(Obviously, since this is a recap, there are many spoilers ahead for the Season 8 premiere of “The Walking Dead”)
It’s time for war in the premiere of “The Walking Dead” Season 8. The Kingdom, the Hilltop and Alexandria are all aligned in the battle against Negan and the Saviors, and we’re finally going to see what this battle actually looks like with Rick and Friends fighting it at full strength.
And for once, things are actually not all horrible, sad and depressing on “The Walking Dead.” It’s pretty exciting.
The episode opens some out-of-order shots of Rick looking sad and Rick-ish, with red, teary eyes, and closeups of things like Hershel’s cane, flowers and a clock. Chronology isn’t too well-respected in this episode, with a bunch of flashes that get at Rick’s mental state and hint at the future.
When we do catch up with the present, we find everyone at the Hilltop getting ready, armoring cars with chunks of the metal used for Alexandria’s walls. Other preparations are being made as well, with Tara and Carol set up near that herd of walkers on the highway that Rick’s group found then they disarmed and stole the Saviors’ explosives.
Then we cut to Rick giving a rousing speech as his army prepares for battle.
“When I first met him, Jesus said my world was gonna get a whole lot bigger,” Rick tells everybody. “We found that world. That bigger world is ours by right. If we come together for it, it’s that much more true. It’s ours by right. Any person who would live in peace and fairness, who would find common ground — it’s their right too. But those who use and take and kill to carve out the world and make it theirs alone? We end them. We don’t celebrate it. We don’t have shame about it either. There’s only one person who has to die. And I will kill him myself.
“But if it’s the others who prop him up, who stand by his side, even just the ones who look the other way — so be it. Then, we keep making the world bigger, together,” Rick continues.
Next up is Ezekiel, who uses his community theater skills and knowledge to cite a passage from literal Shakespeare: The “Band of Brothers” speech from “Henry V.”
“Together, bound forever!” Ezekiel shouts. “To quote the bard, for he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother, and she today, my sister.”
Maggie, who’s quickly becoming the de facto leader of the Hilltop colony, finishes up with a bit of encouragement of her own.
“We practiced,” he says. “We’ve been through it over and over again. We all know the plan doesn’t end this morning, and we may have to live in uncertainty for days, maybe more. That we have to keep our faith in each other. If we can hold onto that with everything we have, the future is ours. The world is ours.”
Meanwhile, at Negan’s home, the Sanctuary, Daryl and Dwight pass each other notes by crossbow bolt. Looks like Dwight is coming through for the good guys.
Things get a bit weird as the cold open ends. We see Rick looking sad again, and we see a shot of him, bearded, waking up in what feels like a callback to when he woke up in the hospital bed at the start of the series. This time, Weird Al’s “Another One Rides the Bus” plays in the background. Is it a flashback — or a flash forward? It seems this will be one of those episodes of “The Walking Dead” that plays fast and loose with time.
When we’re back from the opening titles, we find Carl driving a van, and stopping to hunt for gas. As he approaches a gas station, he hears a voice and finds a guy babbling. Before Carl can talk to him, though, Rick appears and shoots over the man’s head to scare him away. Distrusting, Rick suggests the man could have been a spy for the Saviors. “If he’s not, I hope he makes it,” Rick tells Carl.
“It’s not going to be enough, Dad,” Carl responds.
“What?” Rick asks.
“Hope,” Carl says, walking away. Rick’s still hardened from dealing with Negan but Carl gets it. It’ll be cooperation and mercy that makes their world actually work long term. Otherwise, Rick would just be a different brand of Negan.
Meanwhile, Daryl, Morgan and other members of the alliance are clearing out Saviors in lookout positions around Negan’s camp, working off a list that seems to be what Dwight provided. As they do, Rick and his team leave in a convoy of armored cars. They’re outfitted with chunks of the walls in order to make a moving barricade, it seems. The pieces of the plan are starting to come together, and it looks like it’ll involve a weaponizing walkers and setting up mobile fortifications. Not everybody comes for the fight, though. At least a few key fighters — Carl, Rosita and the still-injured-from-last-season Michonne — stay behind to defend.
Back out on the road, Rick finishes off the last of Negan’s lookouts. But before he dies, the man sputters an ominous threat.
“I saw you begging. You gonna beg again, Rick? Your boy’s gonna die.”
Rick responds by letting a walker eat the guy. Pretty cold, Rick, but obviously he’s not messing around anymore. Like Rick said in the Season 7 finale, there’s nothing Negan can do to stop him anymore. Threats don’t work.
With all preparations made, the army meets up in a staging area for the “Band of Brothers” speech, and we catch up with a few characters from each of the different communities. It’s time to start the war.
