In a completely ridiculous episode of THE WALKING DEAD last week, our heroes destroyed what should have been most of the remaining Saviors, effectively ending the tyranny that has dominated their world for two seasons. There was no celebration. No one seemed particularly happy about it. In a show on which everyone talks, talks, talks all the time, no one even mentioned it. The tone of the show continued to be as downbeat, humorless and joyless as usual. Tonight's offering, "Still Gotta Mean Something," should have been a wrap-up ep in which our heroes mop up the last of the Saviors and begin to look to the future they're going to have to build but it seems the writers aren't quite willing to give up their played-out storyline just yet.
Just how many Saviors are there? It's a question of absolutely central importance to this season and to any plan to defeat them but though Savior turncoat Dwight would have provided this information to the rebel communities, it has never been shared with viewers. We've had, over time, some indications. A few seasons ago when Negan first appeared, his men staged some
elaborate roadblocks and he confessed that doing so had seriously taxed
his manpower; there were, at the time, maybe 30 or 40 Saviors on-hand.
At the end of the previous season, Negan assembles his Saviors to
declare war; he's shown addressing perhaps a hundred people, which felt like an escalation but go with it.
This season, Rick and co. engineered a zombie siege of the Sanctuary
then proceeded to wipe out every other Savior outpost. The carnage was extraordinary and the kills and captures should
have reduced the Saviors to a very manageable number. This impression was reinforced by all of the scenes set inside the Sanctuary during the siege, which made it clear
the Saviors were dangerously short of manpower and increasingly
desperate. At one point, there was a near-rebellion by the Saviors'
slave labor force, one the Saviors certainly feared. It was stopped only by the timely reappearance of
Negan--in a rather silly moment, the fear he instills in those lessers was enough to cow them into backing off. The Saviors even
considered a plan to arm their laborers with melee weapons and
send them out to fight the zombies. Whatever force was holed up at the
Sanctuary, it shouldn't have been an enormous one, but viewers were
denied even an estimate and had to depend on those past clues, so when the Saviors escaped the siege and
suddenly had sufficient numbers to launch simultaneous punitive
expeditions against all three rebel communities as if nothing at all
had changed, viewers were left wondering if Eugene had invented a
respawning device. Was he holed up in a hidden laboratory off-screen spontaneously
generating new Saviors by the dozen? It felt like something that shouldn't have been remotely possible.
The Saviors' numbers have been further reduced since then. The night the Safe Zone was attacked, the Alexandrians--with an assist from Dwight--liquidated Dwight's crew. Only one escaped and she's still missing in action. Morgan and Carol wiped out Gavin's force at the Kingdom down to the last man.
A few eps ago, the Saviors loaded up what should
have been nearly all of their remaining fighters and set out to attack
Hilltop. All the Savior leaders who hadn't yet been killed, including
Negan himself, went along; all of the remaining background-noise Saviors we'd seen seemed to be among the fighters as well. As before, it felt like a force that just shouldn't have been
possible. Last week, that force was completely annihilated, only about half a dozen of them escaping an insanely ill-considered attack. Later in the evening, some of Hilltop's Savior prisoners escaped and fled. Not enough to be much of a problem--many of their comrades opted to stay behind and switch sides, others became zombies or were eaten by the critters.
Then, tonight, it was yet again as if nothing had changed. Early in the proceedings, Maggie gets a briefing on where things stand at Hilltop and we learn that they've redeployed their scouts to watch the approaches for another Savior attack. When Maggie asks how
much ammo they have, she's told, "not enough to fend off another attack
of that size." Another attack of anything like that size should not be possible. There shouldn't be more than a few of them left but at various points in the ep, we're shown Daryl and Rosita surveilling Eugene's recently-established reloading shop and the place is crawling with Saviors, then later, we're shown that Sanctuary is still manned.
From whence comes all these Saviors? The villains' ability to return again and again as if unaffected by the losses they've incurred makes the war campaign--and thus the entire season--feel meaningless. Making this worse is the fact that our heroes should know roughly how many Saviors are left at any given time. They would have gotten troop-strength numbers from Dwight--no attack would have been launched without that--and they know roughly how many they've killed or captured. The only reason this isn't written into the story is the same reason the other specifics of the war-plan weren't written into it earlier in the season: so the writers can just make it up as they go.
That's a problem. The way our heroes got in trouble with the Saviors from the beginning
was to stupidly launch an attack without a plan--without, in fact, doing
even minimal recon of the enemy. The consequences were disastrous,
something they can't afford to repeat. The only vague excuse for a "plan" that ever emerged this season was that, after taking out the Savior satellite outposts, Rick and the leaders of the other communities were going to travel to the Sanctuary and demand the Saviors surrender. Now, obviously, the Saviors weren't meant to break the siege of the Sanctuary and that they did and how they did it--the snipers who are supposed to be shooting anyone who sticks his head up just stand around and watch as the Saviors enact a cartoon escape-plan--is completely ridiculous, but setting that aside, the implications of what we've seen is that there were somehow enough fighters holed up there to defeat the combined forces of all of these communities. What were our heroes going to do with them? Any effort at creating a peace that wasn't preceded by significantly reducing their numbers would have been suicidal but there doesn't appear to have been anything in this vein even on the drawing-board. Daryl's idea, to let the zombies into the Sanctuary, seems like a good one here but Rick rejected it. If that Savior force was big enough to do everything it has since, this fact should have been a part of the narrative long before what's been happening in the last several eps.
A few weeks ago, Jadis, Queen of the Garbage People, had captured Negan. She's rather upset about the Saviors liquidating her entire community but instead of just killing Negan outright, she takes him back to her junkyard, ineffectually ties him up so that he's able to move around, then conveniently leaves a gun, a flare and some photos she treasures laying around so that he can get his hands on them. He does then threatens to burn her pictures but she gets the flare away from him; he then uses the fact that he didn't burn them to help talk her into releasing him. The whole thing is completely ridiculous and it's impossible to believe she would cut him loose.
Something I did appreciate is that in the midst of all of this, that mysterious helicopter from a few eps ago turned up at the landfill. It hovers overhead for a while then, not seeing a flare (because Jadis extinguished the one Negan had), it flies off while she runs after it yelling. It was meant to pick her up. Before he leaves, Negan asks her about it. She says nothing. Another bizarre element of the nutty Garbage People saga. Even with all but one of them dead, they still manage to be the only bright spot in an otherwise dire ep.
 Negan picks up some unidentified someone near the end of this ep--probably the missing woman with her tale of Dwight's betrayal.
 On more than one occasion, Jadis consults a watch she's wearing!
 Another Garbage plus is that Pollyanna McIntosh, who has been decked out in cruddy Mad Max gear and made up to look rather rough throughout her time on the show, was finally allowed to clean up a bit. McIntosh is a statuesque goddess of a woman but viewers of TWD have gotten little indication of this before tonight.