By Jamie Rafatjoo (London)
**WARNING** CONTAINS SPOILERS**
Season 8 of The Walking Dead has been one that fans have watched with nervous minds, constantly on the edge wondering who might die and when, considering this season was advertised as all-out war, it hasn’t exactly delivered what we thought would be the most epic season yet. Granted there have been plenty of gruesome moments, and a few deaths that we have been eagerly awaiting, such as Simon, and one that is surely to stick with us for a while, I speak of course of Carl. It has shown us a lot more about Negan, the twisted leader of the saviours, and the main antagonist in the show over the last couple of years.
Ever since Negan bashed Abraham and Glenn’s heads to a bloody mess at the start of season 7, fans have eagerly awaited the moment that Rick kills Negan once and for all, previous episodes have teased at it, with Rick close to shooting Negan in the season opener, and the fight during which Rick lures Negan to a room filled with walkers, and lights his precious Lucille on fire. Fans believed that Negan would get what’s coming to him in the season finale, as the show has been slowly, and I mean slowly, building up to this intense moment in which Rick and Negan fight to the death, for control of the future.
This is not what we got, instead we got an entire season that leads up to the final epic battle between the saviours and the survivors of Alexandria, the hilltop and the kingdom, only to rush through it in the first half of the finale, which only lasted 47 minutes. So needless to say the finale itself, the epic battle we were all so keen to see, simply didn’t happen, or at least, barely happened. Instead Negan lures Rick and his team into a trap, the audience fears for the lives of Rick and the others, as it’s a season finale, we would only assume it would be filled with plenty of action, and plenty of big character deaths, a fitting end to ‘all-out war’. Then perhaps one of the best moments of the episode happens, the guns held by the many saviours, explode in their hands as they fire, an expertly devised double cross from none other than Eugene, Leaving Rick and the others to open fire and kill any remaining saviours.
The reason this part of the fight was simply awesome, is the creators of the show have been developing Eugene’s character into someone that we grow hate, for joining Negan, helping them escape the sanctuary after Ricks teams trapped them behind a herd of walkers, and for then leading the effort to make bullets for the saviours. In the previous episode, Eugene is taken by Daryl and Rosita, who do not hide their hate for him, eventually Rosita says they are going to force Eugene to do something useful with his pathetic life, which ultimately pushes Eugene to attempt a successful escape and return to continue making bullets.
Right up until the moment the guns misfire, fans believed Eugene to be a full-fledged saviour, even though I’m sure everyone else like me was sitting on the edge of their seat praying for the bullets to backfire, as otherwise Rick and the others would have stood no chance at surviving. The first half of the episode leads us to the confrontation in the field, Rick falls for Negan’s trap, and they end up surrounded by saviours, this action taken by Eugene, not only redeems him as a hated character, but also shifts the tide for the final time, in favour of Rick.
We then get to see the long awaited fight between Rick and Negan, rick of course runs out of bullets and the two end up near a tree, with a stained glass window hanging from it for some unknown reason. The very tree we saw at the start of the season, when we saw Rick teary eyed and mumbling something about mercy and wrath, coincidentally the episode titles for both the season premier and finale respectively. Immediately we begin to wonder what might happen, ever since Carl’s death it has been clear that they are leading into a new world, as Rick says, “there’s gotta be something after”, so we wonder could Rick really let Negan survive, surely not, not after everything he has done, but by this time, Negan’s forces have surrendered and it’s becoming more clear that ‘something after’ is going to include some of the saviours we have grown to hate.
As Rick and Negan fight, Rick begins talking to Negan, using Carl’s memory to earn himself 10 seconds, telling him it doesn’t have to be like this, basically everything Carl kept saying in his letters. As Negan begins to get emotional, looking like he might drop his bat, my heart began beating, afraid that Negan may in fact survive, then to our cheers, Rick slits Negan’s throat with a shard of glass from the conveniently placed window hanging from the tree. We cheered, the relief washed over us, Negan was dying, his forces defeated, and no one that fans care about even got hurt. Then Rick tells Sadiq to save Negan, WHAT! WHY!? He gives a speech to all the survivors about working together, points out the largest herd of walkers they have ever seen is coming for them, and lets everyone go home.
