Spoiler Warning for Season 8, Episode 7 of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed.
As All Out War rages on, “The Walking Dead” hits a bit of a rough patch with the weakest episode of Season 8. Daryl’s anger and impatience sets in motion a ridiculous and repetitive plan that makes him and other characters feel like dumbed-down versions of themselves. There are also a handful of issues with the dialogue and action sequences that pull the episode down below the usually high standard for the show. That being said, there are many high points of this episode that prevent me from classifying it as being terrible; the acting, cinematography, story and character development, as well as callbacks to previous storylines and moments really shine. With Daryl’s shoddy plan taking place outside of the Sanctuary and Eugene’s internal struggle happening inside, the stage is being set for what is sure to be a shocking and explosive Mid-Season Finale.
When Eugene Porter was first introduced in Season 4’s “Inmates,” I never could have imagined that his character would end up being a lieutenant to the show’s biggest villain. Since he was taken by Negan back in “Hearts Still Beating,” Eugene has danced on the fine line between being loyal to his old crew and embracing the Savior lifestyle, but the series hasn’t dived all that deep into his thought process about the whole situation. That changes in this episode as he is shown in his Sanctuary apartment trying to come up with a solution to the herd problem outside; Negan previously told Eugene that if he doesn’t solve the issue, he will kill him to spare him from the chaos that will follow. Eugene meets with Dwight to discuss the revelation he made about who is working with AHK (an acronym that Eugene came up with for Alexandria, the Hilltop and the Kingdom). Eugene promises not to snitch on Dwight, if he agrees to refrain from doing anything else that will result in death. It’s clear that Dwight is fully committed to following through with Rick’s plan and he lays out exactly why the Saviors need to be eliminated, even mentioning the burn that he received from Negan. I’ll talk more about Josh McDermitt’s performance in this episode, but I just have to mention how perfect his chemistry is with Austin Amelio in this scene.
“The Big Scary U” ended with the bombshell cliffhanger that Father Gabriel had come down with some type of sickness, but it wasn’t completely clear if he had been bitten or if he was simply faking. It’s still not apparent what is happening to him as Eugene pays a visit to Dr. Carson’s office to watch over Gabriel; I think we can rule out him faking, because it genuinely seems like he is sick with Dr. Carson even stating that his organs will begin to fail if he doesn’t receive proper medication soon. Dr. Carson asks Eugene to sit with Gabriel while he heads to the marketplace to collect some herbs for treatment, but Eugene shoots down the assumption that he and Gabriel are friends, calling him a “travelling companion.” Gabriel wakes up in a coughing fit and has a heart-to-heart with Eugene about morality, good versus bad, faith and cowardice, which is especially interesting considering Gabriel’s Season 5 story arc in which he was a massive coward that turned on the group. There’s also a fascinating bit of dialogue about science and faith, which reminds me of some of the storylines from the ABC series “Lost.” Gabriel asks Eugene to have faith, even though he is a man of science, using the fact that the dead are now walking as proof that science can’t predict everything. Seth Gilliam really nails this scene, portraying a sickly Gabriel who chooses to impart wisdom on his friend on what may just be his death bed. It also worth noting that the use of light in this scene is truly powerful, especially paired to the dialogue with the sunshine from outside bringing light to the grim Sanctuary room.
Something that I always appreciate about “The Walking Dead” is when smaller subplots pick back up and are not forgotten about. This is true with Eugene’s relationship with Negan’s wives, particularly Tanya, who visits the Mullet Man to trade a boombox for wine; their companionship was previously established in “Hostiles and Calamities” when Tanya and some of the others wives tried to recruit Eugene into poisoning Negan. Tanya makes a really strong point about how she has always been trapped and that the herd situation hasn’t changed anything for her, referring to the fact that she and the rest of the wives were coerced into marrying Negan. Laura brings Eugene into the conference room for a meeting with Negan, where the tyrant reminds him that people are about to die, whether it be from the walkers or from the lack of food and water; he states that he himself won’t die, because he is Negan and Negan apparently cannot die. This scene feels like a subtle intimidation technique from Negan to see if Eugene is breaking, but he reinforces the fact that they are on the same page; there is a hilarious moment where Negan reaches out for a handshake, confusing Eugene, who attempts to kiss his hand. While the character of Eugene has become increasingly hardened and developed past being just a comedic element, it is always great when the writers give him moments such as this to retain his awkwardness.
This episode is a mixed bag when it comes to honoring deceased characters, a recurring theme of the season. Daryl’s play really dishonors Glenn and Abraham and Eugene’s ploy this episode takes away from Sasha’s sacrifice. We know that Eugene is great at building contraptions and this is shown here as he pays a visit to a storage area of the Sanctuary, where he locates the coffin that Sasha died in; the silver coffin stands out in the darkness, representing the light that Sasha brought to the world of “The Walking Dead.” As Eugene gets closer, he flashes back to walker Sasha coming out of the coffin in “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life,” showcasing his internal conflict in regards to his relationship with Sasha; in the aforementioned episode, Sasha’s final words to Eugene made it clear that she wasn’t giving up on him. He opens the coffin and finds her iPod, which he jerry-riggs to a glider that he makes out of random supplies; one could interpret this as Eugene going against Sasha’s wishes to further something that she was completely against. From atop the Sanctuary, Eugene prepares to send the musical glider over the herd, but Dwight arrives and holds him at gunpoint; however, this doesn’t stop Eugene and he launches the glider, but Dwight shoots it down. I have to point out how poor the CGI/green-screen effects are in this scene, reminding me of the cheap shot of Rick with the Heaps in the background in “New Best Friends.” In a show with such high production values, poor effects like this are inexcusable and should never make it into the final cut; AMC really needs to step it up and increase the budget, because cheap takes like this really ruin scenes.
