On Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead, "Still Gotta Mean Something," we saw Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) do one of the worst things he's ever done. We also saw Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) at his most vulnerable, showing more humanity than we've yet seen in him. Up is down, day is night, and it's becoming clear that the Saviors and Rick's people are going to work out some kind of deal to avoid mutually assured destruction because this war is unsustainable and the only people who still really want to fight are Rick and Daryl (Norman Reedus). And even Rick may finally be moving toward settling.
Carl's (Chandler Riggs) dying wish was for peace and his idea is spreading in ways he couldn't have anticipated. Tara (Alanna Masterson) has now been saved by Dwight (Austin Amelio) twice after she tried to murder him. Last week, she remembered her own history as a resident of Woodbury and how she was given a second chance by people who had been her enemies, and decided to forgive Dwight for killing her girlfriend Denise (Merritt Wever). This week, Carol (Melissa McBride) finally let go of her lone wolf tendency and came to terms with the fact that being part of a community saved her life and that the idea of a future is worth protecting, even if it's unstable. Because of this, she'll probably support ending the war. Meanwhile, Michonne (Danai Gurira) is already convinced of Carl's idea and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) may come around to it, too, especially if Savior defector Al (Callan McAuliffe) is able to persuade her that there are Saviors who deserve the opportunity to repent, which he was unable to convince Rick of this week.
Even Negan might be willing to concede more than he was before if it means conserving his human resources. He's showing more and more of his humanity lately. When he was Jadis' (Pollyanna McIntosh) prisoner, the most powerless position we've ever seen him in, he said he was sorry that Simon (Steven Ogg) massacred her people. He talked about his wife for first time since he confessed to Father Gabriel about how he treated her badly in the first half of the season. When Jadis was about to burn his beloved baseball bat Lucille, he begged her to stop by explaining that the bat is named after his wife and it's the last piece of her he has left, just like how the photos Jadis took are the only pieces of her friends she has left. This moment showed Negan is still capable of empathy — self-serving empathy, but empathy nonetheless. He said he would settle the conflict between her and him, and after she let him go, he said something that would have previously been unimaginable coming out of Negan's mouth: "You can come with me and I'll follow a new path." His M.O. has always been "my way or the highway to Hell," so to hear him admit that he's considering changing his ways is a sign that he wants reconciliation. He's been willing to make a deal with Rick to end the war as long as Rick surrenders for awhile, but now he might be willing to change the terms. He's just plain tired of the killing.
Unfortunately, it's now Rick who's being the unreasonable one. Rick has been ignoring Carl's dying plea to end the war and build for a future, and still hadn't even read the letter Carl left him at the start of the episode. He's resisting doing the right thing with all his strength. Rick is single-mindedly fixed on killing Negan, and it's starting to take a mental toll on him. Rick went out into the woods to be alone, much like Morgan (Lennie James) did before Rick found him in "Clear." Only in this instance, there was no one to help save Rick from himself. Instead, in a funhouse mirror image of Season 3's encounter, it's Morgan who now finds Rick in the woods, but he's far too gone at this point to be of service to anyone.
Not that there was much either Rick or Morgan could do when they're found by the Saviors who escaped Hilltop. The duo are captured and taken to an abandoned bar that was about to be descended upon by a herd of walkers. Rick made the offer that Al had asked him to make: that if the Saviors will help, he'll allow them to live at Hilltop.
"You didn't want this," Rick said. "You made a split second decision and you chose wrong, but it's not too late. You cut us loose, you cooperate, we'll give you a fresh start. The chance to become part of our community. To become one of us. I'm giving you my word. There's not a lot that's worth much these days, but a man's word has to be worth something."
Apparently, Rick's word was worth a lot because the Saviors freed them and they fought off the herd together. One Savior even saved Rick from being bitten, but moments later, Rick cut the guy's throat with a hatchet. He and Morgan then murdered them all. It turns out, his word was B.S.
"I lied," Rick told a dying Savior.
"We could've lived after this," the dying man whispered, as if Carl were speaking to Rick through him, but Rick shot him in the head. The lowest circles of Hell are for frauds and betrayers.
Rick knows he's doing the opposite of what Carl wanted, because he asked Morgan why he saved him way back in the first episode of the series even though Morgan had no idea if Rick would be a threat to him and his son Duane. Morgan didn't want to answer, until he finally admitted, "Because my son was there."
Morgan's decline into madness happened because the loss of his son broke him and Rick is heading towards the same future unless he remembers the value of community and mercy. The universe keeps giving Rick all these signs that he should drop his weapon and extend his hand, but up until now he's done nothing but willfully ignore them.
The good news is it looks like he's going to finally realize that Carl was right, and we're going to see it soon. At the episode's end, Rick sat down to read Carl's letter and that may be the thing that convinces him. Rick swore he would kill Negan way back in the Season 7 premiere and he's reiterated that promise many times since. But as we saw in "Still Gotta Mean Something," Rick is willing to go back on his word. So his vow to kill Negan must be negotiable, too. And when we catch up to the "my mercy prevailed over my wrath" flash-forward that's been teased throughout the season, we'll probably find that Rick and Negan finally had a real conversation.
Daryl's hopeless, though.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.