The Walking Dead (S08E16) "Wrath"- Rick Grimes is really the Zombie Apocalypse Wizard of Oz

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The Walking Dead (TWD) season 8 finale, “Wrath”, brought a welcome end to the show’s season 8 “All Out War” (AOW) comic arc pitting Rick against Negan. “Wrath” has serious failings including too much time spent repeating known details while robbing big moments of time and attention.

Yes, there were some nice moments or happy endings for Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), Dwight (Austin Amelio), Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) and Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) by extension to Dwight’s story, but Gabriel, Dwight and Jadis are minor characters at best. “Wrath” is oddly anticlimactic for a TWD season finale, otherwise.

The biggest hype came from AMC as the network followed “Wrath” with the season 4 premiere of Fear The Walking Dead (FTWD) “So What’s Your Story?” before airing a combined Talking Dead with cast members from both shows present. Designated as “Survival Sunday” the block was featured in movie theaters as well as at home viewing.

We got the expected Rick-small Carl flashback scenes, bookending the episode as expected after AMC released photo.

Pre-battle prep takes most of the episode which was a smart choice since battles have been in so many episodes this season.

Rick asked Siddiq how it happened when Carl got bit and that seems to have been the magic info which led Rick to temper his wrath with mercy and decide not to kill Negan after all.

Comic readers knew this was coming, Rick’s change of heart on killing Negan, but casual viewers expected a death they did not get in “Wrath’. No one with a name died in the episode, despite many fans went into the finale expecting Eugene to die for his treachery.

Morgan did try to attack Henry once then caught himself before killing Henry, luckily. Rick gave Morgan a chance to stay back from the battle since Morgan is having worse hallucinations and almost killed Henry. Morgan told Rick “We’ve lost everything good… We can’t go back so let’s just finish this”. Morgan wants to finish it all as we see later in the episode and in the FTWD cold open.

We also get short scenes from Carol and Henry, Alden the Savior, Jesus and my favorite bit from King Ezekiel and Jerry.

Over at The Sanctuary, Eugene lets Negan test the bullets his team made. All looks well. Later Gabriel (who looks as though he had never been sick this season), prisoner Dwight and Eugene end up in the car with Negan on the way to the battle site. A quick stop gives Eugene a chance to let Gabriel go before he is caught by Negan and becomes a prisoner too.

I would like to have seen how Negan felt about learning all his top aides betrayed him and The Saviors in season 8, but in typical TWD fashion, maybe we’ll get that next season.  Doubtful, but it would have been very interesting to see Negan reflect on his own mistakes leading to his downfall.

The final battle in “Wrath” is won oddly fast thanks to Eugene sabotaging The Saviors bullets causing most to die right away. We knew last week that Negan had given Dwight (who gave it to Gregory to pass to Rick) false info to lead them into a trap.

Rick’s army takes an open field with no cover as their stand and die place, which any military or law enforcement show-viewer knows is incredibly stupid but they all survive anyway! Rick has luck on his side.

At the site of his trap, Negan taunts Rick via bullhorn speech with Gabriel, Dwight and Eugene lined up to die. “Congratulations Rick!”

The guns fire and The Saviors go down, thanks to Eugene’s magic sabotaged bullets.  Negan gets a hand wound, which gives Dwight a chance to escape along with Rick’s Army.

Alden plays good guy through the episode, trying to prove how he is different from all the bad Saviors, so it looks as though he may be back in season 9.

The Oceanside ladies arrive at the last minute to save the day, lobbing Molotov cocktails at the few escaping Saviors, thanks to Tara, and Aaron’s scolding last week. See, just steal their guns and kill their matriarch-these ladies will come running!

Newly-pacifist Jesus reminds Morgan he does not have to kill any more although Morgan’s frustration (and that of viewers) is clear.  This was not the war most viewers signed up to see.

The Saviors left on the field surrender fast to Maggie who now just wants Negan dead, as agreed by the leaders several episodes ago.

