It won’t go down as the most enthralling TV in history, but last night’s mid-season finale of The Walking Dead was important because it presented viewers with a lot of powerful themes. From Deanna’s ceaseless hope, to Morgan’s naive but resilient belief that killing isn’t the answer, “Start to Finish” best encapsulated what The Walking Dead is all about.

There is no right or wrong answer, only the will to survive. It’s how these characters go about surviving—and how they help each other—that matters. But does surviving mean killing a killer to prevent more killing? Or does it mean nurturing the mad world back to an idealized Alexandria, which is now in chaos? (I mean, a tower literally came crashing down on their town, bringing ruination to their cozy slice of suburbia.) The two conflicting views are probably best represented by the injured Wolf and Deanna.

On one hand, Deanna, who herself is not long for this world, drew up plans to re-build Alexandria into a safe and blossoming community before it all went to hell. The Wolf, meanwhile, revealed he and his crew have put the burden of the apocalypse on their shoulders, and are eliminating other survivors as a way to set them free. We saw this conflict come to a head as Morgan and Carol fought in the basement where the Wolf was being held captive.

It’s a clash of ideologies, a chance to cleanse these character from a world that has essentially forced them into a kill or be killed mentality. We saw how this can affect people, which is why Morgan got his own extended episode. We’ve also seen the pain and destruction Carol has survived over the past several seasons, which is why it’s so poignant these two characters literally came to blows during the mid-season finale. Will Morgan’s will save Carol from her crazy mental state? Or will Carol’s rabid determination and willingness to protect her group endure?

It was this kind of conviction and despair that culminated beautifully in “Start to Finish,” and why the hope of re-building Alexandria, even as it’s overrun with thousands of zombies, is worth holding onto. It was why Deanna explained to Rick that even though he sees many of the Alexandria residents as expendable, they’re still his people. That’s worth fighting for.

The single moment that made last night’s episode so powerful is when the group was pinned back in Jessie’s house, and her young son, Sam, was forced to confront the zombie horde. After witnessing the murder of his father, and watching his mother ruthlessly stabbed a Wolf to death, Sam retreated back to his room, where he busied himself with twisted drawings and listened to old-timey music. Sam was in a safe little box, surrounded by everyday comforts.

the walking dead

But once the horde broke into his house, Sam, who essentially grew up in the tranquil comfort of Alexandria, finally had to face the horrors of a zombie-infested world. But, as the end of the episode teases, he isn’t emotionally prepared for such a moment. Someone so young and so innocent can barely comprehend what’s happening, and suddenly he is being forced to cover himself in zombie blood and guts, and literally walk through death.

Speaking of death, that’s exactly where The Walking Dead is headed despite all the messages of hope. For all the optimism and safety Rick and his crew hope to secure in Alexandria, Dale, Abraham, and Sasha ran into a group that epitomizes the post-apocalyptic humans in The Walking Dead universe. If you missed the scene above, the three characters were stopped by a group of men on motorcycles, who eventually reveal that everything belongs to Negan, even the “porn under the seat.”

For longtime fans of the franchise, Negan’s, arrival will be a welcome one. But it’ll also represent a major shift in The Walking Dead narrative. These characters have been fighting to survive and build a community that’s predicated on what the world was like before the apocalypse, a place of simple comforts and mundanity. Introducing Negan, who owns a bat wrapped in barbed wire named Lucille for crying out loud, will test that hope, and possibly see one of the show’s most popular characters killed off.

Although “Start to Finish” left a lot of dangling threads, it still presented viewers with a lot of strong themes, and sets up a future that will see Rick and his group become stronger and closer. But with Negan now involved, their limits will be tested, making Deanna’s words about community all the more impactful. Who will survive to the next season will be the biggest question. If it’s anything like the comics, fans of The Walking Dead are in for what will likely be the biggest moment in the show’s history.

Put it this way, it’ll make you want to retreat back to Sam’s safe world with coloring books and old-timey music.

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