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The Walking Dead - How It's Gotta Be - Review

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It’s almost time to return to The Walking Dead, and I have to admit that I’ve really been putting off writing my review of “How It’s Gotta Be.” While this was a powerful episode, the performance that Chandler Riggs (Carl) delivered simply underscores to me what a terrible mis-step it is by this show to kill off this character – and lose this tremendous talent. I haven’t wanted to face the last five minutes of this episode. I’ve been waiting for SOME indication that this isn’t really where we’re headed. But all roads seem to point to this being the end of Carl’s journey.

“How It’s Gotta Be” was written by the team of David Leslie Johnson and Angela Kang and was directed by Michael E Satrazemis. It feels very wrong to me that Scott M Gimple hasn’t written Carl’s swan song himself – nor is he up for writing the next episode – “Honor” – presumably, and so we’ve been told, Riggs’ last episode. The only possible hope that I’m still holding out is that in the previews and trailers I’ve seen for what’s coming up, we see Gabriel, who was so very ill, has regained his health. Could it just be a bad flu? Could Dr Carson have a cure??? However, we also see the bite mark on Carl – and really, who else would bite him except a walker? And they can’t find a cure because that would create rather a problem with the show going forward… Let’s honor Chandler Riggs with a close look at the last episode…

The episode opens with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) discovering that his carefully laid plan has somehow unraveled – thank Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Tara (Alanna Masterson) for that! We also begin with the recurring motif this season of a close up of Rick’s eyes – the windows to the soul, right? From there we flash to a conversation that Rick had with Carl after their encounter with Siddiq (Avi Nash). Really, show? You want to break up this chemistry?

We know we are in trouble because it quickly becomes apparent that Carl has become the moral compass – and on this show, the compass always dies. Carl reprimands Rick for not doing more to help Siddiq – and it’s this decision that leads to Carl going back – and getting bitten. Rick’s protectionist policy is going to result directly in Carl’s death. One of the funniest moments in this scene is when Rick actually reprimands Carl for his language! Carl pushes Rick to think about what comes after the fight.

Rick and Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) move in with her people to get a closer look, and the Saviors open fire on them. Jadis runs off with her people leaving Rick pinned down to be rescued by Carol (Melissa McBride) and Jerry (Cooper Andrews). Rick is pretty sure the snipers didn’t get away.

Cut back to Carl and Rick. Carl is adamant that Rick is going to live, and he has to start thinking about why he’s fighting. Carl articulates why they are fighting: “So it’s all of us working together for something more than just killing other people.” Rick makes a joke about picking strawberries with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). But Carl is unrelenting. It has to be about hope – it can’t be just about killing all of them. Finding a way forward is harder, but that’s something more and how it has to be. Out of the mouths of babes, right?

The episode is full of long shots, and from this conversation, we get a montage of closeups of people’s faces that showcase their state of mind – from Rick to a sweaty, pale Carl, to Carol, to Ezekiel (Khary Payton), to Jerry, to Maggie (Lauren Cohen) to a psychotically whistling and smiling Negan. Only Negan is relishing the fight ahead. Rick and Maggie are worried, Ezekiel and Carol both look apprehensive, and Carl… looks sick.

Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Enid (Katelyn Nacon) drive towards Oceanside. Aaron reminisces about taking road trips with Eric, but it’s steeling his resolve that Eric had to have died for a reason. Enid is worried the Oceansiders won’t talk to them. Aaron says they have to avoid frightening them. Enid wishes they’d brought guns for them, but Aaron insists that they have to protect the guns. He then asks her if she wants to drive – if she knows how. She says yes – and laughs – she’s a better driver than Carl – ACK!!! What will it do to Enid when Carl dies?

Enid turns off the road to check something out. She wants to try to give them something they can use. Aaron agrees – they can’t show up empty handed – social graces! And they are apparently heading for a distillery, so clearly bringing a bottle of wine for the hostess!

