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The Walking Dead - Wrath - Review - "Recap Ready for Season Nine!"

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The Walking Dead returns Sunday night with the usual repeat of the season leading up to it, so it seemed like the perfect time to look back at the finale and speculate on what could be waiting for us this season. One thing that is clear is that there’s been a major shake-up on the show with Andrew Lincoln (Rick) and Lauren Cohen (Maggie) both leaving after the first half of the season. Angela Kang moves into showrunner position with Scott Gimple moving up to be Head of Content for the TWD franchise. There’s also a time jump of about a year and a half, much like the comics after “All Out War.” Whatever happens, I’m betting this will be a very different show. It’s also clear from the falling ratings that the show was due for a shake-up, but I doubt that losing Rick – especially after losing Chandler Riggs’ Carl – was not the best choice…

First, let’s look back at “Wrath.” The episode was written by Scott Gimple, Angela Kang, and Matthew Negrete and was directed by Greg Nicotero. There were some truly outstanding performances from Andrew Lincoln, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Lauren Cohen, and Josh McDermitt. I loved the structure of the episode that is bookended by Rick – and Carl’s – memory. Let’s dig in…

The episode begins with Rick’s voiceover and a flashback to him walking in the country with a young Carl. He remembers what it was like to be “normal,” to be a good person and father. Mirrors were a great running theme in this season, and we see Rick pause from looking after baby Grace to see himself in the mirror. I love these moments when Rick realizes how far he’s come from his own self-image and the image that Carl had of him.

Rick is interrupted by Siddiq (Avi Nash) who’s brought a bottle for the baby. Rick finally asks Siddiq how “it” happened. He tells Rick about his mother’s belief that the souls of the walkers are trapped until they are killed and that killing them allows the living to move on to the afterlife. It’s a perfect metaphor here for moving past the death of Carl to an “after life” – and the one that Carl envisioned.

      Siddiq sums up Carl’s death as paying respect to a woman he never knew. Siddiq tells Rick, “All that’s left of the people we lose is, or was theirs, are their ideas.” Rick thanks Siddiq. It’s clear both feel guilty over Carl’s death – as they should. If Rick had stuck to the beliefs of his better self, he would have welcomed Siddiq when they found him and Carl would not have had to go back and win his trust. If Siddiq had considered how dangerous what they were doing was maybe he would have stopped Carl.

Everyone is getting ready, and Henry (Macsen Lintz) tells Carol (Melissa McBride) that they are going to win – and Carol agrees! He asks her if she’ll come back to the Kingdom, but she’ll only tell him maybe. Ezekiel (Khary Peyton) is also back to being optimistic, telling Jerry (Cooper Andrews) it’s a fine morning if it to be their last – Jerry insists that he’s not accepting shit! And they’re not losing shit! They are adorable together!

Daryl (Norman Reedus), Maggie, Michonne (Danai Gurira), Carol, Rosita (Christian Serratos), and Rick discuss tactics. Maggie thinks that Gregory (Xander Berkeley) is telling the truth, but Daryl is suspicious because he suspects Dwight (Austin Amelio) of setting them up – which will hopefully work in their favor as he did so unwittingly.

They are distracted by Morgan (Lennie James) who is clearly losing it. Carol goes after him and barely stops him from skewering Henry. Even though Alden (Callan McAuliffe) has been out with the other Savior prisoners leading the walkers away to make it easier for them to deploy, Maggie refuses to let them actually fight. She insists that he and the others aren’t “us.”

      Rick tries to get Morgan to stay behind. Morgan tells Rick that they are worse than they were. He tells Rick it’s because they’ve lost everything that they had that was good. Morgan sees their only purpose left is keeping others alive. Rick tries to insist that they haven’t lost everything yet, but Morgan insists that they have and that they can’t go back.

As our core group leave the Hilltop, we get a close up of Rick and Michonne holding hands. Morgan is wrong. Rick has a very good reason for trying to find that goodness within himself again – he still has something and someone to live for and be better for.

At the Sanctuary, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) has Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) in tow, and both see that Dwight has been beaten – and is in the “prisoner” garb last worn by Daryl. Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) points out how far Daryl has fallen before having Laura (Lindsley Register) “load him up.”

