Oh joy, a 90 minute long mid-season finale. You know what that means… more waiting around for a plot to arrive, much like Rick’s much-needed cavalry. And boy, is The Walking Dead season 8, episode 8, How it’s Gotta Be, an absolute doozy. Not in the way that people will be talking about its cinematic qualities, epic story or brilliantly written character arcs. Nope, instead this is the point where people will really start to question, is this really the best The Walking Dead has to give? Major spoilers for the mid-season finale to follow.
The key should have been in the opening five minutes. AMC’s obsession with an ‘emotional’ montage is really wearing thin now, and this slow pan of the eyes of all the key characters isn’t going to change your feelings about them. Remember at the end of episode 7 Rick was looking down at the Sanctuary looking fearful? Well, it turns out they’ve all escaped unharmed, with banks of Walkers piled up either side of its main entrance, practically spelling out a big F U to both Rick and the entire viewing population. Once again, that big “all-out war” we’ve been promised since season 7 still isn’t happening.
AMC doesn’t even bother to tell you how it all happened either. Despite quite a few characters actually asking how it all happened - including me, screaming at the TV in frustrated viewing hell - all we get is a single word: “Eugene”. Seriously, Eugene was the key to getting all those people out alive, fully-armed and with a properly formed plan of retaliation in just a few hours? I’m not convinced.
And don’t even get me started on Maggie’s crew and the tree in the road. These are old Negan tactics at play here; we’ve been here before. Being able to fell a tree large enough to block that huge road is implausible enough in itself with their limited tools, but there’s also the fact Negan’s army is suddenly absolutely huge. It’s so huge that it’s able to simultaneously be all over the Kingdom, Alexandria, and Maggie’s Hilltop convoy with as many guns and cars as they need. Surely, with all that gunpower those pesky Walkers - or as Simon brilliantly calls them, “the cold and impolite” - with some well-aimed gunfire and a bit of ingenuity?
But no, they’ve sat tight and now’s the time to strike, leaving Maggie’s convoy with no other option than to wait for the ambush rather than even attempting to drive around the tree or find some other route out. Cue some stern words from Simon, who probably has the most convincing dialogue this season, and that’s saying something. Forcing Maggie into a very obvious ultimatum that involves either returning to the Hilltop to start bowing to Negan or putting her head on a pike, he seals the deal by killing one of her men.
Oh no. Simon killed “extra B”. I really liked him, he had a good face. Oh, his name’s Neil. That’s nice. Bye Neil. The Walking Dead’s attempt to kill off newly introduced side characters for an emotional jolt still isn’t working. Neil had a token line in the back of Maggie’s car before his death, and his sudden inclusion felt so obvious a foreshadowing that I was basically counting the minutes until he’d be gone.
In fact, so much of this episode just left me scratching my head. The entire season has stretched what little plot the series has left so thin that there are some serious holes appearing. Can AMC really just not explain how the Saviours escaped? Why does Michonne go to town on someone’s face with a katana? How is Judith suddenly so old? Why doesn’t Maggie look pregnant yet if the doctor’s required to deliver the baby soon? The problem is, I just don’t care anymore. That’s it. I’m checking out.
This mid-season finale tries to leave you with two big question marks that will keep you going until February when The Walking Dead season 8 starts up again with eight - yes, eight - more episodes. One is the fate of Aaron and Enid, who accidentally kill the leader of the Oceanside colony while trying to convince the same colony to come and join the fight. And the other is Carl.
Yes, you guessed it, it’s time to wave goodbye to Carl (or should that be Coral?). The closing moments of this agonisingly long mid-season finale reveals that Carl has been bitten by a zombie, right in the stomach, seemingly back in episode 6 when he rescued Saddiq and barely survived the ordeal. The location of the bite basically means Carl’s a gonner. There’s no chance of a cheeky leg amputation here. Although I wouldn’t put it past AMC to make sure he survives somehow...
It was all foreshadowed in that big “kill me” chat Carl has with Negan, where he basically says he’s going to die anyway, so Negan might as well use him as a sacrifice. But it seems it’s actually AMC that’s using him as the sacrificial lamb to help save its doomed series. It serves Rick right really for attempting to woo the Junkyard gang. Again. Only to be abandoned by them. Again. He never learns. So now your son is off to Walker heaven to join his mum. Nice one, Rick. Nice one, AMC. Well, at least you didn’t kill off the baby.
It’s the biggest deviation from The Walking Dead comics so far, which serves as a glimmer of hope that The Walking Dead might, one day, be able to redeem itself. Moving away from the storyline of the comics allows the writers to invest some time in creating unique storylines that aren’t burdened by their source material. It’s something the series should have done a long time ago if it has any hope of carrying on for as many decades as AMC wants it to.
Despite all my hopes, episode 8 does little to make me want to keep watching The Walking Dead. 90 minutes dragged on and the plot holes left by this episode really are inexcusable, especially when a big Saviour-focused action scene could have easily made this a far more exciting episode. Maybe the move away from the comics will make the second half of season 8 better, but I fear my fandom - and a good majority of other viewers’ - might be dying with Carl.