A brief recap-within-a-recap: When we last saw the survivors, everything had gone to complete shit at both A-town and Meridian. Not only were the survivors out of food, but the walls had been breached, the windmill was on fire, and zombies were running wild (or at least slowly ambling around, as zombies do). Reaperville wasn’t looking much better, despite the surprising death of their leader, Pope, at the hands of Daryl’s ex-flame, Leah. Rather than leave her militia group behind, however, Leah unleashed her firework-launching war machine on Maggie’s strike team. This action-packed episode toggles between the two locales and delivers one unsurprising death, two somewhat shocking murders, and a mind-scrambling fast-forward that presumably sets up the rest of this eight-episode “part two” story arc.
It’s a literal horror show at A-town as the adults finally realize that two of the kids they’re charged with protecting are MIA. Judith is trapped in the basement, dealing with rising floodwaters, zombies pounding at the door, and helpless Gracie, who’s the odds-on favorite to end up as zombie food. Meanwhile, volunteer firefighters Aaron and Jerry grapple with smoke inhalation and get an update on the wall repair from Carol and Magna. (Memo to Magna: Please refrain from calling the zombies “sickos” ever again.) Short story: it ain’t looking good.
What transpires next is among the more incredulous TWD scenarios, and that’s a high bar to clear. As luck would have it, Gracie has a rescue whistle for emergencies like “stuck in a basement and facing certain death.” Even more fortunate is that Aaron hears said whistle despite the chaos in every direction, then rushes to save the girls. When he then gets trapped — clinging to a pipe above the walker-infested water — Lydia somehow produces a rope and strings it up tight enough for Aaron to shuffle across to safety. (Guess she threw it to him, he caught it, and tied his end with one hand while holding onto the pipe with his mace arm? M’kay.) While that’s going on, Connie — as always, an angel walking among us — offers to help Magna repair the still-vulnerable wall. Saving the wall and the windmill are such dull tasks that we don’t return to either for an update or see any of these folks again until the end.
Meridian is where the real action is. The episode starts with a bang — see what I did there? — as Maggie tussles with a Reaper who takes a rocket to the back, then explodes. That sets the scene for a parade of violence: Daryl has a knife fight with a Reaper in a classroom, and Gabe confronts Pope’s priest in a makeshift chapel. But the man of the cloth isn’t looking to rumble; he wants to lay down arms and reintroduce Gabe to God. “You don’t hear Him anymore, do you?” he asks. “No one is above saving.” Gabe’s response is a blade to the gut and a cold counterpoint: “I don’t believe that.”
The fight of the night takes place in an unsexy locale — a narrow, nondescript hallway where Leah’s number two, Carver, corners Maggie, Elijah, and Negan. He handles all three with surprising ease, and just when it looks like Negan is slipping away to save himself, he returns with a rejoinder and a plan. “Look over here, shitdick,” he says, just before blinding Carver and clocking him over the head with a cast-iron bell. T.K.O. to Negs, who declares the fight over with a “ding ding.”
As Maggie is about to kill Carver, it’s Daryl, of all people, who stops him. His plan: Use Carver to negotiate a cease-fire with Leah. That seems doomed to fail, especially when Leah radios a rooftop sniper to take out Maggie. Just one problem, though — Gabe already took out the trigger man. Maggie agrees to let Leah and her two henchmen go free while Carver remains a hostage. But the music begins to swell as the last Reapers walk away, and Maggie begins to follow them. Daryl surely regrets giving Mags a piece when she pulls it out and shoots all three unarmed Reapers from behind, killing both dudes and wounding Leah. When she comes back to finish Carver and finds her gun is empty, she picks up Elijah’s sickle and sinks it into his chest without hesitating. Daryl can’t believe Maggie broke their pledge to let Leah’s crew leave; he later finds Leah outside the compound and can’t bring himself to finish her off. (“Go before I change my mind,” he says, assuring she will return to cause trouble at some point.) There’s no debate that it’s Maggie — not Daryl or Negan — who claims the title of “Most Ruthless” (with Gabe the priest-killing priest a close second).
Before heading back to A-town, Maggie has one last task. It’s a quick one, though, as she visits the stash house to find Alden has turned. The scene is a sad one as her zombified friend crawls onto her lap, and she puts him down; Maggie’s sobs are heavy, thanks to the weight of this loss, what she’s just done, and what she herself is turning into. Negan watched Maggie mow down the Reapers and knows that her word isn’t stronger than her need for revenge. As she finishes burying her friend, he appears — not for a confrontation, but to announce he’s heading off on his own. Negan’s priority is survival, and right now, Maggie is a greater threat than whatever lies out there in the unknown.
The A-town homecoming is a somber one initially: Elijah looks haunted, Lydia is bummed to hear Negan split, Alden is gone. The mood picks up when Daryl sees Connie and has the perfect Daryl reaction, yelling “No way!” and after a bear hug, signing “Happy to see you.” Then the curveball arrives in the form of an approaching platoon of Commonwealth soldiers, led by none other than Eugene. (You may recall Eugene was last seen in trouble with the Commonwealth brass and getting strong-armed into revealing the location of his people.) What’s more, he’s joined by dapper Lance Hornsby, who presents the gathered A-towners with a sales pitch. Maggie listens with arms crossed and a scowl on her face; Daryl gives off major “get a load of this jerkoff” vibes. As his soldiers unload drums of ethanol, Hornsby offers to help them rebuild. Or they can choose door number two…
Just when you think the episode would end there, we jump forward six months. There’s Maggie, on the wall with Jerry at what looks like Hilltop, refusing to open their gates for a gang of Commonwealth troopers. One steps forward as she says this doesn’t have to be this way. “Yeah, it does,” says the soldier, removing his helmet to reveal it’s Daryl. What happens in those 180 days to pit Maggie against the Commonwealth, where Daryl — ever the anti-authority renegade — has traded his leather jacket for a soldier’s uniform?