The Walking Dead (S08E13) “Do Not Lead Us Astray”

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Always set an armed Night’s Watch in the ZA.

TWD has struggled in season 8 to make the All Out War (AOW) comic arc interesting for viewers but finally catches a break. Episode 8.13, ‘Do Not Send Us Astray, is one of the best episodes of the season balancing battle scenes against walker carnage and important character moments.

A 747 could fly through one major plot hole but the episode has some terrific character growth for Maggie, Carol, Morgan, and others. Most of the episode occurs at night adding suspense to the battles and later walker rampage scenes. The darkness makes some scenes hard to see or always know who is doing what.

Cold open- Day 1: The episode opens and closes with Morgan imagining a conversation with dead Gavin (the always fantastic Jayson Warner Smith) who yells that Morgan “was supposed to” and at the end Morgan “knows” even though viewers are confused. Lennie James delivers another fantastic performance as the increasingly confused and descending into madness Morgan in the final days of AOW before the character crosses over to Fear The Walking Dead (FTWD). One of the best soldiers fighting the Saviors can no longer trust what his mind is telling him. He catches the signal, honking horn, then honks the car horn of his vehicle as the sounds travel from person to person, the vehicles to Daryl’s air horn.

Henry wants to fight, but King Ezekiel tells him he needs to stay inside and help defend Hilltop.  Henry appeals to Carol but she tells him he’ll die if he goes out into the attack.  Once again, TWD invokes a child who refuses to stay in the house and do as he is told.  Shades of Carl!  We know this won’t end well and yes, Henry refuses to stay in the house. The battle for Henry’s soul has begun.

Night 1: After Maggie calls Simon and threatens to shoot the 38 Savior hostages she has, Simon refuses to back down, saying her hostages are on their own and expendable. Maggie has 38 bullets she is personally willing to fire into those 38 prisoners. Simon is determined to take down the Hilltop using Negan’s tainted weapons scheme to end the war. Simon’s goal is complete annihilation and Steve Ogg sells it beautifully. He tells Dwight (Austin Amelio) that it is better to beg for forgiveness than ask permission. Simon wants to do some “proper slaughtering” so takes his group to attack the Hilltop.

Maggie has set up a brilliant nighttime trap as Simon walks his people right into a killing box, hemmed in by vehicles and the house itself. Double-agent Dwight pretends to support him but is secretly looking out for the Resistance in his own revenge against Negan scheme and escapes detection this week.

Everyone rallies to fight the Saviors although casualties are high since the Saviors are trying to wound more than kill.  Carol runs around like a one-woman army, saving Bertie (the talented Karen Ceesay, also Mrs. Sinclair on Stranger Things), fighting the invaders and getting a wounded Tobin (Jason Douglas) to safety.   Carol has a lot of thankless tasks in this episode but the worst comes later.

As the groups fight in both in darkness and a few spot-lit areas, Dwight wounds Tara with an arrow just as Simon is about to kill her. Is the arrow tainted with walker guts, too? We don’t know for sure, but it is a safe bet that her arrow was “clean” since she never sickens from her wound the way the others do.She’s running around fine the next day, unlike others.

Rick almost kills Siddiq by mistake in the darkness while Morgan hears ghost Gavin again in the middle of the fight. The Saviors retreat leaving their walker-tainted weapons & time to create more walkers. Rick and Maggie speak afterward as he mentions how badly he wanted and tried to kill Negan in the last episode ‘The Key’.  Maggie wants Glenn’s grave to be the last thing Negan ever sees, but she is able to rein in her desire and not let it lead her into recklessness. They know Negan wasn’t part of the attack, but have no idea what fresh hell is coming for them.

Day 2: Next day, Daryl and Tara argue over Dwight, this time with Daryl thinking they cannot trust him while Tara says she’s OK with Dwight now after last week. Daryl even brings up Merle and how if he had followed Merle leaving the prison (instead of their going back) they would be with the Negan now or some other group just like the Saviors.  Interesting insight, except that doesn’t quite fit Dwight’s comic arc or what we know of him on the show. Daryl and Tara’s positions changed completely just a day or two later than the previous episode. OK. Will they change their minds next week? I think Daryl will come around but Tara will stay in the “Dwight is OK” camp. She may hate him for killing Denise but she and Rosita trust him now.  She seems to be fine despite her arrow wound and isn’t sick at all like the others wounded by Simon’s group.

Rick continues distancing everyone which is his preferred coping skill with grief. Even Michonne cannot reach him. Her gentle, tentative, “I saved you a turnip”, is heartbreaking to hear as he stays walled off by his grief.  I liked that we see Rick’s misery and grief at 4 episodes since Carl’s death which is realistic and powerful. We need to see Rick’s grief although the timing could hardly be worse.

Carol stays with the badly wounded Tobin who serves as a plot device to close that old season 6 arc of Carol wearing a mask and baking cookies at the Alexandra Safe Zone. She has needed a chance to express her current thoughts.  She explains to Tobin that she was pretending all the time back then, and she couldn’t do it anymore, so she left.  Carol tells Tobin that everyone gets one night and maybe one more morning, but there are no guarantees after that. She admits to Tobin later that she is not sure exactly what she will do once Negan is defeated, but comic readers know there is a big time jump after AOW ends, so many things could happen before the season 9 premiere. Carol and Tobin make their peace and that painful time in Carol’s life gets some closure, finally.

