If you hoped for some resolution to the Negan/Jadis road trip in this episode, you must be new to the show, because that’s exactly the kind story thread The Walking Dead loves to dangle unresolved for a couple weeks. Instead, we finally witness the much-discussed assault on Hilltop, which looks like a win for the good guys until a surprise epilogue scores big, bloody points for the Saviors. We also see Morgan get haunted by the world’s most annoying ghost and are reminded why no one in their right mind should feel safe around anyone under the age 15.
Simon makes good on his promise a new day for the Saviors, but shifts the plan attack from “infection to conclusion.” That’s a smart (and manipulative) bit storytelling sleight hand on the part the show’s writers, since now we’re not thinking about that zombie-gore bath that the Saviors gave their weapons. “Maggie Rhee, the Widow” introduces herself to Simon by walkie, and the “good guy” Savior, Alden, tries to broker peace: “Too nice a night to spend it dying slow, don’t you think?” Strong line, dude, but Simon responds in Trumpian fashion — he prefers Saviors who don’t get captured.
And so, it’s on. Without Negan, the Saviors aren’t exactly battlefield tacticians: When they hit a school bus blockade, they’re at a loss once the Hilltop headlights are shot out and the whole place goes dark, and they’re very confused when the lights come back on. Give them points for pulling a Katniss and resorting to archery, but otherwise, they don’t have much a plan at all. Simon’s crew is also lucky that Rick throws away a lot perfectly good weapons these days. He appears in a blaze semi-automatic glory, empties one clip, then tosses the rifle aside and goes back to his axe. Are they that low on bullets, or is he just really lousy at packing before combat? (Note how Rick’s go-to weapon this season is the axe instead his Colt Python. As his beef with Negan has become personal and intimate, so has his preferred method killing.)
Rick and Maggie chase the remaining Saviors straight out the front gates, and with more than half the episode left, you know there’s another shoe that’s waiting to drop. That brings us to Tara, who never should have been hit by an arrow in the first place. Dwight was following Simon all over the Hilltop yard in the darkness, so why didn’t he take out Simon when he had a chance, thus proving his ultimate allegiance to the Hilltop cause? Instead, he ends up skewering Tara in what looks like a mercy wound — “just a scratch” — to keep Simon from ambushing her. Tara and Daryl have a lively debate over Dwight’s motivations. Tara says, Hey, people change, look at me, I was with the Governor and so was your brother. (Damn!) Daryl counters that perhaps she forgot that Daryl killed her girlfriend. (DAMN!)
Aside from a handful deaths and some minor annoyances — like that A-hole who gives Siddiq a hard time for no good reason, and Gregory’s continued existence — Hilltop is in pretty decent post-battle shape. Maggie hears well-earned praise from her sergeant-at-arms and a Hilltop rando for her leadership. But things in this world are fine until they aren’t, and that switch flips quickly. Carol’s old flame, Tobin, handled her real talk about their brief dalliance rather well — she also told Henry that he’ll die if he fights, like this is Scared Straight: Apocalypse Edition — but what Tobin handles less well is his wound. As soon as he started looking pale, the lightbulb clicked on for me: There’s zombie guts on them Savior blades, people! Apparently their bullets, too, which seems like a stretch, but doesn’t even rate on the implausibility scale for this show.
What does rate as absurd, however, is the utterly ridiculous stealth the walking class. Upstairs in the mansion, necks are being devoured while groans and moans fill the air, yet no one sleeping on floors in close proximity even stirs. The pièce de résistance is the gimpy rando who thanked Maggie earlier. After he turns, he tumbles down the stairs without anyone waking up. If that’s the low point the zombie sleeper-cell scene, the best moment comes when Jesus and Michonne team up for a HOF-level kill: He pins a walker to the wall with a kick, she finishes with a sword through the head. Later, Carol has one last tender moment with Tobin as he growls and tries to eat her face before he’s put down like a rabid dog. Ah, what could have been.
While walker mayhem breaks out, Henry’s got a gun and demands to know who killed his brother. Why doesn’t he believe Morgan’s story that Gavin pulled the trigger? Who knows. But the kid should be a cautionary tale for any parent in this world, as children seem to exist on TWD for two reasons: to make bad decisions that put everyone in jeopardy, and to die. To no one’s surprise, Henry’s gangsta moment ends badly, as Jared the asshole tackles the young sociopath and leads most his fellow Savior captives to freedom. (In a perfect grace note, Gregory pauses to see the kid prone on the ground and in danger being devoured, winces, then runs like the lowlife he’s always been.)
So why does the ghost Gavin keep yelling, “You know what it is! You were supposed to!” at Morgan? My guess is that Morgan was “supposed to” be the one who killed Gavin. Now he “knows” that the madness in his head has infected young Henry, like zombie guts in an open wound. Rick eventually helps them figure out why their people seemingly turned for no reason, and Tara’s left wondering if she’s next. (This should be more pro that Dwight is on their side: Not only did he barely wound Tara, but his arrows were presumably clean.)
The episode’s title, “Do Not Send Us Astray,” comes from a prayer for the dead, and perhaps a warning for the living not to follow the departed to the grave. But Maggie and Rick are struggling to temper their need for vengeance with the greater good. By sun up, Henry is missing, and if anyone had a lick sense, they’d lock those gates tight. Good Savior Al and a few compatriots pledge their allegiance to The Widow Rhee (which I think Maggie should start using regularly because it lends a certain air mystery and intimidation than one really needs when developing a personal brand in the apocalypse). Morgan’s ghost is still screaming. More graves are dug. The only one that matters, though — to Rick, to Maggie, and to us — is Negan’s.