Oh man. This mid-season finale was a classic case of the passable TWD episode with a couple of cool scenes and plenty of infuriating details that just make you want to punch the entire writer room in the face.
Where do I start? Let’s take it from the top, I guess.

The opening scenes are yet another one of those silly montages the show seems to love so much, complete with sad, dramatic music to underline just how f*cked Rick and the rest of the good guys are. Again. Which is all well and good, considering how TWD likes to dress its finales with a touch of wannabe epicness… but what’s the point in building up that atmosphere if you’re going to intercut it with a random scene that only makes sense AN HOUR into the episode?

One minute Rick surveys the debacle that his siege of the Sanctuary has become, the next we see him walking down a country road discussing the Big Picture with Carl. Then back to Rick, looking like he’s about to have a stroke, but did the editor also have a stroke while cutting this episode together? And why am I dwelling on such details when we have an entire hour’s worth of chaos to go through?

Anyway, Jadis makes a comment about how this isn’t what Rick showed her in the photos (no shit, Sherlock) and naturally the trash people bail. Well thank fuck for Carol (and Jerry), although the fact that they show up is confusing because they don’t bother explaining it until much later in the episode.

Also confusing: what happened to the snipers they had in place? Surely Negan and the Saviors didn’t escape instantaneously; killing all those walkers must have taken a bit of time. Did the snipers try to shoot the Saviors at all? Did they just bail along with Morgan? Why did none of them warn our group? Or did the Saviors magically dispatch the walkers AND manage to take out the snipers in one fell swoop?

It doesn’t matter, really – so many things don’t make sense in the episode, so let’s just point them out as we go along and move on. We get another one of those flashback scenes where Carl discusses the future with Rick. He’s evolved into quite the smart and compassionate young man, which should have raised a few flags but come on, it’s Carl we’re talking about here!

Meanwhile, we’re catching up with the unlikely pairing of Enid and Aaron, whom I had frankly forgotten about. The not-so-mysterious destination for their little road trip is revealed to be Oceanside, which also makes very little sense. Apparently Aaron wants to know that Eric died for a reason, so sure, let’s go take a drive to see the people whose guns we stole and who are instructed to kill us on sight. How does this vindicate Eric’s death is beyond me. You’d think Aaron would want to stick around and watch the Saviors get defeated, wouldn’t you?

As for Enid, her motivations would probably be even more thin, so let’s not bother giving a reason at all. Giving the Oceanside women their weapons back would be a valid reason, except THE WAR ISN’T OVER! But yeah, whatever. The plot introduced Oceanside a while back and I guess we need to be reminded of that community again, so who am I to question the wisdom of the Gimple? (Can you feel my eyes rolling?) At least that line about her being able to drive ‘better than Carl’ and her grinning face were cute.

Enid and Aaron decide they shouldn’t show up empty handed, and since they can’t give the ladies back their guns, they bring… a truckful of booze? Which they somehow conveniently stumbled upon? Fine, I’ll buy that, and I’ll even buy that the elderly Oceanside leader herself is the one guading the perimeter and catches them as they try to sneak close to the little community, if only because the next scene was actually satisfying: she knocks Aaron out and Enid finally does what we’ve all wanted to do since Season 6 and shoots the idiot. Buh-bye, Natanya. You won’t be missed one bit.

Back in Alexandria, Daryl is delusional. “It worked: we roll in, tell ’em to give up, they give up. Don’t worry, it worked.” Famous last words. You’d think he and Tara would have stuck around to actually see what would happen once they let the walkers into the Sanctuary, but no, let’s just take it on faith that the plan worked. And then be 100% sure it did with no actual proof.

Rosita and Tara are unloading supplies off the truck – no guns, but plenty of smoke grenades, which will come in handy pretty soon. And then Negan and his crew show up outside Alexandria and I guess Michonne drew the short straw and has to be the one to state the obvious: they got out. Man, some of these lines must be really excruciating to say.

Negan gives the Alexandrians three minutes to open the door and start apologizing profusely, and whoever gives the lamest apology will get killed, which I guess is as good a method as any to pick a victim, and certainly more entertaining than that whole eenie-meenie-minie-moe crap.

