After a lackluster first half of season 8, The Walking Dead’s mid-season finale, “How it’s Gotta Be,” delivers an emotional, intense, and exciting episode, despite a few flaws. Pacing, odd writing decisions, and annoying recurring themes have haunted the series this season, but the final episode before the show’s annual winter break aims to fix some of those issues. While one episode isn’t able to “save” the season, it’s a step in the right direction for the show. The Walking Dead is at its best when delivering powerful character moments and surprises – with surprises being difficult to pull off as fans of the comic series usually know how things are going to go, at least somewhat. “How it’s Gotta Be” shines in these aspects, but stops short of greatness due to, again, pacing and strange writing.
*Episode Spoilers Ahead*
One of my main gripes this season, which I haven’t touched on much, is the pacing and timing of the show in general. It’s really hard to tell how much time is passing between episodes, but we’re lead to believe most of the season thus far has happened over one day, and with the most recent episode, one night. But that just doesn’t feel right. How are the Saviors running low on supplies after only one day? How has this much stuff happened in such a short amount of time? “How it’s Gotta Be” does nothing to clear things up in this regard, but ultimately towers above the rest of this season’s front half.
After last week’s strike on the Sanctuary by Daryl, Tara, Morgan, and friends, the Saviors are out for blood. Three different teams of Saviors butt heads with each of the communities, ready to exact revenge, punish, and put them in their places. At the Kingdom, we finally see Ezekiel break out of his funk after Saviors show up saying they’ll be cracking down heavily on the Kingdom, and that things will get pretty brutal if King Ezekiel isn’t given up. Thankfully, Ezekiel isn’t going to take this lying down, as he causes a distraction and ultimately allowes himself to be taken prisoner for the greater good of his subjects. We witness Carol attempting to talk Ezekiel out of this, but to no avail, and we also see Morgan arrive back at the Kingdom. At this point in each season, it’s normal to have cliffhangers in almost all of the current storylines, but I wish this particular one could have been a bit more fleshed out.
In a total “Huh?” side story, Aaron and Enid go on a late night drive (the whole episode takes place in one night, from different points of view) back to good old Oceanside. Remember them from last season? I kind of forgot about them, but Aaron decides they need to ask for some help. Aaron and Enid share a really good moment in the car on the way, and it was nice to see both of them opening up and actually having something to do, but this just seems like an odd plan. I hope it pans out and delivers an exciting story in the season’s back end. We don’t spend much time with Aaron and Enid, so yet another loose thread is left hanging when we witness Enid shoot Oceanside’s matriarch, killing her and saving Aaron. It’s going to be interesting seeing what happens here, but this is a story involving characters that don’t get much screen time to develop themselves, and a group that a few of us may have forgotten even existed.
Eugene also finally decides to do the right thing by coming to his senses and agreeing to help Father Gabriel and Maggie’s doctor escape; we just never get to actually see it. Eugene is having a hard time sleeping at night, downing shots of booze to try to alleviate his feelings of guilt, so this was a decision many of us could see coming from a mile away, but I’m glad it finally happened. Eugene has decided to not go with them, even after Gabriel insists he would be welcomed back. We still don’t know exactly what kind of shape Gabriel is in, but I can’t imagine it will be easy for Doc and Gabriel to make their way back home.
At first, Rick doesn’t have a whole lot to do this week. We only see him in the beginning of the episode, picking up where last week’s left off. Jadis and the trash people abandon him after seeing that the plan had gone to shit and was nothing like Rick said it would be. While I can’t blame them one bit for leaving in a “We didn’t sign up for this!” manner, it’s frustrating, as now the past few episodes involving Rick and the trash people pretty much didn’t matter at all. Why make us go through all that and have it amount to absolutely nothing? I’m hoping this problem is remedied in the season’s second half, but I’d be just as fine with seeing the end of this annoying group as soon as possible.
Back at Alexandria, it was the Carl Grimes Show this week. Negan shows up demanding to be let in the gates and demanding Rick step forward and finally pay for his crimes against the Saviors. Carl decides the best course of action is to evacuate Alexandria, making sure everyone will be safe from Negan’s wrath. Eventually, in an effort to stall so everyone else could escape, Carl speaks with Negan, delivering what is probably one of the best Carl moments we’ve ever gotten in the series. Chandler Riggs gives an excellent performance, and should be commended for his speech asking Negan to kill him if someone has to die. Eventually, Negan and his band of Saviors get inside Alexandria and start burning everything. Houses were burning down and smoke from smoke grenades Carl had been laying down lent an awesome backdrop for this siege. Rick finally makes his way home, looking for Michonne, Carl and Judith, but is taken by surprise when Negan jumps him. This is the first time we’ve seen a real hand-to-hand altercation between Negan and Rick, and though it’s short-lived, it doesn’t disappoint. Rick gets repeatedly hit with Lucille (albeit in non-lethal ways) and is knocked out of a window, escaping. The fight was great, but it left a little something to be desired, which I’m completely okay with as long as this isn’t going to be the only time we see these two really face off.
Immediately after, Rick finds Michonne, who had just turned a Savior into chop suey in an immensely satisfying and much-needed “bad-ass Michonne moment.” Together, they head to the sewers, where Carl had everyone evacuate to take cover. When we get there, Rick is reunited with the Alexandrians, Judith, and Carl – wand Carl reveals he was bitten. This was completely shocking, and though some say they saw this coming, I personally did not. I’m usually pretty good at predicting things when it comes to this show, but this one came out of left field. I’m going to assume Carl was bitten in his scuffle with the walkers a few weeks back when he was helping Siddiq, as that is what makes the most sense. I just really can’t believe they would take Carl off of the show at all, considering he is a character who is still alive and well in the comics. Granted, Chandler Riggs is getting older every season, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that we he won’t be able to continue to play a character of that age for much longer, but I get it. On one hand, I’m not so sure he is really going to die; the bite looks REALLY clean and Carl doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of weakness or turning, plus the media is making a big deal out of this situation, almost as if they want us to believe he’s a goner just to turn around and explain the situation away. Maybe Carl is immune? Maybe he was bitten by a human, kind of like a Whisperer Walker from the comics? I’m not sure, but I could see something playing out this way, because as we all know, The Walking Dead absolutely loves fake-outs. If Carl is indeed done for, it will be sad not only because we’ve watched him grow up for the past eight years, but because Rick and Daryl will be the only two originals from season one left alive.
The Walking Dead offered up a mid-season finale that didn’t give much closure for the current storylines, left a lot of loose threads hanging, and asked more questions than it answered. Despite some of these issues, it was a solid way to close out this half of the season, as “How it’s Gotta Be” gave us some great character moments and a much needed shake-up with the looming death(?) of Carl Grimes.