After 40 episodes, two and a half seasons, and Maggie’s first trimester of pregnancy, the All Out War is over on The Walking Dead. Finally.
Was it as anti-climactic as we had feared? Yes, and no.
Before we get to that, however, here’s a very brief recap of the episode: Negan lured Rick’s alliance into a trap within a trap (trapception), and Rick and co. fell right into it. Surrounded and completely outnumbered, the Saviors — in firing squad formation — had the Alexandrians dead to rights until they pulled their triggers and all the Eugene-manufactured bullets backfired, killing and maiming scores of Saviors. A scuffle ensued and the remaining Saviors quickly surrendered. Rick and Negan exchanged words and fists under a tree, and Rick slashed Negan’s throat but let him live, much to the consternation of Maggie. Meanwhile, back at The Hilltop, Tara and the Oceansiders lured the other half of Negan’s army into The Hilltop and firebombed it, forcing their surrender. In the aftermath of the war, Rick and Michonne told Negan they’d let him live but he’d rot in a prison for the rest of his life; Daryl let Dwight live but told him to leave and never come back; Rosita forgave Eugene; Morgan moved into the Junkyard; and Gabriel thanked God. Oh, and furious that they let Negan live, Maggie, Daryl, and Jesus began preparations for their own war against Rick and Michonne next season.
For those who have been paying attention all season, there are few surprises in the war itself. Carl’s death signaled to viewers that Negan would not die at the end of the season, and the show has not been at all subtle about telegraphing Rick’s change of heart through the letters of Carl. Maybe the biggest surprise here is that a man can survive having his throat slashed.
Meanwhile, Eugene and Gabriel emerged as the heroes of the All Out War, which is clearly a surprise to some. However, Eugene and Gabriel also telegraphed that last week with Checkhov’s malfunctioning bullet. Credit Josh McDermitt, who plays Eugene, for holding his cards close to his chest, even when it comes to sticking a gun to a terrified Gabriel’s face. When all the guns backfire on the Saviors, it’s the most triumphant moment in the episode, even for those who know it’s coming. The second most triumphant moment in the episode, of course, comes minutes later when Rosita forgives Eugene for switching allegiances but punches him in the face for puking on her in last week’s episode.
Morgan’s decision to leave The Hilltop and move to the Junkyard as part of his transition to Fear the Walking Dead also comes as little surprise. Morgan has been losing his sanity since the midseason premiere and it’s clear to anyone paying attention that he needs to get away from other people for a while and collect himself. Those who do not follow casting news, however, may not have realized he needed to get 1,400 miles away.
So, yes: Parts of the season finale itself felt somewhat anticlimactic. For a dispute that’s been going on for two and a half seasons, there was almost no way that Scott Gimple could pay it off in a way that did justice to the investment viewers had put into the All Out War. That’s not a knock against the season finale itself as much as it’s a knock on the series’ decision to drag out a storyline so long that it became impossible to conclude it in a satisfying way.
That doesn’t mean that the season finale did not have its share of surprises. While many correctly guessed that Negan would survive, few could have predicted Maggie’s response, although it made perfect sense in the moment. Of course, she wants to exact revenge on Negan for brutally killing her husband. Of course, she is distraught; Maggie has been singularly obsessed with killing Negan since the moment he bashed Glenn’s head in. It also retroactively explains so much about how she has behaved this season, including her uncharacteristic stoicism and her reluctance to take in the imprisoned Saviors even after they’d proven themselves to her. We didn’t see it, but Maggie is exactly where Rick was when he and Morgan murdered those Saviors two weeks ago after promising to spare their lives. As Gimple said on The Talking Dead, she’s “Maggie Corleone” now.
However, the biggest surprise of the episode — aside from finding out that Jadis’ real name is Anne — comes when Maggie sits down with Jesus and Daryl and tells them that she is going to rebuild The Hilltop and take on Rick and Michonne. She’s angry enough to go to war against her friends, and she’s enrolled Daryl and Jesus in that effort. Daryl makes sense, given his past with Negan, but Jesus? That’s an unexpected development given his zen-like approach to the world and his reluctance to kill Saviors.
It’s also another departure from the comics, but in this case, a welcome one. It portends a “very different” series going ahead, as Robert Kirkman explained on The Talking Dead after the episode. “The show evolves,” Scott Gimple added. “They’re facing different problems. They’re facing different problems with each other, and the world itself will be very, very different.”
For comic readers, it also means that The Walking Dead may skip The Whisperers War or abbreviate it and turn its focus toward a brewing civil war between The Hilltop and Alexandria. It also explains why the series could afford to lose Carl (a major character in The Whisperers War), and why Lauren Cohan reasonably asked for a pay raise next season. (AMC should give it to her.) She’s poised to become next season’s villain, although I’m not sure that “villain” is the right word. Maggie’s resentment here is warranted, and there are as many viewers who wanted Negan to die as wanted him to live. I expect plenty will ultimately side with Maggie in the war between communities. Personally, I am already #TeamMaggie.
Another pleasant surprise comes with Daryl’s decision not to kill Dwight, not so much in the decision to let him live — Dwight earned his forgiveness — but in Daryl telling Dwight to leave and never return. Does that mean that Dwight is no longer on the series? That he will reunite with Sherry and live happily ever after? Or does it mean that Dwight returns and chooses a side opposite Daryl in next season’s civil war?
Moreover, even though the conclusion of the All Our War might have been fairly predictable, there were some nice moments in the episode, chief among them Siddiq’s speech to Rick, telling him how Carl had died. “He died paying respects to a woman he never knew,” Siddiq told him. Likewise, the episode’s bookends — Rick walking along a dirt road with a very young Carl — were sweet, and Rick’s “Dear Carl. I remember” letter was a nice way to bookend the entire latter half of the season and continue to pay off Carl’s death.
However, the biggest feeling I had at the end of The All Out War was one of relief. Relief that this massive storyline is finally behind us, and relief that The Walking Dead can finally move on and hopefully find its way back to the creative peak of the fourth and fifth seasons when the show turned over arcs every eight episodes instead of every two years. Constrained by this storyline, the series has fallen into a slump, but now that it’s been freed from it, and the restrictions of the source material, next season’s new showrunner Angela Kang has an opportunity to bring the show back to its former glory. From what we’ve seen of Kang’s work on the series so far, The Walking Dead is in very good hands.