Considering just how bleak The Walking Dead can be at the best of times, it’s a big statement to say that tonight’s episode could well take the trophy. Between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne  (Danai Gurira) leaving a fallen Alexandria for seemingly the final time, the former reading the wishes of his dead son or Jadis (Pollyanna MacIntosh) watching her friends turned into infected mincemeat, ‘The Lost and the Plunderers’ is absent of anything approaching a smile – so much so that, for the first time, it feels like the ensembles’ existence within a desolate world as awful as theirs stands merely to serve us, the viewer.

This is hammered home in the episode’s rather moving opening which sees a grieving Rick and Michonne leaving the place that has been home to them since season five’s 11th episode ‘The Distance,’ rendering its ‘Safe-Zone’ status wrong forevermore. This location has been the show’s longest-standing since it began and its destruction serves as a real nail in the coffin for this particular arc – All Out War certainly seems to be gearing up for an end (unless our group are going to be based at the Hilltop for the foreseeable – let’s hope not). 

As Rick drives them away from the location now engulfed in flames and overrun by walkers – the camera knowingly flashing the sign outside emblazoned with the now-ironic words ‘Safe-Zone’ – he drives them into a new era, bolstered by the episode’s sectioned format divvying up sections to certain characters (Michonne, Negan, Enid, Simon, Jadis and Rick in that order).

Could peace and forgiveness be a part of this new phase? Despite the parting wisdom of his son, it’s Rick who refuses to let this be an option. As he reads over the letter his “one-eyed pride and joy” left for Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), pleading with him to offer forgiveness to his father, Rick’s anger is fuelled to a degree we’ve never seen. The Saviours’ leader’s reaction to Carl’s death disarms Rick – Negan is genuinely upset, displaying some humanity; he had plans for Carl, Negan tells Rick, before asking how he died. “Was it us?” he asks, a feral Rick growling his response that no, Carl was helping someone. Negan’s final diatribe on 1Rick’s leadership hits home – his decisions have killed a lot of people and are likely to continue killing more. 

As this particularly bleak instalment ends, fans will feel more conflicted than ever as the series crawls towards its next stage.

The Walking Dead season 8 continues on AMC every Sunday with the UK premiere arriving the next evening on FOX as well as being available to stream on NOW TV.  

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