I’m afraid not even Ezekiel, with his infectious zeal for the fight, is enough to snap the show out of its sleepwalk through the rebellion at hand. Yes, we’re only two episodes in and, yes, things are actually happening now. But old themes keep getting rehashed as the plot, which could’ve been much tighter and packed into fewer episodes, gets more screen time than needed. What kind of people does this apocalyptic world force us to become? The better question: When have we not been faced with that? I’m not sure The Walking Dead has much else to say that hasn’t already been addressed at this point — or, for that matter, wasn’t already addressed in its companion Fear the Walking Dead — beyond pitting Rick’s group against new adversaries, having them stumble onto new encampments, and bringing back characters once thought to be dead in an attempt to shake things up.
Even the opening, which blends from character close-up to character close-up, looks more like a promo for the upcoming episode. That’s a minute and 27 seconds that could’ve been used elsewhere. Then Aaron and Eric lead an assault on another Savior outpost, where I couldn’t help but notice that the few extras hit by gunfire calmly lie themselves on the ground as if to take a nap instead of acting like people who’ve been pelted with bullets. No struggle, no physical twitching from their wounds. They just rest their heads in their arms and remain still. For a show that’s given us some true spectacles of zombie warfare, it just seemed lazy.
At least there’s Ezekiel to perk us up: “Onward! Whoo!”
The various squadrons of Hilltoppers, Alexandrians, and Kingdomites continue targeting various Savior strongholds. Aaron and Eric’s team just mean to contain their enemies in the small space until enough of the dead rise as walkers and kill the rest. Morgan, Tara, and Jesus attempt to get around a “moat” of walkers, while Rick and Daryl are trying to find where the Saviors are keeping their weapons. Ezekiel and Carol dust themselves off from the explosion that released a small herd of walkers from a nearby building. Their men make quick work of the dead, despite the pounding Phantom of the Opera-esque organ music accompanying the battle. But now they have to track the Savior who threw the grenade in the first place before he runs back to warn the others.
Diane, the archer of the Kingdom, silently takes out a couple guards on patrol amid a little distraction from Morgan, and their team infiltrates the outpost, killing whatever Savior they come across. They spread themselves out around the building, just outside various rooms, and wait for the signal to move in. Tara picks the one in front of a spray-painted message that reads, “Tomm says kill the bitches.” When Jesus gives the order to attack, Morgan, paired with two inexperienced fighters, is caught off guard when more Saviors than expected emerge and gun all three of them down.
Don’t worry, Morgan isn’t dead.
Tara and Jesus find a Savior cowering in a closet, having peed himself. He begs to be spared and throws his hands up in surrender. With “hellfire” waging in the hallways outside and Morgan M.I.A., Jesus and Tara are on opposite sides of this current predicament; he wants to keep the man alive, moved by his story about a wife and kids and forced labor, but she doesn’t believe him and is anxious to carry out the plan, which was to kill them all. Jesus argues they shouldn’t become like the Saviors, but Tara is fueled by revenge and becomes more angry when she sees Maggie’s prenatal vitamins and other medical supplies stolen from Hilltop.
Tara is proven right when the Savior grabs Jesus and puts a gun to his head. He stomps Maggie’s vitamins and taunts Tara by saying he peed himself on purpose. When he goes to shoot her, Jesus disarms him and knocks him to the ground but still doesn’t let Tara kill him. “It’s not about revenge, it’s about getting it done,” she says. Jesus ties him up and notes that Maggie will listen to him if this debate continues.
When the rest of the Saviors retreat, Tara, Jesus, and Diane lead their men to find another exit. Morgan, meanwhile, pops awake, staring into the bloodied eyes of the corpses that used to be his allies. Newly enraged, he picks up two guns and sprints after the Saviors. (Recap continues on the next page)
In the woods, Ezekiel and Carol’s troop continue tracking the stray Savior when they come across a unique walker. It looks more like a vampire from the Blade or Underworld movies: pale skin, elven ears, and decaying, bat-like features. It could be nothing, but Ezekiel wonders aloud “what befell this creature” before Jerry plunges his axe into its skull.
