After enduring eight of the bleakest, most miserable episodes of the series run of The Walking Dead, the back half of the seventh season has pivoted, offering maybe the best five-episode stretch of the series since season five. Since February, The Walking Dead has reemerged with a new sense of hope, a livelier fighting spirit, a sense of humor, and a newfound fondness for its characters. Viewers understood the trajectory of this season’s arc — Rick would build alliances as it worked its way toward a war against Negan — but showrunner Scott Gimple has been careful to build those stories around his characters, whether it is Eugene getting another chance to remake himself into the man he wants others to see him as, or Rick and Michonne bonding and falling further in love while collecting an arsenal.
This week’s episode returns to a familiar theme for The Walking Dead, exploring how its characters contend with grief in their own distinct ways. Morgan and Carol, who have both been shaped by the devastating losses of their children, had those old wounds ripped open this week, and we witnessed once again how their grief drives them both forward and backward.
The Man with the Plan
There is an interesting debate to be had over whether Richard was justified in his actions this week. Richard, who has been scheming to force Ezekiel and The Kingdom into a war since we met him, finally achieves that goal this week, but not without inflicting a painful casualty. Indeed, Richard’s plan works better than he could have even expected, but not in the way he had hoped. He pulls a long con on his own men, sabotaging a 12-melon tribute to the Saviors by distracting Ezekiel and co. with a line of grocery carts and an unfilled grave. While they aren’t looking, Richard removes one of the melons from the tribute. Richard expects the Saviors to react violently to the missing melon, and he is right. They do. He is wrong, however, about who would be on the receiving end of the violence: Instead of the suicide-by-Savior plan that he Richard drew up, the Saviors shoot and kill sweet, innocent Benjamin, whose last words — uttered in Carol’s living room — are straight out of Morgan’s Art of Peace. “If you injure your opponent, you injure yourself.” It’s a shame that Benjamin had to die uttering such hollow bullsh*t.
Once Morgan realizes that Richard is behind the missing melon, he confronts Richard, who provides a compelling reason for his betrayal. Inaction had led to the traumatizing deaths of Richard’s wife and daughter, and Richard isn’t going to let inaction lead to the demise of The Kingdom and the slaughter of its people. He knows The Kingdom has to take the fight to Negan. Unable to convince Ezekiel to do so, Richard takes matters into his own hands.
Morgan seems to express some sympathy for Richard, but he chokes Richard to death anyway for his “betrayal.” However, he also follows through on Richard’s plan to use the death to make a show of loyalty to the Saviors and lure them into a false sense of security ahead of The Kingdom’s decision to join the war against the with Alexandria.
In other words, Richard’s plan works exactly as it should have. He sacrificed himself for the greater good, but he also inadvertently sacrificed Benjamin.
You Will Be Torn Apart by Teeth or Bullets
Benjamin’s death reignited in Morgan all the pain he had felt over the loss of his own son, Duane, and we see glimpses of the man we once knew before Morgan met Eastman. We see the Morgan who had once told Rick Grimes that “the good people, they always die. And the bad people do, too. But the weak people, the people like me… we have inherited the earth.” Benjamin’s death restores Morgan’s compulsion to clear. “Walkers, people, anything that gets anywhere near me, I kill them. I clear.” He chokes Richard to death, then he seeks out walkers to clear. He comes to Carol to clear his conscience, telling her about the deaths of Glenn and Abraham and the danger that Negan poses to Alexandria. He clears a path to war for The Kingdom.
Morgan loses it — he has a psychic break, and had Carol not intervened, Morgan might have returned to the woods. Carol, however, implores Morgan to switch places with her and regroup in her cabin while she returns to The Kingdom. Morgan does so, but it’s unclear how long he can keep his compulsion to “clear” at bay, and that compulsion could prove useful in the upcoming war against Negan.
You Kill Or You Die, or You Die and You Kill
The moment many of us have been waiting for since Carol abandoned Alexandria last season finally arrives this week when Morgan spills the beans about Glenn and Abraham’s death to Carol. Carol’s reaction, however, isn’t perhaps what we were expecting. She does not fly off in a rage, take up arms and march directly to Alexandria. With another remarkable performance from Melissa McBride — who has been sidelined in that cottage for far too long now — Carol swallows the pain of Morgan’s revelation, internalizes it, and turns her anger into determination. Carol seeks to comfort Morgan, and then she, too, does exactly as Richard had hoped in the midseason finale: She comes out of hibernation and convinces Ezekiel to go to war against Negan.
“We have to fight,” Carol says to Ezekiel, officially ending the suffering-in-silence era of Carol. “We do,” he agrees. “But not today.”
Today, Ezekiel must tend to a weevil problem. But tomorrow, Carol, Ezekiel, and Jerry will join Rick and Alexandria and lead The Kingdom against Negan. Whether intentional or not, Morgan followed through on Richard’s plan to provoke The Kingdom to war. Richard’s sacrifice will not be in vain.
–Karl Makinen — who plays Richard — did a remarkable job in his final episode, and by the time he’d finished the story about losing his wife and kids, I was totally on board with his plan, even at the expense of Benjamin. R.I.P. Richard.
— That moment that Morgan recalled his son, Duane, instead of Benjamin was the perfect, heartbreaking way to let the audience know that Morgan’s “clear” mode had been reactivated. This Morgan is a far more interesting one than the subdued Morgan we’ve had for the last two seasons.
— That last moment with Morgan sharpening his stick into a spear was the exact right note to end the episode on.
— No one on The Walking Dead is ever going to be nominated for an Emmy, because it’s just not that kind of show, but Lennie James and Melissa McBride often give the kind of performances that deserve awards, as they did in this week’s episode.
— There were a lot of great lines in this episode, which was written by Scott Gimple, but the best exchange came when Carol answered the door to find Morgan standing outside.
“What happened to you?”
Carol didn’t blink an eye.
— Jerry’s cobbler line, and the woman who said “Okay, I think I just pissed myself, Imma go,” in the presence of Shiva reminded us that even the most heartbreaking episodes of The Walking Dead can have a few great moments of humor.