As you’d expect in the penultimate episode of the season, the stage has been set for the finale and there’s a good bit of uncertainty in the air. Negan has made it clear that peace is not an option. Rick, however, is fresh off of reading Carl’s heartstring-tugging letter in which his son pleaded for peace and spoke from the grave. The good news: Simon finally gets his. The bad: Gregory is still alive and Eugene has achieved peak weasel status. The ugly: Pizza Face unwittingly set up the Hilltop crew for an ambush.
Carl’s note to his old man is a real tear-jerker, a checklist of childhood memories before the world went to hell: his eighth birthday and mom (R.I.P. Lori) and “Codger” (the family dog, presumably) and the kiddie pool (“could have used that at the prison”) and walks to Ross’s farm (who?) and pizza on Fridays and how safe and special he felt holding his dad’s hand. The killer is this line about Carl’s take on adulthood: “Growing up is making yourself and the people you love safe … I want to make you safe, Dad.” Are you trying to drive your pop to suicide, Coral? You know that keeping you and your sister safe was literally the one thing he’s living for — well, that and bloodthirsty revenge — and he failed. Carl’s closing plea resonates with Rick: Save the Saviors. Make peace with Negan. Show everyone this world doesn’t have to be about killing. Bring back pizza night!
That’s about all the time we spend at Hilltop, because there’s serious drama going down with the Saviors and two key groups that should play critical roles in the finale. One of those X-factors is Oceanside and Aaron’s obsessive loitering in the woods nearby. He’s weak, wet, and delirious, and the O-side women are just fine leaving him in the rain to die. But he snaps out of his delirium to deliver an impassioned speech: The Saviors hurt you and will keep hurting you unless you fight! And they can take our lives, but they’ll never take … our freedom! Or something like that. Come on, ladies, just join the damn resistance already. I’m looking forward to Carol meeting Rachel, the kid who likes spitting and killing people.
Then there’s Eugene, who’s relegated Negan’s babes to making his lousy mac-and-cheese recipe from college and feeling a bit full of himself — until he’s kidnapped by Daryl and Rosita. Oh, how I wish Daryl took his knife and gave Eugene a haircut with some extra taken off the top. In retrospect, I’m sure Rosita does, too, given that she ends up on the wrong end of the grossest distraction plan ever — the ol’ puke-and-run move. Still not disgusted enough? The coward somehow conceals himself under a mound of ashen human remains to avoid capture.
One might say that Rosita got what she deserved after laying into Eugene about being a loser: “We’re going to force you to do something useful with your pathetic life!” That one really stung, as Eugene’s resulting thousand-yard stare looked reminiscent of Gomer Pyle from Full Metal Jacket. When he’s back at the bullet shop, he’s got a new attitude and is determined to make as much ammo as Negan needs. “Time to do something with our pathetic lives,” he tells his workforce. Way to go, Rosie! (Eugene is now officially tied with Gregory for second place on the list of People Other Than Negan Who Need to Die.)
As we saw last week, Negan is back at the Sanctuary and ready to shake things up. He’s oddly forgiving to both Simon and Dwight, who left him for dead. He asks Dwight for help moving a dumpster for no apparent reason other than to put his smoke out and “remember this moment.” He’s even got a new, not-so-brilliant plan: Circle Hilltop with snipers and take out anyone who ventures outside.
Simon ain’t down with that. Even though he was chased out of Hilltop with his ‘stache tucked between his legs, he’s high on power and just recruited a new coffee maker. (Could Gregory be any more of a lowlife? After all his tough talk of “the bare-knuckled nad-mash of politics” and “I am the juice!” he’s perfectly fine groveling for a Savior internship.)
But Simon’s plot to take the crown fails miserably when Dwight rats him out. It would be too easy to just execute Simon, so instead, Negan quotes Ric Flair (“You wanna be the man, you gotta beat the man”) and initiates a winner-takes-all bare-knuckle brawl. Simon opens with a sucker punch — of course — but Negan gets the upper hand with a head butt, body slam, and heel-to-face combo. As Neegs furiously chokes the life out of the guy he lovingly called “a demented, broken goddamn ghoul,” he says what really pissed him off is that Simon’s botched Hilltop attack means he can’t send the survivors a message anymore. Now he’s gotta kill them all.
The other shoe drops when Negan reveals who his mystery passenger was — and if you picked “Laura,” the rando Savior who saw Dwight gun down some Saviors before fleeing Alexandria in the mid-season finale, well, you have a much better memory than I do. The circle of snipers plan for Hilltop was a ruse: Negan knew Dwight was a mole and would somehow alert Rick to the faux scheme. Dwight doesn’t hide his disappointment, and perhaps Negan will regret not killing him before he causes any more trouble.
The episode ends with a yapping Simon Zombie tied to the Sanctuary fence and Michonne reading Carl’s letter on the walkie to Negan. For a second there, it looks like Negan is moved by the kid’s words. Thankfully, though, he still blames Rick for everything that’s happened and defines “winning” in very clear terms: “Killing every last one of you.” Now that’s what we like to hear! “No more talk,” he says, and with that, Negan drops his walkie, stomps it to pieces, and hopefully delivers TWD fans salvation — meaning that the finale will end with bullets, not olive branches.