By Carolina Gallardo (@carolgallardo)With only two episodes left until we (hopefully) arrive at the conclusion of the "All Out War" story arc, "The Walking Dead" delivered one of its most brutal episodes in recent memory with episode 14 "Still Gotta Mean Something". If the writing team was ever trying to plant the seed of the "Who's the Real Villain" argument, this was definitely the episode. This episode put on display the contrasting philosophies of both Rick and Negan and put on a stage the question of who is better equipped to lead for the future. That answer has become murkier and murkier as the season has progressed (personally, #TeamNegan at this point but that's an entirely different conversation). The idea of our past and how much that influences who we are in the present, specifically in regard to the loved ones we have lost along the way, is also a theme front and center. There are numerous references to Andrea, Michonne's child Andre, Carol's daughter Sophia, Morgan's son Duane, Negan's wife Lucille and of course Carl. It's made abundantly clear how the death of these children, primarily, set in motion the future of these characters and their development in this new world.
Speaking of children, as we know from the previous episode, Little Henry has gone missing and members of the Hilltop are organizing to go out and find him. Ezekiel tries to see if Carol will join them but she is incredibly reluctant and declines. Ezekiel can't believe that she refuses and downright calls her coward (ouch). Carol ignores Ezekiel's commentary but when she sees that Morgan is gearing up to head out and find...someone (I'm assuming the missing Saviors more than Henry), Carol offers to join him, more in an effort to keep an eye on him. This is because Carol is well aware that Morgan is not in his best frame of mind (IE. he's insane). They go off and Carol tearfully points out that a walker that is approaching them has a stick through his body, Henry's stick. They eliminate the walker and Morgan is convinced that Henry is dead and he needs to go eliminate the Saviors. Carol on the other hand, feels that she can track Henry's whereabouts based on what they have seen thus far. This is where they separate, with Carol on the prowl.
|RANDOM TRIVIA: This filmed in the same spot where Sophia hidden.|
She continues to track the whereabouts of Henry on her own (she did learn over the years from the best tracker there is, Daryl Dixon) and eventually comes across his knee pad, followed by the sounds of screams for help. Carol darts and follows the sounds to a stream where Henry is apparently hiding within a marsh from three walkers trying to get to him. Carol immediately jumps in and makes quick work of the three and pulls Henry into a tearful embrace. Henry apologizes and Carol apologizes for ever doubting his strength. So many of the children that have been under Carol's watch have been weak and eventually succumbed to the environment they're in and we saw how dismissive Carol was toward Henry, as well, as just another child to bring her pain. This moment where Carol finds Henry is a moment where she realizes that Henry isn't just like all the other children and she cannot shut out this child, just because of all the pain and loss she has endured. It's also a redemptive moment for her character where perhaps she wasn't able to save her daughter Sophia, but she WAS able to save Henry, a loss that obviously still haunts her to this day. She says as much to Ezekiel when she returns to the Hilltop victorious with Henry in tow. This rescue has revitalized her as she says that she has lost herself in the past and has found herself and doesn't doubt that she'll be able to survive whatever comes her way.
Morgan, on the other hand, continued his journey through the woods and inevitably came across Rick. Yes, that's right. Rick Grimes, back in his Murder Jacket (seriously, if he's wearing that jacket, be very very afraid of what's about to happen. It's his "black hat" if you will), in search for the missing Saviors as well. Rick, still not ready to read Carl's note to him, opted to leave the Hilltop to search and kill the Saviors that escaped. Before leaving, Alden (the nice Savior) timidly requests to Rick to have mercy on these men because they made a bad decision but they are not beyond redemption. Clearly Rick paid absolutely no mind to him OR his son's dying wishes for that matter but we'll get to that.
Once Morgan and Rick team up, they are apparently knocked out and kidnapped by the escaped Saviors. They eventually come to and find themselves in an abandoned dive bar, tied up, surrounded by the escaped Saviors headed by Jarrid. Two of the men had limbs that were amputated due to presumably walker bites and if it were up to Jarrid, the men would be executed because under the circumstances, they are unfortunately dead weight. The rest of the men disagree and before they come to blows internally, Rick pipes up and makes a plea for them to release them and as the cherry on top, they can come back with him to the Hilltop, no questions asked. He urges them to make up their minds quickly due to the incoming herd, something that Jarrid views as a bluff. He insists that Rick cannot be trusted but Rick says that they have his word and that in this world that's "still gotta mean something", right?
