The title of this week’s episode of The Walking Dead is “Morning Star,” but it may as well have been called “The Battle of Winterfell: The Walking Dead Edition.” That is not an insult, exactly. Comparisons to the infamous Game of Thrones episodes are inescapable here, because in both cases, the “good guys” are seriously overmatched by thousands of dead people (the White Walkers, admittedly, are probably more formidable than lurching zombies) led by the series’ respective most terrifying villains. Both shows did a lot of character work as they readied for the battle, teasing potential deaths (Ezekiel/Carol/Lydia/Eugene/Rosita/Alden/Gamma). Eugene (and Stephanie) even sang a song, reminiscent of the Jenny of Oldstones‘ song in Game of Thrones.
While Game of Thrones obviously provided inspiration here, The Walking Dead version may have been better in some respects. Director Michael E. Satrazemis probably learned a few things from the failures of the Battle of Winterfell, namely that: 1) shorter is better, 2) being able to actually see what’s going on is super helpful, and 3) shorter is better! Though there is still some battle left to be fought on The Walking Dead, Angela Kang is doing in 45 minutes what it took Weiss and Benioff two hours to do on Game of Thrones. A battle scene that viewers could barely see dragged on for nearly an hour in GoT, and a lot of viewers lost interest. Here, while there’s still more to come in next week’s episode, the battle in “Morning Star” lasted only seven minutes, so far.
It was an incredibly tense seven minutes, however, that saw a zombie horde of thousands break through an electric fence before getting hung up in a barbed-wire-and-spiked barrier set up in front of The Hilltop. Daryl, Aaron, and company make decent headway in killing the walkers as they approach, but Alpha plays dirty. Using slingshots made of intestines, Alpha launches jars of tree sap on the front lines, dousing the Hilltoppers before setting the walls surrounding The Hilltop on fire. The episode ends in a massive cliffhanger, with The Hilltoppers covered in tree sap (which is flammable) and trapped between a massive horde of zombies and a wall of flames. That black helicopter sure would come in useful right now.
It is an impressive trap, and I’m almost upset that AMC decided to give away some of next week’s episode by showing that at least Daryl and Gamma survive and that somehow the battle doesn’t completely wipe out The Hilltoppers. Ultimately, I’m OK with that because we all know that the majority of The Hilltop residents will survive, although a certain character might meet her demise here. What we’re most interested in is how they manage to escape (and is it possible that Maggie is involved?), and whether the scene that comic-book readers have been waiting for all season will finally arrive.
It is a tremendously great battle, however, and a great cap to the end of the episode, which otherwise trafficked in some nice character moments, particularly those of Rosita and Eugene. Eugene has continued to communicate over the radio with the mysterious Stephanie, and over the course of their conversations, he’s fallen in love with her. Rosita, however, nearly costs Eugene his relationship with Stephanie when Rosita picks up the radio and a skittish Stephanie bolts. However, Rosita has a pep talk with Eugene and not only encourages him to go after Stephanie, but she proves to Eugene that he’s in love with Stephanie by offering to let Eugene kiss her. He can’t bring himself to do it, however, because of his feelings for Stephanie. The spell that Rosita has over Eugene has finally been broken.
Eugene and Stephanie, by the way, have made arrangements to meet each other in Charleston, West Virginia in a week’s time, assuming that Eugene survives the Battle of Hilltop.
So much happens in this episode that a scene that would have melted down Twitter on any other week is something of an afterthought here, but as they prepare for war (and half-expect to die), Carol has sex with Ezekiel one last time (potentially), after he confesses to her that he has cancer. The bigger scene here, however, is the conversation that Lydia and Carol have. No one really sees their pain, but they see each other.
— Christian Serratos has been very good this season now that she’s finally been given some material with which to work. It’d be nice if she could do double duty — both The Walking Dead and her new Netflix series — but either way, she’s going to be a very good Selena.
— Josh McDermitt has a future as a country-and-western singer if this acting business doesn’t work out for him.
— The best part of the Ezekiel/Carol scene is how put out Ezekiel is that Carol won’t even laugh at his bad Dad joke. “Not even an eyeroll!?”
— There are two really good exchanges in that conversation between Carol and Lydia. “You should hate me,” Carol says. “It’s hard,” Lydia retorts, “because you seem to hate yourself so much.” The other, from Lydia, comes while she is mourning the fact that no one tells the truth anymore and says the quiet part out loud. “Sorry your kid died and you hate the world,” she says about Carol, then to herself. “Sorry your mother’s a monster.”
— Ezekiel giving Lydia Henry’s armor was a nice moment.
— Daryl: “You okay?” Ezekiel: “Nah, I got cancer. But that’s okay, ya’know what I’m sayin?” We don’t deserve Ezekiel.
— It warrants repeating: If Negan wasn’t playing the long game against Alpha already, the moment he turned is when Alpha decided to take out The Hilltop. Negan does not engage in rape or the wholesale slaughter of communities and never has, not when those communities can be valuable resources.
— Speaking of which, the nod toward Game of Thrones was made explicit when Negan suggested to Alpha that she should make The Hilltoppers “bend the knee.”
— Negan never wore a skin mask in the comics, so that’s new. But then again, sleeping with Alpha while she was wearing a skin mask is also new.