Spoiler alert! If you haven't watched the midseason finale of The Walking Dead, "How It's Gotta Be," stop reading now! You can check out last week's recap here. Major, major spoilers ahead.
I've gotta say, tonight's episode was pretty good. It felt like retribution for a severely lackluster season. And let's dive right into that final scene. Carl is dead -- or as good as dead. I, like many fans of TWD, have never been much of a Carl fan. But this was a really sweet, effective way to kill him off. He went out a hero, as his dad taught him, but also taught his father a lesson in the end: that goodness still exists in this world. Carl didn't seem to have any regrets about helping Siddiq, even if it meant his own death. That explains why he was so fearless against Negan, and why he took charge to save the other Alexandrians.
I should stop myself. Carl isn't dead yet, technically. As series showrunner Scott Gimple said on Talking Dead immediately following the show, Carl's bite "is going to go the same way as other bites on the show." Meaning he will die, but he has at least one more episode in him, and it will apparently be important to the plot.
The rest of the episode was really good. I found that this episode did a really good job of building the tension. All the groups were divided up, yet I wasn't confused as to who was where (that's because, with a few minor exceptions, there was no goofy time-space continuum nonsense).
Rick leads the trash people to the Sanctuary, but when they arrive and find the walkers gone, and gunfire rings out from above, they scatter. Carol and Jerry roll up in a big SUV and collect Rick. This is the last we see of the trash people -- hopefully forever. The trio splits up and get their own cars, but Jerry is T-boned and taken hostage. He is presented to Maggie and Jesus when the Saviors trap them. Simon makes a lot of wordy threats and tells Maggie that he can kill her in front of her people or they can head back to the Hilltop and continue to grow food for the Saviors, who he promises have taken over the Kingdom and Alexandria already. He follows through when he shoots Neil, the guy sitting behind Maggie in the car. Maggie agrees to farm for the Saviors, but once they are back at the Hilltop, Maggie goes to her prisoners, selects the one who tried to kill Jesus, and shoots him dead. She then packs him up into a coffin, kindly left behind by Simon, and writes "We have 38 more. Stand down." She tells her men to leave it someplace the Saviors will find it. I don't know that it will work -- does Negan actually see his Saviors as anything more than property?
Gavin heads up the group that invades the Kingdom. After a long list of threats demanding the people bring him Ezekiel, with no results, Gavin sends his people into the Kingdom and trash the place. Ezekiel, who had been hiding out in the background, starts blowing stuff up. He drives a bus up to the Saviors, causing them to give chase, allowing the people to escape. Around this time, Carol comes in and sends the civilians to her house a couple miles down the road. Ezekiel shows up again and tells Carol to save the others as she saved him. He then chains the gates closed with Shiva's old chain and faces off against Gavin. Morgan is hiding in the shadows, watching. And that is all we see of Ezekiel and Morgan tonight.
Aaron and Enid are going to try to talk to the Oceanside clan. They even bring them a truck full of whiskey (that somehow never got scavenged). Deep in the night, Aaron hears something and gets out to investigate. Enid hears someone hit Aaron and she gets out of the car, firing blindly. Turns out that she hit Natania. Dead. And that is all we see of Aaron and Enid tonight.
At the Sanctuary, Eugene, riddled with guilt, drugs the guard with laxatives, then tells Gabriel and the doctor this; what they choose to do with this information is up to them. Eugene also "conveniently" leaves his car keys, and the suggestion that they go back to the Hilltop. Gabriel (who is looking a lot healthier in the few hours since last week's episode) wants Eugene to go with them. He declines. And that is all we see of Gabriel and Eugene tonight.
Alexandria is surprised by Negan and his band of Saviors. Carl sets a plan, telling his friends to escape and meet up at a pre-designated place. To distract Negan while his friends bail, Carl talks to Negan and offers himself up as a sacrifice. Stuff starts blowing up in Alexandria, and Negan realizes this is a stall tactic. Carl runs -- er, limps -- dodging Saviors at every chance. Meanwhile, Michonne, Tara, Daryl, and Rosita have driven their trucks out the back, right through the walls. Dwight and Laura see this and give chase.
Daryl's team hides out on the road and throws a smoke grenade into the road when Dwight's car comes up. Laura wants to turn back, but Dwight stops. It's an ambush. Gunfire erupts, and Laura realizes that Dwight was the mole. She shoots him in the arm and is about to kill him but more gunfire scares her away. With the other Saviors gone or dead, Daryl's crew comes out and surrounds Dwight. He begs them not to kill him, and not to send him back to the Saviors. I find this odd, because I thought that Dwight had proved himself time and again. I thought that this setup was all pre-arranged, too. Anyway, they take Dwight with them -- but Daryl takes back his vest from him first.
The group heads into the sewers, all except Michonne, who thinks she sees Rick heading into the decimated Alexandria. She goes to collect him. Along the way she is accosted by a Savior, who she cuts up into little bits with her sword. Rick finds her and calms her down. He is scared because their home is destroyed and he doesn't see his family. She leads him into the sewer, where Daryl, Dwight, Rosita, Tara, and more are all lined up. No one can look at him. At the back is Carl, playing with Judith. Rick tenses when he sees Siddiq. "I brought him here," Carl says. "That's how it happened." Carl peels back a bandage on his abdomen. A walker bite. The camera pulls back, a sad, sweet family portrait.
It was the (almost) perfect way to end the season. There were still too many artsy close-ups, but otherwise this was a really solid episode. It just took half a season to get here.