It’s the beginning of the end as The Walking Dead reaches its last mid-season finale after over a decade on air, and despite all the unachievable pressure to be a masterpiece worthy of the final season, it does not disappoint.
With that in mind, it’s important to recognize that the majority of the episode consists of everyone barricading themselves in their respective homes as they try to kill the various giant hoards of walkers trying to break in. Despite this being an episode that consists mainly of people gauging and adding to the durability of their walls, it manages to fit in a lot of plot with great pacing and use of tension.
The best depiction of this was the Alexandria storyline. The majority of their scenes took place in the same living room/kitchen space where everyone did the same things over and over again: Rosita (Christian Serratos, Selena: The Series), Lydia (Cassidy McClincy, Castle Rock), and the others nailing up the broken windows and barricading the entrances, Judith (Cailey Fleming, Peppermint) trying to help the adults while comforting Gracie (Anabelle Holloway, Tell Me Your Secrets) and the other kids, and Virgil (Kevin Carroll, Snowfall) trying his best to help despite still recovering from a stab wound to the back.
One would think it would get old after the second scene, yet it stayed strong until the very end.
This was thanks in no small part to Judith who never ceases to be the best character in the entire show. Her conversation with RJ (Antony, Azor) about what Michonne (Danai Gurira; Black Panther) used to tell them, was heartbreaking, though it was nothing compared to the tearjerker conversation Judith had with Virgil who helped ease the pain of missing her mother who has yet to return. This season has done a great job of reminding the audience that for all Judith is strong, she’s still a little girl and sees everything as a little girl would, which means missing her mother and being afraid for herself and her family.
But for all the wonderful vulnerability she displays, she’s still Judith Grimes and she has an actual sword on her at all times. Watching her go from adult to adult offering whatever support she could give was precious yet heartbreaking, especially when they had to bend down to talk to her because she’s half their size yet carries the same feeling of responsibility that they do.
It was a wonder that she never once complained about being left behind to stay with everyone else and support the other kids, as that would have been more than understandable for a girl her age; Gracie had even asked why Aaron (Ross Marquand, Invincible) couldn’t just stay home with her and send someone else out, which isn’t a surprise considering how young she is, so the contrast further illustrates how mature Judith is, and makes it all the more sad when she reveals all the real fears, hurt, and responsibility she carries every day. She’s so busy comforting the other kids that it’s really impactful whenever an adult takes the time to comfort her, as was seen with Virgil.
As for her role in helping everyone weather the storm and subsequent walker attack, there were so many times it seemed as though Aaron was going to have to return to the house and discover his daughter died. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case this episode and, considering Judith’s reflexes in saving Judith the first time, as well as getting them to safety at the end of the episode—as well as how easily she was able to break that broom stick, that girl is stronger than some adults—it’s safe to say that, if the girls go down, it won’t be without a fight.
Speaking of fights, Rosita’s single-handed slaughter of the oncoming dead was a great sequence, especially when she stepped back in, silhouetted by the storm, and suggested everyone stay away from the windows. Judith and Gracie’s reactions were those of everyone in the audience, and for good reason.
This scene managed to stand out amongst others in the episode, which is a feat considering the amount of fighting and bloodshed that occurred throughout, especially over on Daryl’s (Norman Reedus, The Boondock Saints) end. As Leah (Lynn Collins, Bosch) had said, Pope (Ritchie Coster, Happy!) chose to prioritize war over his family, and this was more than thoroughly illustrated in his words and actions throughout his final episode leading up to his death; though, for all he waged war, he never seemed to fight on the front lines, but even he spilled blood in the end.
As an indicator of this inclination towards violence, Pope mentions a dog he once had that Daryl reminds him of, as it was an untrustworthy dog that later bit him and he had to strangle. While this was clearly meant to be a threat, as well as showcasing just how unhinged Pope is—there are more humane ways to put down a dog, even in the apocalypse—this did raise a very important question that the next episode with Daryl and company has to answer: Where is Dog?
The last time Dog was seen was at the start of “Broken Promises” when Daryl told him to stay behind when he and Leah went hunting for trespassers. He was nowhere to be found when the Reapers and Daryl were under siege, and while he has proven himself to be more than capable to handle walkers and dangerous people, he’s still a Dog, and it was never shown where he stayed when he wasn’t with Daryl, so there’s no way to guarantee that he remained safe during the siege.
