Nicole Prieto | Staff Writer
The much-anticipated Season 8 finale of The Walking Dead not only sees an end to the war between Rick and Negan, but also the start of a new chapter in Fear the Walking Dead as Morgan makes his move into the latter show.
Last episode in TWD, Dwight’s status as a double-agent was compromised by a very ticked off Laura, and Negan revealed that he used Dwight to ferry over a fake battle plan to Rick that would lead the latter’s group into an ambush. Eugene barely escaped getting his head blown off by Rosita and Daryl, doubling down on his efforts to produce bullets for the Saviors. For its own part, FTWD came off of a surprisingly stellar third season that saw Madison come to terms with Travis’s death and saw her group barely escape Proctor John and his gang.
If you have not watched TWD’s “Wrath” and FTWD’s “What’s Your Story?,” this is your final warning – because here is the good, the OK and the ugly of this crossover doubleheader.
In what was one of the most instantly redemptive moves in TWD history, Eugene pulls through for Rick and company after displaying flummoxing allegiances all season. The Saviors are now fully restocked on bullets he manufactured at his outpost, and they have every reason to think they work perfectly: Eugene presents Negan with a pistol containing a few solid rounds that he promptly uses on a dummy with “Rick” written on the front. But when Rick plays into Negan’s ambush, one very unexpected thing happens: The second everyone pulls a trigger at Negan’s command, each gun backfires into its owner, including Negan himself. Eugene — with a mix of desperate, convincing acting that easily fooled this writer into believing he sided with Negan for good — had deliberately compromised the manufacturing process for the bullets. Though it is a little hard to believe that no one had discovered they were defective just before the ambush (say, to take out walkers on the way to the rendezvous point), the execution was done well enough to convincingly turn the tide of the battle in Rick’s favor.
As a new cast member of the FTWD world, and after spending most of it alone during his westward travels, Morgan finally drops his obsessive need to put down walkers or take down enemies. While not exactly peace-loving again, he does return to his principle of refusing to kill anyone wherever possible. It is a nice balance from his perhaps too nonviolent pre-hallucinatory status. On that note, Morgan’s hallucinations from all of TWD no longer plague him. (This writer is certainly grateful for no longer watching Gavin yell, “You know what it is,” to Morgan like an undead, broken record.) At worst, he is ornery to two strangers trying to help him along.
The writing between TWD and FTWD is like night and day, since both shows’ best characters tend to be their original creations. John, a pistol-wielding sharpshooter (not be confused with Proctor John), and journalist Althea become Morgan’s fast friends after a run-in with a thieving gang. John is a simple man fond of candy, popcorn, making friends and reading romance novels. He is also an antique pistol-wielding sharpshooter on a journey to find a woman named Laura. Althea is a video journalist roving around in an armored SWAT vehicle sporting a wicked set of machine guns. She interviews people about their stories, and she butts heads with Morgan as she tries to get him to open up about his own. They bring some added dimension to Morgan’s complicated character arc and promise to be interesting additions to FTWD’s fourth season.
Pacing, when employed well, can become either show’s greatest strength. Much like the personable scenes during Season 4 between Daryl and Beth, Morgan’s journey from East to West takes its time — and relishes in it. It turns out he really did need to be away from the chaotic demands of Rick and company’s propensity for attracting war and destruction wherever they rove. Watching Morgan in FTWD is almost a meditative experience as he struggles with learning when to reach out to help others and when to let others help him.
The long end to TWD is perhaps the most feel-good thing the show has ever produced. It wraps up the conflict between Dwight and Daryl (who lets the former live and find Sherry), reestablishes Rick’s humanity (for however long that lasts), brings closure to the Saviors’ attempts to be considered part of the Hilltop community and establishes the allegiance of the reclusive Oceansiders.
On top of it all, Rick slashes Negan’s throat to end the war between them — only to have Siddiq tend to Negan’s non-fatal wound. Rick’s plan is to use Negan as an example by having him locked up for the rest of his life, convincing others that Negan’s way of life will not work for the new world. Maggie, Jesus and Daryl, however, seem to have other plans. In one of the strangest scenes in the episode, the three conspire to bide their time before getting their revenge on Negan for good. The thought of Maggie taking on the role of an antagonist — particularly after her display of leadership at Hilltop all season – is a jarring thought, and TWD is going to have a time plotting out her backroom scheming.
While having Eugene sabotage the Saviors’ ambush was pretty awesome, the war essentially comes to a grinding halt on the spot. Some Saviors try to fight it out, but it is hard to bother with hand-to-hand against the well-armed. And the most war-like scene in the roughly half-hour dedicated to any confrontation is when the Oceansiders throw fireballs at the Saviors group sent to attack Hilltop. Beyond that, there is little to see.
One glaring problem is that the touted “war” throughout Season 8 was fought on a scale not much unlike Rick and company’s typical shootouts with antagonistic groups throughout the series’s run. The Saviors may have had the numbers, and Negan may have commanded more brutality than the Governor ever did. But Rick’s rivalry with the latter always felt more personal. The war between the prison and Woodbury was a far more believable conflict between two groups of formerly normal people. Negan has been a giant cartoon character prone to holier-than-thou monologuing about his method of “saving” people. The Governor was a self-serving jerk who was shrewd enough to manipulate others without the threat of a barbed wire bat – with just enough humanity to make his popularity justifiable.
It is easier to think that someone from Woodbury (e.g., Tara) would do a heel-face turn than someone from the Saviors. Simply put, it takes a lot of onscreen time to turn any given Savior from a caricature into a sympathetic human being. It is very hard to believe, for instance, that the vindictive Laura is suddenly OK with the change in command. A reasonable time skip in TWD’s future may be the only thing to give Season 9 some breathing room to hammer out the details.
The End (of the End)
FTWD leaves us on a cliffhanger as Morgan’s transition between shows wraps up. In a bit of a surprise, a harried, ragtag band comprised of Alicia, Nick, Victor and Luciana corner Morgan, John and Althea at gunpoint. In a move that seems out of character for Alicia, she tricks Althea and company by pretending she is injured in the middle of the road. Her ruse draws them out of the SWAT truck, and unsurprisingly for the trope-savvy, they are ambushed. Althea, helpless under Alicia’s grip and glare, only looks at her and asks, “What’s your story?”
With a strong season already behind it, and one of TWD’s more complicated characters added to its roster, FTWD Season 4 promises to be an interesting ride as we finally find out the fates of Madison and her family.