No, seriously. I know it may sound impossible after this deeply troubled second-half of season eight, but The Walking Dead pulled off an episode that had no major issues and was pretty compelling because it actually advanced a lot of storylines while also setting up some major stakes for the season finale. See, Walking Dead makers? It’s not that hard!
“Worth” is primarily about resolving the myriad plotlines going on with Negan and the Saviors, all of which end pretty much exactly like we all expected. However, there’s been so much wheel-spinning this half-season that it was pretty gratifying to get that much forward movement at all. Sure, it’s drawn out over a 70-minute episode, but that’s still lightning-fast for this show.
Despite secretly entering Sanctuary last episode—after having picked up a mysterious passenger—Negan quickly makes himself known to the Saviors. Having disobeyed Negan’s orders once, then abandoning his leader after Rick’s attack, and then having disobeyed Negan’s orders again by trying to assault Hilltop (which also ended up a total disaster unto itself), Simon apologizes in a calm, straightforward manner, as if by acting as if his betrayals and failures aren’t executable offenses, he may convince Negan, too. Surprisingly, Negan doesn’t immediately bludgeon his right-hand man to death. Instead he (says he) forgives Simon, and then discusses his new plan to his various lieutenants, which involves surrounding Hilltop with new Savior outposts where they can shoot every Kinghillexandrian who pops their head out until they’re all dead
Simon wastes zero time planning a more thorough coup with Dwight and all the other Saviors looking for new management. But a group meeting with his fellow rebels ends in disaster; Negan pops up from behind a nearby dumpster, announces Dwight ratted them all out, and has his loyal troops kill all the insurgents except Simon—whom he offers a chance to fight one-on-one for control of the Saviors. Negan wins, obviously. He strangles his ex-right-hand man and sticks his zombie on the wall.
Next up: Dwight, whose betrayal Negan handles with even more theatricality. See, once Dwight learned of Negan’s “surround Hilltop with outposts” plan, he copied the map, wrote an astoundingly, needlessly personal note on it, telling Rick to “end Negan” as if that wasn’t already completely understood. Dwight gives it to Gregory, convincing the were-weasel to bring the map to Hilltop as “his only play,” which inexplicably works. Later, after thanking Dwight for his help with Simon, Negan promotes Dwight to his new #1. Dwight promises to help his boss “end this” with a pointed amount of vagueness when Negan responds not-that-cryptically: “Don’t sell yourself short, D. You already have.”
Then, it’s showtime! Negan leads Dwight back to his room, where the mysterious person he picked up on the side of the road last episode is sitting: the woman Dwight accidentally let get away when he started killing Saviors during their attack on Alexandria. She’s ratted Dwight out, obviously, and Negan has used this knowledge to feed Dwight and thus Rick with fake plans that will lead them the Hilltop inhabitants into a trap. And Negan has a very special fate in store for his new ex-right-hand man.
None of this is surprising. We all knew Negan was not going to lose control of the Saviors, that Simon would be taken out, and that Dwight’s betrayal would eventually be discovered. But to have all three storylines concluded in the same episode is a bounty of plot development for this show. Honestly, if The Walking Dead could pack this much story in—which, by the way, is a pretty reasonable amount for a show that regularly runs over an hour—most of its other sins would be much more forgivable. (Also, Rick’s current fall and eventual[?] redemption would have been finished in season six.)
This efficiency certainly makes the episode’s second-biggest storyline more palatable, even though virtually nothing has changed by the end of it. Eugene is still running the Saviors’ bullet factory, and still being kind of a dick about it to everyone. He also catches Father Gabriel (who’s still quite ill) making bullets incorrectly in a way that would maybe make the Saviors’ guns blow up and kill them. The killing part isn’t intentional; Gabriel just wanted to mess up the bullets so they couldn’t be used to kill Kinghillexandrians, but he didn’t want to kill Saviors, either. But he also doesn’t want to be killed for his sabotage and is miserable about his unwillingness to sacrifice himself. It’s actually a great scene for the priest, who believes God is showing him he’s still the awful, selfish man who locked his parishioners out of his church when the zombie apocalypse first hit, and he’s crushed at the revelation he hasn’t changed since then.
