured morality and mentality). Siddiq enters the room to feed Gracie and is slightly caught off guard when Rick asks to hear how Carl got bit. Siddiq explains exactly how it happened, even touching upon the fact that Carl was helping to honor Siddiq’s mother, someone he had never met before. Rick seems completely satisfied by what Siddiq tells him and thanks him for sharing; this is a conversation that has been a long time coming and it hopefully sets these two characters onto a path of friendship. Carl made the ultimate sacrifice to help and save Siddiq, so would only make sense for his character to be given a larger role moving forward, one that develops a strong connection with Rick.
Outside, Carol speaks with Henry about the fact that the war is almost over. Henry asks Carol to return to the Kingdom after its all done, promising to not run off ever again. There’s a humorous moment between Jerry and Ezekiel as the king states that not all will be lost if people die on this day; in typical Jerry fashion, he states that no one will die and that everything will be fine in the end. Rick, Maggie, Michonne, Carol, Daryl and Rosita discuss their plans for the battle, using the notes that Dwight sent via Gregory. They are obviously hesitant to trust what the plans say and decide to scout ahead. There’s a tense moment as Morgan rushes to the main gate, showing signs of mental instability as the Savior prisoners reenter the community after drawing away walkers. Morgan tells Carol that they need to be dealt with and swings his staff, knocking Henry to the ground in his confusion. Rick pulls Morgan aside and tells him that he should stay behind at the Hilltop, but Morgan is dead set on finishing the fight. Alden steps forward and expresses that he and the other Saviors wish to join the battle also, but Maggie shuts this down, still weary to trust them. The theme music begins to play as soldiers from Alexandria, the Hilltop and the Kingdom walk out of the gate on a mission to end the war once and for all.
It isn’t just Team Family preparing for the final battle as the Saviors also gear up to head out at the Sanctuary. Negan taunts Dwight and tells him that he will be coming along, as will Eugene and Father Gabriel. Eugene hands Negan a gun that he uses to shoot at a target labeled “Rick,” laughing in the process. Negan then sends a team of Saviors to a point in the road where they are to set up a blockade with walkers, something that is later revealed to be part of a ploy to trap Rick’s group. Laura drives Eugene, Gabriel and Negan toward their actual meet point as the tyrant “confesses” that he is sacrificing some of his men to put an end to the fighting. Gabriel sees a moment of distraction and jumps out of the moving car before running into the forest, still partially blinded; he comes across a walker, which is killed by Laura before he is held at gunpoint by Eugene. Negan seems to be proud of Eugene and disappointed in Gabriel, the latter of which receives a punch in the gut by Lucille. They load back into the car as Gabriel cries out, pleading for Eugene to let him warn their group of the Saviors’ misdirect. At the roadblock, Rick’s group unloads on the Saviors, killing everyone before finding a decoy note that lists the location of where Negan will be. Morgan hallucinates Jared, who urges him to “try” death, but Jesus ultimately brings him back to reality. There is a ton of tension present as the forces move into their positions for the final battle, feeling reminiscent to “Too Far Gone” and other major battle episodes.
While walking to where they believe Negan to be, Jesus speaks with Morgan about his belief that not all Saviors need to be killed. This has been his central ideology all season and this conversation shows that he has still managed to hold onto it, even after everything they have been through. Jesus explains that Morgan should save the sharpened end of the staff for the dead and use the normal end on people; Carol pokes a little bit of fun at Jesus for this idea, stating that she was just starting to like him. The militia stops abruptly when they spot a massive herd on the horizon, with Rick stating that he has never seen one so large. In an open field, Rick and the others are shocked when they hear the eerie Savior whistle, accompanied by the voice of Negan telling them that they have just wandered into a trap. Via a loudspeaker, Negan announces that everyone in Rick’s group will be killed, along with Dwight and Gabriel; he shares the fact that Eugene is responsible for everything that is happening to the united forces. Dwight is shown to be wearing the same prisoner uniform that Daryl wore during his time as a hostage at the Sanctuary; there have always been parallels to these two characters, but this is the most disturbing, especially considering Dwight has been developed into such a likable character this season. Everything looks hopeless for our survivors, but the series once again proves that hope always prevails and that the characters will always have each other’s backs.
