Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
While “Time for After” contained a few crucial moments, as one would hope for/expect from a penultimate midseason episode, it also focused waaay to much on Eugene and his “will he?/won’t he?” crisis of conscience.
Why in the hell did Eugene and the turmoil inside the Sanctuary get the focus episode right before next week’s half-year finale? This felt like another instance of the series, now almost delusional in its eighth season, sort of arrogantly presuming that anyone cares this much about Eugene’s dilemma. Or Eugene, in general. Everything that went down within the Sanctuary walls this week, if it was important for plot’s sake, didn’t have to take up as much time as it did. How is almost all of the tension on the series now mostly hinged on Dwight’s mole storyline and whether or not Eugene turns him in? Or whether or not Eugene decides to help Gabriel rescue Maggie’s doctor? This all feels so distant now from what’s actually important.
One could arguably consider Eugene, along with Rosita (who just started feeling like a formed character last season in the wake of Abraham’s death), to be one of the show’s last core characters (who’s been given a decent amount of story and development). Eugene, however, was on a path of redemption, somewhat, back when he was snatched by Negan. He’d come clean about his “cure” lie, he’d acted quasi-heroically back in Season 6’s “Spend,” and he’d come up with his bullet-making idea.
Then, within the confines of the Sanctuary, emboldened by Negan’s motivational chatter, Eugene regressed and relapsed back into coward mode. This week, he teetered on the edge, considering Gabriel’s proposal, only to land right back at Camp Coward. Daryl’s bold move to flood the factory with walkers seemed to anger Eugene to the point where he doubled down on Negan and rejected every part of his old alliances. Yes, he’s still tortured. He’s still drinking (and vomiting) and he’s still not snitching on Dwight (though he mostly likely recorded their rooftop conversation), so the show still wants him to be a “gray area” characters, but – man – there are so many half-measures this season. Moments that feel big, that could lead somewhere, but just don’t.
Last week, Carol got really emotional with Ezekiel and could have convinced him to snap out of his funk and rejoin his people, but…it didn’t work. A great Carol moment wasted because the story needs to drag out Ezekiel’s malaise. Eugene could have come to a big decision this week, but he just recoiled and nothing happened because everything’s being dragged out. How invested are we really in Eugene’s redemption arc now? It’s not just his second go-round, but his third – at least. By the time Eugene ever winds up doing anything good, if ever, the thrill will be gone. He’s a self-ware off-putting character, by nature, and the pacing of the season isn’t doing him any favors.
There was a very taut moment, right at the top of the episode’s third act, when Eugene was about to fly a drone playing music over the herd, Dwight had a gun on him, and Daryl was primed and ready to drive a truck through the walls. It found myself fairly caught up. Which hammer would fall? Which shoe would drop? Then I realized that I was waiting, on edge, to see who’d make the biggest mistake. Which character would f*** up the most? All these characters’ mistakes, on a season filled to the brim with them, were about to collide. That is one chaotic way to run a season.
The Daryl storyline, on the ground outside the factory, felt like the more important of the arcs this week, though it got the shortest straw. Morgan (who still gets to be on the show for now before he hops back in time to Fear the Walking Dead) and Tara joined him on his quest to, basically, ditch the meticulously-crafted plan in favor some something more direct. I really liked that both Michonne and Rosita abandoned ship and couldn’t be a part of it – especially Rosita. Because – hey! – unlike Daryl who got Glenn killed last year because he was a hothead who couldn’t keep still, she actually learned a valuable lesson about going off-script and inadvertently losing a friend in the process.
So, here and now, Daryl’s tempter’s messed up everything because of his impatience and his inability to see the larger implications of what he was doing. Yes, he’d make it so the walkers would roam in and kill people, but the most important people would manage to battle their way out and all the “workers” would be used as zombie chum. Part of me wishes that Michonne and Rosita had actively tried to stop this instead of just washing their hands of it. Like I brought up last week – yup – Daryl can go.
How much time has passed, would you say? Has there been a real indication? It’s felt like one long day due to the lack of night scenes, but considering travel time and the fact that the Saviors were supposedly low on food and supplies, it has to have been a while. A week? How long is the Sanctuary stocked up for? It seems like they shouldn’t get low on food after just a few days (how long was Negan trapped? How long has Gabriel been sick?) but anything longer feels too long. Anyhow, the fact that the season has been built to feel like one long multi-stage battle doesn’t mesh well with this type of passage of time.
What do we think is really going on with Gabriel? The easiest answer is that he was bit. And it might be just that simple. But it feels like he wasn’t. I can’t shake it. Firstly, we always see the bite. The show never misses a chance to sneak in some gore. Then there’s the fact that people seem to be talking around the bite. Eugene just assumes that Gabriel’s dying because he tried to walk through the herd, but no one’s confirming it. Either way, if it is a bite it’s strange that they’re keeping him alive. Why treat his fever? The Saviors are in the business of keeping you alive until you die from your zombie bite? That doesn’t seem right at all.
Oh, and surprise surprise, the janky trash goblins tried to murder Rick with a pet spike-headed walker. What was Rick’s plan? Was someone supposed to come and get him or was he always supposed to just wait around until the garbage folk brought out demon to kill him and then he’d fight back and somehow get a gun and turn the tables on everyone single-handedly? I’m assuming this was Rick improvising because backup never came. I can’t imagine he thought he’d be able to head into the junkyard and either A: convince those morons to join him with only words, or B: violently take over their entire organization solo.
Either way it was a dumb idea, and I’m glad Tara thought so too. Granted, all of this, all the misgivings and doubts, should probably have been hashed out before the whistle blew, right? When the plan was being hatched and created and everyone was learning everyone’s parts, that was would have been a perfect time to discuss the rules of mercy and no mercy. It should have been the time to let people know why Rick thought going to the Scavengers was necessary while also, perhaps, telling people not to go off and do something foolish and rash because of setbacks or unforeseen obstacles.