Eugene informs Negan that he’s “personally” inspected all the bullets he’s made for him. He hands Negan a gun and tells him to take a test run. It’s another sign of how much Negan trusts Eugene that he hands him Lucille and turns his back to shoot at the straw dummy wearing a t-shirt that says Rick. The bullets work flawlessly…

Negan checks that Eugene knows the plan. Eugene has actually requested a “ride along!” He knows that the plan is for the Saviors to wipe everyone out in an all out shoot out. Negan asks if Eugene really wants to see “that” – ie all his former friends killed. Eugene tells him that it’s more of a “need to” thing, and Negan is impressed. Even knowing the ending, it is pretty amazing that Eugene has an out to avoid having to be there and doesn’t take it… Negan tells Gabriel to tag along so that he can confess.

We get a voiceover of Negan’s “confession” as we see people taking up positions. His first “confession” is that he just sent Lance (Colin Dennard) and his followers out to set up a roadblock, knowing they would be killed by Rick and company. It’s all in service of the overall plan to make them think that Gregory was telling the truth. We watch as Rick and company easily kill them. Negan lays out the real trap for Gabriel. And of course, Morgan kills the only survivor after he gives up – not that he knows the truth anyway. Meanwhile, Morgan is taunted by the ghost of Jared (Joshua Mikel). And of course, Rick finds the map and acts accordingly.

Gabriel is shocked. He asks if Negan’s confession is that he’s going to kill everyone. He’s confused because before he thought that Negan didn’t want to do that. Negan tells him that it’s not about “want” and it never was. When Laura swerves to miss a walker, Gabriel takes advantage of the slight drop in speed to jump out of the moving vehicle. The others stop, of course, but Gabriel gets up and takes off into the woods.

Eugene grabs a gun and really moves to get in the forefront of those chasing Gabriel. Laura kills the walker that’s about to kill Gabriel, and Eugene gets right in his face with his gun. It’s telling that he’s so angry at Gabriel for putting himself in danger – because Eugene has his own plan that he hopes will save them both. And Eugene asks Gabriel where his faith goes when he really needs it. Negan interrupts and it looks like he’s about to kill Gabriel anyway – but then has Gabriel loaded back into the car.

As the others make their way to the fight, Jesus (Tom Payne) tries to talk to Morgan. Jesus points out that killing people to keep people safe isn’t safe for Morgan himself – and might not even be safe for those he’s trying to keep safe. He points out that Morgan can stop people without killing them. It’s clear that he’s not just talking about the physical danger to Morgan but also the mental and spiritual price that he pays by killing. Jesus proposes that Morgan use the pointed end of his stick for the dead and the rounded end for the living. I loved Carol listening in and saying that she’s starting to like Jesus! She’s made it to this point herself.

The group pauses on top of a hill and see a huge herd of walkers in the distance – bigger than anything anyone has ever seen. Rick remarks that “things are changing.” His words are prophetic. The world of The Walking Dead is changing – as I’ve already alluded to in the introduction to this review…

Back at Hilltop, the Saviors arrive and Kal (James Chen) sounds the alarm. The show nicely escalates the action and intensifies it by splitting the action between the Hilltop and Negan springing his trap on Rick. Negan taunts them and tells them that Eugene, Dwight, and Gabriel are with him. He also lets them know that Dwight didn’t betray them – of course, putting Dwight in the A costume is a great way to underscore that he’s lost his position.

It’s one of the beautiful moments in the show when it looks like our Survivors are about to be wiped out. They are stuck in the hollow and Negan’s people all come over the ridge – so Cowboy-classic! And then, when they shoot – all the guns explode in their faces and they topple like dominoes! There’s a moment of stunned silence, and then Rick calls the charge.

Negan’s hand is badly injured, but he’s too furious at Eugene to care. Before he can go after Eugene, Gabriel sucker punches him. It’s Gabriel, however, so he doesn’t do much damage. Negan gets Lucille but only drives her into Gabriel’s stomach before Dwight is there and stops him. Negan then takes off before the others crest the hill.

