Well, didn’t call that one. Time for the first half of The Walking Dead’s eighth season to wrap up in “How It’s Gotta Be.” And by all means, turn up your brightness setting to max because wow does it get incredibly dark this week.
The episode begins right where we left off as Rick calls out for others on the radio to report. We flash back to Rick asking Carl what he meant, as merely hoping Siddiq making it wouldn’t be enough. When you care for someone, you need more than hope- that’s what Carl meant.
In the present, Rick and the Junkyard Gang continue their journey towards the Sanctuary just as gunfire opens. Immediately, the Junkyard Gang retreats. Great partnership, this Jadis. Luckily, Carol and Jerry have arrived to pick up Rick, who tells them that they need to warn the others. Rick doesn’t think they got away.
In the past again, Carl is confident that Rick will live, but Carl wonders they’re fighting, if not just so they don’t become like the Saviors. It should be about more than killing other people. Again, it’s more than hope, and should be more than just killing all of the Saviors. Finding a way forward is harder, but worth much more, so that’s how it has to be.
Elsewhere on the road, we join Enid and Aaron. Enid wonders if the folks from Oceanside will talk to them, after they’ve come all this way, though Aaron is far too distracted, thinking about how he and Eric took trips like this when they look for people to bring to Alexandria. Aaron needs to make sure that Eric died for a reason.
He’s confident that they convince the Oceanside community. Enid still wanted to bring guns and will even offer her own to Cyndie. However, Aaron tells her to hold onto it. He then asks if Enid knows how to drive, and she does…at least, better than Carl, anyway. Enid takes a slight detour to a distillery in order to give the Oceanside folks something they can use.
Over in Alexandria, Michonne bids Judith farewell before meeting up with Daryl, saying it’s better they go out together. He’s confident that if they roll up to the Sanctuary, the Saviors will surrender, as his plan worked.
At the same time, Carl writes a note to his father before then looking at the note Enid left him, which still reads ‘Just Survive Somehow.’
Tara informs Rosita that the plan to open up the Sanctuary worked. Rosita found a few items at the warehouse on the way back, and Tara wants to use said items to redirect the herd after they deal with the Saviors. Okay, so Rosita hands Tara a shit ton of boxes.
We return to Enid and Aaron, who decide to stop for the night. That evening, though, they spot someone moving past a nearby truck and decide to check it out. It turns out to be Natania, who Enid has just shot. The two are soon surrounded by the Oceanside community as Cyndie learns that her grandmother has been shot.
Well, this scene was kind of pointless.
Back at Alexandria, Michonne finds Carl outside, where he explains that he’s helping a friend who is in the sewer.
The conversation is interrupted when they hear a noise from outside the gates: it’s Negan, who announces that they lose. The residents must line up and apologize, and they have three minutes to make up their mind or the Saviors will start bombing the shit out of Alexandria. The person with the lamest apology will die.
On the road, a car suddenly slams into Jerry’s vehicle…
At the Kingdom, Ezekiel continues to sit in silence while looking over a note. It’s interrupted by a calamity he hears from outside. He hides as some Saviors soon enter and start searching.
Maggie tells Jesus that she’s confident the Saviors will surrender. However, she tells Jesus to slow down, having spotted a fallen tree that wasn’t there before. She realizes that the Saviors are behind this. She radios for someone to turn around, but they then spot approaching vehicles coming behind them. It turns out to be the Saviors, who have taken Jerry prisoner. Simon exits one of the trucks.
Carl gives orders to the residents to just survive tonight. After all, this is his show and his plan. With one minute left, they fan out.
Back at the Kingdom, a somewhat reluctant Gavin addresses the residents, saying that the area belongs to Negan, meaning everything produced goes to the Saviors. They’ll have enough to keep them going, and all able bodied men and women will be transported to the Sanctuary to aid with the repairs. And since the Sanctuary has been trashed, the Saviors will be taking up residence at the Kingdom.
On the road, Simon tells Maggie and Jesus that everything has changed due to recent actions. He orders everyone to hand over their guns and if anybody tries anything, then Jerry dies.
In Alexandria, Negan is ready to commence scorched earth, but then Carl arrives and tells Negan that Rick isn’t home. Carl tells Negan that there are families inside, but hey, there were kids at the Sanctuary as well- even a baby at one of the outposts. As Negan says, none of this shit is fair. After all, Carl had to kill his mother- that’s screwed up. Someone has to be in charge to make sure shit doesn’t go south.
Carl wants to stop this, though Negan needs a new understanding and punishment. Carl offers himself to die, which stops Negan in his tracks. And Carl is serious, if there indeed must be punishment. Carl doesn’t want to die, but he will if it keeps everyone safe. He asks Negan if it was supposed to be this way.
As Carl talks with Negan, the others inside the walls head out. Dwight tells Laura that he’s confident that the walls will hold, but they don’t and the trucks soon crash through the gates and speed out of Alexandria. The Saviors head off in pursuit.
The remaining Saviors commence operation bomb the shit out of Alexandria as they fire grenades over the walls. Soon enough, the Alexandria Safe Zone goes up in flames.
