Warning: This recap for the “How It’s Gotta Be” episode of The Walking Dead contains spoilers.
Things lost in the midseason finale: Alexandria, Dwight’s double-agent status, and, in what promises to be the most impactful death so far in The Walking Dead history: Carl Grimes.
Let’s address the worst, first: Carl. In the episode’s opening flashback to the season premiere, after Rick shot above Siddiq’s head to drive him away, Carl tells Rick it’s not enough to hope Siddiq’s OK. “If you care, you do something,” he tells his dad. “You don’t just hope. It takes more than that.”
Carl’s way of doing something: In episode 806, “The King, the Widow, and Rick,” he tracked down Siddiq in the woods, to bring him food and water, and, after checking him out a little more, he invited him to go back to Alexandria. On the way, Carl and Siddiq encountered a pack of walkers, which they appeared to fight off successfully. Go back and rewatch the scene: What seemed at the time like Carl being rattled by the fight was Carl being bitten and keeping it a secret from everyone.
Flash-forward to the end of “How It’s Gotta Be,” when Rick and Michonne reunite with Carl, Judith, and their friends in the sewer tunnel under Alexandria. Carl is propped up against a wall, and looks OK… until he pulls a bandage back and reveals a bite mark on his torso. It’s not an appendage that can be chopped off, like Hershel’s leg. Carl is going to die from this wound, and, as TWD showrunner Scott Gimple confirmed on the Talking Dead aftershow, Carl’s death will come in the midseason premiere episode in February.
Daryl and Dwight
Negan and the Saviors show up at the gates of Alexandria, demanding apologies from everyone and threatening death to at least one of the townsfolk. Carl rallies everyone to take off, while he snows Negan by volunteering to be the one to die if Negan will allow everyone else to live. We — now — know that it wouldn’t have been as much of a sacrifice as it appears to be when Carl makes the offer, but Negan believes him, and it buys Carl’s friends some time. Weapons are packed into giant trucks, and while the Saviors begin burning down Alexandria, Daryl, Michonne, Tara, Rosita, and the others drive a convoy of trucks out of the town and right through a Savior roadblock headed by Dwight.
Dwight, still pretending to be a Savior, leads his fellow Negan followers after Daryl and company, who are waiting to ambush them. Daryl and his friends open fire on Dwight and the Saviors, and Dwight not only doesn’t fire back, but soon starts killing the Saviors himself. Savior Laura catches him and realizes he’s the rat who’s been working against Negan. She shoots him in the shoulder, but she runs away before Dwight can kill her.
The rest of Dwight’s Savior crew is dead. When Daryl and the others come over to him, he tries to save his own life — Daryl and Tara still really, really want him dead — by saying he can still help them, as someone who knows how Negan thinks. They all walk away, except Rosita, who helps Dwight off the ground.
Father Gabriel told Eugene he would know the right thing to do when the opportunity arose, and he was right. Unable to sleep after his plan for Negan works — Eugene advised that Negan use his bullets to kill enough of the Sanctuary walkers to leave a manageable bunch that could be led away by music, freeing Negan and the Saviors to go unleash the s***storm he’d promised for Rick — Eugene tries more wine, but it simply can’t ease his conscience into slumber. So he makes sure one of the Sanctuary guards is “OOC” (out of commission) thanks to the aperient effects of sugar-free gum, then “drops” a set of car keys in front of Gabriel and Dr. Carson, suggesting the two take advantage of the guard and keys opportunity to get themselves to the Hilltop so Carson is there to help with the birth of Maggie’s baby.
Gabriel asked Eugene to come with them, telling him his friends would welcome him back. “I shan’t be doing that,” Eugene tells him.
King Ezekiel and Carol
Gavin and his Saviors group are charged with capturing Ezekiel and taking him to Negan, who plans to kill the King and stick his head on a pike at the Sanctuary. Negan has also ordered that everything the Kingdommers grow now belongs to the Saviors, that the community members be forced to work at the Sanctuary to repair all the damage that’s been done to it, and that the Saviors will take the Kingdom as their new home in the meantime. But when Ezekiel’s people refuse to give up his whereabouts, a weary Gavin loses his patience and is threatening to kill someone.
That’s enough to bring Ezekiel out of his funk; he stealthily sets a fire in another part of his community, sending all the Saviors but Gavin running toward the fire, and allowing Nabila and her cohorts to run off. Carol arrives in time to give Nabila a meet-up location, but Carol can’t convince Ezekiel to come with her. Instead, he locks himself inside the Kingdom with Gavin and the Saviors, prepared to make whatever sacrifice he has to in an effort to protect what is left of his citizenry.
Rick thinks none of the lookout snipers near the Sanctuary survived, which explains why he’s so upset when he can’t reach any of them via radio: It means he thinks his pal Morgan is dead. But Morgan shows up outside the gates of the Kingdom, rifle on his back, listening to what’s happening inside as Gavin and his Saviors try to get King Ezekiel to surrender.