Hilltop clears out and heads for the rendez vous – with Enid (Katelyn Nacon) carrying a screaming Grace. Tara (Alanna Masterson) is going to stay behind to slow down the Saviors by herself, but Alden won’t let her stay alone. He calls back the rest of the freed Saviors to help and tells her that they’re with her even if she’s not with them. She arms them. It’s a big moment for her as it shows that she’s moved past having to find revenge for Denise – something that started with Dwight.

Regina (Traci Dinwiddie) is about to get Eugene, but he shoots her in the leg. Before the others can get to him, Rosita is there and kills them.

Morgan freezes until Jesus prompts him to help as Jesus ties up one of the Saviors. Then Morgan hesitates just as he’s about to kill one of the Saviors. Jesus reminds him he doesn’t have to. Morgan knocks the Savior unconscious instead, and Jesus tells him they’ll clean up now.

Tara is about to open fire on the Saviors when they suddenly burst into flame! Oceanside is there with Molotov cocktails!

Laura and the other Saviors who are still alive surrender. Maggie is unsure of what to do – she still has a lot of pent up rage. However, Siddiq and Michonne are right there with her – both reminders of Carl.

Meanwhile, Rick goes after Negan, and we find ourselves at the weird tree with stained glass hanging from it – under which we’ve seen a wounded Rick. We’ll give them a pass for the shadows being all wrong – it must have taken days to shoot this final scene. The fight between Rick and Negan is as brutal as we expected. Negan reveals that his killing Abraham was a choice – not random. He taunts Rick with the fact that he didn’t want to kill Rick in front of his kid – but he regrets the choice now because Carl might still be alive if he’d killed Rick. It’s possible that he’s not wrong.

Rick tries to convince Negan that he’s beat, but Negan is sure he will still get out of it – he always does. Rick begs for 10 seconds – for Carl – to explain how he can make things better. Lincoln and Morgan are both fantastic in this moment. Rick tells Negan that it doesn’t have to be a fight anymore – that was Carl’s vision. But Negan at first insists that he was wrong, but as we watch, Negan’s face crumples and Morgan clearly conveys how tired Negan is of fighting and how much he wants it to stop – his own grief at what he’s done and become clearly seen upon his face.

And then Rick seems to prove how far he’s come from the man he was and the man Carl wanted him to be, and he slashes Negan’s throat – with a piece of the stained glass – “stained” and supposed to be associated with a church. The window itself is dirty – like Rick’s soul. Negan taunts him that Carl didn’t know a damn thing – and Rick flashes back to the pastoral scene from the beginning of the episode.

We get another one of Andrew Lincoln’s brilliant performances as we get a close up of his face and bloody hand. He’s appalled at what he’s done – and then he turns and it’s so much worse – his people and the Saviors are all there. Watching. Bearing witness. Maggie and Michonne are front and center – and diametrically opposed to Rick’s command to save Negan. Maggie wants vengeance for Glenn while Michonne holds her back.

Rick echoes the sentiment that’s run throughout the season: “there’s got to be something after.” And really, that’s what they’ve been looking for since the beginning of the series. Rick tells those with their hands up to put them down. He tells them that they are all going home now. Negan may be alive but his way of doing things is dead. Those who would live in peace and fairness, find common ground are welcome. The living must stand together against the dead. The real work is about to begin because “there’s got to be something after.”

Rosita confirms with Eugene that the guns exploding was him deliberately sabotaging the bullets – inspired by Gabriel. He also tells her that what she said to him – before he vomited on her! – was also why he did it. And then she punches him for puking on her!

Morgan gives his armor to Carol to give to Henry. He tells her to tell Henry that he’ll be ok. She asks if he will be, and he tells her that he’s going to try – and then he’s off to Fear the Walking Dead

We focus again on the close up of Rick’s eyes – and we are under the tree – with the scene completely recontextualized by what’s just transpired.

At the Hilltop, we see that Dwight is there. Alden tells Maggie that the rest of the guys are going back to the Sanctuary to try to make it something else, but he was never meant to be there. He’s been reading The Key to the Future, and he tells her that he can build things – he can make some of the things in the book real for the people at the Hilltop. He wants to make it his life’s work – a life she gave him. Maggie relents and tells him ok.

