The penultimate episode of season eight was almost completely devoid of our main cast, focusing instead on the drama and near Civil War erupting among the Saviors when Negan returns.
At the Sanctuary Simon is still in control, and Gregory, who is the only former Savior prisoner to have escaped the Hilltop and survived, tries to plead his case, using a pumped up speech about his so-called leadership qualities.
Simon isn’t having it, though does upgrade Gregory from corpse to his personal coffee-making servant.
Outside, Negan makes his first return appearance from Jadis’ ordeal. He first has a cryptic, ominous discussion with Dwight, and we later learn why.
Negan’s return is bad for Simon. It was Simon’s call to leave Negan for dead, and attack the Hilltop head-on. In a meeting where they discuss their next tactical move, Negan reveals a bit of Simon’s backstory – the two had history together establishing the Sanctuary, but Negan always watched his bloodthirsty comrade closely. Now he’s pissed that they left him for dead, and tried to attack the Hilltop (and he also learned about the junkies’ true fate from Jadis).
When it looks like Negan is about to execute Simon on the spot with a swift bat to the back of the head, he ultimately forgives him, and lets him off the hook. What Negan is really doing, is giving Simon just enough rope to hang himself.
Although we don’t really see any of it, Simon raises a group of like-minded Saviors who want to overthrow Negan. He goes to Dwight to recruit him to the seditious team, based on their brief bromance after Negan was captured, and sets up an outdoor meeting were they can discuss the specifics of overthrowing their leader.
Negan is one step ahead, however. Apparently Dwight, knowing Simon is probably worse than Negan overall, informed him of the meeting. Negan emerges, orders all of Simon’s loyal Saviors killed, and captures him. Simon is enraged at Dwight, but once again Negan lets him live, giving him one final chance to take control the old fashioned way (or the Wakandan way): by defeating Negan in hand to hand combat.
We know where this is heading. As much as I love Steven Ogg, nobody is taking out Negan before his final confrontation with Rick. The pair set up a Fight Club-style arena among the Saviors and violently duke it out.
During the melee, Dwight slinks away to deliver a message to Gregory. The message contained the information from the meeting, in which Negan dictated their next plan of attack. Gregory then escapes to deliver it to the Hilltop.
Unfortunately for our team, Negan is one step ahead of them as well. After choking the shit out of Simon, he teasingly offers to promote Dwight to be his new right hand man. This is a complete tease because in the very next scene, Negan reveals that it was Laura whom he picked up in his car at the end of last week’s episode.
Laura, as the episode clearly reminds us, was the one survivor of Dwight’s blatant betrayal during the mid-season premiere, in which he gunned down several of his own people to save our heroes. Laura was the main reason Dwight couldn’t go back to the Saviors, and just lucked out that she hadn’t returned yet whenever he ended up stumbling into them at the swamp.
Well, she’s back now, and and reveals Dwight’s betrayal to Negan. Negan then admits that he purposefully outlined a bullshit plan, knowing Dwight would get the message to Rick.
Crap! That devious Negan. Unlike Simon Negan doesn’t get a trial by combat, nor a zombified fate, but Negan teases big plans for him, which I’m sure we’ll see unfold in the finale.
With the bulk of the action taking place at Sanctuary, only four members of our group show up this week with their own little subplots: Daryl, Rosita, Aaron, and Michonne. Technically Rick is shown at the beginning finally reading Carl’s emotional note, complete with Chandler Riggs voice-over, in a nice little scene.
Aaron is still back at Oceanside, still trying to convince them to help fight the Saviors. Well, sort of. He’s mostly hanging out, weakened and starving, in the rain-soaked woods nearby.
Not a great plan, yet he manages to kill a pack of walkers with his bare fucking hands before passing out. He wakes up surrounded by the women of Oceanside, and gives an impassioned (albeit melodramatic) speech about why they need to join the fight. Dumb subplot, but admittedly a cool scene.
Meanwhile Daryl and Rosita are on yet another reckless mission, this time to capture Eugene from his bullet-making outpost. They do so effortlessly, simply grabbing him as he’s walking outside, then begin the march back to Hilltop.
Eugene has been well-established as a jerkface slave-driver when barking orders at the outpost, but he’s still a sniveling, verbose coward who’s easily cowed into submission.
The easily unlikable bastard is annoyingly resourceful, however. The trio run into a pack of zombies, and Daryl goes to fend them off. Eugene uses the chaos to shove some fingers down his own throat, projectile vomiting all over Rosita.
It’s incredibly gross and surprisingly effective, as he’s able to escape her clutches while she’s distracted by some zombies. He hides in a pile of – what was that, burned zombie ashes?
Daryl and Rosita simply race by, and in the next scene he’s already made it all the way back to his outpost. Yay another pointless scene! If anything this galvanizes Eugene into further hating his former friends and urging everyone into make all the bullets they can, including putting Father Gabriel, whom he had earlier let off the hook, back to work against his will.
The episode is capped on both ends by Michonne, who finds Carl’s note to Negan. At the end of the episode she calls Negan on the walkie-talkie, and reads Carl’s note to Negan, word for word.
Like the note he wrote for his dad, it’s sensible, emotional, and calls for peace between them. Negan responds with an unexpected “fuck you.” As he told Simon when he was choking the life out of him, there’s no turning back now. The Alexandrians won’t back down, and now neither will Negan.
Negan: Negan was a fucking boss this week. He was still full of comic swagger, yet also flexed his menacing attitude when he needed to. He was ahead of the game the entire time, and proved himself to be a clever leader who knows exactly how to handle any given situation.
Aaron: Yeah the whole Oceanside plot is dumb, even if they do end up riding in like the Riders of Rohan to save Rick and company next week. But Aaron took care of business like a badass, even in the rain.
Carl: Carl’s legacy lived on through the notes he wrote to Rick and Negan, and this week we finally got to hear them both. As expected they were heartfelt and earnest, urging both men towards peace. The path to eventual peace looks bloody violent at the moment, however.
Rosita & Daryl: These two just can’t stop proving their incompetence. Their latest escapade at least doesn’t do much harm, other than driving Eugene further into the arms of the Saviors and wasting everyone’s damn time.
Simon: No! Not my beloved Simon! Alas once he tasted power he couldn’t relinquish it after Negan returned, playing right into the boss’s hands. He had his fair shot at Negan and failed again, and now he’s a zombie. RIP Simon, you sweet prince. At least you went down doing what you love….hating.
Dwight: Damn, Dwight finally got found out because just one of the Saviors he betrayed got away. Now not only did he set up Rick and company for next week, but it looks like he’s in for a fate worse than death by a not-too-happy Negan.