“It isn’t just you,” Enid pleads with Sasha toward the beginning of this week’s mid-season finale. You’re not the only one who wants to kill Negan. You’re not the only one with ideas of how to do it. So why are you formulating your own revenge plan, here in secret? Everyone wants what you want, and we can all help each other.
Enid’s talking about Carl, whose stupid little stowaway act she can’t tell Sasha about. But what she’s saying is true of pretty much everyone in this episode: They’ve all got their individual plans, and they’re all dumb solo ventures with little chance of success.
It’s not often The Walking Dead reminds me of a sitcom, but now we’re in a sitcom-y situation: If everyone would have just talked to each other, a lot of bad stuff could have been avoided. They might even have the makings of a good plan on their hands here. Rosita and Eugene have the means to make ammunition. Michonne has the reconnaissance. Carl and Jesus have found a stealthy way to get close to Negan. Even squirrely asshole Spencer is strategically worming his way into the Saviors’ trust. Working together, they could have accomplished something at least.
Instead, all we get is half-formed ideas and half-cocked executions with terrible results. Carl, of course, ends up not only not killing Negan but bringing him home for dinner. Michonne has to just shoot her hostage and take the loss. Spencer overplays his hand and gets himself literally eviscerated. Rosita spends her one bullet on an (inexplicably) missed shot, ending up with Olivia dead and Eugene taken away.
And that seems to be the general point of the whole thing: Without the benefit of Rick’s leadership, they’re all just individual soldiers with poor aim. Its only when they come together under his guidance that things get done. As at the end of the episode, when Michonne finally convinces him it’s time to fight back, and the galvanized team rides out to start the revolution. But they need him at the head to get that going. Without him, they’re just all Rosita’s single bullet.
And on that I call bullshit. It’s dumb and inconsistent, for so many reasons. These are (mostly) extremely capable and smart people. They’ve made plans before, together, and followed through on them, when Rick was (for various reasons) out of commission. Yes, Rick’s the leader, but he’s not the smartest among them, or the best tactician, and he doesn’t have a monopoly on getting people to work together.
But instead, without Rick, everyone decides it is their solo duty to murder Negan. Which brings us to the other impossible-to-swallow aspect of this episode: How the hell is Negan still alive? We know that Alexandria isn’t the first community he’s ground under the heel of his boot. And sure, the leaders of those communities may have been like Rick: weighing the possibility of effective resistance against the lives of their people, and deciding it isn’t worth the risk. This is rational leadership when faced with an army the size of Negan’s.
But these last few episodes have been all about how nobody else is thinking rationally here. They’re all bucking under the saddle, desperate to rebel, to exact revenge, not thinking about the consequences to anyone else. Carl could easily have shot Negan last week, or slashed him with his own straight razor this week. Rosita only missed her shot because Lucille apparently has magic bullet-deflecting powers. Hell, even Olivia could have poisoned his lemonade. You mean to tell me that out of all of the other communities Negan has tortured, not a single rebellious citizen has taken a shot that actually connected with the big bad guy? Is he invulnerable somehow? How is he still strutting around in the open like this?
Anyway. Rick is gone for most of this, since he’s been off with Aaron finding their way across Lake Zombie to get supplies from a houseboat. (And being watched by a mysterious stranger in boots.) Among the goods they find a note: “Congrats for Winning, but You Still Lose,” with a crude drawing of a middle finger. You’d think this would give them pause—wouldn’t it seem to imply there’s a booby trap, or a bomb, or the food is poisoned?—but instead they just load everything into their truck including, inexplicably, the note. Which the Saviors find among their tribute and assume was written by them, using it as an excuse to beat the living hell out of Aaron.
This, combined with the murder of Spencer and innocent Olivia, and especially after Negan characteristically suggests that Rick should thank him for his trouble, puts Rick in a particularly receptive mood when Michonne returns from her own abortive revenge mission and tells him it’s time to fight. She’s discovered there are even more Saviors than they imagined. But it doesn’t matter; they’re warriors and they will find a way to make war.
So they ride off for the Hilltop, where Maggie has all but taken control by sheer force of her capable attitude. Seems the people there love her for her midnight tractor exploits, and even more for doing it all while pregnant. So Gregory’s dismissiveness only makes him less and less popular as Maggie’s star rises. And Rick & co. are greeted at the Hilltop gates by an even more welcome surprise: Daryl, who used the key slipped under his door to escape from Sanctuary, stopping on the way to steal some of Dwight’s clothes and trash his room a bit. On his way out of town, he runs into both Jesus and Negan’s soldier Fat Joey, who he kills and relieves of his gun, which just happens to be Rick’s beloved Colt Python.
So it’s reunions all around, including man and his trusty pistol, and they stride off to make a real plan. Finally.
The only ingredient that is missing now is the Kingdom, which Rick and friends don’t yet know about. Neither Morgan or Carol is eager to make the necessary introductions, though. Morgan because his Buddhism-lite recommends an uneasy peace over all-out war, and Carol because she’s still doing her best Greta Garbo impression, despite the fact that everyone including the king keeps on dropping by. The latest is Ezekiel’s soldier Richard, who is convinced their détente with the Saviors is going to end any day now, and wants to make a preemptive strike.
He gets no support from Carol/Morgan. But clearly the other Alexandrians will feel differently, and we’ll likely see a three-way alliance form when we come back from the break. Until February then, my bloodthirsty friends!