Closure is a beautiful, heartbreaking thing
‘Still Gotta Mean Something’ is one of TWD’s best season 8 episodes, with intense action, wrapped up long-dragging plotlines plus inspired performances from Pollyanna McIntosh, Joshua Mikel, Melissa McBride, Andrew Lincoln, Lennie James and Danai Gurira. What should be an A episode suffers from a few, important awkward plot devices but I predict many of the cast will be submitted for Emmy and Saturn Award nominations for their work here.
‘Still Gotta Mean something’, written by Eddie Guzelian and directed by Michael Satrazemis (The Grove), is full of Easter eggs, call backs to previous seasons and sees several long-suffering characters make their peace with one another & their own pasts.
Fans of Morgan, Carol, Rick & Michonne can mostly enjoy this episode which shatters the “hurry up and wait” feel of so many season 8 episodes. A few storylines feel ret-conned from previous character stories ignored or reinvented. The plot devices and ret-cons are where the issues lie and I listed those under cons, no pun intended. The wins outnumber the problems though.
- The episode opens with lone Heapster survivor Jadis faking her own death during Simon’s massacre of her people before getting back to her small, oddly-sterile room inside the Heap. No pictures, cushions or anything personal in her space. She breaks down sobbing for a minute, then gathers Lucille and her gear to use on Negan. She wants vengeance for Simon’s slaughter of the Heapsters and she has diabolical plans for Negan and Lucille.Pollyanna McIntosh is finally given great writing for Jadis she uses to advantage. A character many viewers have mocked as one-dimensional and weird is human, vulnerable and full of emotions. McIntosh lets those emotions roll across her face, dialogue unnecessary, and uses her physicality similarly to Norman Reedus to great effect. This is Jadis’ best episode yet despite her revenge plot upon Negan. I found myself wanting (finally!) to know more about Jadis, who she was before the ZA and whether she might survive season 8’s All Out War and go into season 9.
Jadis has plans to burn Lucille in front of Negan before forcing him to fight, tied up on a wheeled creeper (aptly named and well used) a Winslow 3.0. Negan just wants to survive the day. Negan and Jadis open up to each other with her telling him that losing her people took everything, including herself, away from her. She has a few Polaroid photos left of the Heapsters which he could have grabbed and burned but does not. Negan explains that Lucille was his wife’s name and the bat Lucille is his last connection to her which is why he loves it so much. Negan did not order the massacre of the Heapsters but he promises to make it right for her if she lets him go. He swears on his sack that he’ll help her get Simon if she lets him go. He also admits “I punched myself in the dick” by letting Simon loose so Negan remains as colorful as ever.
The helicopter returns just as Jadis is about to set Winslow 3.0 loose, so she grabs the burning flare from Negan’s hand and tried to flag it down, unsuccessfully. He is shocked as most survivors would be, but she does not give him any information about the chopper. Does Jadis know more than she’s letting on?
- Negan gets his deal and while driving back to the Sanctuary, pulls the car over to pick up a passenger we never see. Is it Gregory who escaped the pen with the Saviors but has not been seen since? Is it Laura, who escaped Dwight a few episodes ago and knows he is a turncoat? Is it Sherry, Dwight’s missing wife? I think Gregory or Laura are the best bets for the mystery passenger. Negan arrives at The Sanctuary and promises to roll out many surprises. Simon is not long for the ZA world and should meet his fate in the next episode.
- Tara is safe, as expected with her arrow wound clean. She has not been ill, is the only one who never got sick. Daryl needs more time but Tara still trusts Dwight.
- Henry is found in a place similar to where Rick told Sophia to hide (Easter egg), by Carol, and he finally understands he is not ready to go out on his own. He also understands Morgan’s pain, and how turning into a child vengeance killer would have destroyed his soul forever. Macsen Lintz gives a strong performance as Henry, working well with Melissa McBride (Carol), Khary Payton (King Ezekiel) and Lennie James (Morgan)
- Carol confronts her own fears about lost child Henry after failing to save her daughter Sophia, Lizzy and Mika plus Sam Anderson in past seasons. She is compelled to keep searching, finds him and realizes that she will be able to find herself again should she ever lose her way again. Carol is freed from the worst of her suffering 6 seasons after losing Sophia, and 4 seasons after putting down Lizzy. Carol is even able to tell Ezekiel that she lost her daughter and how hard she has fought to find and hang on to the better version of herself she created afterward.