Back in Alexandria, Michonne (Danai Gurira) has a touching moment with Judith, telling her she’ll be back soon – and will bring Daddy too. FYI, if you haven’t seen Black Panther yet, Gurira is amazing in it! She’s happy to see Daryl back, thinking that he’s abandoned his plan. He tells her that it worked, and she apologizes for not staying to help. Daryl is just glad that it worked… but of course, it didn’t. Another layer of guilt he will have to shoulder going forward.

We see Carl in the house, writing. He’s leaving a note for Dad. Riggs is just so good in this scene. We clearly see the grief of his having to leave Rick – knowing what that may do to his father. But there’s also the underlying sadness of the terminally ill, having to give up his own hold on life. He still has the note from Enid – Just Survive Somehow. A sentiment he’s no doubt hoping he can get his father to hold onto.

Tara goes by Rosita’s (Christian Serratos) and tells her that it worked. Rosita says fine and now they finish it – the way they planned. Rosita stopped at the warehouse on the way back. She didn’t find any weapons, but she did find things that will be useful to redirect the herd afterwards. There’s another little moment of humor as Rosita loads Tara up with the heavy boxes. And carries one herself.

Aaron and Enid have liberated a truck from the distillery and park it and the car, waiting for Oceanside to come to them. After night falls, they hear someone and go to investigate. Natania (Deborah May) gets the drop on Aaron, and Enid shoots her and kills her to save him. They are quickly surrounded by the others with spears, and Cyndie (Sydney Park) is overcome with grief. Hardly the impression they’d hope to make or one that will convince the Oceansiders to join them…

Night has also fallen in Alexandria, and Michonne comes upon Carl just as he’s about to head into the sewer to take Siddiq some supplies. Michonne tells him they are just about to head out, and he tells her that he’s helping a “traveler.” The two are interrupted by Negan’s arrival at the gate – proving that Daryl and Tara were oh, so very wrong.

Negan tells them that they have three minutes to open the gates. He’s going to kill whoever has the lamest excuse – and Rick. They lose. But then they move on. Michonne is clearly freaked out. But Carl takes charge, leading Michonne away as Rick and Carol and Jerry each drive frantically in different directions… until Jerry’s car is hit.

Carl is not the only one writing notes. Ezekiel is still in his theater and has a note – and try as I might, I couldn’t make out who it is from. I’m assuming Jerry, but it seems to say Deuce? Regardless, the note tells his Majesty that the writer had “to bounce” because they promised to be there and he can’t flake – and he wants to be there when they win. Ezekiel’s stage is now devoid of its Kingly attributes as is Ezekiel himself. When he hears noises at the door, he runs and hides.

Jesus (Tom Payne) and Maggie drive back to the Hilltop with Neil (Karl Funk) in the backseat. Jesus wonders if the Saviors will surrender. Maggie says eventually, but points out that they wouldn’t give up immediately either. Jesus and Neil agree they wouldn’t. Maggie points out that they will run out of food, water, and choices soon enough.

Maggie knows immediately that it’s them when there is a tree in the road – it’s exactly what happened the night that Glenn was killed. When she gets no word from the rest of her convoy, another van pulls forward – with Simon’s (Steven Ogg) men and an injured Jerry. They place a coffin on the hood of Maggie’s car – they are ridiculously good at psychological warfare.

In Alexandria, Carl has taken charge and gives the order to make it look like they are escaping into the woods. They have a plan – they just need to follow it. Tara wants to fight, and Rosita backs Carl and says no. Michonne doesn’t want to let them have Alexandria – it’s been the closest thing to a home that she’s had since this all started. But Carl insists that they can – all they have to do is survive the night – and it’s heartbreaking to know that that is ALL he is shooting for. When it looks like Michonne is still hesitating, Carl reminds her that this is HIS show – and they are all going to follow his plan. He even gets Daryl in line!

In the Kingdom, Gavin (Jayson Warner Smith) is telling the inhabitants about their new social arrangements. They will get to keep the very bare minimum of what the produce, and all able bodied men and women will be transferred to the Sanctuary to repair and refurbish it. I think Nabila (Nadine Marissa) is everyone’s favorite new hero. We see her watching Gavin from the crowd and then looking around, clearly waiting for her King…

Jerry clearly can’t help her as he’s at the mercy of Simon – who gives the Hilltop their orders. First up? They have to turn over all of their guns – or watch Jerry be killed.