Rick chooses to beat Negan instead of shooting him, so the men brawl until Negan kick’s Rick’s ribs viscously.  Negan gets up and says he always gets out of trouble because he’s bigger, better and has a bat.  Asking him for ten seconds “for Carl” Rick draws out the conversation until he is close enough to slash Negan’s throat.  Yes, you read that right.

Rick tells Siddiq to save Negan then announces that Negan will not be killed, the old ways are over and they all need to move on.

“Wrath” gives us more of Say-Anything Rick who continues to do what pleases him, regardless of how his choices affect other allies and enemies.   Confronted by Morgan over his promise of a new start for Jared’s group which resulted in their deaths, Rick lies to Negan and to Maggie once he has defeated Negan, declaring it time to put the old ways behind them forever. Was Rick caught up in the moment in which Carl’s words finally sank in, or did we get a view into Autocrat Rick, willing to ignore his allies and former family members? We will have to wait and see.

Maggie screamed tearfully that Negan needed to die to “make this right” for Glenn but Rick ignored her. I wondered why the leaders did not contest this leaving Maggie v Rick on the victory field.  At the end of the episode, we find out more.  Maggie meets with Daryl and Jesus at Hilltop and announces they will defend their borders, bide their time and then “show Rick and Michonne”.

Conflict within the group is always a promising thing, but seeing Maggie cast as the new villain or “Governess” as Talking Dead’s Chris Hardwick called her little more than an hour later, makes it much easier to understand why Lauren Cohan refused to sign her season 9 contract after a mild salary increase was negotiated.  Cohan accepted a lead role in the pilot for “Whiskey Cavalier”.  Viewers will be waiting to see when and if Lauren Cohan returns to TWD next season in a main or even recurring role based upon how well her pilot does and whether it gets a series order.

Daryl is the dark horse since viewers thought he and Rick would have come to deep conflict over Carol’s season 4 banishment by Rick in “Indifference” but it never happened. Their one-off fistfight earlier in season 8 was made up fast. Why Jesus the Pacifist is now on #Team Maggie has more to do with his second in command at Hilltop status that his views on no killing, I think.

Within minutes of the finale, social media sites raged as fans declared sides in the TeamRick v TeamMaggie conflict which must please AMC who wants folks to keep talking about TWD during hiatus.  The chatter is the wrong sort though with some fans declaring they are now done with TWD forever.

Keeping Negan alive, splitting the group over Negan’s status are ripping the fandom apart in the worst way possible.  Lucky for AMC, some buzz is better than no buzz at all. Will that angry hiatus buzz translate back into season 9 viewers?  Your guess is as good as mine today.

What started as a war ended up as a version of The Wizard of Oz (pay no attention to that bearded man behind the stained glass curtain, y’all!)

After time with Wizard Rick, Father Gabriel got his sight and his faith back while Dwight got his life back (from Daryl), a car and a note from Sherry as he (presumably) rode off into the ZA sunset. Dorothy Jadis got to go to a new home with people around once Rick invited her to join the rebuilding Alexandria Safe Zone (ASZ). As Negan loves to say, “people are resources”.

Negan got a new home, too, the cage where he’ll be spending the rest of his life according to Rick and Michonne.  Yes, the cage Morgan built in season 6 for the Alpha Wolf, thanks, Morgan.  Morgan (Lennie James) got to run away from TWD over to FTWD whose season 4 premiere episode “So What’s Your Story?” mingled his past and future with cameos from TWD’s Carol (Melissa McBride), Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Jesus (Tom Payne).

Outgoing showrunner Scott M. Gimple waxed eloquent on Talking Dead and in many interviews but Walking Dead viewers haven’t bought the schtick he’s been selling. The hype did not translate into ratings for “Wrath” with 7.92 million watching with 3.4 of the coveted 18-49 male demo- the lowest finale ratings for TWD since the season 1 finale in 2010.  The numbers are still respectable for a basic cable show, but 10 million below ratings for 7.01 in which viewers learned Negan and Lucille killed Abraham and Glenn.

TWD has months to decide the next publicity hype gimmick for 9.01, so let’s hope they come up with something better.

Grade:  C