Last week, The Walking Dead ended with Negan meeting an unseen character on the road, someone who he described thus: "If shit could shit it still wouldn't look as shitty as you." [Sigh] The man with the Louisville Slugger then drove this person back to the Sanctuary, before enlisting the mystery man or woman in his secret plan to reclaim power with the Saviors. This was a rare moment of intrigue, in a show that usually makes every story-point as plain as possible. Who could this wandering stranger be? A callback character from last season? A brand new bad-guy associate recruited at the 11th hour?
It turns out it was ... Laura. Y’know, Laura – the character whose sole description on The Walking Dead’s Wikipedia page is, no kidding, "a female member of the Saviors."
To be fair, she plays a much larger role in the comics, and has been a minor fixture in the TV series, too, over the past two seasons – occasionally barking orders at other Saviors and bullying the underclass in random, scattered scenes. Still, there was something hugely anticlimactic about her popping her at the end of this week’s episode – titled, simply, "Worth" – as Negan’s big surprise for Dwight. In a tacit acknowledgement of her own obscurity, Laura even delivers her own miniature "previously on The Walking Dead" recap, reminding everybody in the room that she saw Dwight betray and kill his own people back in the midseason finale.
Overall, this was an unusually Savior-centric episode, demanding at least some level of investment in the leadership tussle between Negan, Dwight and Simon. By the end of the hour, the big boss had exacted a cruel revenge on one and had straight-up slaughtered the other, thus bringing to a close a very brief "Negan is deposed" arc – which appears to have been designed primarily to get rid of The Guy With the Big Mustache and to set up future problems for The Defector With Third-Degree Burns.
In fact, a lot of "Worth" felt like it was hastening characters either to the end of their time on the show or toward whatever’s coming next. Both the heroes and villains alike have been doing a lot of reflecting on their personal post-apocalyptic journeys thus far – be it Carol and Morgan last week, or Dwight and Father Gabriel in this one. It sure does seem like there’s some kind of major reset coming, cleaning out a huge chunk of the old guard to make way for … well, who knows? The Laura Show, perhaps?
In poor Gabriel’s case, some kind of closure would be welcome. The priest is half-blind and sickly now, reduced to sorting bullet-casings for Eugene – and trying to do a poor job of it, in the hope of saving a life or two. He says he fears death, because he doesn’t feel like he’s ever atoned for his original sin of locking out his parishioners during the early days of the plague. But the very fact that the holy man is monologuing about his checkered past is a bad sign for his future with the series. Television characters generally only contemplate their arcs right before they’re about to terminate.
As for Eugene, he gets yet another reminder this week that he’s widely despised. While supervising the ramped-up munitions production, and eating his favorite dirt-cheap college snack of Garlic Sardine Mac & Cheese, he gets kidnapped by Daryl and Rosita, who announce their intentions to keep him imprisoned but alive. Since the Saviors are offering him more or less the same deal – plus wine, massages, and "M and powdered C" – he quickly engineers his escape via power-vomiting (no, really) and heads back to the factory, more determined than ever to help Negan crush the opposition.
One very minor subplot this week involves Aaron, who’s camped out in the damp, zombie-filled forests near Oceanside, and is still trying to persuade Cyndie and her army of young women to join the fight. When he talks to them about how Negan’s ultimately the source of their current predicament, Aaron establishes this episode’s major question: Who’s really accountable for all this murder and misery? It’s a subject that comes up again when Eugene insists to Rosita that he’s really only guilty of survival, and she reminds him that he also helped the Saviors escape the Sanctuary, which indirectly led to dozens more corpses.
This matter of assigning responsibility is also central to Carl’s letters, which figure prominently in scenes that bookend the hour. In the first, Rick reads his son’s final words to him, all about how everyone needs to work toward reviving the "before times," when people were more neighborly to each other. In the second, Michonne reads Carl’s letter to Negan aloud to the Savior Supreme, similarly urging him to stop being so malicious. His reply, essentially, is, "Hey, Rick started it!"
The villain even weaponizes the Blame Game as his punishment against Dwight. Before killing his No. 2 in retaliation for his cowardly coup – Simon says: Let's have a coup and crush our enemies! Not so fast, tough guy. R.I.P., Simon – Negan shares with everyone his plan to set up bases around the Hilltop. The idea is to forgo one big attack for an incessant campaign of smaller volleys. But his real goal is to trick Dwight into sharing this intel with Rick, setting the Alexandrians up for an ambush – which which will then get pinned on this scraggly-haired Savior whom they’ve never been sure they can trust.
Again, this development for Dwight is more likely to matter in Season Nine – if he survives that long. All signs right now point to next week’s finale being especially violent and deadly, clearing the way for what lies ahead after the war. Which is good. Because frankly, it’s starting to seem like The Walking Dead’s writers are as eager for this storyline to be over as so many of the rest of us have been.