Back at Alexandria, Negan continues to adore the sound of his own voice. It’s a really well structured sequence that clearly shows how Negan has trained his lieutenants in his image. Negan uses a sound system to hurl threats at Rick, but it’s Carl who appears on top of the wall and tells Negan Rick’s not home. Riggs and Morgan are both amazing in this scene, but Riggs, in the end, steals it. Another reason that I put off reviewing this episode is that it makes me angry that I won’t get to see this wonderful actor on a regular basis – until someone else snaps him up. But will it be a role as good?

Negan continues his brash assault, but Carl quietly tells him that there are families inside, Carl’s own little sister. Riggs almost reminded me of Clint Eastwood here – the talk softly and carry a big stick idea. The fact that people have to pay more attention when you speak quietly too – and Negan does, his demeanor changes as Carl appeals to him as a human being, looking for some kind of common decency. Negan points out that there are kids at the Sanctuary too – and he wonders what happened to baby Grace.

Negan changes tactics. He sympathizes with Carl – none of this is fair – you had to kill your own Mom. Negan tries to justify himself by saying they need someone in charge who will make sure that stuff doesn’t happen. Carl appeals to Negan the same way that he tried to appeal to Rick. He tells him that they can figure it out. Negan, however, points out that Rick was planning to kill him – Rick offered to let his people live, but was determined that Negan had to die.

Carl tells Negan to kill him. And Negan for once is speechless. He’s sure he couldn’t have heard what Carl just said. But Carl says it again – and says if there has to be punishment, he’ll take it. Negan is impressed – but asks, “You want to die?” Carl tells him no, and it’s clear that he really doesn’t want to die – yet he knows that he is dying. But this is a way for his death to have real meaning. It can end “this.” If it can make things different for us – for you – he purposely includes Negan in the group. It is a brilliant tactic, but for Carl, it’s actually how he feels. He has connected with Negan and hasn’t seen him as simply evil the way that Rick has.

Carl presses Negan the same way that he pressed Rick. He asks him if this was his plan. Was it really supposed to be this way – is this who he wanted to be? And again Negan is silent. The moment is broken…

The convoy heads out through the gate that Dwight (Austin Amelio) and Laura (Lindsley Register) were guarding. She wants to re-enforce, but Dwight assures her it will hold – knowing, of course, that it won’t. They give chase to the convoy. And Negan launches his grenades into Alexandria.

Carl falls as he hurries down the ladder – it’s a nice smokescreen – as he lays down a smokescreen – for his weakening state. Alexandria blows up around him as he tries to make his way out…

Gavin wants Ezekiel in order to make an example of him. Once again, Gavin threatens more violence if they don’t give him up, and once again, Gavin is clearly reluctant to have to go there. Interestingly, Gavin echoes Carl when he points out that there are kids there and they don’t need to see this stuff.  Gavin even separates himself from the violence – he calls it “Negan’s way” and gives them five minutes – putting the blame on them for not complying rather than himself for perpetuating the violence.

Maggie wants to know how they got out. Simon dodges the question but tells her that the Kingdom and Alexandria are being brought to heel. He also tells her that it’s her lucky day. The Hilltop has been chosen to keep producing, and because Gregory (Xander Berkeley) made a fool out of him in front of Negan, Simon is putting Maggie in charge. If he thinks he can make her bend to his will, he’s an even worse judge of character than I thought!

When music is heard in the background, Simon tells Maggie that it’s all Eugene’s (Josh McDermitt) ideas. Simon also admits that he was skeptical of Eugene, but now he’s not. It’s clear which side Eugene has chosen. I have to admit that I love the way the writers write Simon’s dialogue, but I also love the relish with which Ogg pulls it off. He lays out how things can go – he kills Jerry, puts Maggie in the coffin, takes her to Hilltop where she’s killed in front of everyone, then takes her head to be put on a spike at the Sanctuary. But that’s a pain in the ass for everyone!