Rick refuses to engage with or even look much at Siddiq several times during the episode but listens to him.  I give Rick a pass since Carl was walker-bitten saving Siddiq. Rick will come around eventually I think, plus Siddiq is the ZA’s new Golden Ticket- a doctor! Doctors are dropping like flies as we see a bit later. Siddiq mentions a prayer for the dead, one phrase of which gives the episode it’s title, ‘Do Not Send Us Astray’.

Night # 2: Henry (Macsen Linz, brother of Madison Linz who played Sophia Peletier in seasons 1-2) sneaks out to the pen the next night, encounters Gregory and admits killing Saviors would make him feel better. He needs a focus for his rage, but Carol, Morgan, and Ezekiel are about to be very busy plus no one seems to know he left the house.  He encounters Jared in the pen. “I want the guy who killed my brother” as he prepares to shoot them all. Alden tries to talk him down, but a walker attack happens outside the pen. Jared calls his friends to leave the pen, Gregory included, so Henry is abandoned with his vengeance having to wait for another day. Henry is in danger of losing his soul if he unleashes his inner rage and starts murdering.  Carol and Morgan understand this and worry since they know how soul-killing giving into the rage can be.  Carl killed Jody in season 3 when Jody was trying to hand over his gun and felt like a monster for it for the rest of his life on the show, a mistake Carol and Morgan are trying to prevent now. They will have to find Henry first. Do you think Carol will end up taking in Henry as her child?

Hilltop sleeps through the night (think Whos in Whoville level of deep sleep) with no armed guards or watches on patrol. The sleeping do not even hear a walker, one of their own, as he falls down the stairs and into the living room of Hilltop, freshly turned and hungry. All over Hilltop, those wounded by Negan’s weapons die, turn and attack their comrades. The attack at the pen is part of the inside attack so no one catches a break that night.

Folks scramble for weapons as the wounded die, turn and attack. Carol is attacked by Tobin who turned as she dozed nearby. She puts down Tobin down after a brief struggle and that part her past is done, forever. One wounded man has had enough and begs Rick & Co to put him down pleading, “I can’t do it…you gotta do it for me please”.  An interesting comparison between an adult who won’t or can’t kill himself and Carl, who suicided alone to spare Rick and Michonne the pain of doing it for him. It underscores Carl’s strength, dying as he lived. Carol has to do it although why is it always Carol who has to do the dirty work on this show?

There are some great walker effects in this part of the episode, but the attack raises some issues for viewers. Hilltop’s walker rampage is where disbelief sets in and pulls the viewer out of the story.  We see the smart, ZA-savvy characters we’ve loved for 8 seasons failed to see armed guards right after a brutal attack from the Saviors. Really? While this is clearly a constructed plot device by the writers to show Negan’s plans with the tainted weapons have succeeded, it comes at the cost of credibility for the characters.

Rick may be distracted by his grief, so I give him a bit of a pass. Maggie, Daryl, Carol, and Michonne, however, would never be so careless as to leave their place unguarded. Rosita, Tara or others also would not have taken such a senseless risk.  Hilltop’s outside pen holding the 38 Saviors hostages has been guarded 24/7 since their capture so why would no guard be set at the house to keep the community safe? It makes the characters look stupid, lacking in common sense, so makes it harder for the audience to see the main characters as smart enough to stay alive in the Zombie Apocalypse. It feels as though somebody in the writers’ room thought it might be cool to watch even if it made no sense on the screen.  People that stupid wouldn’t survive several years of the ZA.
Writers, be better, this type of lazy writing, contrived plot failure is a big reason why TWD has been shedding viewers since season 6!
Throughout the episode, we see Hilltop’s graveyard getting larger as groups of the dead and recently put down walkers are buried. Maggie speaks of the costs of war and how these costs compare to her desire to see Negan dead.  Simon warned her at the start of the episode that “The Bill has come due” so Maggie feels the pain of those who were lost along the way.
Rick’s group figures out fast that Negan has tainted the weapons with walker goo- Rick saw Lucille stained with walker guts in ‘The Key’ so there is no mystery as to what killed the wounded. Good thing that was not dragged out for a few more episodes because it raises an interesting possibility:

Will the Hilltop group taint their weapons to kill more Saviors?

Maggie and Jesus find the empty pen with Alden explaining he stayed as the others ran away. Maggie has converted him and a few more at least.

In the final stretch of daylight, Carol and Enid organize a search of the woods for Henry, anxious to find him before he sells his soul forever for the brief comfort of murdering Saviors, or runs into walkers alone, or something worse. The adults are worried about Henry and right to be concerned.  We’ve seen what has happened to Morgan in his ‘Clear’ phase plus he’s seeing ghosts again. Carol, Daryl and others know the costs to the soul of giving in to dark desires or rage. Henry’s absence weighs heavily upon Maggie as another potential cost.  The episode closes with Gavin screaming at Morgan, “You Know!”

Grade B-