Lord High Everything Else.
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
Last week’s episode, “The Lost and the Plunderers,” ended with a moment that seemed to suggest Rick and Negan’s final confrontation might happen sooner than later, but the smart money, when it comes to this series, is to always bet on things being stretched and padded out.
Sure, it’s not like there weren’t a few nuggets of lingering story to tell out there, some Rick-free drama to hone in on, but aside from Daryl’s swampy trek to the Hilltop, along with the rest of the stray Alexandrians, “Dead or Alive Or” felt crassly useless.
A question here, before I try to dig into Negan’s new bio-warfare plan. Was Gabriel’s road trip with Dr. Carson meant to make us root for him? Was it meant to drum up some sympathy for someone who, for seasons now, has been a somewhat sanctimonious pain in the butt (whenever he was allowed to be anything at all)? Because Gabriel was such a martyr during this trek that I felt myself solidly rooting for things to go to utter s***, which they did. The pointedly on-the-nose dialogue between him and Carson also tended to aggravate more than alleviate.
When someone is losing their eyesight (from an infection unrelated to a walker bite, I guess) in the middle of a zombie hellscape and they’re still this stubbornly optimistic, it can only foreshadow a fall. And after Gabe landed that miracle head shot on the walker attacking Carson, despite not being able to see well (and closing his eyes at the last second to boot), there was no way the two of them were reaching the Hilltop. There was no way Gabriel was returning to the fold as a proud blind priest utterly firm in his belief that he’d traveled a divine path. And him failing should play like a tragedy, right? Instead, fans who’ve been trained for seven plus seasons to be realists and survivalists, got a hearty chuckle.
Since Gabe’s story intersects with Eugene, as these two hapless fools wound up circling back in to each others’ orbits by the end, I ask “why does the show spend so much time with Eugene?” Maybe he’s the easiest to write for because he can fill minutes with roundabout dialogue. Last season, when Eugene wound up at the Sanctuary, we wondered what his redemption arc might be. We also assumed, perhaps falsely, that there would be a redemption arc. He’s been there so long now, and done only a few actions to undermine Negan here and there, that we’re way past the point of caring.
Eugene’s constant back-and-forth, his constant treading of water, and the show’s refusal to do anything with him except give him a ton of words and screen time, is one of the biggest drags of Season 8. Do we care that he needs wine to sleep because he feels bad about being a nervous, shifty coward all the time?
Okay, now to Negan’s new plan, which he devised right at the end. Negan it now set on on somehow weaponizing the blood of the walkers against Hilltop. He feels this will help turn the tide of the war but…how does this line up, exactly, with his notion of seeing people as valuable resources?
Maybe it’ll get addressed on the next episode, but right now it seems like Negan’s willing to drop a ton of people. He said something about making his enemies useful weather they like it or not, so does that mean he’ll accept Hilltoppers as chained-up-walker guard dogs in place of them being workers for him? This plan, just based on what little we know, seems like a trade he wouldn’t readily make. Not after hammering home, over and over, the idea of sparing people to his lieutenants. Simon turned all the Scavengers into walkers too, technically.
There were a few effective emotional beats in “Dead or Alive Or.” Enid’s reaction to learning that Carl’s died was quite crushing and Morgan’s decision to tell young Henry that Gavin had killed his brother (when it was really the insufferable, and obvious, Jared – the heckler) was a nice come down for both of them. Especially Morgan, who has to normalize somewhat before he switches shows.
It was also great to see everyone treat Dwight like dirt since – let’s face it – he’s not a good person. Just because he loves someone (Sherry) and hates someone (Negan) doesn’t mean he should be forgiven for outright murdering Denise. And they didn’t really let up on him. Until, well, they did. This episode featured two painfully unearned 180s. The first was Tara’s quick fire defense of Dwight when Daryl was throwing a fit. I get that he did a good thing, but all of a sudden, after one move, Tara seemed solidly Team Dwight. It’s not like he attacked him comrades and killed them to protect her. He just led them away.
The second out-of-nowhere attitude shift was Maggie easing up on the Savior prisoners (and Gregory) just because Siddiq showed up and was nice for five seconds. By the way, Siddiq being a half-doctor was the biggest indicator Doc Carson wasn’t living much longer.
Anyhow, Siddiq arrived and was happy to be given table scraps, immediately volunteering to help, and that made Maggie do a huge about-face. I mean, there was also “handsome harmless Savior,” who’s conveniently handsome and harmless, in the pen trying to change her mind too, but I’m pretending he doesn’t really exist. For now.
At least, through all of this, Dwight managed to be the ultimate realist, keeping a cool head on his shoulders even though he knew, when the dust settles, he’s toast. Or, at least he should be.
The danger element this week involved Daryl and his squad maneuvering through a swamp – which is definitely not a place I’d ever tempt during a zombie outbreak. Sure, there was a little bit of “what’s a nightmare zombie scenario we haven’t really done yet?” going on, but it was still good for a creep out or two. For the most part, shoehorning in zombie kills feels like empty calories but here it gave us a nice break from the meandering story.