We see Jerry driving down the road to… somewhere, I guess, the show obviously gives zero fucks about explaining where anyone’s going this season. Wherever he’s headed, his ride is stopped short when another car that I can only assume belongs to the Saviors t-bones him pretty bad.

Time to check in with the Hilltop people: Maggie, Jesus, Diana and some nameless old Hilltop guy are leading the convoy towards the Sanctuary, discussing the probability of their plan to get the Saviors to surrender. This isn’t actually aggravating in itself, but it makes the entire Daryl/Tara/garbage truck plotline from last week even more infuriating: they were merely hours away from phase two of Rick’s plan, and now it’s all gone to shit.

They come up to one of the Saviors’ usual roadblocks, a fallen tree in the middle of the road, and pretty soon the convoy is surrounded by Simon and his men. I loved the “friendly” hello, hello, hello entrance and was relieved to see Jerry made it out of the crash alive, but Maggie is in quite the predicament here.

In Alexandria, Carl is taking control of the situation, which is nice because at least that whole scene about it being ‘his show’ from a few weeks back is paid off. He has a plan to take the Alexandrians into the sewer tunnels while Daryl, Rosita, Michonne and Tara escape through the back as a diversion, and he’s willing to sacrifice the town to keep the people safe. Of all the lame-ass plans we’ve seen this season, this is probably the best one yet, especially since he seemed to come up with it on the fly, so GO CARL! (again – directed at myself this time: famous last words.)

At the Kingdom, Ezekiel is still in cooped up in the auditorium, in that same depressed state we left him in – which makes sense, since it’s only been like half a day – and reads the funny note Jerry left him (“Your Majesty, had to bounce…” ahahaha!). So this is why he and Carol were at the Sanctuary: the plan was to all meet up there to finish it. The Kingdom and the Hilltop are keeping their end of their deal, so why the hell is Rick the only one from his group to actually show up? Damn this is just infuriating.

Anyway, Gavin shows up at the Kngdom, gathers whoever’s left and gives his own rendition of the speech Simon did, except he’s probably the only Savior we’ve met so far, aside from maybe-nice-guy prisoner we saw a couple of weeks ago with Jesus, who seems actually semi-decent. He was upset when Jared killed Ben, he wasn’t unnecessarily cruel, and he seems uncomfortable doling out the punishment Negan instructed his men to inflict. Ezekiel hears the ruckus and quickly escapes the theatre seconds before the Saviors march in to seize him.

Outside Alexandria, Negan continues his soliloquy over an actual microphone, which for some reason struck me as hilarious. It’s almost as if he’s vamping until the three minutes run out. Carl appears at the tower over the gate and tries to convince Negan to stop this, aka buy some time. They talk about the children who might get hurt; Negan mentions the baby at the outpost, which was a nice touch, and reminds Carl that they live in an unfair world and they all had to do tough things, like killing his own mother. Carl offers himself up as tribute, which takes Negan by surprise – and which was, in hindsight, the one instance where all the foreshadowing actually works. Carl basically says he’s dying, and we still have no clue what’s about to happen. It’s also the only great scene this episode, so kudos on that one, TWD.

Daryl, Rosita, Tara and Michonne break through the (very inadequate, thanks to Dwight) car barricade the Saviors had put in place, which would have been even cooler if the show didn’t treat us like idiots: why throw in unnecessary dialogue between mean tattooed blonde and Dwight about whether the barricade would hold if they were going to explain it again later on, but fail to explain much of whatever else was going on in the rest of the episode? This is so frustrating.

Cut back to Negan, who is momentarily distracted by the explosions, and reacts in a perfectly Negan way: I thought we were having a moment, you little asshole! It was *almost* gold – Negan wouldn’t have been surprised by the explosions since his own men were the one throwing the grenades, and he would definitely not be surprised that Carl wouldn’t stick around to chat once the town went up in flames. Carl scrambles down the ladder, then takes his time to pick up the dumb cowboy hat he dropped because of course we need an iconic Carl image this week.

Back at the Kingdom, Gavin explains the new status quo, while Simon orders one of his men to shoot Jerry if anyone moves and gives Maggie a choice: she can go back to the Sanctuary in a box and get her people killed, or the Hilltop can keep producing for Negan. Once again, I am confused: didn’t the show make a point of repeating Negan’s plan for the three communities’ leaders a couple of episodes ago? The Widow, the King and Rick’s heads on pikes on the Sanctuary gates? So why does Maggie now get an out? Surely Simon knows who the Widow is, no?