The second choice is to just turn around and go home and tend the crops. Once they kill one of her people, they’re aces. I was really, really worried that we were about to lose Jerry, but in a surprise move, Simon shots Neil right behind Maggie – so she can smell it. Maggie complies, but asks for the box to take Neil home and bury him. Simon gives her the box.

Back at the Sanctuary, no amount of alcohol is helping Eugene sleep. While I really used to like Eugene, I can find little sympathy for the torture his conscience is finally putting him through. McDermitt is – as always – terrific.

Back at Alexandria, we immediately see the difference between the groups. They work together out of a sense of community and family - not fear. Carl is still stunned from almost being blown up, but he’s also dying – it’s still easy to simply assume it’s because he’s hurt – or maybe has that flu that Gabriel has. He smiles when he sees the others return to keep fighting, following his plan. Carl rests on what was his home, just before it too - and a lot of other stuff - is blown up.

A special kudo to the effects team for the atmosphere at the destruction of Alexandria. It perfectly reflects the increasing smoky, fogginess of Carl as he sinks towards death – and the implosion of his world. There’s a beautiful shot – that really has to have been chance – where Carl pauses and in the background a building on fire appears to be a burning cross. Is this a symbol of Carl trying to martyr himself for his people like Christ? Can we possibly see this as a sign that he will be resurrected? Is Rick’s hat, the crown of responsibility and leadership, his own crown of thorns?

Daryl, Tara, Rosita, and Michonne wait in ambush at the side of the road. Tara lies to herself when she tells Daryl that the Saviors didn’t get out because of what they did – it’s clear that Daryl isn’t buying it. Interestingly, Rosita is supportive, telling Tara it’s just a mistake. She made one too in going in with Sasha – maybe Sasha would have just gone herself anyway. Rosita muses that maybe they just needed to let things play out to figure out some stuff. My thought here though is at what cost? They haven’t lost their lives, but others have.

They are waiting for Negan’s people, and Dwight leads the right in – even though Laura tries to stop him. The others are killed and during the fire fight, Laura draws on Dwight and shoots him. She’s figured out that he’s the mole. She gets away as the fighting continues.

Negan enters Alexandria and tells his followers to find Carl and tie him up – but they are not to kill him. They are to blow up every other house – and I was sure if that meant all the other houses or like the even numbered ones… Negan sets off for Rick’s house to make spaghetti, and he tells his followers to send Rick to him when he arrives. Carl is limping along and it looks like he’s caught, but he lays down another smoke bomb and gets into the sewer.

Eugene decides to help Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) carry out his mission to get Dr Karson (R Keith Harris) back to Hilltop to look after Maggie – and the baby to come. I loved it when Eugene said he’d taken care of a guard and Karson seems impressed that he killed a guard. But of course, that’s not Eugene’s forte – instead, he’s dosed the guy with laxative – and he’s currently indisposed!

Gabriel wants to know why, and Eugene tells him he wanted to sleep that night. Gabriel recognizes a guilty conscience when he sees one. He tells Eugene to come with them – the others will take him back. Eugene clearly considers it, but he’s a realist if a coward, and knows that it’s unlikely they can forgive him. Eugene “drops” the keys to a vehicle outside the unguarded northside gate… Gabriel tells him he’s doing the right thing. Eugene insists that that assessment is relative, but Gabriel insists that it isn’t.

At the Kingdom, Ezekiel sets off the fuel barrels as a diversion and drives up with a school bus to give them cover. Gavin won’t let one of the Saviors kill Ezekiel – Negan wants him alive. Nabila throat punches one of the Saviors and takes his gun! Carol meets her outside the gate and tells her to get the others to safety in her house down the road.

When Carol gets to the gate, Ezekiel shuts it in her face, telling her to save the others the way that she saved him. He chains the gates together with Shiva’s chain. Carol yells at him no. Gavin knocks him down and takes him.

Maggie returns to the Hilltop and she’s furious. She goes to the compound and has Dean (Adam Fristoe) taken out because he’s the one who tried to kill Jesus. She borrows Kal’s (James Chen) gun. Dillon (Callan McAuliffe) tries to tell her she doesn’t want to do it, and Dean – clearly an idiot to the end – calls her cupcake and tells Dillon to stay out of it – just before Maggie shots him in the head.