Back at the Kingdom, Gavin tells the crowd that Ezekiel has to answer for what’s happened, but he hasn’t been located. Gavin tells the residents to cooperate, even though he doesn’t expect anyone to give up their leader. If he doesn’t appear, this turns into something traumatic and Gavin doesn’t want that. When no one speaks up, he gives them five minutes, and then it’s Negan’s way.
Simon gives Maggie three guesses as to how he escaped, and turns out they just figured it out. The Saviors will be taking the communities as long as this isn’t made complicated. The Hilltop, though, can keep producing. Simon hopes that Maggie can make things right a lot better than Gregory did. At the sound of music, Simon tells Maggie to start listening.
Eugene worked out a plan to help the Saviors escape the Sanctuary, while the others are leading the herd away. So either Jerry can be killed- and Maggie can be put in a box- and the others will be taken to the Hilltop, where Maggie will be killed in front of the others. Then, she’ll be put on a spike at the Sanctuary. Then the Sanctuary will lead the walkers to the Hilltop, as the survivors did to them.
Or Maggie can turn around and save the Saviors a ton of trouble…but one person from the Hilltop must die. To prove his point, Simon then shoots and kills the Hilltop resident sitting behind Maggie to prove that he’s serious. Maggie soon tells Simon that he doesn’t have to do anything, but she does ask him for a favor: she wants the box.
At midnight, Eugene lays in his bed at the Sanctuary as he takes another drink. But he can’t get to sleep.
The explosions continue to rage at Alexandria. Carl approaches a home and then leaps away just seconds before it’s destroyed by grenade fire.
Tara, Daryl, Rosita, and Michonne lay in waiting as Rosita laments Sasha’s death. They continue to wait for the others.
On the road, Laura orders Dwight to stop. The four begin opening fire from the woods and the Saviors soon fire back. Rather than shooting the Alexandria residents, Dwight turns his fire on the Saviors…except for Laura, who soon shoots him in the shoulder. She realizes that he’s the traitor and soon heads into the woods.
Trucks crash through the gates of Alexandria as Negan orders the Saviors to blow up the homes, but if they find Carl, tie him up, but don’t kill him. Negan decides to head for Rick’s home to prepare some spaghetti. I have to assume Negan knows how to make more meals than that. As the Saviors fan out and search for Carl, he takes quick refuge in the sewers.
We return to the Sanctuary as Eugene goes to the infirmary and tells Gabriel that he’ll agree to his plan to take Carson back to the Hilltop. He managed to take care of a guard by the north side gate so Carson can escape. Gabriel offers Eugene a chance to join him, saying the others will take him back, but Eugene refuses. He then drops a key for a vehicle that Carson and Gabriel can use.
Ezekiel empties barrels of gasoline and soon sets fire to them. The incoming explosion gets the attention of the Saviors, who check it out just as Ezekiel arrives in a school bus. Gavin refuses to let the Saviors kill Ezekiel, given that he’s too valuable.
Carol tells Nabila to get the others out just as Ezekiel seals the Kingdom shut. As he does, he tells Carol to save the others, just as she saved him.He faces the Saviors and is soon knocked out.
Maggie returns to the Hilltop, ignores Gregory’s pleas, and calls for Dean to be let out of the makeshift jail. She then asks for Kal’s gun and swiftly executes Dean. It’s not even, but a start. Maggie still won’t give up, but with no more supplies going since the other communities are under attack, they have to be ready for this fight, by any means.
On the road, Dwight yells out the others that it’s over. He tells the four that he drove the convoy up to the roadblock, as he knew what it was. He can’t go back, though, and he knows that Laura will tell the Saviors of his betrayal. As for how the Saviors escaped the Sanctuary, it was Eugene. Dwight still offers to help, as he wants Negan dead as much as the rest of them. Daryl takes Dwight’s vest as Rosita helps him up.
Back at the Hilltop, Maggie marks the box, saying that the Hilltop has 38 more Saviors and orders them to stand down. She then orders that the box be placed in a spot where the Saviors will find it.
Gavin tells Ezekiel that he felt bad about the crumbling of their working relationship. Benjamin didn’t have to die, but a lot more people will. Gavin admits to liking Ezekiel, who will soon be dead. He orders the others to load the trucks and a few others to keep an eye on Ezekiel. Oh, and Morgan isn’t too far, either…
Michonne, Tara, Dwight, Daryl, and Rosita arrive at the gates outside Alexandria and prepare to enter a manhole, but it’s hard to ignore the explosions raining down on their home. For what it’s worth, Dwight does at least apologize to Michonne. She continues to stare at the carnage before sealing the manhole shut.
Rick finally arrives in Alexandria and enters his home as he calls out for Carl, Judith, or Michonne. Instead, he’s ambushed by Negan, who has plans for him. Rick ducks and dodges every swing from Lucille while Negan tells Rick that Carl planned to surrender. Rick manages to get a shot at Negan, who soon tackles him through a window. Well, it’s enough to give Rick time to escape.
As Michonne cuts through any walker she can find, a Saviors grabs her from behind, but he’s soon stabbed and sliced to pieces. Rick soon joins her and asks where the others are.