Sigh. In any case, Maggie makes the obvious choice but one of her people still has to die, and luckily it’s not Jerry, but the old guy in the backseat. We should have seen it coming, because the poor man actually had a speaking part this week, but oh well. Maggie’s one condition is that she gets to keep the box to bury him in.

We finally visit the Sanctuary to watch Eugene drink his tiny shot of wine and for another closeup of his horribly constipated cryface. Last week he was a douche, this week he seems repentent and I just can’t even. Does anyone even care about Eugene at this point? Will anything he does from now on actually redeem him in some way? Count me among those who reply with a resounding hell no: he just cost his ‘former travel companions’ a huge battle, if not the war, so as far as I’m concerned, everything that happens moving forward is all on him.

Inside Alexandria, houses are going up in flames, smoke grenades are going off everywhere, and for some inexplicable reason Carl is still walking around town instead of going into the tunnels. Dammit, TWD, why must you turn every badass move into a trainwreck?

Some way down the road, Daryl & co are lying in wait to ambush the Savior convoy on their tail, led by Dwight and blonde neck tattoo, and Tara is begging for a punch in the face when she insists that the Saviors didn’t get out because of what she and Daryl did. Even if that’s the case – and the show is obviously taking great pains to tilt the narrative in order to exculpate the Alexandria rogues and shift the blame towards Eugene’s ingenuity – girl has some nerve. What’s even more aggravating is that I’m fairly sure that, by the time the war is over, the writers will assume we’ve completely forgotten Daryl and Tara’s betrayal and there will be no consequences for their actions. And to think Carol got banished for killing two sick, dying people back at the prison!

The Savior convoy approaches, Daryl et al open fire and everything goes to plan until Dwight turns on one of his own men and blonde tattooed bitch finally catches on… and for some reason doesn’t kill him instantly but shoots him in the arm and gives him a scolding, because yeah, that’s the Savior way. I know Dwight’s supposed to have plot armor because he does have a role later on, but come on.

We briefly go back to Eugene, who’s already made arrangements for Gabriel and the doctor to escape to the Hilltop to help Maggie with the pregnancy. Again, this makes zero sense. For one thing, it’s too little, too late. For another, doesn’t he know about Negan’s plan for Maggie? Has all of Negan’s lieutenants forgotten about that part? I seem to remember complaining about the repetition. And how is it okay with Eugene if Negan kills Rick, who saved his life on numerous occasions, but he’ll betray Negan for Maggie? I’m so tired of these goddamn inconsistencies!

Meanwhile, at the Kingdom, this new development seems to have lit a fire under Ezekiel’s ass. He blows up several barrels of gas and the explosion creates enough of a diversion for his people to fight their way out of their hostage situation as he pulls up in a school bus to pick them all up. I liked how all the deliberate shots of the muslim gal who used to be scared of Shiva paid off when she clocked the Savior and took his gun as she fled. However, it’s not a total win: as soon as he lets his people go, he locks the gate and sacrifices himself to give them time to escape. I could argue that it’s a bit too on the nose, given his whole tirade that he’s not really their king a few episodes back and his ‘and yet I smile’ grin as Gavin and his men are closing in, but it’s consistent with his character and actually gave me the feels. And even though I know what Ezekiel’s most likely fate will be, the shot of Morgan listening in from the other side of the wall gives me a bit of hope that maybe our dreadlocked Shakespeare-touting King might not be as good as dead just yet. (Also, there’s a much bigger death coming up, so could it be that Ezekiel is spared?)

At the Hilltop, Maggie marches in and decides that the box they brought back to bury poor old whatshisname will have a different occupant after all: she shoots the asshole savior who tried to attack Jesus, and I would cheer except the obvious choice should have been Jared the douche. It’s a no-brainer, Maggie!