Negan begins a countdown and orders his men to move toward a lined position on the ridge to fire on Rick’s group. In a dramatic turn of events, Negan gives the order to shoot and the bullets from all of the Savior guns immediately explode; the force of the explosions injure all of the Saviors, even brutally killing many in the process. Negan’s hand is blown to bits and the rest of the force is distracted, allowing Rick and the others to fight back, making their way to the ridge and killing Saviors along the way. Negan quickly realizes that Eugene has sabotaged the bullets, betraying the Saviors; however, before he can do anything, Gabriel steps forward and punches Negan to the ground, leading to an altercation that gives Dwight the opportunity to take a few licks at his oppressor. Maggie screams out that Negan is running away, making it clear that it is her singular mission to make sure that he dies on this day. Regina and her crew set their sights on Eugene, also angry at his betrayal, but Rosita manages to subdue them before they bring harm to her “former traveling companion;” it isn’t exactly clear if Regina is killed or if she is simply injured here. Elsewhere on the battlefield, Morgan saves Jesus from a Savior, but stops short from killing him; it’s a bit odd that Jesus is holding onto this belief system right in the middle of an active battle, but it is consistent with his arc this season. Maggie, Michonne, Siddiq and others make their way to where the surviving Saviors have surrendered; Laura demands that her colleagues throw their hands up and asks that the militia spare them. The battle, while exhilarating to watch, is far less action-packed and epic than one would expect from the end of All Out War.
The standoff in the field isn’t the only front of the war’s final battle. At the Hilltop, Kal and Eduardo alert the residents that the Saviors are nearing the community. Tara leads an evacuation through the tunnel that Sasha crafted last season; she leads the Hilltoppers, including Enid, Gracie, Alden, the prisoners and others, into the forest as the Saviors surround the community. Tara tells Enid that she is going to stay behind and hold the Saviors off to allow the rest of the survivors the chance to get away. Alden refuses to leave Tara alone and orders his fellow Saviors to help in defending the Hilltop residents; he is so adamant about it that he tells Tara that he will even help her without a gun. The attacking Saviors start making their way to the treeline, but a series of explosions put an end to them, leaving Tara completely stunned. She steps out from the bushes to see Cyndie, Aaron and the Oceanside forces hurling explosives at the attackers. Sure, it is incredibly cliche that they would arrive just in the knick of time to save the day, but at least they are finally involved in the All Out War arc…plus it’s just damn thrilling to see them fighting. There’s a look of joy and content on Tara’s face as she sees the badass army assisting in the take down of the Saviors; she has been trying to recruit them since she first stumbled upon the hidden community in “Swear,” so it is totally rewarding that they have finally come out of the shadows and now longer have to be afraid.
The climax of the episode comes as Negan and Rick finally face off against each other one-on-one. Their final duel takes place beneath the tree with stained glass panels that was first shown in the Season Premiere. Rick takes a single shot at Negan, but misses (of course) and breaks the glass of a panel; Negan takes a few swings at him with Lucille, but the fight ultimately ends up being purely based on physical strength as their weapons are thrown to the side. Negan stands looking down on Rick and opens up about his “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” routine, which he explains was bullshit; he selected Abraham and Glenn as the victims because he didn’t want to kill a father in front of his son. In hindsight, Negan states that he probably should have just killed Rick back during their first meeting as it possibly would have indirectly saved Carl’s life. Rick gets back onto his feet and tells Negan that they can build a future with them both alive, just as Carl wished; Rick pleads with Negan to think about it for just a few seconds as he lays out the vision that Carl dreamed. This seems to be effecting Negan as tears fill his eyes, making it seem as though he will surrender and agree to a ceasefire; in yet another plot twist, Rick slits Negan’s throat with the broken piece of stained glass. As blood pours out of Negan’s throat, he lets out a hoarse jab at Carl’s naive belief. This showdown is eerily reminiscent to the standoff between Rick and Shane in “Better Angels,” especially considering Rick used similar tactics to regain power, as well as the fact that both took place in a field. This duel also has shades of the fight between Rick and The Governor in “Too Far Gone.” This conflict has a totally different ending than those previously mentioned, however.