Well, no sooner is Jarrid pushed aside and Rick is released that the true horror begins. The minute these Saviors turn their back, Rick and Morgan exchange a look and began to horrifically and mercilessly murder each and every one of the Saviors at this bar. I am not exaggerating here when I use the term murder because that is exactly what Rick and Morgan did in this bar. There were no circumstances of self defense, this was simply cold blooded murder in the most despicable way. The absolute worse moment however is when Jarrid tries to escape the overwhelming herd entering the bar but Morgan closes the gate on him and then proceeds to hold Jarrid against the gate from the other side, while walkers literally pull him apart and eat him alive.
|Man, and I thought Noah's death was grisly...UGH|
Once the carnage comes to an end (that is after a Savior mutters with his last breath that Rick promised to help him to which Rick coldly responds that he lied), Rick surveys the damage and has to literally look at himself in the bar mirror and process what just happened. He has a moment when he asks Morgan why he chose to have mercy on him, way back when, to which Morgan informs him that he only saved him because his son was present. With the loss of his son, so went Morgan's humanity (sounds familiar huh?).
Rick inevitably returns to The Hilltop (under scathing stares from members of the community, I might add) and decides at the very end to finally read Carl's letter. Better late than never right?
Finally we move on to the junkyard, where we finally meet again with Jadis and Negan, post capture. At the very start of the episode, we get a flashback of when all the Garbage People (or Scavengers) were gunned down by Simon and his people. By playing dead, Jadis avoided being murdered like everyone else and once the carnage is over, we see her strip down of her clothes and, arguably, her facade.
We then see that her quarters within the junkyard (we assume) are immaculate: Her container is decked out in a minimal Scandinavian style with a closet, a low bed with crisp white sheets, and blonde honey wood throughout. We see her pack a suitcase with various items, write some notes in a book, and periodically look at her watch. She gathers her things and Negan's bat and steps out. We then see that Negan has been tied up on a mechanic's dolly and she has wheeled him to an open area. She appears to be waiting and as she is, Negan makes his pleas: He insists that he had NOTHING to do with the slaughter that happened here, that he understands that people are a resource, that this was the product of someone who "didn't get with the program". Jadis isn't convinced and eventually pushes out another tricked out walker to presumably torture and kill Negan? This part was frankly not entirely clear. Especially since we then see Negan with Jadis' gun and photos that she had in her suitcase. So he wheeled himself over while being tied up and was able to get his arms out, open up her luggage and grab these things? It's a bit (okay, a lot of a stretch) but oh well.
Negan implores her that killing him or burning Lucille (what it appears she wants to do) will do nothing to bring her people back. Negan even has a moment with Jadis where he confides in her that Lucille was his wife and that he wasn't a great husband but she was always there for him and that this is the last piece of her that he has in this world. It's an honest and emotional confession from a man that was so larger than life at the start, now relegated to this position. Jadis decides not to burn Lucille but struggles with Negan over the flare that he got in his hand (again, not entirely sure why the struggle but okay). The flare lands in a puddle next to him and burns out just as Jadis' alarm goes off and that damn black helicopter returns looming overhead. Jadis runs to grab another flare and starts jumping around to get their attention screaming "I'M HERE! I'M HERE!". It's all for naught because the helicopter fails to spot her in time and it flies off, as she crumbles and sobs on the floor. Negan stares incredulously at the departing helicopter and is utterly shocked at what he just witnessed.
Eventually we see that Jadis let Negan go, with his trusty Lucille at his side. Say what you will about Negan, he sure is incredibly charming that he manages to get out of all these sticky situations. He tries to ask Jadis what was all that back there but she remains silent. For now, the answers as to what the junkyard was before and who is flying that black helicopter remain a mystery. Negan does say that the offer always stands for her to join him and forge a new path together. And with that he leaves...but not without one last surprise.
It's nightfall and Negan is driving back to the Sanctuary when he encounters someone on the side of the road. He tells them how they are looking quite worse for the wear (to keep this recap on a PG level) and to hop on in. We never get a chance to see WHO the individual is but we do get to see that Negan made it back to the Sanctuary and has informed the guard on duty that he has all sorts of surprises to share. Daddy's home indeed.
So who's the real villain here? Negan? A man who believes that people are resources, AKA, where there's life there's always hope? A man that retaliated after his entire outpost was murdered in their sleep? A man who gave his word to a captor and it resulted in his peaceful release? Or Rick? A man who was a sheriff but has killed in a preemptive strike and lied to HIS captors in order to obtain his release, only to murder them regardless. Huh. Something to think about...One thing's for sure: With two episodes left this season, it's going to be a tall order for Rick to achieve redemption.
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