The Walking Dead ends all out war predictably and with a whimper. That said, there was a big surprise to the season eight finale that gives us hope. Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) have a climactic showdown, sort of. Eugene (Josh McDermitt) proves that he was always a team player. Dwight (Austin Amelio) gets his comeuppance, but Maggie's (Lauren Cohan) revenge falls woefully short. And in the biggest development, Morgan (Lennie James) decides it's time to go solo.
Wrath opens up with a flashback scene. We see a younger Rick, in his sheriff duds, walking alongside Carl as a boy. They're holding hands and laughing. In the present, Rick is in his room at the Hilltop. He goes over to a wakened baby Gracie. Siddiq (Avi Nash) comes into the room with her bottle. For the first time, Rick asks him what happened to Carl. Siddiq tells Rick how his mother died, that she believed killing the dead freed their souls. Carl died to honor a woman he never knew. Rick is profoundly affected by this story.
Outside, everyone is preparing for battle. Jerry (Cooper Andrews) tells King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) that they aren't "losing shit". The others gather around Dwight's map to discuss strategy. Maggie has Gregory locked in the Barrington house. Daryl (Norman Reedus) worries that the map could be a trap. Morgan walks to the gate confused, then knocks down Henry (Macsen Lintz). Carol (Melissa McBride) holds him back. Rick thinks Morgan should sit out of this fight, but Morgan refuses. He believes they have lost who they once were. All they have left is to fight for the living. Alden (Callan McAuliffe) asks Maggie to join. She shuts him down, his group is staying behind. They are not members of the Hilltop.
At the Sanctuary, Negan is rallying the troops for battle. He parades a beaten up, enslaved Dwight. Eugene informs him the order for the bullets is done. He hands him a pistol with the new ammo. Negan fires a few shots at a bale of hay with a shirt scrawled "Rick". He gives Eugene back the pistol, then asks him if he's ready to see his former friends die. Eugene responds that he "needs to". Negan dispatches the remainder of Simon's men to cover a roadblock. He forces Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) to come along. He has something to confess.
In their truck, Negan confesses that he sent those men to die. They were with Simon originally. He needs Rick to believe the plan is real to fall for the trap. Gabriel opens the side door and leaps out. Still nearly blind from the infection, he stumbles into the woods. He's attacked by a walker, before Eugene and Negan catch up with him. Negan swings Lucille menacingly, but they take him back to the truck.
Rick and the team easily wipe out the road block Saviors. They find Negan's fake plan on the bodies. Morgan brutally kills a Savior. He then sees a hallucination of Jared before Jesus snaps him out of it. As the group walks into the woods, Jesus offers a new solution for Morgan. He grabs his fighting stick, the sharp end for the walkers, the other for the living. Carol approves, she's starting to like Jesus.
At the Hilltop, the lookout sees Savior cars approaching. The evacuation is given. The community goes through a hidden entrance and runs into the woods. Gracie is crying aloud. Tara (Alana Masterson) turns around to face the Saviors at the gate. Alden joins her, along with the remaining imprisoned Saviors. She gives them weapons to help her.
Rick's team walks into an open field. Suddenly they hear Negan's voice booming from all directions. The Saviors have them surrounded. Negan taunts him, "We're cleaning house today". He thanks Eugene for making today "possible" and let's them know Dwight was a patsy. The Saviors appear in force before Rick's group. They raise their rifles to cut them all down. But the bullets explode inside their chambers, decimating the Saviors.
Negan's gun shatters when he tries to fire. He raises his bloody hand and curses Eugene. Rick, Maggie, Michonne (Danai Gurira) and the others open fire. Gabriel lunges at Negan, but he scurries away from the oncoming onslaught. Eugene is about to be killed, but is saved by Rosita (Christian Serratos). Morgan is about to kill a Savior, but knocks him out instead. Dwight is cut free and joins the melee.
At the Hilltop, Tara and Alden are ready to ambush the Saviors. Suddenly the bad guys are hit with Molotov cocktails. Aaron (Ross Marquand) and the Oceanside women come storming out of the woods. They kill all the Saviors in a fiery shootout.
In the clearing, the Saviors have been routed. Laura (Lindsley Register) puts up her arms in surrender. Negan is trying to escape, but Rick is right behind him. They come to a tree, the one we've seen in flashbacks all season long. It's a full on tussle, until Negan knocks Rick over. Rick asks for ten seconds to tell Negan something about Carl. Negan responds that "Carl didn't know shit", but he wasn't going to kill the boy at Alexandria. He should have just killed Rick then, maybe the boy would be alive. As he counts down and moves toward Rick, Rick takes a piece of glass and cuts Negan's throat.
The Hilltop, Alexandrians, and Kingdom survivors watch as Rick defeats Negan. But in a stunning move, Rick beckons Siddiq to save Negan's life. Maggie cannot believe it. She screams and breaks down as Michonne holds her back. Rick addresses the entire crowd. The war is over. Negan's reign is done. It's time to build a new world. Anyone who wants to join them is allowed, the ones who don't will pay. He orders them to go home. The "after" officially begins.
Rosita punches Eugene for "puking" on her. He replies, "fair play", as they walk off together again as friends. Morgan takes off his armor and gives it to Carol. This is for Henry. We cut again to the now familiar scene of Rick crying under the tree. We know now this is the aftermath of the battle. He whispers that "my mercy prevails over my wrath".
At the Hilltop, Alden asks Maggie if he can join the community. She allows him to stay as the other Saviors return home. At the Sanctuary, Tara and Rosita bring supplies to the women who were once Negan's wives. Laura is there helping as a bus arrives from the Kingdom. In the woods, Daryl drives Dwight to a secluded spot. Dwight admits that he is a "piece of shit" for killing Denise and torturing him. To his surprise, Daryl throws him the truck's key. Go find Sherry, if you come back, I will kill you.
At the junkyard, Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) hears a knock on the entrance. It's Morgan, Rick is allowing her to return. Morgan has decided to stay there by himself. Jadis introduces herself as Anne. Dwight drives to the house where he found Sherry's note. It says "honeymoon". He smiles as he obviously knows where she is.
In her office at the Hilltop, a darker, more somber Maggie is at her desk. She's furious at Rick and Michonne for allowing Negan to live. She tells her audience that they will rebuild this place, make it strong, and wait for "our moment". Jesus sits in front of her, but Daryl emerges from the shadows in agreement.
Negan is chained to a bed with bandages around his throat. He pretends to sleep, but his eyes are forced open when Michonne grabs his throat. Rick informs him that he won't be killed. He will "rot in a cell" for the rest of his life, watching the community thrive. Rick says "you will be the evidence that we're making a civilization".
In Alexandria, Gabriel is back in his priest's collar. He walks through the burned out church, then drops to his knees at the altar. He thanks God for allowing him "to see". "Wrath" closes with the flashback of Rick and young Carl walking. Rick recites a letter to his son. He remembers the walk, holding his hands, and how his child felt safe. He fulfills Carl's last wish by ending the war.
I am torn by this finale. Season eight, apart from Carl's death, was poor on many levels. Multiple episodes were pure filler with absurd plots. "Wrath" ends predictably because I fully expected Eugene's bullets to fail. It was the only logical way to get all the Saviors at once. Rick letting Negan live is foolish, but does fit into the story arc of Carl's hope for the future. Maggie turning on Rick is the bright hope for the series. She wants vengeance for Glenn, rightly so. It's about time a chasm develops between the Alexandrians. It's going to be difficult for everyone to embrace the Savior survivors. As for Morgan, his destiny lies elsewhere. Tune in to AMC as he makes the jump to Fear the Walking Dead season four.