The real emotional punch of the finale comes as the camera pulls back to reveal Maggie, Michonne and the rest of the militia force standing behind Rick in the field. Rick turns to his group and tearfully tells Siddiq to “save him.” This sets Maggie off and she begins to run toward Negan, screaming and crying as Michonne holds her back; “he killed Glenn” she screams at the top of her lungs, furious and devastated that Negan will be saved while her beloved husband lay mutilated and beaten under a mound of dirt. “It’s not over until he’s dead,” she continues as Michonne does her best to comfort a distraught Maggie. Rick gives a rousing speech to his people about how they need to be better than Negan in order to build the future that comes after. He orders the captured Saviors to lower their hands before repeating the line in his speech from the Premiere about those that wish to switch sides and help being allowed to do so. He points to the herd on the horizon and emphasizes that the dead are the real threat and that the fighting among each other must stop if they wish to survive. It’s a powerful speech that really encapsulates what Carl died for and the message he left behind. There’s a moment of reunification as Rosita asks Eugene if he is responsible for the bullet sabotage, to which he explains that he was inspired by Gabriel’s ineptitude. Rosita punches him right in the face, signifying that their rocky relationship might be on the path to recovery; a punch in the face can sometimes be the best “let’s move on” you’ll get in the apocalypse. The full scene of red-eyed Rick sitting under the tree is shown as he triumphantly proclaims “my mercy prevails over my wrath,” bringing the entire season to a complete circle.
The last stretch of the finale serves to conclude many of the arcs of this season and sets up the “A New Beginning” story for next season. Maggie returns to the Hilltop and speaks with Alden, who expresses his upmost gratitude for her giving him and the other Saviors a second chance; he explains that he will be heading back to the Sanctuary, but offers to assist in bringing some of the plans from Georgie’s “A Key to the Future” book to fruition. Tara, Rosita and Eduardo pay a visit to the Sanctuary with a bus full of survivors to assist in repairing the shattered windows of the Sanctuary. Frankie and Tanya, now dressed in normal clothes, are free from their enslaved lives as Negan’s wives; they thank Tara for helping in refurbishing their home. Surprisingly, Laura gives a nod of approval to Rosita; it seemed as though Laura was totally loyal to Negan, but she appears to have seen the value in peace. Out in the forest, Daryl has driven Dwight to a secluded spot and it seems as though an execution is about to take place. Dwight once again vehemently apologizes and expresses his remorse for all the bad things he has done, specifically killing Denise. Daryl straight up demands that Dwight leave and never return, lest he wishes to be killed; he hands him car keys and tells him to go find Sherry. Later, Dwight is shown returning to the safe house that he and Sherry established and that he last visited in “Hostiles and Calamities.” He finds a note that has a simple infinity symbol, along with pretzels and beer, letting Dwight know that Sherry is still alive and well; maybe this is a hint that she will return in Season 9. This is a fantastic emotional conclusion to Dwight’s story of the past two and a half seasons and serves as excellent set up for his future.
This finale serves as a jumping point for Morgan’s future in the “TWD” franchise, particularly placing him on a course for his crossover to “Fear the Walking Dead.” He arrives at the Heaps, much to the surprise of Jadis, to let the trash queen know that Rick has offered her a place in the community. There is a beautiful sense of peace between these two characters as Morgan points out that Jadis doesn’t want to be alone and that she needs people; “everything is about people. Everything in this life that’s worth a damn,” he tells her, repeating exactly what Eastman told him while encouraging Morgan to find others to survive with in “Here’s Not Here.” There has been such a remarkable shift in the character of Jadis this season, and her layers are peeled back even further as she reveals her real name to be “Anne.” She agrees to join the rest of Rick’s group, but Morgan lets her know that he will be staying at the Heaps, unable to be with people at the moment. When you think about it, Jadis and Morgan actually have a lot in common and the fact that they are given this simple scene together showcases the fact that “The Walking Dead” is a story about human beings and our similarities; the zombies are merely an aspect of the environment, but the real draw of the story is the humanity that comes out in scenes such as this.
