This week’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Monsters,” is a huge step up from last week’s episode, which was too preoccupied with gunfights to actually move the story along. In fact, I was surprised to find in this week’s episode that Aaron’s group was still engaged in the very same gunfight that began in the first scene of episode two. In retrospect, most of last week’s episode felt like a prologue to this week’s — the two episodes easily could have been combined into one better, more impactful episode.
That said, if this is the payoff to last week’s episode, it was worth it.
Let’s begin where we left off: With Morales returning to the series for the first time since episode six of the first season. Sadly, it is short-lived. As expected, Rick keeps Morales talking just long enough for Daryl to sneak in behind and shoot Morales to death with an arrow. Rick, however, would have preferred to keep Morales alive, but Daryl — still clearly traumatized by Negan’s abduction of him — is not interested in sparing any of the Saviors’ life. “Don’t matter,” Daryl tells Rick when Rick informs him that he just killed Morales (who also spent time outside of Atlanta with Daryl. “Don’t matter one bit.”
The situation repeats itself at the end of the episode when Rick convinces a Savior to step out from behind a tree by promising to let him go in exchange for information. The kid gives the intel on the location of some heavy artillery, but instead of letting him go, Daryl shoots him in the head, much to the dismay of Rick, who had planned on following through on his promise.
Rick, meanwhile, is probably beginning to understand why Morales thought he was a “monster.” Negan saved the lives of a lot of downtrodden folks, and while his tactics are cruel and fear-based, his people still respect him. They also see Rick as not just the enemy, but as the “bad” guy, just as Rick’s people see Negan as a “bad” guy. Both sides have demonized each other. It’s not about protecting the innocent. It’s not about justice or equity. It’s not even about revenge anymore. It’s about “Us or Them,” a theme that is repeated throughout the episode.
That theme is emphasized most in Morgan’s storyline. His bloodlust has returned, and he has no interest in sparing the lives of Saviors, whether they surrender or not. Jesus, on the other hand, insists that while they will kill, they will not “execute.” Morgan and Jesus get into a heated argument over the issue — after #%!@ing Derek taunts Morgan about the armor he’s wearing — and they come to blows, with Morgan earnestly attempting to kill Jesus. Jesus manages to avoid death until Morgan cools down, but Morgan’s mind is not changed. He acknowledges that he may not be right, “but that doesn’t make me wrong.”
“I can’t be a part of this anymore,” Morgan says, before walking away. Where does that leave Morgan? Maybe he goes back into the woods and makes use of his ability to make cheese.
Robert Kirkman has repeatedly stressed that there are no political overtones in The Walking Dead, but it’s nevertheless hard not see echoes of our own political culture in the All Out War. Both sides believe they are right. Both sides see the other as the villain. And neither side is willing to listen to each other. Hell, neither side is willing to accept anything less than the complete annihilation of their enemies. If Rick and Company are the Democrats trying to take on an unpopular opposition leader with a strong base of support, then Morgan’s take-no-prisoners mentality represents Hillary while Jesus’ more conciliatory approach represents Bernie. That is to say, even in the zombie apocalypse, the Democrats still can’t figure out how to fight together.
Who that makes Ezekiel in this situation, I don’t know, but we all knew that swagger and braggadocio would come back to bite him in the ass. This is the zombie apocalypse, after all. People just don’t skate through battle after battle without losing a few men along the way. I hate to say it, but the massacre the Kingdommers are experiencing at the end of the episode? They had it coming. Ezekiel tempted fate one too many times. Show some humility, Zeke.
As it is, however, it appears that Carol — who left to sweep the area — will be left standing (and likely responsible for taking out the snipers up in the building). The episode’s ending also suggested that three men acted as human shields for Ezekiel, so he will likely live another day, although he will — and should be — humbled by the experience.