Maggie, Jesus, and their convoy of Hilltoppers are stopped in the road by a fallen tree. Jesus thinks it’s an act of nature, but Maggie knows it’s an act of Savior sabotage. She’s quickly proven right when a truck pulls in front of them, and out pops Simon. He’s got Jerry as a hostage and threatens to kill him unless Maggie hands over all the weapons her people have, and agrees to turn her people around and go back to the Hilltop to keep growing food for the Saviors.
Before Maggie reluctantly agrees, a shot rings out; we think they’ve killed Jerry, but Hilltopper Neil is the victim. Maggie asks for the coffin Simon propped up against her vehicle to transport Neil’s body home, and when she gets there, she goes to the pen holding the Savior hostages. She selects one — Dean, the guy who tried to kill Jesus and Tara during the raid at a Saviors outpost — and she shoots him in the head, in front of everyone.
She then has his body placed in the coffin, and she scrawls a message on the box: “We have 38 more. Stand down.” She tells her people to put it outside, so the Saviors can see it when they come by. Then she walks away, shaken, having taken a dark but decisive stance about how she’s going to deal with her enemies.
Rick and Negan
Rick arrives back at Alexandria after dark, to find the town on fire. He goes to his house, calls out for Carl and Michonne and Judith. Instead, he’s greeted by a whap from Negan, who’s been waiting to attack Rick. He beats him, all the while berating him, telling him he’s going to cut him up in little pieces and feed him to the walkers while he’s still alive to watch it happen.
“You ever shut the hell up?” Rick asks in a moment of levity, and you feel how much he’s wanted to ask Negan that question for a while. Negan continues to talk trash, but when he starts talking about Carl, Rick roars back to life and lands some punches of his own. He even gets ahold of Lucille, and uses her to jab Negan in the throat. Negan also freaks out that Rick dares to touch Lucille (apparently forgetting that he once forced Rick to carry her around), and their fight continues until he rams Rick and Rick goes flying through a window. He takes off and meets up with Michonne, who’s letting her frustrations and anger out on a Savior. The couple takes off to the sewer, where they’ll reunite with their loved ones and learn about the heartbreak that awaits them.
Aaron and Enid
We learn where they’re headed and who they want to talk to when they took off from the Hilltop in a car at the end of “The King, the Widow, and Rick”: the Oceansiders. As they’re driving, Enid spots a distillery and suggests they gift the Oceansiders with some of its supply as a way of buttering them up before they request their assistance in the war against the Saviors. Aaron drives a whole truck of the hooch to the Oceansiders’ home, but a misunderstanding in the dark leads Enid to shoot Natania, the leader of the group. Her granddaughter, Cyndie, witnesses her grandma’s death, which probably spells big trouble for Enid, and for Aaron’s hopes for an alliance.
Jadis and her crew accompany Rick to get a closer look at the Sanctuary and the MIA walkers, and as soon as the Saviors open fire, Rick ducks for cover and begins shouting advice to Jadis. He needn’t bother; Jadis and the Heapsters run away, leaving Rick there to fight solo, until Carol and Jerry pull up beside him in a truck and he hops in.
Carl planned to sneak Siddiq into Alexandria through the sewer tunnel, which is why Siddiq is in the tunnel when everyone meets up there at the end, after Negan and the Saviors decimate the town. When Rick learns all the details of when and where and under what circumstances Carl was bitten, do you think he’ll blame Siddiq? Or will he honor Carl’s humanitarian efforts with Siddiq and welcome him to their group?
*One of the most shocking aspects of Carl’s death (or, more accurately, death-to-be in 809): not only how Rick will deal with it, but how it impacts the rest of the entire series. Many fans have held the belief that the series would eventually reveal itself to be the story of Carl Grimes, told from future Carl’s point of view. That’s obviously not going to turn out to be true. Also, in the comic book, Carl is still very much alive; this officially becomes the most dramatic diversion from the comics the show has taken.
*Gimple promised Carl will have some meaningful interaction with his dad before he dies. Guessing it will continue along these lines, from when Carl is trying to convince Rick they need to do what they can to forge a peaceful coexistence with everyone, including the Saviors: “We’re fighting so it’s all of us working together for something more than just killing other people… Finding some way forward, that’s harder,” Carl told his father. “That’s something more. That’s how it’s gotta be.”
*The Saviors burn down Alexandria, but plan to spare the Kingdom and make it their new home. That strike anyone else as a poor choice on Negan’s part? Those houses in Alexandria were nice, even by pre-apocalypse standards.
*F bomb count: still zero. Well, in the show… guessing a lot of viewers at home were saying it at the end of the midseason finale.
The Walking Dead midseason premiere airs Feb. 25 at 9 p.m. on AMC
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment: