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.
Finally, there is Gregory: The weasel came sniveling back to The Hilltop, hoping to sweet talk his way back inside the gates. It works, too: He plays right into Maggie’s sympathies. I cannot believe that Gregory has managed to stay alive this long. He’s finally on Team Hilltop again, too; in fact, he tries to convince Maggie to execute all the Savior prisoners, but she ultimately sides with Jesus. They’re going to hold those Saviors prisoner, which will either be a complete and total disaster, or it will help pave the way toward a peace between the two sides when the All Out War finally concludes.
Regardless, they better kill Derek. String the guy up by his guts.
— I apologize for incorrectly suggesting that Carol’s old boyfriend Tobin was killed in last week’s episode. When I saw him pop up again in this week’s episode, I thought he had miraculously survived being shot twice. However, I rewatched last week’s episode and quickly realized that it was another middle-aged balding man — and obviously not Tobin — who was shot the second time. It’s easy to tell from the freeze frame that it’s not Tobin, but at full speed, it sure looked like him to me.
— Eric, as expected, died this week, eliciting a lot of grief from Aaron, which might have felt more powerful if we’d ever really gotten to know Aaron (or Aaron and Eric, together). Aaron is the show’s utility player — he seems to show up only when one of the more popular characters needs someone to partner up with. I had some quibbles with that whole storyline, too. Namely, that Eric tried to persuade Aaron to get back to the war while he was dying and that Aaron actually left the love of his life while he was dying. I mean, sure: The war is super important. But is it important enough to abandon your boyfriend in his final minutes of life? I mean, the rest of the group sure seemed like they had the battle in hand. But also: Why didn’t Aaron run out and put zombie Eric down at the end of the episode? He’s just going to let his zombie boyfriend roam the countryside for the rest of eternity now? Maybe he didn’t love him that much, after all.
— Again, I’m bummed about Morales’ quick death. But mostly I’m sad for the actor who plays him, Juan Gabriel Pareja. He’s been excited about returning the show for seven years now. He’s literally been waiting for the call all that time, and when they finally brought him back, he only got one extended scene before Daryl put an arrow in his back. To his credit, though, Juan Gabriel Pareja never let on that he was going to die in the many interviews he gave this week. He just kept saying that he didn’t know what the series had in store for him in the future, and that he was really excited about what’s to come. Turns out, all they had in store for him was an arrow in the back. RIP Morales.
— Where the hell is Morgan going to go now? There are no more communities left for him to crash? Maybe he goes East. Maybe he somehow ends up being the crossover character with Fear the Walking Dead. Most likely? He dies this season, but I do hope he gets an opportunity to kill Derek before he does. Big props to Lennie James, though. He put in a helluva performance this week.