Quite possibly the worst part of the episode is Daryl’s irritating plot to destroy the Sanctuary and everyone inside. He discusses this plan with Michonne, Tara and Rosita, but he really doesn’t want to listen to what anyone wants to say. Morgan arrives and joins in the efforts, clearly supportive of what Daryl wants to do; Rosita tells everyone that they need to be patient and stick to the plan established by the three communities, reciting the iconic comic line, “I believe in Rick Grimes.” After voicing her opposition, Rosita decides to leave and return home, even after Tara mentions the consequences of her own reluctance to involve Oceanside in the war efforts. Morgan enlists the help of the snipers outside of the Sanctuary as Michonne has a moving conversation with Daryl about the fact that having patience and not knowing everything is part of war; she decides that she can’t be part of his rogue mission and leaves for Alexandria. I’m really proud of Rosita and Michonne, who have learned from past mistakes and know that this mission will only end in death; Rosita brings up the fact that Sasha coming out of the coffin shook her up and changed her outlook on the war. With Morgan and the snipers providing cover fire, Daryl drives his garbage truck through the herd and into a Sanctuary wall, bailing out at the last minute. The execution of this action scene is clunky and feels like another case of AMC’s low budget.
With the Sanctuary now breached, walkers flood into the factory floor as Saviors fight them off and workers flee for safety. There’s more beautiful cinematography here as light and silhouettes are highlighted; that being said, the action in this scene is also somewhat messy and it seems as though the violence is toned down with almost no blood or gore being shown even though people are being eaten. Dwight and Regina shoot at the walkers as Eugene cowers from a platform with his face shifting from fear to pure anger. He then storms into Dr. Carson’s office to let out his anger on Gabriel, making it clear that he will never help him or turn on the Saviors. Later, Negan meets with Eugene to discuss an escape plan and it seems as though there is something brewing, but viewers aren’t let in on what exactly this is. In a rather surprising twist, Eugene nearly spills the beans and snitches on Dwight to Negan, but has a change of heart when Dwight and the lieutenants enter the room; while Eugene may have just changed his mind out of fear, I believe that he simply doesn’t want Dwight or anyone else to die (Dwight would definitely be killed by Negan if his secret comes out). After the meeting, Eugene’s stress level hits a peak as the sounds of gunfire can be heard all around him; he tries to drown this out by downing his wine, but it seems to only amplify the sound. This is where McDermitt really stands out as he pours his heart out in a tense breakdown over what his next move will be; he is witnessing the death that his former friends are causing, but he just can’t bring himself to fully turn on them. Eugene doesn’t want anyone to die, Saviors and his “traveling companions” alike, but that is exactly what is happening.
The episode spends a rather limited amount of time at the Heaps, picking up with Rick’s failed attempt to recruit the Scavengers to rejoin the fight. Jadis opens the shipping container to reveal Rick, clad in only underwear, as a colleague of hers sits, drawing something in a notepad. She mentions that the Scavenger is sketching Rick for her to make a sculpture of him later on, while also taking photos of him; this is essentially her turning the tables on Rick and using his own technique against him. While this is the opening scene of the episode, the story doesn’t return to the Heaps until the very end as Rick is brought into the center of the Junkyard, where he is pinned down by a Scavenger and forced to fight off a walker that is reminiscent to Winslow. Rick switches into badass mode, managing to subdue two trash people with the walker before fighting Jadis and pinning her to the ground. Rick pushes her face right in front of Winslow 2.0’s snapping head as more of the Scavengers arrive to rescue their Trash Queen; Rick directly threatens Jadis and her people, which seems to change her mind and the two strike up a deal. We are reminded once again that Jadis is the worst negotiator ever before she leads her people to the Sanctuary with Rick; they are confused upon their arrival as Rick notices one of his snipers hanging upside down from a water tower (this is a nod to comic fans about a major event that the show may adapt in the future). He radios the rest of the snipers and receives no response before climbing the water tower and looking down on the Sanctuary courtyard, which is now devoid of any walkers. His face confirms everyone’s worst fear: the plan is fucked.
“Time for After” is not a bad episode by any means, but it does showcase several of the recurring issues that this series has. Daryl’s actions are beyond ridiculous even if they are somewhat in line with who his character is; why he and Tara haven’t learned from past mistakes, while Michonne and Rosita have, is a mystery to me. This scenario is almost an exact repeat of that which took place at the end of Season 6, where Daryl fled Alexandria to hunt down Dwight for killing Denise, leading to Glenn being captured and killed; I get that Daryl wants Negan to die, but he is being written in a way that makes him seem inexperienced and just plain stupid. Much of the action in this episode feels amateurish and sloppy, taking away from the intensity of the scenes; this is also true with some of the dialogue, especially for Eugene, which is more over-the-top than usual (Eugene’s dialogue is part of his character, but it’s a bit much sometimes). Still, the performances across the board really make up for the shortfalls, specifically Josh McDermitt, Austin Amelio, Seth Gilliam, Andrew Lincoln and Pollyanna McIntosh as Eugene, Dwight, Gabriel, Rick and Jadis respectively. The musical score and cinematography are also major highlights that add additional layers to the story and help to enhance scenes. While this episode may have been a step down, next week’s Mid-Season Finale looks to be an explosive wrap up of the first half of All Out War with AMC teasing a shocking moment that will have everyone talking. Did the Saviors escape the Sanctuary? Will Jadis betray Rick again? Will Daryl’s plan get someone killed?
Be sure to tune into “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.