The conversation quickly turns to the matter at hand, which is the next outpost they must attack. Carol is perplexed by Ezekiel’s confidence, and he says it comes from “no and yes, yes and no, and then finally yes to both” — “both” being the feeling of some divine confidence and simply him “projecting such certainty.” Though he’s talking about “fake it till you make it, baby,” it furthers Tara and Jesus’ conflict. Is there a good side and a bad side? Can they still be good if they commit acts of evil? It’s this grey area the show likes to explore, but there isn’t much more to argue here beyond the fact that there is a grey area.
As Carol and Ezekiel pick up the trail of the wounded Savior, Daryl and Rick continue their search for guns, having made their way to the top floor of an outpost. Daryl finds a closet with a half-eaten sandwich, blood stains on the floor, and handcuffs attached to a pipe, reminding him of the conditions Negan once kept him in. Rick, however, is attacked by a Savior. Their bloody brawl ends with him impaling the bearded man on a spike on the wall, but while Rick is choking him out, the Savior says there are no guns. Did Rick have faulty information, or is this another lie?
We then cut to Morgan, who is having flashes of an earlier conversation with Rick from seasons past. He’s walking down the hall and shooting Saviors as he goes, but he hears Rick talking about how sure he is that they can beat Negan based on what they’ve had to become in this world. When he reaches the outside, he’s blinded by the light. Jesus and Tara’s forces have surrounded the remaining Saviors and stripped them of their weapons, and they are now holding them at gunpoint. Tara informs Jesus that while he may have Maggie’s ear, she has Rick’s.
Morgan flashes back to that moment with Rick, telling him that they have to come for the Saviors before the Saviors come for them. He hears the voice of his former self saying, “Where there’s life, there’s possibility.” But then he sees Jared, that hippie-looking S.O.B. who took Morgan’s staff and killed Benjamin and sparked the whole “dark Morgan” phase of his life. Morgan goes to shoot Jared, but Jesus stops him. “This is not what we do,” he says. Morgan shoots back, “And what do we do?”
Rick is facing his own literal moment of reflection. After killing the Savior, he grabs his keys and opens a door to find an infant named Gracie asleep in her crib, surrounded by wall art of animals. He’s disgusted with himself as he sees himself in the mirror. The episode winds down as Carol and Ezekiel find the Savior they were tracking but save their ammunition because Shiva leaps out from the brush and gorges on his flesh. Aaron and Eric’s attack continues (for what seems like hours — I didn’t know they had this much ammunition), but there are a couple of hangups.
The first is Eric’s all-too-dramatic moment when his friend gets shot right in front of him and waits a beat before screaming, “Tracy!” It’s a bit much. The second is the gunshot wound he endures. Aaron plows a car in reverse through a line of Saviors to get to his love, but he’s already bleeding heavily. It’s fine; he can die if it means Aaron and Jesus can be together now.
Meanwhile, Ezekiel gives another rousing battle speech to the troops — this is their life now, an existence filled with motivational chatter after motivational chatter — as they hear over the walkie that the Saviors now know they’re coming. But the final moments offer one last surprise. Rick walks through another room and is drawn to a photograph on a table. “Damn it,” he says, as a man with a gun comes up behind him.
Rick turns to see Morales, a figure who’s been out of the picture since season 1. He and his family were among the original group when Rick searched for his family in Atlanta and found Laurie, Carl, and Shane. Morales decided to take his wife, daughter, and son to be with their family in Birmingham (Alabama, we assume) instead of traveling to the CDC with everyone else. His daughter was the one who gave Carol’s daughter Sophia a doll, the same doll Rick found when he lost her to a walker in the beginning of season 2. “That,” Morales now tells Rick, “was a long time ago.” It’s unclear what happened to his family, but now he’s a Savior, and he already called his comrades back over the walkie. (Head here for actor Juan Gabriel Pareja’s thoughts on his return.)
Morales is another grey area for Rick and an answer to the questions percolating throughout the hour. Is it kill or be killed? Is it Tara’s way or Jesus’ way? Is it good or evil? As Ezekiel says, “No and yes, yes and no, and then finally yes to both.”