‘The Walking Dead’ Season 8 finale recap

It’s a trap! Inside a trap!

The war between the Alexandrians and the Saviors – a story that has consumed AMC’s “The Walking Dead” for more than two seasons – is finally, mercifully, over. Rick defeated Negan in single combat. The Saviors surrendered, and Rick welcomed them and offered them a place in the new world. A world that his dead son inspired him to build.

The season-eight finale was titled “Wrath” but it was really about mercy. It was about little mercies – Maggie accepting Alden into the confederation, Morgan trying not to be a killing machine, Daryl letting Dwight go – and big ones.

Most of this season’s all-out war has revolved around these themes of mercy. There was the whole debate between Jesus and Maggie about whether or not to kill prisoners, and of course there was Carl’s vision of a better world. For most of the season, it certainly didn’t seem like Rick shared that vision. Not until the very end.

So, here’s the setup: Dwight sent what he thought was Negan’s battle-plan to Rick. Only it wasn’t Negan’s plan, it was a ruse to get Rick and his Alexandrians to walk into a trap he set. Negan was building up a huge armaments cache, directed by his top lieutenant, Eugene Porter. Eugene has appeared to be a man possessed, a savior among Saviors. He works his crew triple-time to give Negan the weapons advantage he wants.

Rick gets the faux battle-plan, and launches his own assault, thinking he’ll surprise Negan. The advance team that leaves Hilltop includes Rick, Michonne, Jesus, Ezekiel, Jerry, Daryl, Rosita, and Morgan. That is a formidable fighting force.

Morgan, though, is going to be a problem. He’s pretty much back to the Morgan of “Clear,” the one who thought it was for some reason his job to kill people. Morgan has vacillated from his earlier extreme of complete pacifism, to the other extreme of ruthless violence. He kills a savior by gutting him with his staff and then slitting his throat. It’s a fast, ruthless move. Even the ghost of Jared is impressed by it. Yes, Morgan is seeing ghosts. He has truly gone insane.

Morgan’s tenuous grasp on sanity is as realistic as anything you’ll see on this show. You really think you’d stay sane in a world where most people were flesh-craving zombies? Of course not. You’d be stark raving mad. The reality of it would overwhelm your consciousness. But it makes for tedious viewing. Morgan is a great character,

Negan leads Rick and the Alexandrians exactly where he wants them, to a open field. They are surrounded, and Negan is doing his usual thing, which means vaunting over his trapped quarry. Yes, he’s going to kill them all, but he wants them to hear about it first. Then he orders his people into position, up on a crest, where they can just cut down Rick and everybody.

Only, it doesn’t happen. When the Saviors open fire, something goes haywire on their weapons, every single one of them. Only later will we learn what caused it: Eugene Porter. Eugene was inspired by an act of sabotage that Gabriel committed earlier, and makes sure that every single bullet is built to jam or blow up the gun firing it. Eugene, in effect, set a trap for Negan within Negan’s trap for Rick.

Ratings for the season 8 finale of ‘The Walking Dead’ were the lowest for a season finale of the show since 2012

Now the Alexandrians turn the tables on the Saviors. It’s not much of a fight, actually. One side is armed, the other isn’t. Negan runs off, chased of course by Rick. They end up by a tree on a hillside, one with two stained-glass windows hanging off branches. If you recall, it’s the same tree Rick was seen under in the season premiere, the one that was titled “Mercy.”

They fight, and the only reason question, even when it appears that Negan is going to prevail, is whether or not Rick will ultimately kill Negan. Rick starts babbling something about building a new world, about the vision his son had. It sounds like nonsense, really; why would Negan buy for a second that Rick wants anything but to kill him? Negan admits he made a mistake: that he should have killed Rick instead of Abraham way back in the woods. But he didn’t want to kill a son’s father right in front of him. Even Negan, it seems, has a softer side. So he just bludgeoned Abraham, and then Glenn.

Rick talks just enough to distract Negan. Actually, for a second, it looks like Negan was about to shed a tear or something. He actually did have a soft spot for Carl. Well, that’s all Rick needs. He’s holding a shard of glass, and uses it to slice Negan’s neck. It doesn’t kill him, but it fells him.

“My mercy prevails over my wrath,” Rick said in the premiere (well, actually, he says it after this fight is over, but you get the point), and now Rick does show mercy. He promises any of the Saviors that if they want to be part of the new world he’s going to build, they can be. The enemy is out there, he says, pointing to a massive herd, bigger than any of them have ever seen, far off on the horizon. We imagine that will be a problem for season nine.

Then Rick saves Negan’s life, which sets Maggie Rhee off. She wanted her husband’s killer dead. She doesn’t want to hear about mercy, or new worlds, or any of that. She wants Negan dead. And later, after it’s all over, she pledges to do exactly that.

Rick was right, of course. The alternative would have been to butchered scores of people, the surrendering Saviors. It’s the issue Jesus made a stand about. We see Rick back in burned-out Alexandria, reading a letter he wrote to Carl. There’s a sweet flashback, back to a day when Officer Grimes was walking down a country road with his young son (we see Carl only from behind). Carl was always Rick’s driving force, the reason Rick kept going. Even after he’s dead, the son is still inspiring the father.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes – The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 16 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

All that’s left of the people we lose, Siddiq said to Rick, are their ideas. Rick lost his son, but he still has his son’s ideas, and that is what’s going to keep driving him.

Of course, there’s also that massive herd off on the horizon.

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