I’ll let you in on a little secret: Christmas is no longer the most wonderful time of the year. These days, that honor goes to the end of October. Why, you ask? Because it brings us The Walking Dead season premiere! That’s right. My friends are back, and this time they’re ready for war. At the end of season 7, Sasha sacrificed herself (with the help of Eugene’s suicide pills) in an effort to take out Negan, the Scavengers pulled the ultimate double cross, and Rick and Carl were about to get intimately acquainted with Lucille. Luckily, Shiva’s arrival changed all that. Even in the zombie apocalypse, there’s no better distraction than a tiger attack. Especially if she’s accompanied by armies from the Kingdom and the Hillside. Negan was forced to flee but his middle finger expressed his opinion of the uprising. Our heros, battered and bruised, knew that this was just the beginning.
A coalition of Alexandria, the Kingdom and the Hillside prepare for war. Daryl and Dwight, TWD’s most unlikely couple, send messages in and out of the Sanctuary on crossbow arrows. Rick gives the waiting army a Rick speech. Not to be outdone, King Ezekiel gives a King Ezekiel speech. Even Shiva has something to say. And then the apocalypse’s newest statesman, Maggie, gives her speech. They’re fighting the good fight. It won’t be pretty, it won’t be easy but they deserve a future. Even if they have to kill for it.
Out searching for gas, Carl runs into a wounded man who begs for help. He swears he’s not a threat, just hurt and hungry. Carl is wary. He’s grown up in this world and knows you can’t simply believe what people say. But something pulls him to the stranger. As they’re staring each other down, shots fly over their heads. Rick is on a mission and has no time for compassion. Carl seems disgusted with this hardened side of his father. What are they fighting for if not hope?
Rick’s army is ready to set their plan in motion. Father Gabriel finds Rick stewing. He can’t believe that all of this terror started with one man. Father Gabriel points out that a single man, Rick, started the family that they’re fighting for. With one big difference. Unlike Negan, Rick purposefully made it not about himself. That seems to give Rick the focus to say goodbye to Judith, a wounded Michonne and Carl. It’s not about him. It’s about them. All of them. He gets in his DIY armored truck and drives away. An injured Rosita scowls to be left behind.
At a staging field, people from Alexandria, the Kingdom and the Hillside mix. They’re from separate homes but they’re one family now. Rick checks on Maggie. She’s done her part by getting Hillside onboard. She doesn’t have to go with them. But she wants to stay with her people for as long as she can. And she’s heard you can wage war through your second trimester. They talk about the future. It’s the only thing that Rick can think about. He wants it now. Maggies reminds him it’s just one more fight away.
Carol, Tara, Morgan and Daryl set off explosions to get the attention of a herd. At the Sanctuary, Dwight sends a large group of Saviors to check on the noise. Snipers take out the Sanctuary guards, allowing Rick and his army of reinforced vehicles to sneak right up to Negan’s front door. Rick announces their arrival with four gun shots. When Negan saunters out, he implies that Rick is risking his people’s lives over a wounded ego (although, being Negan, he uses the “who’s dick is bigger” metaphor). Rick ignores him and speaks directly to the Saviors guarding Negan, calling them out by name. He tells them and any other Savior that can hear him that if they surrender, they’ll be safe. But it’s a one time offer. Negan merely smirks. How can outnumbered Rick actually think he has a chance?
Negan brings out what he thinks is his ace in the hole: Gregory. Neither Maggie or Jesus are surprised to see him working with the enemy. Gregory announces that the Hillside stands with Negan. Anyone who goes against him will be exiled. He orders them home immediately. Maggie tells the Hillside to do what’s in their best interests but no one moves an inch. Gregory has no hold over them anymore. Gregory tries again. “Hilltop stands with…” Jesus cuts him off with, “The Hilltop stands with Maggie!” Gregory is powerless and has no further use to the Saviors. Simon pushes him down a flight of stairs. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
Morgan watches one of his bombs take out a Savior vehicle. The explosion is heard at the Sanctuary. Negan is finally getting pissed. Rick makes his safety offer one last time. And then he starts counting down. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. With no point in reaching going any farther, Rick’s army starts shooting. Carol, Tara, Morgan and Daryl hear the gunfire and realize how the plan is unfolding. Daryl is left alone to lead the walker herd. He rides through the streets, blowing up strategically placed bombs along the way. The herd follows obediently.
Rick’s army starts dispersing. With most of them gone, Rick blows up the RV, sending the walker herd their loudest and brightest signal yet. And then he sees Negan, separated from his Saviors. He’s determined to take him out. He fires and fires but he can’t reach him. Father Gabriel grabs his attention and reminds him that it’s not about him. Rick realizes he has to stick to the plan so he takes a quick photo of the destruction and jumps in his truck. And it’s just in time. The herd has arrived.
Rick takes off and Father Gabriel is set to follow until he sees Gregory stumbling around the yard. Father Gabriel jumps out to save Gregory. Gregory is a spineless mess. He doesn’t understand why his friends the Saviors are shooting at him. And then he notices Father Gabriel’s car. To the surprise of no one, he jumps into the car and strands Father Gabriel in a walker herd.
Carl returns to the spot he met the wounded stranger. He leaves food and a note of apology. Carl has time for compassion. He needs hope. This is the future he sees.
Reunited with Daryl, Rick worries about Father Gabriel. He thinks that Gabriel would have made it out if Rick’s Negan obsession hadn’t delayed him. But they have to forge ahead with phase two on their plan: taking out the Savior satellite bunkers. At the Sanctuary, Gabriel is desperate to get away from the horde. He finds an open door and makes it into an unlit trailer. Negan emerges from a dark corner with a Cheshire Cat grin. Things don’t look good for Father Gabriel.
A grey haired Rick wakes to the sound of Weird Al Yankovic’s Another One Rides the Bus. He limps out to find Michonne, untouched by the ravages of time, drinking coffee in the kitchen. Carl wanders by, muttering that he didn’t choose the song. A five or six year old Judith runs up to Rick. She wants him to go to the town festival with her. They step out into a thriving community. This is the future that Rick is fighting for.
Next week: The fight rages on and Rick encounters a familiar face.