Shameful confession: Despite years and years of lame fake-outs on this show involving major characters almost dying before being saved implausibly with not a moment to spare, I really thought Negan was about to play batter-up with Carl last night. It would have been a nice bookend to the season, which began with him killing Rick’s friends right in front of him and would have ended with him escalating to killing his son. It also would have added fuel to next season’s revenge storyline, giving Rick the most personal possible motive to finish off Negan. I got suckered, I think, because I saw those rumors months ago about Chandler Riggs’s contract being up, which seemed to set him up for a climactic exit.
But no, they ended up wussing out as usual.
Put that aside, though. Last night was fun because the show embraced its essential ridiculousness unapologetically, asking us to suspend more and more of our disbelief every few seconds during the battle scene. Maggie and Ezekiel arrive literally at the precise second that Negan has reared back to crush Carl’s skull. (If the plan at Alexandria was to ambush the Saviors when they arrived, why did the Hilltoppers and Kingdomites get there so late? And how did they get in undetected?) The tiger descends and somehow knows to attack Saviors and only Saviors. Everyone opens fire, yet somehow the Alexandrians — all of whom are being held at point-blank range — escape with no fatalities. Rosita is shot, but she’s okay. Rick is shot through the hip, but is healthy enough to walk. Michonne gets her face mashed and is moments away from being pushed off a roof, yet somehow turns the tables on her attacker without explanation. The entire gang is basically unscathed even though the battle takes place in close quarters, with all sides dressed indistinguishably, and the Alexandrians caught between the Saviors and the turncoat Scavengers. (The fact that the Scavengers continue to behave like a “Star Trek” colony dropped into the wrong show was only the seventh or eighth most ludicrous thing in this hour.) I laughed out loud more than once, enjoying the whole stupid spectacle thoroughly. Watch again below and tell me that they didn’t write Ezekiel’s battle cry wanting you to crack up as he delivered it. The episode reminded me of something Orson Welles once said (paraphrasing): Melodrama is superior to realism because when realism fails, it’s boring, but when melodrama fails, you laugh. At worst, last night was failed melodrama. Not a bad way to spend 90 minutes.
Also ridiculous: What exactly was Negan’s plan for Sasha? She’s some sort of bait to get the Alexandrians to surrender instead of ambushing Negan, I assume, but … how exactly? Negan already had the Scavengers in place to disarm the Grimes gang. The idea, I guess, was that Sasha would step forward in front of Rick et al. and proclaim herself a newly loyal Savior who loves living in the Sanctuary, yadda yadda, and that would finally convince the Alexandrians to give up their rebellion and submit. But that’s stupid. Rick would just assume that Sasha was speaking under duress, and after what happened with Glenn and Abraham, no appeal was going to change his mind anyway. Or was the plan that Negan would threaten to kill Sasha unless Rick surrendered, in which case what the hell would that accomplish? Sasha lives and instead the Alexandrians are slaughtered? For that matter, why is Negan so intent on keeping the Alexandrians alive instead of, say, having the Scavengers massacre them on the spot? Even at the moment of truth with Carl, he only threatens to crush Rick’s hands, not to kill him. Granted, he needs some worker bees alive to go out and gather resources for him, but the Alexandrians have tried to kill him several times already and were prepared to blow him up outside their gates last night. For someone known for ruthlessness, there’s really no end to the number of second chances Negan seems willing to give them. Any other psychopathic warlord would have exterminated them en masse for their disloyalty. And on top of all of that, what was with the coffin? I don’t see what purpose it served except as a pure dramatic contrivance designed to give them a way to have zombie Sasha pop out and surprise Negan.
But melodrama is fun. And I do like what they did with those cryptic close-ups of Sasha after every commercial break, building up to the big reveal. The music, the sweat, and that glassy inscrutable smile made the payoff satisfying. Because they kept intercutting those scenes with exchanges with Abraham, I had the thought at one point that maybe she was remembering sex with him and was flashing back to the act. But no, she was all set up for a different kind of gratification. It was a nice end for her character.
Another full season to come of Rick/Negan comparing their wieners, though, huh? May a thousand grumbles bloom.