Maggie points out that the Saviors killed one of theirs tonight. They aren’t even, but it’s a start. Maggie tells Jesus to put more guards on, bury Neil, and start fortifying the wall. She also tells him to have people tend the crops come morning. She’s preparing for Hilltop to make the last stand. It’s only as she walks away on her own that we see the worry and fear overcome her – but she waits until no one can see her. Cohen is terrific in this entire scene.

Tara, Daryl, Rosita, and Michonne surround Dwight and Tara and Daryl get their rifles right in his face. Dwight points out that they got the convoy out because of him and that he drove the Saviors right into their trap even though he knew what it was. He also tells them that he can’t go back because one of the Saviors got away. Daryl drops his rifle first.

Daryl wants to know it it’s because of what he did with the truck, but Dwight tells him that it was Eugene. Dwight also tells him that he wants them to win and Negan to die. He tells them that they can settle up after. But first, Daryl takes back his vest! Michonne is anxious to get back, and it’s Rosita who helps Dwight up.

Maggie makes good use of the coffin. She puts Dean in it – not Neil – and leaves a message for the Saviors. “We have 38 more. Stand down.” She tells Kal and one of the other Hilltoppers to leave it where the Saviors will find it.

Gavin tells Ezekiel he was sorry about the kid too, but now more people will have to die. He tells him that the people of the Kingdom will look up at the Sanctuary fence and see their King is dead – clearly Ezekiel’s head is destined for one of those spikes. However, Morgan (Lennie James) is listening on the other side of the wall…

Back at Alexandria, Michonne is horrified by the destruction. Dwight tells her that he’s sorry. The others head down into the sewer, but Michonne doesn’t follow them – which turns out to be a good thing.

Rick is also back in Alexandria, and he goes home looking for Carl, Judith, and Michonne, only to be ambushed by Negan and Lucille. Negan keeps up his patter – leading Rick to ask if he ever shuts up! However, Negan goes too far when he mentions Carl – because that spurs Rick on. He manages a couple of good punches. I loved the one where Negan just deadfalls backwards – great fight scene! Rick manages to grab his gun before falling out the window and taking off.

Meanwhile, Michonne is waylaid by one of the Saviors who tells her that it’s all her fault – they’re all dead and she missed it – but she easily skewers him! Rick comes on her as she’s taking her frustration out on the Savior. She leads him to the sewers and they find all their people huddled there, including Judith. We get another series of close ups on eyes: Michonne to Maggie to Jesus – but Rosita won’t look at Rick and Tara does so reluctantly. We flash to Carol and Ezekiel and Morgan. Rick is surprised to see Dwight in the tunnel – and then we flash to Eugene and Gabriel. Daryl is holding Judith but won’t look at Rick. Rick comes face to face with Siddiq and Carl tells him that he brought him there.

And that’s how it happened. Carl clearly looks ill – and he shows Rick and Michonne the bite. Michonne falls to her knees. Carl is resigned – and Rick has no words. It’s a beautiful if horrible and terrible moment for the family. The shot pulls out down the tunnel, leaving Carl in the light with Rick and Michonne. And this is another motif that has recurred throughout the season of a figure – usually in silhouette – in a hallway or tunnel. In this instance it certainly feels like a nod to Carl going into the light.

This was a terrific – if terrible episode. I liked the way the three major storylines played out in parallel with each other. Some truly amazing performances. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s scenes with Chandler Riggs were particularly memorable, but special mention to Lauren Cohen and Danai Gurira as well. But of course, all the love and respect must go to Chandler Riggs. On re-watching this episode, it seems clear that there is no other way to see this bite as anything but fatal.

However, I also stand behind the remark that this is a serious mis-step on the part of the creative team. There are NO storylines about how the characters that deal with this that can make up for what the show is losing with Chandler Riggs. The ratings were halved – and never recovered after Glenn and Abraham were killed. And the audience was prepared for Glenn to die because of the comics. I predict that they will once again lose – permanently another goodly chunk of the audience with Carl’s death, especially because he is still alive in the comics. What do you think? Will you keep watching after Carl dies?? What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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