Not only that, but with Daryl and Leah officially on opposite sides, who has custody over Dog? Since joint custody doesn’t seem to be an option, Dog will have to choose who he wants to stay with, and after the duo’s initial reunion scene, there is no guarantee that he would choose Daryl without some consideration; out of all the unanswered questions this episode left hanging, this is hands down the most crucial and stress-inducing.
But Dog concerns aside, Pope’s blatant disregard for humanity, and the long coming reveal that he truly believes himself to be God or God-like, was the last straw, especially for Leah. It wasn’t a surprise, as even Pope had pointed out that, ever since Daryl showed up—which was also when we were reintroduced to her—she had been questioning his decisions more and more. He credited her turn to Daryl and, with how the previous episodes had gone, it seemed that was truly the case; it wouldn’t be a new concept in television, the protagonist shows up and wins over his love interest who is on the wrong side.
Fortunately, however, even if Daryl had been the catalyst for her questioning Pope’s decisions, he certainly wasn’t the reason for any of her actions, which was something that had always been the case, but was especially important to remember when it came to the second half of the episode after Daryl revealed the truth to her.
There was a real possibility that Daryl’s plan would have worked: he revealed the truth to Leah and, after she sees the truth about Pope, agrees to abandon the Reapers and leave with him to go to Alexandria. There was a real possibility and it wasn’t one that garnered any real excitement to see on screen.
In a wonderful turn of events, Leah didn’t follow the plan at all. Instead, she killed Pope and took his place, having as little mercy towards him and his group than Pope did; the only difference was she made her people’s lives and safety her priority, as Pope was supposed to. Rather than killing Pope because she became disillusioned to the cause, she killed him because she believed in it so greatly, at least when it came to the part about family.
Seeing her stand firm with her community, knowing full well that she was now against Daryl, was the highlight of the episode. The past episodes had shown her to have her own personality and character, but all the characters around her, Daryl included, had relegated her existence and all her decisions to either be on Daryl’s side or Pope’s side; the audience and characters both undermined her and saw her personal decisions as nothing more than extensions of the perspectives of the two main men in her life.
It’s because of this mindset, this false sense of security, that blindsided everyone and gave her the opportunity to strike and achieve her true goals, which were to protect her family. It wasn’t even an intentional ruse, she did nothing but act solely on her own decisions and thoughts, which may have been influenced by others, but were still resolutely her own. It was the fault of the audience and the men around her that this was such a twist, as it hadn’t seemed as though the third option would be as likely, despite it making the most logical sense.
This truly solidified her as a character beyond Daryl, Pope, and the Reapers, taking all the scenes where she made decisions and making them solely her own. Despite being the new lead antagonist to the main crew in place of Pope, there’s a slight want for her to succeed, as she gave such a strong justification for herself that surpassed so many other antagonists throughout the seasons.
The last episode had been all about perspective, giving the antagonists a level of humanity behind what the audience is meant to see as terrible choices, and showing the brutality in some of the choices made by the protagonists. This was perfectly illustrated when Leah turned to look at the Reaper that Daryl had killed when he made a move towards Leah, and while it could very well be argued that he was protecting her, it was also clear to the audience how she could take it as yet another of her brothers taken for no good reason.
When she looked Daryl in the eye and said, “You’d do anything to protect your family. So would I,” to quote Jake Peralta from Brooklyn Nine-Nine: “Chills. Literal chills.”
Those chills continued to the end when she ignited the hwacha and sent the arrows raining down on Maggie (Lauren Cohan, The Vampire Diaries) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Supernatural) while they stared up at her like sitting ducks.
After the near death scare with Negan and Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari, Cobra Kai)—the latter of which was not present in the final scene, though hopefully for optimistic reasons such as getting food with Gabe (Seth Gilliam, Teen Wolf)—it wouldn’t be a surprise if one of the major characters either dies or gets seriously injured from the hwacha; Negan would be a strong contender to be seriously injured, he seems to be too important to Maggie’s character arc to die, but he had his throat cut open and he survived, he’s like a cockroach, he’ll never die, no matter how much anyone else wants him gone.
Overall, this episode was great. The pacing was strong, the characters consistent, Pope’s death had the right amount of gravity and lead up that it was still impactful without being such a surprise that it was underwhelming, and everyone was left in their various dire straits and won’t be seen for, at least, another two episodes, the first of which will premiere next year after a substantial hiatus.
With certain characters’ circumstances unknown, and all the others’ looking rather grim, this was a perfect way to lead into the final hiatus of the show where viewers can experience the hardships of waiting for the next episode one last time.