The Walking Dead has typically been able to begin and end seasons well — it’s the middle episodes that are often problematic — and season eight is no different. The penultimate episode of the season, “Worth,” did everything a good penultimate episode should do, namely wrap up any lingering side stories and set up the final showdown. Director Michael Slovis — a cinematographer and director on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul — did just that, delivering one of the more intense episodes in a season of up-and-down installments.
The key to this week’s episode turned out being the mystery passenger Negan picked up at the end of last week’s episode. Most viewers pieced together that it was either Gregory or Laura, so we know enough in “Worth” to understand that one of those two will be working with Negan and against either Simon or Dwight.
After Rick reads his letter from Carl, the episode kicks off with a conversation between Simon and Gregory, falsely leaving viewers with the sense that Gregory had been the passenger and that he knows something that Simon does not during their conversation. Gregory, uncharacteristically courageous, doesn’t back down from Simon’s threats, leaving us to believe that Negan has his back. When Simon’s threats evolve into an alliance with Gregory, we are left with the uneasy feeling that Gregory is working against Simon on behalf of Negan as part of a longer con. The con, it turns out, is much longer than most could have anticipated.
With viewers under the impression that Gregory is Negan’s inside man, we let our guards down and briefly forget about Laura, though Negan’s exchanges with Dwight nevertheless continue to feel loaded and uneasy. When Simon approaches Dwight about forming an alliance with him against Negan, Dwight agrees hesitantly, but then he rats Simon out to Negan. Negan, in turn, plays Dwight perfectly, using him to lure out his enemies within the Savior camp so that he can kill them. “Why?” Simon asks Dwight, trying to understand why Dwight sold him out. “He’d win,” Dwight says with resignation. Dwight is not wrong.
For no other reason than to draw out the episode, Negan also challenges Simon to a fistfight to determine the new leader of the Saviors, a fight that Negan wins in anti-climactic fashion by choking Simon to death, a less brutal but more palatable alternative to bashing his head in repeatedly with a baseball bat. Soon after, Negan anoints Dwight as his number two, a position that Dwight reluctantly accepts, but as soon as viewers breathe a sigh of relief, Negan pulls out his last card: Laura, who most viewers had forgotten about by this point, awaits Dwight in his room.
Negan — who, thanks to Laura, knew all along that Dwight was working for The Hilltoppers — pulls off the ultimate con. He uses Dwight to flush out his enemies and he gives Dwight the wrong plans for the upcoming battle with The Hilltop, knowing that Dwight would pass them along to Rick through Gregory (the only reason Negan otherwise inexplicably allows Gregory to live).
There is, however, some slight hope for Dwight and The Hilltop, but that’s only if Dwight is pulling off a Meinertzhagen’s Haversack twist. That is to say, he is pretending that Negan duped him, but in reality, he’s been one step ahead of Negan and knew the entire time he was being played. It’s an intriguing thought, but a little too advanced for The Walking Dead unless David Mamet has been secretly consulting on this storyline.
Ultimately, it means that in next week’s season finale, Rick may be walking straight into a Savior ambush, but that only assumes that Rick trusts Dwight enough to believe the plans he has been given in the first place. Even if he does, however, there are two other potential heroes who can help The Hilltop avert otherwise certain disaster: Aaron, who seems to have persuaded The Oceansiders to join the effort against Negan, or Dwight, who might be playing a triple agent.
Eugene’s status is most uncertain. By all outward appearances, he’s gearing up to manufacture hundreds of bullets for Negan, but in his conversation with Gabriel, he introduces the idea of sabotaging the production of bullets so that they “slam fire,” or blow up in the Saviors’ faces. And you know what they say about Chekhov’s Malfunctioning Bullet?
Plus, Father Gabriel has spent much of the back half of the season disillusioned because he can’t believe that being put into the enemy’s bullet-making plant could possibly be part of “God’s plan,” although it sure seems like God has him exactly where he wants him: in a position to destroy the Saviors’ from the inside.
The biggest question that remains now is who will die in next week’s season finale, because we know — thanks to an insider at Skybound — that there will “be plenty of death to go around.” But will it be anyone significant?
We know it won’t be Morgan, who is departing for Fear the Walking Dead. It likely won’t be Rick, and Carl died so that Negan could survive. Of the major characters, who does that leave? Aaron and Jesus do not make sense, because they have been MIA for most of the season. The series can hardly afford to lose Eugene or Ezekiel, who are big personalities on a series that’s lost a lot of personality in recent years. It would be awfully *narm* of the series to kill off Gabriel so soon after recovering from a near-death experience. Moreover, who will be left to lead the remaining Saviors if Dwight is killed off and Negan is sidelined? It also won’t be Maggie, because as far as we know, Lauren Cohan is still in negotiations to return next season. Likewise, Norman Reedus has already re-upped for next year, so Daryl is safe. Meanwhile, if Dwight saves The Hilltop, Rosita would need to survive in order to forgive him.
Drama loves symmetry, so a likely candidate might be Carol, whose storyline went full circle last week when she saved Henry, closing the loop on the loss of her daughter, Sophia. It could also be Tara, whose storyline might also go full circle if she invites Dwight into the fold the same way she was invited into Rick’s camp after being a part of The Governor’s crew. The most likely candidate for death, however, has to be Gregory, who has officially outlasted his usefulness playing both sides of a war that will no longer exist after next week’s episode.
What is certain is that, after 40 episodes and two and a half seasons, the All Out War storyline will finally die. It may be the series’ most satisfying death in years.
— In a clip from next week’s episode, Eugene suggests a “firing line,” which means that all the Saviors will shoot at The Hilltoppers at the same time. If he was going to cock up the bullets, that would be the way to inflict the most damage on the Saviors.
— Seriously, folks: Where is Jesus? He’s barely made an appearance in the back half of the season. Aaron hasn’t gotten much better treatment; he had two scenes in the midseason premiere, and he didn’t show up again until this week. Of all the ways that have tried and failed to convince the Oceansiders to fight with them, it’s a hunger strike that finally convinces them? That’s weak.
— Just to recap: Eugene eats a bowl of sardines and macaroni and cheese; he’s kidnapped by Daryl and Rosita; Rosita humiliates him; he throws up on Rosita, runs away, and hides in the ashes of dead zombies; and he goes right back to where he was an hour before. Was there really a point to that subplot, other than to make Eugene endure some added humiliations?
— The episode was bookended by Carl’s letters to Rick and to Negan, which was a nice touch, except that we don’t see Rick again after he reads the letter until the very end of the episode, and only for a split second. We don’t really get much sense in how the letter affects his mentality moving ahead.