When Eugene goes out to test some non-Gabriel made bullets, he’s kidnapped by Daryl and Rosita. While Eugene tries to explain the only reason he offered to make bullets for Negan in the first place was to save Rosita’s life—which is true—they make it clear the only reason they’re not killing him is because of the info in his head, although Daryl puts a knife to his head and threatens to cut out his tongue, and Rosita puts a gun under his head, too. I don’t want to blow your mind, but this does not endear them or the inhabitants of Hilltop to him. So when Daryl and Rosita have to stop to deal with some zombies, he forces himself to bazooka-barf on Rosita—a truly disgusting distraction that allows him to escape back to the outpost, where he announces, with an anger and singlemindedness that wasn’t there previously, that the workers will meet Negan’s insane bullet quota so everyone in Hilltop can be killed.
A couple of our protagonists threaten to kill someone, thus ensuring that someone wants our protagonists dead, if only to ensure his or her own safety?! Go figure. And yes, the only things achieved here are 1) Eugene is much less conflicted about taking out Hilltop, and 2) Rosita’s shirt is ruined. But again, a B-plot that repeats immensely well-trod ground is far less aggravating when the A-plot is getting stuff done.
There’s one more bit of business before the end. After Rick finally reads Carl’s letter the beginning of the episode—in silence, as Ghost Carl narrates—it’s bookended when Michonne travels within walkie-talkie distance to read Carl’s letter to Negan to him. Like he did in his letter to his father, Carl exhorts Negan to stop all the fighting and try to find a way for everybody to work and co-exist together; much like Rick did after Carl’s dying words, Negan says it’s far too late for peace and announces his plan to kill everyone in Hilltop. And then he smashes the walkie-talkie, just so the audience knows the time for talking is totally, completely over.
It’s a perfect table-setting for the next battle, which I’d like to believe will take place in its entirety in the season finale next week, but previous experience indicates will only show the lead-up to the battle, which itself will probably fill up the entire first half of season nine. And “Worth” will remain a solid, but far-too-rare example of how much better the show could be if it would just stop dragging out its storytelling so damn long.
Happily, The Walking Dead’s season premieres and finales usually are chock full of things happening, although those things almost always include a main character dying. I don’t think they can top the shock value of killing off Carl without killing someone that fans would be infuriated by—to the point of even die-hards rage-quitting, dropping the show’s ratings even further—but I also didn’t think they’d do something as narratively compromising as killing off Carl, either. So we’ll see next week.
- See, many, many people who demand to know why I’m allowed to recap The Walking Dead when I obviously hate it? I like the show… when it’s good. Hell, I also like the show when it isn’t actively bad, like many of the episodes in the first half of season eight. Click here to see all of io9’s Walking Dead recaps for actual proof. (Also, uh, I’m in charge, so it’s sort of my decision? So to the poor dude who threatened to write to io9 to complain about my clearly anti-TWD-biased writing, I, uh, have some bad news for you.)
- I don’t know why Aaron’s plan to convince the Oceansiders to join sides prevents him from eating or drinking water. Or why he thinks just hanging out in the woods for a week would actually change their minds. Of course it will, because this is how stories work, but in reality his plan is dumb and he’s a dumb-dumb.
- I honestly am not a big fan of ladies gratuitously running around in bras for the sake of pure titillation. But I was deeply upset when Rosita failed to take off her disgusting, vomit-covered shirt and continued walking around in it.
- To be honest, Eugene eating Kraft mac and cheese with sardines in it throughout college seemed like the most character-appropriate choice possible. But I personally had to live on ramen and tuna for a semester, so maybe I’m biased here.
- Negan called the Scavengers “the Garbage People” and I feel vindicated by this.
- Given that Carl’s dying words did not move his father to change his ways, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that Carl’s letter will have any effect on Rick. (In fact, it’ll be kind of aggravating if it does.) So assuming Rick still thinks Carl’s advice and wishes are stupid garbage, what will he do with the letter to show us he’ll keep showing no mercy? Crumple it up and throw it away? Blow his nose on it? Use it as toilet paper? I welcome your suggestions in the comments.