The final bit of the episode is downright chilling. Maggie holds a meeting with Jesus in her office, discussing the fact that keeping the prisoners alive at the beginning and end of the war was the right call. Her tone changes when she tells Jesus that Rick was wrong for sparing Negan and that Michonne was unjustified in holding her back. Maggie states that they will build up the Hilltop, bide their time and wait for a moment to strike; Daryl steps out from darkness in agreement. Obviously they aren’t talking about killing Rick and Michonne, but it is a bit odd and slightly out of character that they would sneak behind his back like this; it is especially strange that Jesus is part of this considering he has been an advocate for peace all season, although a case could be made that he only wants Negan dead. One should also question why Maggie wasn’t consulted on Negan’s fate as she has more stakes in his survival/death than anyone; it would have been far more rewarding to have Maggie be the one to make the decision to keep him alive, reflecting back onto what Glenn, Hershel, Beth and Carl would have done in the situation. The narrative flips to Alexandria where Rick, Michonne and Siddiq have Negan tied to a bed with a bandage on his neck wound. After two and a half seasons of living under Negan’s boot, the tables have turned and Rick and Michonne lay out their plans for the tyrant; he will live in a cell, rotting until he dies, but still watching the people that he oppressed as they flourish without him.
The season comes to a conclusion in the most perfect way as Father Gabriel visits his blown out church, taking a moment to pray as the sunlight illuminates the darkness; he thanks God for giving him the strength and courage to survive. A voice-over from Rick is set against a flashback to many years before the apocalypse as he walks with a young Carl on the farm that was mentioned in the letter; Rick reads his own message to Carl, one of hope and prosperity about the world that Carl led everyone to. “You showed me the new world. You made it real,” Rick tells Carl as past versions of themselves walk into the sunset. While the decision for Carl to die is still hard to swallow, it is absolutely heartwarming that he is at least being honored properly in the finale. Rick mentions in his own letter that the day on the farm that Carl mentions was the first time that Rick figured out who he was as a person and as a father. That summarizes the effect Carl had on the other characters; he helped keep Rick, Michonne, Shane, Lori and everyone else grounded in who they are as people. He brought them back from darkness and showed them the light when they were lost; he represents pure good in a world of evil. It’s the characters that survive that carry his legacy and his message, ushering the series into a new era of peace, tranquility and unity. Of course, this is still “The Walking Dead,” so that won’t last long.
“Wrath” is an imperfect capstone to the All Out War story arc. While it does deliver a multitude of intense and emotional moments, the final battle is lacking and some of the character moments feel forced and unnatural. That being said, this finale is a satisfying conclusion to many of the individual arcs. The episode hits all of the emotional cues and delivers several gut-punches as Season 9 and the extended future of the series is set up. The best moments of the episode include Rick’s conversation with Siddiq, Eugene’s betrayal, Rick and Negan’s duel, Rosita and Eugene’s reunion and Morgan’s advice to Jadis, among others. Adapting several iconic moments from the comics, including Negan’s throat being slit and his prisoner status, show that the story still pays homage to its origins even if the overall narrative is quite different. The direction of Greg Nicotero deserves praise, as does the musical score of Bear McCreary, who never fails to compliment the story with his powerful music. The performances across the board are spectacular, but Lauren Cohan, Andrew Lincoln, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Lennie James, Austin Amelio, Josh McDermitt and Seth Gilliam are the standouts. The countdown to Season 9 begins now and there are a lot of questions in the air: will Dwight find Sherry? Will a civil war arise between the characters? What is up with the helicopter? Will peace between the communities last? WHERE IS HEATH? The Season 8 Finale marks Scott M. Gimple’s final episode as showrunner after first stepping into the role in Season 4; Angela Kang is taking over in Season 9. What vision will she have for the series?
“The Walking Dead” will return for Season 9 in October 2018. Season 4 of “Fear the Walking Dead” premiered immediately following the “TWD” Finale as part of “Survival Sunday” to celebrate Morgan’s crossover. A full review of the Premiere is forthcoming. Be sure to stay tuned to the Niner Times for continuing coverage of “The Walking Dead” franchise.