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Review: The Walking Dead 8×16, “Wrath”

Aaron Neuwirth reviews the season eight finale of The Walking Dead, "Wrath," and also adds some thoughts on the fourth season premiere of Fear the Walking Dead, "What's Your Story."

*Note: I have some thoughts on the Fear the Walking Dead season premiere following this review.

Remember when people used to die on The Walking Dead? I’m not talking about random Saviors or folks from The Hilltop; I mean actual characters that mattered. Was Koral enough to fill the quota for the season? If so, it didn’t help the conclusion of the “All Out War” story arc. “Wrath” is basically an effective episode in so much as it’s designed to close off almost all the story arcs and match up to the sage wisdom imparted to others by St. Koral. However, as far as an epic conclusion to a season that was said to be a wrap up for the eight seasons of this show thus far, the episode lacked much in the way of surprises for reasons extending beyond my knowledge of the comics.

I’m not saying The Walking Dead is better when walkers or something else horribly murder characters we all like. If anything, the opening of the previous season proved it’s not always the best choice for building a weak episode around such carnage. It’s more about how this show had decided to set a precedent in regards to the expendability of the cast (sans Rick and maybe a few others) but has shied away from really shaking things up as of late. Yes, Koral was a shock, but that shock wore off pretty quickly and left most of us wondering why that needed to be the choice made.

It is this line of thinking that has stuck with me since watching “Wrath,” the episode of The Walking Dead where everything was all sunshine and rainbows for Rick and the Gang. No one major died, all the evil Saviors are dead, the halfway decent Saviors gave up quickly, Oceanside helped save the day at the exact right moment, Eugene is good again, and even ol’ Negan gets to live, albeit in a prison cell. That’s a lot of optimism for this series, which I guess is needed after all the doom and gloom that came from bringing Negan and his cronies on this show to begin with. But does that make for an exciting series?

I guess we’ll have to find out in season nine, which I can only assume will jump forward in time to some degree. In the meantime, looking at this episode beat by beat will only take me so far. There’s little one wouldn’t expect from the setup. We get a lot of scenes of characters speaking in ways that imply they are both expecting this to be their final march into death, as well as the battle that will change things for them, once they win, and move forward positively. Always great to have some fun with a sense of ambiguous forward thinking, but at least Jerry and Ezekiel had a fun scene to practically poke fun at this trope.

Jumping ahead to the final battle between Rick and the Saviors, there’s a madness that goes along with seeing this whole thing play out. The show already has the audience in on Negan planning to ambush Rick’s ambush. However, Eugene apparently was a genuine wild card all this time. Not only did he have a change of heart spurred on by the terrible kidnapping subplot of last week’s episode, but he also managed to use his new mindset in the most practical way possible. While Rick was busy making the most out of his latest terrible plan, which involved him and all his best people strolling into an open field (seriously!?), Eugene convinced Negan to have everyone be set up with their guns in position and all fire at precisely the same time. This happened, and all the saviors received hand injuries.

Faulty bullets were the key to victory, but that didn’t stop Rick from having one more silly macho fight with Negan. Following a convenient “out of ammo” situation, Rick charges at the tree he forgot Negan was hiding behind and the two go at it. However, Rick is armed with more wisdom from St. Koral, which allows him to get Negan to put his guard down for long enough so that Rick can slash his throat. If this show were more successful at giving us a consistent Rick, I would say this was a great way to bring back the duplicitous Rick that killed off unsuspecting Saviors a couple of episodes ago. Instead, it’s just a way for the Saviors, and the good guys to all hear another big monologue where Rick explains all the peace that will be happening.

Negan will get to live, thanks to Dr. Siddiq, and Maggie is not taking that well. This means a bit of crying, a bit of crushing (she’s finally nice to former-Savior Alden), and a bit of scheming with shadow lurker Daryl and Jesus, of all people. The three all seem to agree on a plan to eventually kill Negan, going against Rick and Michonne in the process. It’s a weird scene, especially since Jesus spent most scenes helping Morgan out by telling him how to properly kill (the stabby end goes in walkers only now).

