It wouldn’t be a mid-season finale on The Walking Dead without the kind of moment that leaves you screaming, gasping or sobbing in the fetal position underneath the furniture. Or, in a perfect world, all three! But in a season that’s struggled to find its momentum, the AMC series had a high bar to clear to really wow its fans on the Sunday, December 10, episode before the winter hiatus — and they took their sweet time about it.
The eighth episode this season, titled “How It’s Gonna Be,” paced itself out at the slowest of slow burns right down to the last of its 90 minutes, then unleashed a wallop of a plot twist when Carl (Chandler Riggs) yanked up his shirt to display a festering bite, sustained in that zombie pile-on from two weeks ago while bringing Siddiq (Avi Nash) back to Alexandria.
The news that Carl is a dead man walking (not to be confused with the show’s titular walking dead, who barely appeared at all) was the one big bombshell in an episode that mostly focused on Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) setting out to exact methodical revenge on the three communities that colluded to overthrow him.
And as far as our heroes were concerned, very little good happened. Ezekiel (Khary Payton) created a diversion that allowed his people to escape, but sacrificed himself in the bargain, ending the episode trapped and captured behind the walls of his own Kingdom. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) was selected by the Saviors to continue producing, only to murder a prisoner in cold blood and send his body back out as a message: the Hilltop will make a last stand.
And after discovering the Sanctuary no longer under siege (and losing his new allies, who turned tail and fled as soon as the shooting started like the garbage folk they are), Rick (Andrew Lincoln) returned to Alexandria to find the place in flames — and Negan waiting for him, although Rick escaped in time to reunite with his surviving friends and alive-but-not-for-long family down in the community’s secret sewer escape hatch.
With Carl’s fate revealed and sealed — and with the mystery of why Rick was so weepy in the season premiere flash-forward officially solved — it’ll be a long, grim wait until the show returns in February.
The Walking Dead airs on AMC Sundays at 9 p.m. ET.