Firstly, I’ll just put it out there that most everything in this Season 8 finale, “Wrath,” (hey, Fear the Walking Dead had an episode called “Wrath back its second season!) tracked just fine.
Maybe some of it went down a bit too predictably, yes, as I’m pretty sure I called out last week that it’d be faulty bullets and the Oceanside women that would save Rick from Negan’s trap, and Rick’s decision to spare Negan was straight from the comics. Though, even if you hadn’t read the comics, this season has been absolutely bluntly beating you over the head with a hefty tome about mercy and “a better way.” This has not been subtle messaging.
If Rick sparing Negan’s life somehow came as a huge surprise, I’m happy for you. If you liked the swerve, that is. But there was no way Rick was going to kill Negan after reading Carl’s letter. As of last week, it became clear that Rick and Negan had swapped ideologies and that Negan was now in “kill ’em all” mode and Rick was no longer in a “kill Negan at all costs” mindset.
Plus, there was the whole bit from the season premiere, shown again halfway through the season, giving us a future glimpse at Rick wounded by the tree, whispering about “mercy.” Notably, this entire theme worked a lot better in the back half of the season as Carl’s death allowed for a big sea change within Rick’s worldview. It drastically narrowed at first, when he was grieving, but we knew it’d eventually open up.
It did not work, however, during the first half of the season when Jesus decided to endanger everyone by sparing the Saviors in mid-battle plan. That moment seems even more unnecessary now, looking back, since Carl’s death was a bigger, more pointed show moment that shined a huge spotlight on sparing Saviors’ lives. When Jesus did it, it was just arrogant and foolish. Plus, Jesus is responsible for bringing the fiercely boring do-googer Alden into all our lives and for that I can never forgive him.
Yes, notice how Alden decided to stay behind in the end, after all the Saviors went back to the Sanctuary. Good ol’ Alden, who “never belonged there.” Oh, eff off. Stay away from Maggie, “handsome bland Savior solely deigned to lust after the show’s convenient widow.”
Speaking of Maggie, let’s dig into that absolutely bananas moment right toward the end. The moment when Maggie, Daryl, and Jesus (OF ALL PEOPLE!) decided that Rick and Michonne were wrong to make the call about sparing Negan. So now…those two will pay.
I get that Maggie was pissed off. I understand. Hell, her scream when Rick asked for Negan to be saved was actually a really powerful moment. But I do not buy this secret cabal for a second. Not one bit. Daryl’s all in on double-crossing Rick and Michonne somewhere down the line? After he JUST LET DWIGHT GO? The guy he hated the most?
And Jesus too? A guy who not only thinks no one should be killed but loves to put that ideology into practice during the worst possible moments? He thinks it was wrong to spare Negan? Jesus literally walked into this final battle with the Saviors, the one for all the marbles, the battle set to determine everyone’s fate, telling Morgan to just thwap the enemy on their head. But he’s all on board with Maggie’s plot to overthrow Rick?
Also…what is Maggie even talking about? They’re going to bide their time and then show Rick and Michonne how wrong they were? What does that mean? They’re going to kill Negan? They’re…going to kill Rick and Michonne? This is really dumb.
And it was literally a 30 second scene. It’s such a small portion of the overall episode and yet it was the moment that set up what’s to come. It was brief, but it sort of spoiled the stew.
While I’m ranting a little…why didn’t Maggie just kill Negan anyway? Was Rick in charge-in charge? No one gave actually infallible commands between Rick, Maggie, and Ezekiel. Why was Rick’s word automatically the law? I understand, as someone who’s watched this show for eight years now, that Rick’s the central character and the de facto leader, but given that this “new world” involves alliances and no true figureheads, why didn’t Maggie, Daryl, or Jesus (yeah, you – ya hypocrite) just overrule Rick? Also, why is she so upset about it that she’s basically turning into a villain? They all just almost died, and were only spared because they had secret allies they didn’t even know about waiting to hit Negan’s troops with ambush attacks. This is the hill she’s dying on?
Again, this was such a small part of the episode – but it left a very large stink.
The rest of “Wrath” was sturdy, if not unspectacular. We saw all the “heroes” prep for war, like we’ve seen so many times before. Then we got to see the same from the Saviors, which included, as usual, too much dialogue from both Negan and Eugene (their dual punishment should have to be talking to each other for all eternity). Then the trap was set, the double-cross was done, and everyone fought tooth and claw. It pretty much like watching all the beats from the Season 7 finale. Except this time the Rick vs. Negan battle had a concrete conclusion. Oh, Rick still managed to get his ass handed to him, because he’s Rick, but this time there was no where for Negan to scamper off to.
The bullets blowing everyone’s hands up was a cool moment, as was Rick using that shard of stained glass to slice Negan’s throat, but this chapter definitely wasn’t big enough to warrant stretching the war out for 16 episodes. Everything fell a bit too nicely in place afterward – Rosita forgave Eugene (still punched him though!), Daryl chased off Dwight, Alden did very boring Alden things, Carol returned to the Kingdom, and Morgan went to live among trash – but the one moment in “Wrath” that tried to subvert our expectations, Maggie’s desire to get revenge on Rick, felt unearned and out-of-nowhere.
The Walking Dead gave us a very sturdy, yet by-the-numbers, season finale that saw Rick’s group finally triumph over the Saviors thanks to a handful of characters we’ve been waiting (and waiting) to redeem themselves.
There were a couple twists in the third act – one from the comics, that the show’s been not shy about telegraphing, and the other one taking three character and having them act extremely contrary to how we know them to be.