|Photo Credit: AMC / Gene Page
What happens Negan and the Sanctuary put his plan to use? Well, a lot of red shirts die. And not without some glaring inconsistencies.
Let's dial back Do Not Send Us Astray to Maggie actually setting up The Hilltop Colony into a well-oiled army. They used the grounds and prisoners around them to prepare for Negan's invasion as well as possible - arming everyone, causing distractions from inside and out in the open. She's a good leader, as if we've always known this.
What nobody counted on was the wild cards - the fact that they didn't know how Negan was going to attack them by dipping their weapons in walker blood and mortally injure people; not actually kill them. With this upperhand, our groups managed to kill themselves from the inside out.
As the battle kicked off in the middle of the night, Maggie with what is left of all the communities - Alexandria, Hilltop and Kingdom - fought their assailants off. They didn't necessarily have a victory on their hands as they managed to force the Sanctuary to retreat. Night turned into day and a new dawn seemed like it was on the horizon until injured soldiers began growing the symptoms of walkers - fever, chills, a fast-acting flu - and after another nightfall, turned into walkers. Like people who have been killed in the attack on The Kingdom and Alexandria were redshirts, but regardless, the bodies keep piling up despite Carl's plea for everyone to sing Kumbaya and get along.
The action itself for most of the episode was pretty spectacular, getting back to good old gun, fist, and knife fights over their territory. The main issues that came with Negan's plan however, and Maggie's people turning into walkers, is that nobody noticed anyone turned into walkers until 75% more people died.
This is a world where the survivors are in tune with the sounds walkers make; they walk in the forest alone and know when a stick breaking is not by their own feet; so how is it in the middle of the night where they are literally only hearing crickets are walkers able to attack in complete silence? Even one of them fell down a flight of stairs and nobody woke up?!
The other wild card in the middle of the night, not so much a wild card but a complete nuisance to the storytelling, was Henry. On a revenge streak to find out which Savior killed his brother, he idiotically opened the prisoner gates, completely unprepared and inexperienced to actually take any of them on. And as soon - conveniently timed of course -as the mayhem from the house filling with walkers started to reach the front yards and prisoners' camp - the Saviors bombarded him and escape. So half of Maggie's leverage literally ran right out the front door. *sigh*
Henry, of course, is supposed to be the bridge between Morgan and Carol. The former, for some reason, has now inexplicably transformed back into his season four self where all he sees is red and ghosts. Throwing it back to Tyrese's death in season five, Morgan began seeing Gavin taunting him. Because Carol has struggled with what she has had to do in order to survive, they bond over trying to keep Henry alive and safe, as well staying sane. She's finally reached some semblance of normalcy where she might be able to accept that some of them are just lucky enough to live or fight, and there are no guarantees beyond tomorrow.
It'd all be interesting if we felt like we haven't seen this over and over again, and to the point, that if there is a single man who needs his ego massaged, Carol follows that plot. She hasn't connected with her real family in almost two seasons, but temporary boyfriend Tobin is on her priority's list. Disappointingly, she's lacks any relationships outside of being surrogate mothers to unstable kids and is forced to repeat past tragic storylines, or awkwardly be praised by men who's in awe that she has managed to stay alive this along and like to pretend to know what kind of woman she is and has always been.
Otherwise, the episode had some decent moments outside of the Negan's ambush. First, Rick is trying to find himself as a leader, post-Carl. Instead of lying, he admitted to Michonne that he tried to kill Negan in the previous episode The Key, even though he was quite distant from her and avoiding his loss. Second, Maggie has a lot on her plate in providing for everyone and is trying to figure out what it means to be a leader and what happens when you let your vengeance take over. (Even if her vengeance is the best part of the series at the moment.) As the deaths keep piling up, she's starting to feel responsible for who lives or dies, and what blood is on her hands. And lastly, Tara is trying to convince Daryl that HEY MAYBE DWIGHT isn't that bad of a dude; she was injured during the battle but his arrow was clean, so she didn't get sick and turn.
As Michonne recognized that Rick was pulling away from her and the world around them, she encouraged him to read the letter Carl left behind. While we the viewers didn't see what it was in full (but the full version has leaked online anyways), his son's words didn't make an immediate impact. Despite everyone delivering obvious warnings to Rick about changing the direction of the war, he went off on his own to hunt down the Saviors.
While he was out on his own, Morgan and Carol scrambled out in the middle of nowhere to find Henry. Carol trailed in one direction where she thought he might've gone (and essentially re-enacted a season two easter egg that never came to be), while Morgan continued his own mission to kill every last one of the Saviors. Eventually old friends met up, and we got some major flashbacks to their time in Clear in season four; where Morgan lost his sanity after his son Duane was bit by his wife who had turned into a walker and built a one-man fortress in their old hometown. Now as Rick's conscience starts colliding against his son's last wishes, he has a decision to face: spill as much blood as possible (despite the fact that his son died in a completely unrelated incident than Negan and the Sanctuary) or give people's second chances.
Morgan and Rick's plan to attack the Saviors and do them all in at once was thwarted when they ended up being captured and held prisoner for literally a few minutes in a bar similar to Nebraska (where strangers asked where Glenn, Rick, and Herschel were holding up and trying to pull more information out of them to use to their own advantage). While Morgan had no intention of hiding the fact that he wanted to kill all of them and will do it any means necessary, for a second it seemed like Rick was trying to be an ally, using the straggling Saviors' desperation and growing division on how to get back to the Sanctuary as a way to promise them a safe return to the Hilltop Colony and making them members of their group. It wasn't long for Morgan to cause a distraction loud enough for walkers to come swarming in, to which Rick and Morgan were cut free by the Saviors, believing the duo were actually going to help them.
In an actual surprising turn of events, Rick was lying and ended up slaughtering the Saviors alongside Morgan - who actually trapped one of the Saviors into a group of walkers and held up against a fence to watch him get killed. Rick's bloodiest moment came with one of the Saviors asking him why he lied to them, begging for his life, and he shot him anyways.
All of this pointed back to a common theme characters like Ezekiel and Morgan have with Carol: the need to save people, and asking the reason why they would go out of their way to do it as a reminder of their own morality and humanity they used to have. It's safe to say that Morgan is out in Crazy Town for the millionth time, and there's little to no chance (or investment) that he will return, but there's a slim possibility that maybe Rick will get tired of standing in his own way and eventually just forfeit his desire to kill everything in sight.
Also, in the season premiere, Maggie, Ezekiel, and Rick told their flocks that their aim was to collaborate with those who wanted to make a better future but eliminate those who wanted to cheat, steal, and kill from them. But most of their missions up to this point have been based on a guilty-by-association approach; when Saviors were surrendering to them, Rick most of all, swore only one person has to die; not he's tallying up murders (honestly) that have nothing to do with Negan.
Meanwhile in the trash heap, Jadis held Negan captive torturing him with a walker all tied up and ready to make him dinner, and destroying Lucille. Just as surprising as as it was for Rick to be so merciless towards the Saviors after lying about sanctuary with them, Jeffrey Dean Morgan actually acted in this episode. Jadis forced Negan to reveal that the baseball bat Lucille is based off of his wife who helped him before the world fell apart and the memory of her helps him
Ultimately, the episode left us with Morgan still contemplating his haunted subconscious, Rick questioning why he just killed those Saviors, and Negan picking up somebody on the road during his journey back to the Sanctuary. What we have to look forward to is Negan surprising the hell out of his community because everyone thought he was dead and didn't really care, and our communities figuring out their next moves. But more than that, we have to try to support the idea that Rick's barely on-screen relationship with his daughter Judith is still gonna mean something, anything, by the time this season is over.