“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
That quote sums up not only the last episode of The Walking Dead but, I'm afraid, how it will be going forward. The wanton murder of the Saviors in their outpost last week has implications for the Alexandria crew, as Maggie and Carol have been captured by a group of Saviors patrolling the perimeter. Carol gets off a shot and wounds one of the men before they are captured. Paula (played wickedly by the sensational Alicia Witt) negotiates with Rick over the radio for a prisoner swap, but before that can happen the Saviors move Maggie and Carol to what looks like an abandoned slaughterhouse to stop the clock and plan their next move.
Bound and gagged, Carol and Maggie endure taunts and threats from Paula and the other Saviors. It is here where Carol, the master chameleon, begins to game her captors. She deliberately hyperventilates, causing the captors to immediately perceive her as scared and weak, thereby giving her an advantage later on. This also provides a practical advantage as well-it forces the Saviors to remove the gags so that Carol and Maggie can plead their case to their captors. While the Saviors are distracted, Carol lifts a rosary and crucifix from a felled Walker for use later as a possible weapon or tool to free herself.
This is where we witness a master class performance by Melissa McBride as Carol. Paula recounts her origin story, telling Carol that she was a secretary when everything hit the fan, and never got to see her four daughters again. She proudly tells Carol that she first killed her boss, who kept her from seeing her family, and kept killing to this day. She boasts that she lost track of her human kills after it reached 'double digits', and feels no pain or remorse for the evil things she's done.
The gut wrenching reactions on Carol's face during this story tells us that Carol sees herself in this woman. Paula is Carol's 'abyss': she is staring into HER abyss, her future, and she doesn't like what is staring back.
Carol's crisis of conscience is now in full bloom. She spills the beans about her group's previous confrontation with the Negan bikers, asking 'Who is Negan?' A minion, who we'll call 'Cancer Lady' (because of her chain-smoking and coughing up blood and all) tells Carol, "We're ALL Negan". Carol also tells Paula to have mercy on Maggie because she is with child. This only brings more derision and taunts, and a confrontation between Paula and the man Carol shot. The man hits Paula, which causes memories of Carol's abusive husband to flood into her mind. Maggie leaps in to help Paula, headbutting the man before Paula bonks the man with the pistol, knocking him unconscious.
Maggie and Carol get separated now, with a woman named 'Chelle taking Maggie into another room for interrogation. 'Chelle tries to get info from Maggie, but Maggie ends up learning more about her and the Saviors than the other way around. 'Chelle was pregnant before as well, and now Maggie is looking into her 'abyss': a jaded, evil woman with no hope for the future.
Paula calls for reinforcements on the walkie, and exits the room with Cancer Lady and 'Chelle, leaving Carol and Maggie alone. Carol uses the crucifix to free herself, and goes into the other room to free Maggie. The man Carol shot is now dead on the floor from blood loss, and Maggie devises a plan to use him to their advantage. She ties the man (now a walker) to a pipe close to the door. Cancer Lady comes in and becomes a snack for the walker! She's not dead yet however. Maggie knocks Cancer Lady to the ground and starts pounding on the woman's skull with the gun butt, shrieking like a wild animal as she mercilessly murders her captor, the screen filling with blood. Maggie turning dark-side is truly disturbing to watch, and horror plays out on Carol's face.
Paula finds Cancer Lady in a pool of gore and sets off the find Carol and Maggie to exact revenge. The hallway is littered with Walkers impaled on spikes, acting as a roadblock to any escape. Carol and Paula have a showdown in the kill jar. Paula now realizes that Carol played her, but Carol begs her to leave. Paula, of course, will have none of it, and Carol reluctantly shoots Paula in the shoulder to try and stop her without killing her.
Maggie is in another hallway, and 'Chelle pounces on her. She wildly swings a knife at Maggie, slicing her shirt just inches from her pregnant belly. Before she can finish the job Carol comes up behind 'Chelle and coldly puts the gun to her head and blows 'Chelle away. This murder is obviously in self defense, but the brutality of it is still shocking, given Carol's mindset at the moment. Even though she is horribly conflicted she still does what is necessary to survive - that is her true nature.
Carol and Maggie go back to the Walker hallway and Paula wrestles with Carol. They fight, and in the process Carol impales Paula on one of the spikes. As Carol backs away a Walker begins to munch on Paula's face. Snack time!
As Paula becomes canape her walkie crackles to life. Carol takes it and imitates Paula, telling the reinforcements to go to the 'Kill Floor', a room in the slaughterhouse.
The trap is set - the reinforcements go into the kill floor room and find one of the two doors locked. Carol slides the other metal door closed, dropping a lit cigarette onto the gas soaked floor before locking it. Carol looks through the window and watches as the Saviors are burned alive, eventually looking away in disgust. But again, even though she is clearly in crisis, it is her nature to do what is necessary to survive and protect the ones she cares about.
Carol and Maggie navigate the Walker hallway, even granting mercy to the newly Walker-ized Paula with a knife in the brain. The doors fly open and Rick's crew appears. Maggie and Glenn embrace, with Maggie telling Glenn she can't do this anymore. Daryl asks Carol, "You good?" and Carol whispers "No". Daryl hugs her with the most affection he's ever shown to her. So Carol/Daryl may become an item after all!
Rick still has Primo (the Savior who was on Daryl's bike) at gunpoint, and urges him to talk. He refuses, and when Rick asks if Negan was in the compound Primo replies that HE is Negan! Of course Crazy Rick pops a cap in Primo's noggin, much to the horror of onlooker Carol. The ep ends with a closeup of Carol's hand, clutching the crucifix so tightly that blood drips from her hand.
The journey into darkness doesn't seem like it's going to end anytime soon, as we know that the REAL Negan (with the amazing Jeffery Dean Morgan cast) is still out there. Are the Saviors a cult? Are they programmed to believe that they are ALL Negan? We know that they are bad people. The question is that when our heroes stare into the abyss that is Negan, what will stare back at them?