From the opening minutes of this past Sunday night’s penultimate episode you immediately know it’s going to be an impactful one. Judith Grimes once again narrates the intro sequence, this time over a montage of our survivors picking up their trusty weapons from a large chest in Alexandria. The period of peace in the Commonwealth is over, and once again the crew needs to arm up and fight…hopefully for one final time. Judith picks up one of Michonne’s swords and Rick’s infamous python. She places Carl’s sheriff hat on R.J. Grimes.
The swan song of “The Walking Dead” has begun.
Surprisingly, the Outpost 22 variation of Alexandria is not the grand finale setting for the series. It seems as if the over-taking of the soldiers during last episode’s lineup resulted in the saving of Alexandria from Commonwealth command. Such a drastic win for the survivors should’ve certainly been given more screen time, as the sudden safety all throughout Alexandria in the beginning of this episode is extremely jarring. The survivors gather their weapons and board a train to head back to the Commonwealth and end things once and for all.
Lydia and Aaron’s crew from the previous episode make a daring trek through the wilderness using the walker guts blanket method along with “Whisperer” style communication. It’s quite cool to see the former enemy’s tactics being reused for the benefit of the survivors, showcasing a sense of continued evolution throughout the world of the show. The camouflaged travel sequence reaches a cataclysmic peak when the crew tries to slowly stagger to the safety of a nearby RV (calling back flashbacks to the horrifying RV sequence in Season 2).
With the horde of walkers showing no care for the survivor’s plan, some members are carried away, forced to pretend to be a walker and continue past the RV. Lydia’s love interest Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari) is shoved past the RV and she immediately reaches out to grab his hand as walkers stumble past her. In a shocking late-in-the-season twist, Lydia is bitten in the arm by a walker and ushered inside by Aaron and Jerry. Cassady McClincy gives a tremendous performance as Lydia conveying the pain in her heart and physical pain of her dreadful circumstances. It’s been quite some time since we’ve had a main character get bit on the show, and I’m glad the series was able to squeeze in another before its ending. Aaron, familiar with the upcoming grisly process, calms Lydia down and prepares her for the inevitable amputation of her now-infected arm. “You are so loved,” he says.
During the train-car ride back to the Commonwealth, Ezekiel and Negan debrief the chaotic events that transpired during the Alexandria lineup in the previous episode (where Negan willingly risked his life for the survival of the group). For the first time, Ezekiel seems to show a small amount of respect to the former antagonist. The interaction and development between Ezekiel and Negan has been one of the most refreshing, and rewarding, surprises during these final eight episodes. During their conversation, there’s a touching call-back to Ezekiel’s “And yet I smile” mantra that was a key theme throughout the show’s eighth season.
Daryl, Carol, and Judith have a heart to heart on the train as well, talking about Michonne and Carl’s legacy. “You two are a lot alike,” Carol tells Judith in regards to her late older brother. “He died saving people,” Judith responds in what is hopefully not eerie foreshadowing. Judith expresses sadness over not having enough time to memorialize these people and truly appreciate all that they did in the face of adversary. Daryl responds, “…when this is over I’m gonna tell you every story I remember about all the people that loved you.” This conversation is absolutely heartwarming, and truly emphasizes the core theme of family and legacy that has weaved its way throughout the entire series.
Desperate to disrupt the attempts at rebellion, Pamela orders her soldiers to maneuver a horde of walkers towards the Commonwealth in an effort to distract citizens and overwhelm the infiltrators. As the massive horde approaches the safe haven, we’re treated to wide shots showcasing the scale of the Commonwealth alongside large overhead sequences of shambling walkers. While this chaos unfolds, the original survivors sneak into the Commonwealth for their final mission. This sense of visual scale really reinforces the high-stakes and finality of this penultimate episode.
Eugene has a moment to shine amidst the chaos when a Commonwealth soldier demands entry into the room he is hiding out in. As the soldier enters, Eugene stealthily ambushes him in a violent attack. In this moment Eugene shines as not only an intelligent player in the fight against the Commonwealth, but finally as a physical one.
In an attempt to save Maggie (who some fans have pointed out actually delivered baby Judith in Season 3) from Pamela’s gunfire, Judith Grimes is shockingly shot and immediately collapses much to the horror of all of the survivors. Watching the look of utter despair and horror on the leading cast is harrowing, and Pamela’s devastating delivery of “You did this!” makes the scene one of the show’s grimmest. The future of the Grimes legacy is at stake, and Daryl immediately grabs Judith to take her to safety while the crew fires on all fronts.
What follows is one of the most intense sequences of the entire season, as the survivors desperately run through the Commonwealth trying to get Judith to safety. Soldiers turn corners, slowly boxing in the survivors with barricades. Just when things can’t seem to get any worse, it is revealed that the Commonwealth is luring the horde of walkers – including the infamous Variant Walkers – to surround the leading survivors. Negan drops one of the show’s most incredible f-bombs ever as he witnesses a Variant walker crawling over debris. Suddenly, walkers are once again a dangerous threat to the survivors. The scene is masterfully choreographed and oozing with intensity and action.
The majority of the leading cast is all together, united against the Commonwealth and the evolved walker threat. They form a wall of defense against the enemies, allowing Daryl to run with Judith to safety, paralleling visuals of Rick running with Carl after he was shot in Season 2.The crew has united to protect the Grimes legacy. Judith dips in and out of consciousness, seeing her friends and family desperately fighting against the undead. She utters the word “Daddy” in her delusion, confusedly attributing her savior as her father. Perhaps hinting at the hopeful return of Andrew Lincoln in the grand series finale? Time will only tell.
As a penultimate episode, ‘Family” fires on all fronts with action-packed narrative developments and a grisly set-up for the show’s ultimate conclusion.
“I want to be a part of that. To make what my family believed in real.” – Judith Grimes.