If the eighth season of The Walking Dead were a Star Wars trilogy, this week’s episode “Time for After,” would be in the Empire Strikes Back arc of the season. Obviously, there was no way Rick’s plan would unspool without a hitch. Save for the slaughter of The Kingdom, everything else has been going fairly well according to plan. In fact, if Kirkman and Gimple had wanted to, they could have skipped the almost obligatory setback arc and ended the All Out War next week: The zombies overrun the Sanctuary, Negan escapes only long enough for Rick to kill him, the end. Bring on The Whisperer War!
But there are nine episodes left to fill in season eight, and a victory as easy as the one it seemed Rick and Daryl were about to execute in this week’s episode would have been completely anti-climactic. A setback is necessary. A fairly big death will also be necessary for next week’s midseason finale, too, if only so that Rick and Co., will have someone to rally around. My money is on Tara, although let’s be honest: It’s Daryl that deserves to die. He’s the one that screwed everything up. How? We’ll get to that below.
First, however, a brief overview of the episode. The central focus this week is on Eugene who really is the least loyal character on The Walking Dead. His only priority is himself, and he admits as much several times over the course of the episode. “Staying safe means staying alive,” he tells Father Gabriel. “I am A-OK for doing whatever it takes to lock that down.” Gotta hand it to Eugene: He won’t stand up for his friends; he won’t stand up for the right thing, but he sure as hell will stand up for his right to care only about himself. “I will survive. It’s in my biological imperative. It’s all I know how to do.” As Walter Sobchak would say, “Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”
Speaking of Father Gabriel, it’s clear how he got ill, but it’s not so clear as to why. He wasn’t bitten. He got an infection after covering himself in zombie guts. That’s never happened before on the series despite the number of times that characters have returned to that well on both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. The fact that Gabriel got sick this time lends credibility to the theory that it’s these particular zombie guts that cause infections, which suggests that zombies surrounding the Sanctuary may be tainted by chemicals in the water. It makes sense, and if The Walking Dead wants to stick to an upcoming plot point in the source material, it’s the best way to avoid what would otherwise be a major continuity error.
In either respect, Gabriel is still alive, but in much need of some antibiotics to fight off the infection, unless Dr. Carson’s attempts to treat Gabriel with Eastern medicine prove effective. Acupuncture vs. Sepsis! Barring the sudden appearance of life-saving antibiotics, things are looking grim for Gabriel in the midseason finale.
Things aren’t looking great for Dwight, either. Eugene officially knows that Dwight is the snitch, but Eugene is still reluctant to rat him out. Is it because he actually cares about the wellbeing of Dwight? Doubtful. The wellbeing of other characters has never really given Eugene much cause for concern. My guess is that Eugene balked when trying to tell Negan about Dwight because Dwight was in the room, and ratting him out could have put Eugene in danger. Again, Eugene is only interested in keeping himself safe. What’s harder to figure, however, is why Negan hasn’t figured out that Dwight is the snitch. This is not exactly rocket science.
Elsewhere, Rick’s storyline with Jadis and the Scavengers plays out as expected. Released from the storage unit, Rick is pitted against another zombie with a steel helmet that looks like something out of a Guillermo del Toro film. Rick dispatches with it in quick order and disarms a few of the Scavengers before pinning Jadis to the ground next to the severed head of Zombie Pan’s Labyrinth. With no other choice, Jadis finally relents and decides to join #TeamRick. Rick asks of her only one thing: Stand with him as they force the Saviors to surrender and give Negan up to Rick to kill. Jadis agrees in exchange for one-quarter of the Sanctuary’s loot and an opportunity paint Rick in his skivvies. Rick declines sitting for the portrait, but Jadis eventually agrees to the deal anyway.
There’s only one catch. When Rick and Jadis arrive at the Sanctuary, the zombies are no longer surrounding it. They look as though they have been eradicated. Negan is free. The snipers (including Morgan) are nowhere to be found. Negan is likely presently planning to “dump a sh*tstorm on Rick,” and whatever Dwight did to free the Sanctuary of the zombie hoard will almost certainly get an assload of Alexandrians killed.
But how did Eugene and the Saviors clear the courtyard? Whatever the plan was, it involved a lot of bullets, which Eugene manufactured. (Why hadn’t Negan let Eugene have the bullet-making machines before?) But how did they manage to clear the snipers, too? My guess is that they also got some assistance from another group of Saviors, potentially the ones that Maggie had imprisoned at The Hilltop. The decision not to kill them may come back around and haunt Maggie in a very big way. I think I know exactly who may spring them free, too:
It’s always the nice guys, isn’t it?
If those prisoners play a role in the Saviors’ escape, Maggie is gonna feel like crap. Jesus is going to be blamed, and Gregory may be able to take back some control over The Hilltop (it’s all a part of the obligatory setback arc). Meanwhile, it was Daryl’s idea to drive a truck through the Sanctuary, which hastened Eugene’s solution, so anybody that dies in the oncoming battle can be fairly pinned on Daryl, who already feels bad enough about Glenn’s death. How many more deaths can Daryl’s conscience take? To be honest, Daryl’s character isn’t what he used to be on The Walking Dead. If he dies, it won’t be so much a riot as some light looting and a few tipped over trash cans.