She leads him underground, where everyone is hiding, including Siddiq, Judith, and a suddenly weak Carl, who tells his father that he went to help Siddiq when it happened. And what is it?
Carl lifts his shirt and reveals a bite mark on his torso as the episode comes to a close.
Finales, whether midway or at the end, on The Walking Dead are quite interesting. Often, the tension is turned up to 11 and viewers wait in anticipation to see what big twist or revelation will be waiting for us at the end to tide us other either until the next season or second half of the current one. Sometimes they’re uplifting, and others can garner more questions than answers.
“How It’s Gotta Be” is a very good episode and while it stumbles a bit, as some plot lines are better handled than others, it was a tense watch from start to finish.
Throughout the season, the communities have taken the battle to the Saviors on multiple fronts and, for the most part, they’ve succeeded. Not without losses- minor ones, mind you- but they’ve been able to stay on the offensive, all the way up through Daryl opening a huge hole in the Sanctuary. It’s a coordinated attack that’s managed to weaken the Saviors’ defenses.
So for the Saviors to strike back all at once, also on multiple communities shows that they aren’t out of the game yet, which I like. It was a reversal of the communities’ victories, but more than that, like “Last Day on Earth,” showed that the Saviors are not to be underestimated. Even when backed into a corner, when they strike back, they’ll strike back hard.
It’d be boring if we just watched Rick and company win battle after battle with no consequences, so it was a refreshing change of pace to again find them in a position of vulnerability with the Saviors having the upper hand. Even if we know the Saviors may lose in the end, it’s nice to see the antagonists actually fight back and have a counterattack.
We get just enough of what’s happening at the communities to know that they’re all doing pretty bad right now and I like how all community members had to face the Saviors because in their eyes, all of the communities are liable for the actions of a few, even those people who don’t fight.
To have the Saviors and main lieutenants out to confront the leaders made for some tense moments because we’ve gotten to know these Saviors. So having them come face to face with the leaders of the various communities made for great confrontations. Had either, say, Simon or Gavin died, or if they’d killed the likes of Ezekiel or Maggie, it would’ve been a major blow to either loss.
All in all, it was also a very dark episode…literally. Compared to other episodes taking place at night, it was very hard to see what was happening from time to time. Just turn up the brightness when watching this episode because damn was it hard to make out certain scenes.
Not everything here worked, though. Enid and Aaron’s side-mission to Oceanside, only for Enid to shoot and, I’m assuming, kill the leader should have bigger consequences, but in an episode where so much focus is on the Saviors’ fighting back, this is definitely something that could’ve been saved for the second half because we don’t even see the impact of Enid’s actions. Otherwise, it wasn’t needed here.
It was nice to see the different ways the Saviors confronted the survivors. You’ve got Simon who is all in on doing things the hard way and even killed one of the Hilltop residents, the more passive Gavin who probably wishes he had the day off, and the torn Dwight whose secret is now blown. He’s ready to do whatever it takes to kill Negan, even if that means he’s killed as well once the war is over.
Speaking of the war itself, loved the battle at Alexandria as the Safe Zone went down in flames, but I do wish we’d gotten more of it. As is, we only got to see it through Carl’s eyes…er, eye. I would’ve like to have seen him helping others, maybe some people that were trapped that he couldn’t save, something more than what we got or make the situation feel more claustrophobic or hectic than it was.
It made for some great scenery, though, whether it was Carl walking around in the darkness or Michonne hacking a Savior to death while the community burned around her. Just when they were starting to gain the upper hand, they face a huge setback, but it’s what helped make this feel like an actual war, rather than one side constantly winning. Though Maggie did kill one of the Saviors in retaliation, so there’s that.
And even when Negan arrived, Carl stood his ground, bought some time, and put the needs of everyone before himself when he offered his life to save the others. It was a selfless act and strong scene, but equally humorous for Negan’s dialogue and his shock that he and Carl were not in fact, having a moment. Oh, and saying to Rick that he doesn’t shut the hell up? Very funny.
But then we end in tragedy. I’m not going to speculate on the reasons behind this, but I will call this a ballsy move on the show’s part if they follow through. Of all the characters to bite the dust or get bitten at this point in the storyline, I never would’ve expected Carl to be one of them. Even setting aside my knowledge of the comic book, I get the feeling that Carl’s story was far from over.
So to end at the halfway point and find out that he’s been bitten is a big moment and sure to be a huge loss for Rick, just like when he lost Lori. But I like it. For all the flack folks give the show about it having too many characters and there not being enough stakes for the protagonists, here you go! You’ve got not just one of the main characters, not just one of the four remaining survivors from Atlanta, but Carl.
Carl Grimes, the kid who, aside from maybe Judith down the line, could’ve taken up the leadership mantle from his father. It’s a welcome surprise moment that I’m confident will have many people talking between now and the show’s return next year.
Though not everything worked in “How It’s Gotta Be,” it delivered the survivors a huge loss as the Saviors retaliated on all fronts. With the reveal of Carl being bitten, we’ll see how the communities deal with this potential loss when we return for the second half of Season Eight. See you then.