I mean, I understand why the creators did it, I understand they were building up to it since Carl’s death, I understand it’s to honour Carl, and change the dynamic of the show from war against humans, back to the original danger of walkers eating everyone, which I am glad about, and I am sure many fans are too, I can even understand that Negan himself is an interesting character that many fans love to watch, regardless of his murderous god complex. But SERIOUSLY, they essentially spent two years, two entire seasons, leading up to the final battle only to have it over and done with, in just a matter of minutes.
No one dies except for a bunch of extras acting as saviours, which may mean us fans get to avoid the sadness of losing characters we love, but then again, that level of drama is what makes the walking dead so amazing, the idea that any of these characters we have grown to love, could be killed off at any minute keeps us on the edge of our seat, biting our nails, and with the anticipation of seeing ‘all-out war’ as was promised. The battle seemed rushed, as though the writers were eager to end the arc, and set up season 9, with the giant herd of walkers, and Carl’s imaginary future becoming somewhat a reality. Like I said, I understand why they did the things they did, but I can’t say that I agree with everything they did, especially since we were anticipating an exciting emotional climax, and instead we were spoon fed plot points for the next season, honestly, finish this season properly before you start on the next one guys!
As I mentioned they spent the second half of the episode setting up season 9, the future world that Rick and Carl keep talking about seems to be coming into focus, the remaining survivors of all communities will be building up their defences, building things to improve their way of life, as provided by the mysterious Georgie and her people, who will no doubt make a return next season. They will then need to band together in order to somehow survive the massive quantity of walkers headed their way, we know that Rick and company have dealt with all kinds of threats before when it comes to walkers, clearing out the prison, clearing the herd out of Alexandria, but this seems to be their greatest challenge yet due to the sheer amount of walkers, so it will be interesting to see how they handle this, especially working alongside the saviours. This also shows that the creators are moving back to the roots of the show, and making the danger, and hopefully the main antagonist, the walkers themselves which I myself am very excited about, as opposed to other groups of people, which has been the primary source of danger in recent seasons.
On top of this danger, Maggie, Daryl and Jesus, unhappy with Rick’s decision to keep Negan alive (can’t say I blame them) have vowed to bide their time and then ‘show rick he was wrong’. Rick has decided that Negan will be a prisoner, in order to show others that there is a way to punish wrong doers without killing, in terms of where the show is headed, this makes sense, and also provided all of us gutted about Negan being alive, some much needed closure. As it would appear that Maggie and the others do not currently know of this idea, they’re thoughts of espionage may be premature, however in terms of drama it offers a great potential narrative, especially since fan favourite Daryl, has now seemingly turned against his best friend Rick, shocking us all. One can only assume that Maggie’s plan is to kill Negan since Rick decided to let him survive, she has agreed with Rick on everything but this one thing. Obviously due to Negan killing Glenn Maggie can’t let it go, which is surely the reason why Daryl feels it necessary to team up with her, since it was Daryl punching Negan that ultimately lead Negan to kill Glenn.
But what does this mean for the dynamic of the group, will their plans end with Negan’s death, or are we seeing the formation of a new regime, do Daryl and Maggie simply want Negan Dead, or are they planning to overthrow Rick as leader, leading to some kind of internal power struggle as they deal with the herd of walkers? Are their plans really as sinister as they seem, or do they simply mean to talk to Rick and explain to him why he is wrong to keep Negan alive? Will this lead to Rick becoming a prisoner the same as Negan, and could Negan being around lead to some sort of mutual respect developing between the two of them? Unfortunately fans will have to wait to find out what’s in store, but one can only hope that Negan will eventually get what’s coming to him, perhaps after they drag out his storyline for yet another season.