Tara and Rosita show up at the Sanctuary to help them put it back together. There’s a nice moment of acknowledgement between Rosita and Laura.

Daryl takes Dwight out to the woods. He knows why he’s there. He knows what he did – and he’s ready to pay. He doesn’t try to excuse anything he did – even though we know there are some excuses. He tells Daryl he’s sorry. But Daryl’s not there to kill him. Daryl gives Dwight the truck keys and tells him to go and make it right – but if he ever sees him again, he’ll kill him. His last words to him are “to find her.” Aw. Daryl is a romantic at heart – he knows Dwight was protecting Sherry.

At the junkyard, Jadis – now Anne – (Pollyanna McIntosh) is reading a book when there’s a knock on the door from a friend of Rick’s from Alexandria – it’s Morgan. He tells her that Rick says she can come back to the community if she wants to. He explains that Rick is building something and needs all the hands that he can get. Morgan tells her that she doesn’t want to be alone: “People. Everything is about people. Everything in this life that’s worth a damn.” Anne goes to get her things, and Morgan tells her that he’s staying because he needs to be alone. It’s another conundrum as Jesus would say.

We get a few “happy endings.” Dwight goes back to the house and finds a note. Carol smiles as she rides into the Kingdom with Henry, Jerry, and Ezekiel. Gabriel gives thanks in the burnt out Church that he can see – and that he “knows now.”

Back at the Hilltop, Maggie agrees that Jesus was right about not killing the Saviors and so was Rick. But Rick was wrong about Negan. She’s talking to Jesus. She tells Jesus that they need to make the Hilltop work better for the people there and that they need the ability to defend themselves. Jesus agrees that they will. Then, she goes on… Rick and Michonne – were both wrong, so they are going to bide their time, and wait for their moment and then they are going to show them. Daryl is also there and the three seem completely on board with this horrible twist. I absolutely hated this development, and it feels completely out of character for all three characters. I can possibly see Daryl and Maggie still blinded by their hatred of Negan – but Jesus? WTF?

We get a closeup of Negan’s face waking up in hospital with Michonne telling him that they know he’s awake. He doesn’t have to open his eyes yet, but they are going to make him watch. Rick tells him it’s not about who he killed. I loved that both Michonne and Rick are off camera and we remain looking at Negan as his eyes slowly open – and then the cameral pulls back.

They tell him that they are all going to work together to build Carl’s dream – something better. Negan will have a part to play too. He’ll be an example. They won’t kill him or hurt him. But he will rot in a cell for the rest of his life. Keeping him alive proves that things have changed and there can be a better way.

And finally, we get a letter from Rick to Carl as we once again circle back to the pastoral scene from the beginning. He tells Carl that he remembers. He’d forgotten who he was, but Carl made him remember – the feeling of walking with Carl and feeling like he knew himself for the first time. Even though they were walking side by side, Carl was bringing him somewhere. Carl was bringing all of them to the new world. Carl made it real. He sees it and he remembers. It was a satisfying tribute that made Carl’s death mean a lot more. I still think it was a stupid move on the part of the show – and the ratings would support this conclusion, but at least Rick has made it to the new world.

This was a really good season finale. Very satisfying in many ways, but not the best ever for me. Andrew Lincoln, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Lauren Cohen, and Josh McDermitt were the standouts for me performance-wise. I absolutely hate this stupid conspiracy between Maggie, Jesus, and Daryl. It seems like a stupid way to build tension to split up our core group. My biggest hope for this season is that they let Rick and Maggie ride off into the sunset somehow or another. It seems unlikely that Rick will willingly leave Michonne and Judith behind, however. And what about Maggie and her baby? We will be getting that time jump too. Maybe both go off in the mysterious helicopter? I know that is the sort of theory that is floating around. One thing is pretty much for sure – if the show kills off one or both of them, the ratings are going to keep falling. I will admit to being excited about seeing Jesus and Aaron (Ross Marquand) get more to do – possibly together?

What did you think of the finale? Hopes and fears for the new season? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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