This Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 8 Episode 13
“Do Not Send Us Astray” is another solid hour of The Walking Dead, with some exciting action sequences that rank among the season’s best. It’s unfortunate that the episode can’t quite keep the adrenaline pumping throughout, as there’s a bit of a slow down in the middle so that the story can explore some of the show’s most tired cliches, namely the cost of war. This time, we watch Maggie deal with the weight of mounting losses at the Hilltop as her vendetta against Negan intensifies. We’ve seen this story told too many times before, especially in the first half of the season, to really pack a punch here.
We also get some time with Rick, who’s failed once again to kill Negan. In last week’s excellent episode, Rick had his best shot yet to put down the leader of the Saviors for good, but couldn’t quite land the killing blow – not with an assault rifle and not with a flaming Lucille. Not that I expected this dance to end before the season finale, but Rick’s become infamously bad at killing anyone worth actually killing. Rick’s latest failure takes a toll. Andrew Lincoln has played this character for so long at this point that the switch between trigger-happy bulldog and broken man is pretty much seamless at this point. The guy can really flip on a dime to carry the emotional weight of an episode. There’s a nice scene between him and Maggie outside the Hilltop’s gates and then again at the very end, as the Widow mourns the graves of all the newly dead while Rick marches off to continue the fight.
Remarkably, “Do Not Send Us Astray” features an appearance by almost every main cast member, as well as quite a few supporting characters to boot. In his meatiest role since season six, Tobin gets to say his goodbyes this week by having a (not so) long-awaited post-mortem with Carol and then munching on a few of his sleeping comrades. I absolutely loved how Jeffrey F. January directed the walker attack inside the mansion, as the undead slowly crept over the sleeping bodies. There’s a real tension in this scene, and January draws out the anticipation for the first bite gloriously. It’s impossible not to see the similarities to a few zombie classics in this scene — Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and 28 Days Later came to mind for me. Oh, and one can’t forget all of the stuff in the Spencer Mansion in the original Resident Evil game. Really fun stuff and a nice way to say adios to Tobin, the nicest of Walking Dead background characters.
Less successful is Morgan’s storyline this week. Gavin’s bizarre appearances in the episode border on parody. “You know what it is,” he warns Morgan, who’s getting closer to reverting back to his “Clear” persona every second he’s still fighting this war. The writers haven’t found an interesting thing to do with Morgan this season besides sending him back towards the brink of madness, which is really unfortunate. I almost feel like Lennie James deserves a bit of a victory lap before leaving the show for a starring role in Fear the Walking Dead. Yet, his character is being played as a total loon and it’s pretty boring.
Meanwhile, little Henry is a real standout. We’ve seen this before: the headstrong kid bent on revenge, willing to dive into a bloodthirsty world he doesn’t fully understand. In retrospect, Carl handled his own anger a bit better back in season four. His major crime was losing his shoe and eating a huge can of pudding. Henry, on the other hand, is ready to murder all of the Savior POWs. The outcome is predictable, of course, as all of the bad Saviors head for the hills while the “rehabilitated” Saviors stay back to try and save the Hilltop.
I’m pretty relieved that the Savior POW conflict has come to an end. One almost has to wonder why the show spent so much time exploring this storyline if the bad guys were going to escape anyway. If nothing else, it has established Maggie as a hardened leader who’s had to make plenty of tough decisions for the good of her people. Then again, I’ve never doubted Maggie as a leader – or Lauren Cohan’s ability to carry that emotional weight. Revisiting the costs on Maggie’s morality this week just feels like piling it on.
If it weren’t for the excellent walker section of “Do Not Send Us Astray,” this episode would have felt just a bit too familiar. Instead, we get some twists and turns – and perhaps one more victim of the all out war with Negan: Tara. Was Dwight’s arrow covered in walker goo? Is Tara now on the path to a slow and agonizing death? Or is there something more clever afoot? We’ll find out soon enough.