Spoiler Warning for Season 8, Episode 11 of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed.
After two of the best episodes of the season, “The Walking Dead” hits a bit of a speed bump that is filled with some out-of-character moments and rushed sequences. That being said, there is plenty of remarkable character development, shocking twists, grand story expansions and intense action that do help to make this episode worthy of praise. As the Alexandrians head to the Hilltop and Father Gabriel clings to life, the last stand of All Out War becomes more complicated and dangerous.
Following the destruction of Alexandria, everyone is on high alert as the Saviors search for those that escaped, knowing full well that their likely only place of refuge is the Hilltop. Daryl leads the refugees through the forests of Virginia to the Hilltop, but there are plenty of obstacles that prevent it from being a simple journey. Rosita and Daryl overhear a squad of Saviors discussing the fact that Father Gabriel and Dr. Carson escaped from the Sanctuary, and they deduce that they are also likely headed for the Hilltop. There is an abundance of tension among the Alexandrians as Dwight’s presence angers some, particularly Tara, who is unable to control her anger and repeatedly lashes out at him; she even goes so far as to throw a gnarly burnt walker at him, joking at the fact that he can handle himself, even though he is clearly injured. This is quite possibly the most significant issue of the episode as Tara’s actions and attitudes toward Dwight feel wholly out of character and contrived for the sake of immediate conflict. Obviously, Tara has every right to be angry at Dwight, but she has been shown to be smarter than to jeopardize her fellow survivors by attempting to carry out a revenge plot in a time of crisis. Over the course of the episode, she voices her distrust toward Dwight, infusing her personal humor, which feels entirely out of place and is downright irritating to watch.
After a while of traveling, Rosita alerts Daryl to the fact that the Alexandrians need a break to rest. This is an important factor as many of the residents have never been out of the community and have very little survival experience; there’s also the fact that they just spent the night escaping their burning home via a sewer tunnel. While taking a moment to regroup, Daryl examines a map with Tara and Rosita, trying to figure out the best route. Dwight steps in and proposes that they cross through a swamp area due to the fact that Negan has told the Saviors to steer clear of it because of the dangers it holds. Once again, Tara voices her distrust, but Daryl and Rosita decide that it is their only option and that they will go ahead and clear a path for everyone to cross. Daryl, Rosita, Siddiq, Scott and some others enter the swamp and search for walkers to kill, having a few close calls that are reminiscent to the flooded food bank where Bob was bit in Season 5. Tara hangs back and vows to watch over her people, but immediately leaves her post when a walker stumbles around nearby. This is yet another case of her being written in a way that makes her look incredibly stupid, when viewers are fully aware that she is smart and knows to keep her eyes on the mission.
With a chip on her shoulder, Tara throws a knife on the ground for Dwight and volunteers him to help her take down the walker; there is a complete lack of gun safety as Tara repeatedly points her gun at Dwight while searching for the walker, something that may be intentional, but comes across as reckless and unnecessary. As they walk through the forest, Dwight apologizes for killing Denise and explains that he doesn’t expect her to forgive him, but that he just wishes for her to know that he feels sorrow and regret for what he did; there is genuine emotion and remorse from Dwight and it’s clear that killing Denise is something that haunts him. Earlier in the episode, Dwight tells Daryl that everything he did prior to turning on the Saviors was to protect Sherry; it seems as though part of the reason Daryl is tolerating Dwight is because he feels as though he owes Sherry for freeing him from the Sanctuary. Tara pulls her gun on Dwight and tells him that can’t just switch sides, even though that is exactly what she did when she joined Rick’s group after being with The Governor during his attack on the Prison. She states that killing him will make her feel better and she fires a shot, but misses, prompting a chase between Dwight and Tara that ends with them hiding from a group of Saviors. Dwight ultimately reveals himself to the Saviors, effectively putting the heat off of Team Alexandria and allowing them to continue on their current path; Tara sees this and it seems as though she starts to have a change of heart.
