Where else could I begin but with the big cliffhanger at the end of the midseason finale, as young Carl Grimes awaits death in the sewers underneath Alexandria? I’m going to stay away from spoilers since we’re still two weeks out from the midseason premiere, but what I can say is that “Honor” delivers on this cliffhanger as well as a few other threads that were left hanging in “How It’s Gotta Be.” In fact, The Walking Dead returns with its most efficient episode of the season, moving along at a record pace (at least for this show).
This episode is certainly the first in years to justify its extended length. Not since at least the season six midseason premiere have I enjoyed an 80-minute episode of The Walking Dead. This one’s not quite as good as the all-hands-on-deck recapture of a zombie-infested Alexandria, but it’s close. “Honor” is emotional, packed with action and some particularly gory bits, and a few interesting twists that will undoubtedly keep fans talking until the season finale.
It’s hard to say much about the story without giving the entire episode away. Again, it’s a very direct hour and change. There’s no tiptoeing around what the story wants to be about, which is honestly shocking to me. The Walking Dead has had a pretty obvious filler problem over the last two or three years, and it’s become a real fear that every episode will simply ramble on without ever moving anything forward. It can be said of much of the first half of season eight and almost the entirety of season seven. There’s just not much usually happening in these more intimate episodes showrunner Scott Gimple loves so much.
“Honor” is the exception, but not necessarily the new rule. I’ve said it too many times before, on the occasion of almost every single premiere or finale since I’ve been reviewing this show for Den of Geek, but I’m going to spare myself the disappointment for once. I will not say that “Honor” feels like a fresh new start for The Walking Dead. Because it isn’t. If anything, it feels like the beginning of the end of the Gimple era, a chance for the exiting showrunner to tie up his own take on the material before handing the bloodstained keys to Angela Kang. Judging from the synopses for the rest of the season, expect just a few more pauses in the storytelling until then.
That said, there’s a real sense of finality in the closing moments of “Honor” that may very well make you scream. Some of it is purely baiting the audience – if you’re still fooled by every single tease doled out by this show, I can’t help you – but there’s also something a bit more nuanced behind the episode’s ending. It’s a tease for things to come that feels truly unexpected, at least if you haven’t read the comics. But even if you have, the show might not be adapting certain future storylines the way you expect.
In one of its best moments, “Honor” revisits the controversial flash-foward from the season eight premiere. We’re given a bit more context as to what exactly is happening in Rick’s dream – and more intriguingly, whether it’s a dream at all. The episode introduces another piece of the puzzle to keep fans guessing. If I’m not exactly excited for seven more episodes of All Out War, I am at least looking forward to seeing how the Old Man Rick storyline plays out.
We get a bit of action in the midseason premiere, although none of it is extraordinary. With so many big action setpieces in the first half of the season, Greg Nicotero, who directed the episode, keeps things relatively small scale in “Honor”. That said, there are one or two moments of sheer brutality that made me cringe. One is spectacularly gruesome.
When all is said and done, this midseason premiere goes back to Carl. This is without a doubt Chandler Riggs’ episode, and it features some of the best work the young actor has done on the show. Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira also deserve a round of applause as well as newcomer Avi Nash, who plays Siddiq. Even little Judith gets a tiny moment to shine.
It all gets a bit hard to watch at times – and not in the bad way some of you have come to expect. “Honor” is hard to watch because it reminds you – just as the midseason finale did – that we still care about Carl and his dad, no matter how far gone things get.