Carol has worked through her issues! Six seasons later, Carol has some peace and, I hope, an end to continued misery-porn storylines. The character deserves a break, at least for a season, and viewers deserve that break as much as the always fantastic Melissa McBride. Please, writers, give Carol that break.
- Morgan makes his peace with Carol telling her she saves people and changes them while he only can kill them. She tells Morgan he saved her and also taught her she could find her way back to herself, as he did. Carol seems to have forgotten that season 6 body-slam on concrete over the fate of the Wolf leader Morgan but most viewers have not forgotten. Morgan is winding down his time on The Walking Dead before heading West for Fear The Walking Dead (FTWD) and making his peace with the people to whom he is closest.
- Rick and Michonne have very tender scenes in which she confronts him about his isolating himself after Carl’s death and encourages him to finally read the letter Carl wrote him. Michonne tells him Andrea pulled her out of her own isolation after Andre’s death, just as she is doing for Rick now. She understands Rick’s grief better than most but refuses to let him wall himself away from everyone as he tends to do when grieving. Later, Rick apologizes to her and they exchange tender “I love you’s” before he decides to read Carl’s letter, finally. Danai Gurira and Andrew Lincoln give intense performances which make these scenes enjoyable despite the sadness over Carl.
- Morgan is getting worse, seeing hallucinations, even of Henry once speaking Ghost-Gavin’s words. He almost attacks Rick at one point and says several times his purpose is to kill and everybody turns, which call back his words and written slogans in season 3’s ‘Clear’. He is getting worse and Carol tells him out in the woods she is there not to find Henry but to keep an eye on him. How will Morgan safely make the trip to Texas in his current condition, as likely to kill an ally or shoot at a ghost? I have a hunch Morgan’s trip may get the webisode or Red Machete treatment and that would be fantastic to see.
Morgan walks away from Carol and conveniently runs into Rick so they two of them track the missing Savior escapees together. Morgan almost attacks Rick who reminds him, “Morgan you know me” before they head off to get their quarry.
Lennie James deserves an Emmy nod and a Saturn nod for his performances in this episode. Grief, to rage to a cold-blooded killer within a few seconds. “I’m not right’ he sorrowfully tells Carol & Rick, repeating it often. At the end of the episode, he tells Henry that he killed Jared, who killed Henry’s brother Ben in season 7. He weeps bitterly as Henry witnesses what might have been his own fate had he continued on the child-killer path. Lucky for Henry he will have Carol and Ezekiel watching out for him unless Morgan ends up killing him by accident and that being the cause of his leaving for Texas. Fingers crossed no!
- Rick and Morgan track the escaped Saviors to a bar (a callback to season 2’s ‘Nebraska’) are knocked out and tied up just as a herd is about to pass through. Rick gives his word that the Saviors will be taken to Hilltop and given a fresh start if they untie he and Morgan before the herd arrives. “A man’s word still gotta mean something,” Rick says, lying through his teeth. A reminder to viewers we are a long way from Rick’s Officer Friendly days in the early seasons of the show.
- Jared, played by the always-excellent Joshua Mikel, has a wonderful scene in which he calls BS on Rick’s promise and tells his fellow Saviors Morgan strangled Richard, one of his own men, in season 7 and calls them all asshats for wanting to believe Rick would offer them a second chance. Morgan admits he is there to kill them all when the herd arrives.
The escapees (minus Gregory, unseen in the episode) all die but Jared gets a well-deserved, grisly death. Morgan holds him tightly through the other side of a gated area as walkers eat Jared alive. Jared has been a love to hate him character since his first appearance on the show, so many viewers cheered his bloody and fully-earned death. Joshua Mikel has a number of new projects out this year, from “Black Lightning” to “Love, Simon”, so keep an eye out for him. Morgan ends the scene with a sad “Everybody turns’, his renewed mantra.