After the shootout outside Alexandria, Dwight is still crouching behind a car when Daryl and the girls show up. Everyone gives him the stinkeye but eventually help him up when he tells them he sabotaged the barricade – but not before Daryl yanks his vest off of him, which was a cool moment. Still, very inconsistent: Daryl and Tara were adamant about killing basically every last one of the Saviors mere hours ago, they swore to kill Dwight once this was over, but now that the whole plan has gone to shit and they have their shot at Dwight, who has outlived his usefulness, they decide to spare his life. Again, I get it, plot armor and all that, but jeez, writers, could you at least make it a bit more plausible? Anyway, they go down the sewers to meet up with the others, but Michonne has a different idea. She replaces the manhole cover and off she goes. Not the first WTF moment of the episode, and definitely not the last.

Also roaming around Alexandria: Rick, who’s stupid enough to expect Carl, Judith and Michonne to still be inside the house even though EVERYONE else is already gone and the town is going up in flames. Seriously? And how did he get back? Ugh, does it even matter? He goes inside the house, where we already know Negan is lying in wait (and probably finishing his plate of spaghetti) and they have themselves a little brawl – his second one of the day, after that shitshow at the junkyard. Still, he manages to overpower Negan long enough to grab Lucille, and INEXPLICABLY doesn’t bash his head in but goes for the jaw. With the wrong end of the bat. WTF, Rick? How does he NOT take a swing at him? I’d be going into full rant mode right here except this isn’t even the biggest WTF moment of the week. Plus, I loved the callback to Jadis with Rick’s “you ever shut the hell up?” line, and at least Rick managed to escape, so there’s that. Michonne takes her frustrations out on a random Savior and eventually catches up with Rick.

And then we get the requisite montage to bookend the episode, because of course we need useless close ups of all the main players. I don’t even mind at this point – at least this elicits some emotional response other than outrage.

Finally, Rick and Michonne find their way back to everyone waiting in the tunnels, and it would have been a laughably bad scene except for the hilarious expressions Rick manages as he eyes all the faces. I liked that Daryl was keeping his head down, I loved the look Rick shot at Tara (I’ve been looking at her stupid mug the same way for several seasons now) and his confusion over Sadiq – who actually has a cot to sit on while everyone else is on the floor! And then he reaches Carl, who doesn’t look so hot, and it’s the biggest WTF moment yet: he lifts his shirt to reveal a walker bite, which frankly looks more like an actual human bite because apparently THIS was the instance Nicotero decided to rein in the gore.

It was definitely shocking, I gotta give them that. It could have worked, too: I liked Rick’s speechlessness – too tired and devastated to even react to the terrible news – and I appreciate the effort in the last shot, as the camera pans out to show the light coming in from the manhole framing Carl in an almost angel-like shot.

Except it’s such total bullshit that I can’t even begin to express how stupid this whole thing is. Wasn’t this whole story supposed to be about Carl? Isn’t that what Kirkman has said all along? Isn’t Carl still alive and kicking in the comics? Then again, Kirkman also said he made a mistake when he killed Abraham off in the comics because “he was the soldier and they were about to wage war” and then he just turned around and killed him off in the show anyway, so yep, inconsistent comes to mind. So unless Chandler Riggs wanted to be written off the show, I can’t for the life of me imagine what the hell is going on in Gimple’s head. Is this supposed to be the “big surprise” they were promoting on Talking Dead? Not so much a surprise as an ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? 

What’s even more stupid is the way it happened: yes, Carl seemed doomed all episode long, yes, he offered himself up to Negan, so I guess in that sense, the foreshadowing paid off. Except no one really believed Carl would die, because, you know, KIRKMAN. So what exactly happened? Well, apparently Carl was bitten the previous day, when he helped Sadiq clear those walkers. He knew he was a dead man walking when he offered to die so no one else had to; that’s why he left his dad a note, that’s why he was stumbling about as he was headed towards the sewers. And that’s why we got that awkward opening scene, which still doesn’t make sense because the timeline is so disjointed.

And to die a wimpy death by way of walker bite? Carl deserved better, Gimple. To be honest, I’d be a lot more mad if I actually still gave a crap about the show. At this point, they might just as well kill off all the main characters and reboot it with new ones because I’m not sure I want to continue watching. The writing is bad already, and if Gimple is about to take over FTWD as showrunner as well, then I don’t even want to imagine how much worse TWD will become when he starts spreading himself thin over both shows. It’s already lost half its audience since the Season 6 finale debacle, and it only seems to be going downhill from there.

You make me sad, TWD. This sure isn’t “how it’s gotta be”.