It seems like a long time ago since Negan batted his way onto our screens, sparking two of the most polarizing seasons of the popular post-apocalyptic TV show. The latest season has been a roller-coaster in terms of critical reception. The show made some of its boldest decisions yet, and not all of them were good. But did the long-awaited conclusion of the All Out War storyline manage to redeem the the past season's mistakes?
In short, this episode was okay. The second half of season 8 was noticeably better than the first half due to an increase in pace, tension, and more interesting character development, and this episode was no exception. The episode is book-ended by shots of Rick with a young Carl pre-apocalypse, and it makes for a very emotional reminder of the guidance and security Carl felt from his father, the same guidance and security he wanted for everyone, including the Saviors. Carl's death was, perhaps, the most controversial decision in the show's history, and whilst I think it could have been handled better, these flashbacks give the episode some much-needed emotional gravitas, making Carl's final wish all-the-more resonant and poignant.
I, for one, am glad to see the war between Rick and the Saviors finally come to a close as I feel it is a conflict that has been drawn out far too long. Two seasons of facing the same threat in pretty much every episode is, inevitably, going to feel like a chore in the end. The reason why the conflict with the Governor worked so well in seasons 3 and 4 was because the viewer was given time to breathe at the start of season 4. Time was given to see the group return to a stable living condition whilst facing conflicts of their own, therefore once the Governor shows up midway through the season, it's a welcome return. Now I'm not saying Negan is a bad villain (I actually found any arc involving him to be the most interesting story arcs of season 8) but the rinse-and-repeat technique of fighting the Saviors and losing a few people got extremely tired by the end of season 7, let alone lasting the whole of season 8. With that said, even though this conflict does end in this episode, I can't help but feel it's in a rush to just end this tired arc so the show can move on. The battle between the Hilltop and the Saviors is incredibly short and quite underwhelming. The show had a chance to redeem itself as we know what is at stake here, being the final episode of the season, but I suppose that's what you get when Eugene, an associate of Rick and co. turned Savior, sabotages the Savior's guns to blow up in their faces, which, I'll admit, was predictable but fun to watch.
The final showdown between Rick and Negan is also disappointingly short. Rick slitting Negan's throat and letting him live, however, is a nice twist and serve's Carl's wishes well whilst finally throwing the maniacal dictator off his high-horse. It is hinted that Maggie will take revenge on Negan, unknowingly to Rick and Michonne, in the next season. Fan-favourite Daryl seems to be in agreement. I'm not sure how I feel on this as these characters should know by now that not placing their faith and trust in Rick usually leads to disaster.
Overall, this was a mostly satisfying conclusion to a tired story-arc. With a substandard couple of seasons behind it, this episode did what it could to wrap up these threads as quickly as possible, perhaps all too quickly.