- Afterward, Rick and Morgan continue making their peace after two seasons of being constantly at odds with each other when Rick asks Morgan why he saved him from the walkers in the show’s pilot, ‘Days Gone Bye’. Morgan’s answer is not what Rick wants to hear “Because my son was there.” Another call back to the pilot and Clear with Duane plus now, Rick understands the agony of fathers losing sons.
I found myself wishing Rick and Morgan had at least one happy scene together, drinking beer, laughing together, doing anything – something we fans could hold on to after what they survived together. Like Glenn said, many seasons ago, “Can’t we have just one good day?” That is not how TWD rolls though.
- Daryl and Rosita realize they need to cripple Eugene’s bullet-making machine and start making plans for that.
- Mike Satrazemis’ direction is excellent with intense scenes one after another, no confusing camera angles and action hitting viewers hard. The character moments are equally well-directed so feel important and not rushed. Strong writing, mostly, combined with powerhouse performances from the cast and excellent direction make this my favorite episode of season 8, one I will watch again.
The Walking Dead has a bad habit of setting up awkward plot devices making characters do things just to move them from point A to point B for the story. Handled poorly, unnecessary issues arise as happens with ‘Still Gotta Mean Something’. Ret-conning characters and stories is another issue within the episode with several examples:
- Ezekiel’s nagging Carol to go search for Henry while staying home himself is strictly a plot device to get her out to the woods with Morgan, but it reads as a disservice to the King Ezekiel character. ‘I thought you were the bravest person I ever met.” he tells her. Yet Ezekiel is not willing to go search for Henry himself so comes off looking like a lazy, nagging ass. Skilled writers would find a better way to get her out there with Morgan rather than at the expense of another character. I am a big fan of Khary Payton and I understand why the writer set it up, but Ezekiel still acts like a jerk at the start of the episode. He tells Carol at the end, when they are talking, that he knew she was afraid, but it took me right out of the story.
One of my TWD fandom friends notes that characters are written by design to be as they are and Ezekiel was written as a nagging jerk (my opinion) in this episode, something I cannot defend since she has a great point. Apparently, TPTB and writers see value in writing Ezekiel as a nagging jerk and that seems a shame to me. Ezekiel is a very popular character with viewers, so why write him to come off this way? Most viewers are not fond of nagging jerks and prefer investing in characters they like.
- Another plot device which fails for me in this episode is Jadis letting go of Negan. Negan has Teflon armor this season, missing getting hit by hundreds of rounds while standing on the loading dock early on. He was speechifying for minutes when anyone could have just shot and killed him. Now Jadis has him but lets him go so Rick’s group can be the ones to take him out. Jadis would have killed Negan, brutally, realistically, so the “deal” for Simon took me out of the story.
- Carol making peace with Morgan was a lovely scene but would domestic abuse survivor Carol really have forgotten that season 6 body-slam onto concrete from Morgan? I doubt it. It read as a ret-conning of their adversarial relationship that season and ignoring that very important event. I fell right out of the story into my living room, disrupting what had been a great scene up until that point.
- I was confused a little by Michonne telling Rick that Andrea helped her with Andre’s loss and brought her back to herself. Michonne told Carl in season 4-B that she had never told Andrea about Andre so that ret-con dialogue failed for me. I guess it happened off-screen but TWD fans know character histories, so this was an avoidable error IMO.
These poorly constructed plot devices and ret-conning of earlier storylines pull viewers out of the story, which is simply not good writing. TWD can be more and overall this was a terrific episode except for these awkward setups.
Henry’s hiding place looks like Sophia’s season 2 hiding place.
Henry says “I’m sorry”, to Morgan at the end of the episode, echoing when Carl said “I’m sorry” to Morgan, for shooting him, in season 3’s ‘Clear’. Morgan responds the same to Henry as he did to Carl then, “Never be sorry.”
‘Nebraska’ had Rick, Glenn and Hershel shooting Tony and Dave in a bar; ‘Still Gotta Mean Something’ had the escaped Saviors die in a bar.
My TV philosphy: we viewers are not entitled to the stories we want (ships, safety, happiness for our favorite characters etc.) on TV shows, but we are entitled to stories which make sense, plotwise and are well-written, consistent, IMO.
Two more episodes left in season 8, and 8.15 ‘Worth’ should be an exciting one.
My grade: B+