As things get ready to start, Maggie explains that she’ll need to return to the Hilltop after the battle to keep it going.
“The Hilltop’s lucky to have you,” Rick tells her as they prepare to leave.
“You showed me how to be someone worth following,” Maggie responds.
“Good. After this, I’m following you,” Rick says. This isn’t the first time someone has suggested Maggie for president.
Back on the road, the walker herd shows up almost right on time, and Daryl, Tara, Morgan and Carol head down to another stop where they stretch a chain across the road. Meanwhile at the Sanctuary, Dwight sends out a war party of two cars and a few motorcyclists. While he waits, two lookouts on the Sanctuary roof are taken out and in come all the allies’ armored cars. They line up to create a big wall for cover, then fire their guns to get Negan’s attention.
“Well shit, I’m sorry,” Negan says as he walks out. “I was in a meeting.”
Next, we’re back to Rick’s weird flashback-or-forward. He walks out and finds Michonne and Carl, so he’s seemingly at home and everything’s going okay. Maybe Rick’s red, watery-eye look in these out-of-order scenes is a good thing and doesn’t mean key characters got murdered horribly! “The Walking Dead” has never really provided viewers with a reason to hope for that kind of thing, but hey, it’s a new season and we can dare to dream.
Back at the Sanctuary, Negan continues his usual theatricality. After talking about penis sizes and listening to Rick offer his lieutenants a one-time-only chance at surrender and mercy, Negan rolls out Gregory, the leader of the Hilltop. Gregory says that his colony stands with Negan, and says that anybody from the Hilltop who doesn’t immediately return home will be kicked out of the colony, along with their families.
Nobody budges, and when Gregory again says the Hilltop stands with Negan, Jesus answers, “The Hilltop stands with Maggie!” For real, Maggie’s going to be president of Virginia before the end of Season 8.
On the road, Daryl, Carol, Morgan and Tara set off their trap, blowing up Negan’s returning convoy of fighters. The billowing smoke is visible from the Sanctuary. There goes Negan’s backup.
Rick offers the lieutenants their for-real last chance at surrender, calling back one of Negan’s past moments of being a total jerkbag, shouting, “You’re gonna make me count?” He starts counting down from 10, but only gets to seven before he starts firing on Negan and his lieutenants.
On the road, everyone separates as walkers start to approach the explosion. Daryl guides the herd back toward the Sanctuary by blowing up setting off explosions along the way there, while Rick’s group uses the now-armored RV as an explosive battering ram to open the way into the factory. With all the fences destroyed, a hurt Negan takes cover behind the remnants of the RV armor. Gabriel convinces Rick to leave as planned — “It’s not about you, right?” he says, breaking Rick of his need for revenge — and everybody starts to take off as the walker herd arrives.
In the last moments of the battle, Gabriel catches sight of a disoriented and defenseless Gregory, and moves to help him. But Gregory, being a selfish moron, jumps in one of the cars when he sees his moment, leaving Gabriel to fend off gunfire and approaching zombies.
Next is another flash-forward to life not being awful at Alexandria. Back in the present, the aftermath of the fight — and what feels like the first time one of Rick’s plans has actually gone according to plan — has everyone feeling pretty good. But the job’s not over, as Rick’s group next pushes to the Paze Industrial Complex, one of the outposts Dwight outlined.
Back at the Sanctuary, Gabriel’s still alive, but stuck and surrounded by walkers. He manages to jump inside a construction trailer, but guess who’s also there? It’s Negan, who advises Gabriel that he hopes he’s wearing his “shittin’ pants,” since Gabriel about to shit his pants. One wonders why Gabriel doesn’t just blast Negan with that assault rifle he’s carrying, but it must be out of bullets. It’s getting kind of irritating that no one can seem to kill this guy.
The last moments of the episode suggest that, while a lot of things are still up in the air, like the fight at Paze and Gabriel’s fate, the day was a victory for the allied colonies. We see some kind of festival about to kick off in Alexandria in Rick’s flash-forward, and the shots of him with red, teary eyes are apparently showing red, teary eyes of joy rather, than sadness.
The last scene of the episode cuts back one more time to the “Band of Brothers” moment in the field before the attack on the Sanctuary, where Rick gives one last rousing speech about taking back the future.
“I don’t want to wait for it anymore,” Rick says. “You don’t either. I know. We don’t have to wait for it — we start tomorrow right now, with everything we’ve beaten, everything we’ve endured, everything we’ve risen above. Everything we’ve become. If we start tomorrow right now, no matter what comes next, we’ve won. We’ve already won.”
For once, things went mostly okay for everyone on “The Walking Dead.” Well, except for Gabriel. It’ll be next week before we see what Negan has in store for him.