Above even the expected failures, the midseason finale is thoroughly underwhelming and poorly handled, with many issues existing even beyond the five here. Then again, maybe that’s just “How It’s Gotta Be.” Be warned, major spoilers follow.
1. Problem of an Overstuffed Nighttime Episode
At times, we may have some dark episodes, physically speaking: scenes of combat, of other forms of conflict, such as the rescue of Daryl from the Governor several seasons ago. However, this episode blows them all away with how badly such a scenario can be handled. With exception of the opening segments, the entire episode takes place during what can be assumed to be the middle of the night. The lighting is extremely dim, making it difficult to tell who is where, let alone what is actually going on.
This darkness wouldn’t have been so bad if not for the fact that there are so many locations to deal with. There’s very little light, to the point that Eugene Porter’s headlamp is glaringly bright by comparison to most of the rest, in contrast to the slightly brighter lights in other night scenes. Yes, there are multiple attacks by the Saviors and the alliance, but when we can barely see any of them, let alone really know where most of them are in relation to one another, why should we even care? The timing decision is even more potent because it both was completely unnecessary to the plot of the episode and serves as just another helping of “why should we care,” stacking on top of the nominal lack of guns (despite almost always having unlimited ammunition) and many other elements.
2. Too Many Plotlines
As is entirely predictable, the sheer number of plotlines that were piling up since not only this season, but the previous one as well, have come to a head in the worst way possible.
Every single plotline is coming up, and due to the aforementioned lighting issues, it’s hard to make sense of any of them. They come fast and furious, with all of the developments seeming to be more about resolving things in time for the midseason break than actually doing a good job of anything.
Eugene’s redemption is little more than a side note. He could easily have been removed from the episode and very little would change, since nobody even mentions him after his release of Gabriel Stokes and Doctor Emmett Carson. They just… appear in the sewers. Because reasons.
Despite the Scavengers ostensibly being important for a little while, they were quickly herded off and never seen again for the rest of the episode after Carol Peletier drove up to save Rick from an absolutely idiotic attempt to see what was going on at the Sanctuary, a place that he knew would likely have some Saviors after his Walker shield had been disabled. More and more, they don’t even seem like a plot device. They’re just a time-filler.
In the interest of giving Team Daryl (Daryl Dixon, Morgan Jones, Michonne, Rosita Espinosa, and Tara Chamblers) something to do, rather than actually have others beyond them call them out on the complete and utter idiocy of their plan in the previous episode, they all get tied up in a renewed attempt to assassinate Dwight (who, again, they have admitted is helpful). His plea for his personal necessity is rather pointless and redundant, since it only goes to show how horrible the alliance are, rather than how good he is. Furthermore, it goes to show how much they’ve forgotten anything about Rosita’s actual characterization, as she again seems to be the voice of reason despite being the most vocal in favor of killing anyone in the Saviors not long ago. The fact that they did not end up killing Dwight just goes to show that yet another plot element is being wasted: all of their characters, degenerating them into the villains of their own group for the sake of giving them something to do.
Aaron and Enid’s failed trip to Oceanside and the tragedy of Natania’s death would have been important and noteworthy, but the sheer number of plot lines here negates its effectiveness. In fact, the entire segment could have been stretched out into an entire episode in its own right in some other episode and it would have been good, but as it is, the entire thing is more or less forgotten in the mess of it all, and true to form is never brought up again.Continued below
Another overlooked element is Carl going over his father’s head, which is just barely brought up in the opening moments of the episode. Saddiq barely has a presence, and when he does, it’s for a grand total of maybe a few seconds at the end as “justification” for the third point here.
3. Plot-Mandated Teleportation
Hand-in-hand with the problems of the darkness and the overabundance of plotlines comes the appearance of the fast travel system. Apparently the writers really need people to get exactly where they want them to be, fast as humanly possible. How do they accomplish this in a war zone, where any reasonable amount of situational awareness would have led to at least some form of conflict?
Oh, they just ignore it. Need Rick to find Negan at his house? Have him not come into conflict with anyone else and somehow completely miss his target. Really want everyone from the alliance to get downstairs into the sewers? They’re just there now, because the script said so, logic be damned.
4. Too Many Characters
On account of the sheer number of major characters in this episode with parts in their arcs, the entire episode seems to be drowning, just barely pulling along.
Yes, it’s essentially shambling, even with a grand total of a single member of the undead to be seen. The irony is palpable.
The script even seems to realize this. Jadis and her Scavengers hightail it out of the vicinity of the episode as soon as bullets start flying. Carol appears out of nowhere and has nothing to do for most of the episode except save Rick in its opening. Aaron and Enid barely have a presence. Jerry is just… there for the entire episode, and doesn’t even have a line. Michonne just wanders off from her scene with Team Daryl without a word (even including a commercial break where one could be forgiven for thinking she died at random due to not answering someone calling her name for some reason) to attack some other Saviors, as if she realized she served no purpose here and was taking out her frustration.
Admittedly, the chaos, combined with the aforementioned multiple scenes, does seem to be akin to an actual war, rather than the “let’s sit and wait until it’s all over” that the half-season was hinging on thus far. However, the reality of the chaos is not that of war between factions, but a war for the viewers’ attention, which makes it all amount to just a mishmash of a “who’s who,” up to and including an absurd callback to that bizarre montage of fading in on the faces of every member in the cast from an earlier episode. It didn’t make any sense there, and it makes even less sense here except to remind people of how many characters we have to see.
5. The End of Carl Grimes
Normally, the fatal bite on Carl Grimes would be truly heart wrenching, as was probably the intention. He had a good run, and his speech to Negan about how he was willing to give himself up and asking if Negan really wanted to be who he said did strike a chord, their moment really adding some needed gravitas to an overall pointless use of 88 minutes.
However, something else comes to mind: there was a single Walker in the entire episode, during the assault on the Alexandria Safe-Zone. Nobody else turned, presumably to keep the budget of the episode down to allow for more explosions (which seemed more like bombs than being shot up in how they are treated and the explosions themselves, but that’s another problem altogether). Unless Carl was bitten by an invisible Walker (which isn’t too unheard of in fiction, though uncommon and not seen in this series at all), he seems to have taken up a rare case of script-induced zombification, the sadly fatal disease wherein the plot mandates you die regardless of the logic of the scenario or what has been seen before.
Yes, the creator said after the fact that he had been bitten a few episodes ago during the attempt to get Saddiq out, but a mixture of him apparently hiding the bite for several days (when the infection is known to take hold in maybe an hour or two) makes that extremely implausible and a very bad case of plot armor.Continued below
In all, it has to be an accomplishment: in a season that many have called the worst so far for its incredibly slow pacing, “How It’s Gotta Be” somehow managed to be the worst episode of the entire half-season, even with some rather hefty competition.