A major highlight of the episode is the story taking place at the Hilltop. Following the dramatic altercation with Maggie and Simon on the road in “How It’s Gotta Be” and her execution of Savior Dean, she is tasked with a serious dilemma as supplies are running low. Dianne alerts Maggie to the fact that rations must be cut if the community is going to survive; the prisoners are dragging everyone down and there is simply not enough food to be given to them. Maggie is called to the prisoner pen by Gregory, who pleads to be let out and allowed to rejoin everyone, but she immediately shuts this down. Alden steps forward and proposes that the Saviors be allowed to have a few minutes outside of the pen each day, one at a time under armed guards, but Maggie also shuts this down claiming that they don’t have the resources to waste on enemies. Meanwhile, Morgan and Carol sit with Henry after arriving at the Hilltop with the Kingdom residents; Savior Jared pokes fun at Henry for being creepy to which he responds by questioning who killed Benjamin, something that Carol wants to keep a secret from him to maintain some semblance of his innocence. There’s a moment where Carol flat out tells Morgan that he isn’t okay and neither is Henry, and that they both need time to catch their breath. The relationship between Morgan and Carol has always been gripping to watch and this scene furthers this by showcasing the care they have for one another.
Back with the Alexandria group, Daryl lashes out at Tara for allowing Dwight to get away and return to the Saviors, fearing that he may tell them where the group is headed. Once again, this is rather odd for Daryl considering he seemed to be at least somewhat trusting of Dwight after the events of the Mid-Season Finale. Even Tara vouches for Dwight and explains that he may have just saved their lives. There is a touching beat as Daryl calms himself down after noticing Tobin covering Judith’s ears; now isn’t the time to let anger and fear take over and Daryl quickly realizes this. Shortly after this, Daryl’s group arrives at the Hilltop and reunites with everyone in a slow-motion montage set to musical score that shows characters like Carol, Maggie and Enid learning of Carl’s death. Enid drops to her knees in a fit of tears as Maggie comforts her; this is essentially the only strong reaction we see to the death as the moment is mostly skipped over for everyone else. Rather than playing up the moment and showing the full shock and devastation of the characters reacting to the biggest death ever, there is a watered-down missed opportunity for what could have been some truly emotional performances. This is a recurring issue that the series has, wherein reactions to death are glossed over and relegated to a brief scene(s) that lack the full depth and range of emotions that they should. You would think that they would finally get it right for Carl, but you would be totally wrong. It falls flat and disrespects Carl and his impact on the show.
Later, Carol discusses what happened to Carl with Henry and Morgan decides to lie and say that Gavin was the one who killed Benjamin, giving peace to the young boy. There’s also a brilliant moment where Maggie meets Siddiq, who graciously thanks her for the Hilltop’s hospitality and offers his medical service. Maggie sees her people united and decides to offer the prisoners some time outside the pen, under armed guard and specifically for labor purposes. She also shuts down Gregory’s proposal that they all evacuate the Hilltop, proclaiming that they are stronger now that they are all together. It’s been the belief of many that the Hilltop will be the place that All Out War comes to an end and this scene serves as a moving note of confidence that our survivors will be victorious in the end. Kal announces to everyone that Rick has arrived at the community, but the episode cuts away, leaving his and Michonne’s arrival for next week; this is obviously due to the fact that had they shown Rick and Michonne, they would have had to pay the actors (I see your budget-saving techniques, AMC).
This episode also follows Father Gabriel and Dr. Carson after their escape from the Sanctuary in the Mid-Season Finale. They stole a car that Eugene told them about and hit the road, but quickly become lost as Gabriel’s health rapidly deteriorates. Aside from the fact that he is battling a fever and an infection, he is also losing his eyesight, yet his spirit is higher than ever. Dr. Carson wonders how he is in such a positive mood, which Gabriel responds by explaining his faith in God leading them. A “man of science/man of faith” conflict is present here as the two disagree about their miraculous luck since escaping. A slamming sound draws the two to a cabin, which they investigate and find a full radio unit that was apparently used to attempt to find other survivors; comic-readers might notice that this appears to be a bit of foreshadowing to a major arc in the future. Dr. Carson finds the body of the cabin owner, who seemingly committed suicide and left behind a collection of antibiotics, a huge find that will greatly help Gabriel. After a bit of rest, Dr. Carson inspects Gabriel’s eyes and comes to the conclusion that he is likely facing permanent damage, a terrifying situation in the zombie apocalypse, yet there is still optimism from Gabriel. This is a case of brilliant development for the once cowardly priest who has struggled with his faith, something that has now turned into a primary driving force for him.