If you take away the convenience factor and possibly divine intervention at this point, there is a level of satisfaction to be had here. I wouldn’t call this a great episode, but there is a sense of relief that comes from knowing there’s a level of finality in this season finale. Even Jadis Anne is set to join Rick and the Gang now. At the same time, however, the action that got us here wasn’t all that interesting, and the character interactions didn’t reveal anything new. If anything, it just doubled down on how inconsistent characters seem to be, as if plot more than character was guiding the show (yes, of course, it is).

I am happy we can at least move on from all of this, but I wonder if the changes to the status quo will be significant enough to give The Walking Dead new life. I don’t need major characters to start dying all the time again, but there must be a way to reanimate a series that’s had some ups and significant downs in the past couple of years. Especially since we’re losing a Morgan and keeping a Negan, surely enough is going on with the writers to keep this series from going kablooey.

Dead Bits:

  • Zombie Kill of the Week: It honestly goes to Fear the Walking Dead, for the handy grenade Morgan found. More on that in a bit.
  • Rick walks around with a little kid that’s not Koral so we can all get some of the feels.
  • “We’re worse than we were.” – Fortunately, Morgan ends the night better than he was.
  • A Savior called Negan “Jefe,” and I just about lost it.
  • Gabriel didn’t get to do much in the way of important actions this week, but I like that he tried. And of course, he ends the season by sitting in a burnt down church and praying.
  • Remember how Jesus did nothing for most of this season, but then played a significant role in the finale?
  • “I am bigger. I am badder. And I have a bat.” – Jeffrey Dean Morgan made the most of his wacky character in a show that is, at times, equally wacky. I look forward to what neutered Negan will have to offer.
  • So I attended the Survival Sunday Fathom Event to watch the finale, and I have to say, the show looked terrible on the big screen. Enough to make a note of how awful the shot of the supposed colossal herd was because all I saw was a weird brown blob. So when Rick pointed it out a few times, I could not tell you what I was supposed to think.
  • Oh, and Dwight gets to live and drive around looking for his missing wife. Oh, Daryl, you’re so wonderfully terrible at revenge.

Fear the Walking Dead – “What’s Your Story” Thoughts:

I’m not making this into a whole post, but I have to say, the fourth season premiere episode of Fear the Walking Dead was legitimately great and the best episode of this series thus far. It may have accomplished this by removing all the elements associated with Fear, instead focusing on a new set of characters, but I cannot deny the quality of a show I have had a tough time with. So I’ll point out a few things that worked.

  • I am already a Garret Dillahunt fan, and he immediately became my new favorite character on this show.
  • Lennie James was given a helping hand by Andrew Lincoln, Melissa McBride and Tom Payne in his sendoff from The Walking Dead, making this a true crossover episode.
  • Maggie Grace has been lost, taken, taken to space jail, and involved in a hurricane heist, so of course, she’s fit for this world, and she does a good job.
  • The centerpiece of this episode is the extended action sequence that is terrific. Well staged, tense, and full of creativity.
  • The first sign of the original Fear cast is at the end, where they come across as bad people. I look forward to seeing how they’ve changed in the time since we last saw them.

  • Well, that wraps it up for my Walking Dead coverage. I hope I’ve done enough to convey why this show has times where it really works and frustrating times where it could work so much better than it does. I still look forward to the next season and I can at least say Fear the Walking Dead has started its fourth season off strong enough to have me excited for the next episode. Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what me and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on The Walking Dead TV Podcast.
Written by
Aaron is a movie fanatic and loves talking about such things…a lot. He is from Orange County, California, but earned a degree or two at UC Santa Barbara. He describes himself as a film reviewer, writer, podcaster, video game player, comic book reader, disc golfer, and a lefty. His mind is full of film knowledge and random trivia, but he is always open to learning more, whether it’s through box office stats, reviewing Blu-rays from The Criterion Collection or simply hearing first hand from filmmakers and others about various productions and behind-the-scenes tidbits.

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