Be warned! This review will cover aspects of the episode. Spoilers will lurk like groaning walkers…
Oh my god! They killed Cooraal! You bast… Okay, we knew this was going to happen the minute Rick and Michonne discovered the prone younger Grimes in the tunnels, a nasty walker bite in his side and a haunted look in his eyes. And Honor was certainly about giving Carl a swan song, with a happy pre-mortem montage and several of the other characters offered the opportunity to tell him how much they love him. The Best Goodbye trophy goes to Danai Gurira (naturally), who summons supernatural levels of grief without ever overplaying it. Team Dead opted to make this a very different season opener, swapping (for the most part) the usual spectacle for a long goodbye punctuated by the odd moment of Morgan’s bloody vengeance (more on that later). It had a few worthy moments, but sank back into the misrerabilist tone the show reaches for more often than not these days. And yes, we know: it’s a post-apocalyptic world at war, there aren’t going to be many happy storylines.
Credit to writers Matthew Negrete and Channing Powell and usual premiere director Greg Nicotero for not making it a total bore, but Carl has never been the most compelling character and it felt a little disingenuous for him to be spouting wisdom on his death bed. At least it resolved one mystery: the visions of a bearded Rick happy in Alexandria turned out to be Carl’s hope for the future, one which saw even the likes of Eugene and Negan given a second chance. Yeah, not sure we see that totally coming true, kid, but at least it gives Rick something to aim towards… At least until he decides to be Angry Grimes again. “It’s not supposed to be like this… I know it can be better,” feels like the show speaking for itself through the characters.
When we weren’t watching Carl slowly fade away, the show followed Carol and Morgan head to the Kingdom and an attempt to rescue Ezekiel. And though they were successful, there was a tough price to be paid – mostly the cost of Morgan’s humanity. The former pacifist really has swung in the other direction, hunting down Saviors in a manner that would make a Terminator blanch. It was both a disturbing turn for the character (and well acted by Lennie James) and the series being less than subtle about characters’ actions informing the decisions they’ve made about how they want to approach this world. He tore some guy’s guts out! Frankly, the scene with Carol and Morgan attacking the Saviors in Ezekiel’s former throne room veered a little too much into action movie territory… At least until that shock with Morgan’s kill.
An episode of two halves then – neither of them as satisfying as they might have been and never quite worthy of the extended running time. Still, there was some value to be found in Carl’s demise and Morgan’s descent into murderous stalking was an interesting, dark turn for the character, albeit one we could’ve seen coming from quite some distance. The focus on Carl dying, with the Tinkly Piano Of Sadness felt a little overdrawn, even as the scenes of a scared, defeated Alexandria crowd hiding in the tunnels as their home imploded above them were effective, in a London-in-the-Blitz style.
And is it wrong for us to have enjoyed the fact that the only Negan appearance in the episode was as Kind Uncle Negsy in the fantasy flash-forward? We almost want to see more of that, just so that Jeffrey Dean Morgan has a different shade of the man to play.
Highlight: Killer Morgan.
Lowlight: Yet more long speeches from characters, especially Carl.
Kill of the week: Morgan’s ripping yarn.
Quote of the week: “It was all for you, Carl.” Which rather put us in mind of this.
Zombie of the week: Carl! Just kidding. To stop that happening, he shot himself in the head. No, the walker trapped near Carol’s place was a fine example of the series’ impressive special effects makeup work.
MVP: Michonne, for her reaction to Carl’s passing.
The big question: Rick’s final scene – now we know those times we’ve seen him with stained glass are the man sitting under a tree with a nasty wound. And so we have our new mystery… How did he get there?
Read this season’s previous reviews below…
[The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 2: The Damned
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC in the States and Mondays at 9pm on Fox.