"Time for After" wants us to believe Eugene's bluster about being a Savior and only looking out for himself, but it includes more than enough evidence to prove that just isn't so.
[WARNING - This review contains SPOILERS for The Walking Dead season 8, episode 7.]
The Walking Dead season 8 has been an uneven season at best, with episodes that swing wildly from deep introspections on characters and their motivations to weirdly paced hours where characters do inexplicable things just to fill airtime. It's made the season as a whole hard to follow, hurting its momentum and undercutting what should be its most exciting story yet with dumb excursions.
As the penultimate episode before the mid-season finale, "Time for After" is fittingly a mixture of season 8's good and bad elements. On the one hand, last night's episode explores Eugene's inner struggle, allowing him to grapple with the consequences of his decisions. But then we also had to sit through scenes of characters being impatient and stupid, be it Daryl's impulsive decision to attack The Sanctuary or Rick's ill-advised idea to go The Scavengers.
To be fair, it was wise to use Rick's scenes at the garbage dump as bookends for the episode, impressing on us how this was his final piece of preparation before the next big move against Negan. But it does nothing to excuse how stupid this all was in the first place, with the whole plan hinging on them not killing him outright or keeping him prisoner. Guess he was banking on them making him fight another walker? Because otherwise, it isn't really clear how he expected this to unfold. That it works out in his favor at all is a miracle.
Regardless of Rick regaining The Scavengers as an ally or not, nothing matters if they can't get the upper hand on The Saviors. The key to Rick's whole plan was that the walkers would keep them pinned within The Sanctuary, but thanks to Daryl and Tara's bright idea, that appears to no longer be the case. And while maybe it isn't as dumb as Rick's solo adventure - smashing the garbage truck into The Sanctuary's could have worked, unleashing the walkers inside and killing everying - it's a gamble, not a winning strategy. And as it goes, their gamble may not have even paid off since once Rick and The Scavengers arrive, there are no zombies to be seen. Sure, they could all be inside munching on some Saviors, but there would probably still be a few shambling outside, right?
To the extent at which this genius move ruins Rick's careful planning remains to be seen, but what really matters here is who chooses to stick to the plan and who doesn't. Attacking The Sanctuary on their own was always Daryl and Tara's idea, and given the state of Morgan's mind, it isn't surprising he's all in. Michonne and Rosita, however, didn't really sign on for this recklessness and leave (they only needed to see it to believe it, which is still a foolish endeavor but less so). The Walking Dead has been toying with the idea of Rick and Daryl conflict, having them actually come to blows in an earlier episode, and this just might be the start of that division. Plus, if it is revealed that the huge hole in the side of the building is what allows The Saviors to clear out the dead, then what Daryl did wasn't just dumb, it's dangerous.
Were "Time for After" all about Rick's stupidity and Daryl's impulsiveness it would have been a bad episode, with our heroes making poor decisions because of reasons. Thankfully, most of the time the episode's focus is on Eugene and his gnawing conscience. Much like earlier episodes that took a long hard look at a single character, this one gives a lengthy examination of Eugene, really diving in to where his head is at and giving him the attention necessary if he's to ever become a major player on this show.
For starters, Eugene reveals to Dwight that he knows he's the traitor, promising not to tell Negan so long as Dwight stops helping Rick. Eugene then visits with Father Gabriel, who is now suffering multiple infections and is likely to die, receiving a bit of wisdom about doing the right thing. (Also, please note the heavenly light cascading in through the window, lovely shot.) After another short scene with one of Negan's wives, Eugene sets his sights on the task at hand - getting rid of the walkers, fulfilling his responsibility to Negan, and saving the lives of the people at The Sanctuary. That accomplishing this will also keep himself alive isn't lost on Eugene, and he actually convinces himself that this is the driving force behind his actions, but what's really driving him is choosing to do the right thing.
If Eugene is a big coward whose biggest fear is dying, then why attempt to fly the drone when Dwight is holding him at gunpoint? Because he's putting the lives of the people he's trying to save ahead of his own. And if everything Eugene did this episode was about saving himself, then why not turn over Dwight when given the chance? He's a dead man if Negan finds out Eugene knew Dwight was a traitor and never told him, but he's again knowingly risking his own life to save another's. These decisions don't necessarily line up with Eugene's explanation for his actions, neither being entirely self-serving or in accordance with Negan's wishes. What they are is the right thing to do - the thing that will save lives.
"Time for After" wants us to believe Eugene's bluster about being a Savior and only looking out for himself, but it includes more than enough evidence to prove that just isn't so. Why else is he chugging wine and nearly choking on it? It's almost like he needs to calm his nerves because he's walking a tightrope of conflicting emotions. Josh McDermitt is doing amazing work in this episode, really selling the conflict within Eugene with what might be he best performance yet as the character. It'll be interesting to see where this story takes Eugene because it's wildly different from the comics but still a satisfying arc for his character to go on.
Next week is the extra long, 90-minute mid-season finale for The Walking Dead season 8, in which we'll likely learn just what Eugene came up with to get rid of the rest of the walkers (presumably something to do with manufacturing bullets). We'll also see just what Negan has in store for Rick now that he can go on the offensive, resulting in what sure's to be a huge cliffhanger with at least one major death.
The Walking Dead season 8 continues next Sunday with "How It's Gonna Be" at 9pm/10c on AMC.