The faith of Gabriel is tested after he knocks over a piggy bank and finds car keys and a map, another apparent act of divine intervention. Things take a dark turn while the two walk to the car as Gabriel spots a sign that warns of traps in the yard, but before he can say anything, Dr. Carson steps right on a bear trap. He screams out in agony as the trap pierces his leg, drawing in walkers, some of which also step on traps. Gabriel scrambles to rescue him as Dr. Carson uses his gun to kill a few of the walkers on his own; the fact that he is nearly blind, doesn’t stop Gabriel from arming himself with his gun and firing a round at a walker on Dr. Carson, yet another act of divine intervention, at least in Gabriel’s eyes. The two limp to the garage and prepare to drive to the Hilltop, but are startled when Saviors surround them and drag them to a nearby pickup truck. Gabriel expresses some doubt in God, but Dr. Carson seems to have a plan and takes advantage of a Saviors’ lack of attention by grabbing his gun; another Savior fires a shot into Dr. Carson’s chest, killing him instantly, as the others yell at the shooter for killing a doctor. Father Gabriel cries out as the Saviors roll Dr. Carson’s body onto the ground and drive away. After all that they went through, Gabriel ends up right where he was in the first half of the season: trapped. It should have been a warning sign that Dr. Carson would meet his end when he spoke more than a few words; this was his biggest episode to date and it is unfortunately his last.
The last major story arc that this episode contains revolves around Eugene and Negan, specifically their tricky relationship and its future. After discovering that Gabriel and Dr. Carson escaped, Negan questions whether or not Eugene had any involvement, which viewers obviously know that he did. There’s clearly a level of distrust that Negan has toward Eugene that is only amplified when he asks what went down in Alexandria, obviously worried for his “former traveling companions.” Negan then tells Eugene that he will be in charge of his own outpost, stationed at the machinery shop to make bullets. After arriving and getting settled in, Eugene really starts to fit into his position of power and begins to come across as a bit of an asshole, ordering Frankie to get him food and “wipe his brow.” Negan pays a visit and delivers Gabriel, who is relegated to sorting bullets for Eugene, a job that may position him to sabotage the operation and save his friends. Eugene provides Negan with an update on the manufacturing and springs a new idea in the leader’s head. At the Sanctuary, the viewers and the Saviors learn of this idea in a demonstration with walkers. Negan bashes a walker with Lucille and smears the blood and guts all over her before announcing that they can now turn ordinary weapons into elements of biological warfare, utilizing the walker infection to their advantage. The game has been CHANGED.
While the second half of Season 8 may have started off strong with the first two episodes, this third chapter is a bit lackluster and is riddled with a handful of issues that prevent it from being on the same level as its predecessors. The actions and attitude of Tara are probably the most pressing issue, specifically when reflecting back on her character and the development she has received these past five seasons; it just doesn’t make much sense that she would be on a personal revenge path during a time of such turmoil and crisis, effectively putting everyone at risk. The reactions to Carl’s death and the meandering of Father Gabriel’s story are also major criticisms, although these are recurring problems within the series that have been around for quite some time. There are plenty of positives about this episode that do serve to progress the plot forward in some interesting ways, specifically the developments with Maggie and the prisoners, Morgan with Carol and Henry, Negan’s new weapon and Father Gabriel’s role in the operation. Special praise should be given to Michael Satrazemis for directing, as well as Greg Nicotero and his team for once again coming up with some truly unique walkers that really stand out. The performances from Seth Gilliam, Katelyn Nacon, Josh McDermitt, Lauren Cohan, Norman Reedus and Austin Amelio as Gabriel, Enid, Eugene, Maggie, Daryl and Dwight also help to add plenty of emotional depth to this episode. With the Savior forces pointed toward the Hilltop and all three communities gathered there, All Out War is heading into its dangerous final push.
Be sure to tune into “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.