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Another year, another mid-season finale. I repeat myself all too often but the “artsy” shots the Directors routinely indulge in were grating before the opening credits even rolled. I really hope they move past this particular pretension after this series.

The episode improved but my confusion intensified. After praising that show for re-establishing Rick’s over-arching intentions and game plans in a much more coherent way over the last few episodes, last night’s episode was rather troubling. When did the Saviours escape their compound? At what point in this very compact story-arc did they organise themselves to such a degree they managed to pick off Rick’s group off at every location with relative ease?

Much of this episode felt like a much less effective version of the series six finale. There was a sense of impending doom at time, but mainly I was just trying to keep up with who was where and what was what.

Another thing I do not understand is why Negan does not seize the opportunity to eliminate everyone at Hilltop, along with every other Rick sympathiser he comes across. He seems to want to pursue “symbolic” executions in spite of the fact Rick has proven he and his group cannot be trusted, over and over again. I know that means a lot of people would die, but Negan is losing his grip on his community, he certainly does not have the same façade of invincibility he once had.

I would not want to end this review talking about Carl’s immanent death, so I will talk about that now. More than anything, I was disappointed by the revelation he had been bitten. While I like Carl, his death would have been far more powerful had it happened two seasons ago, and I don’t “like” carl any less, I just do no spend nearly as much time with him as I used to because our attention is divided between so many different characters. I question whether it is wise to kill Carl off at all – and it is saddening they have fallen into the pattern of axing huge characters at predictable moments. There was a time when “The Walking Dead” would shock you by robbing you of one of the most beloved characters at the least likely moment and your heart would be in your mouth because the character felt like a friend. This series has lost that quality, and it is more predictable and less emotive for it. Yes, I’m sad Carl is dying. But it was not the emotional gut-punch that losing Dale, Lori or Herschel was. And Carl deserves more than that. He even delivered some of his best lines in this episode when he was conversing with Negan.

On a more positive note, it was cheering to see Dwight follow through on his betrayal of the Saviours and Eugene waiver in his. Dwight is one of the newer characters I really do care about (who I used to hate no less) and I wonder how Negan will digest the news he is a traitor.

While the fight between Rick and Negan was largely ineffectual, it did give us the best line of the episode/season/series as a whole.“Don’t you ever just shut the hell up?” Rick asked his nemesis. Yes Negan…don’t you??!

Overall, the first half of the eighth season has been infuriating, meandering, exciting, inexplicable but enjoyable. It has definitely been an improvement on season 7. I would like to see the second half of this series tighten up and fully return to form.

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