We gave it a C+
I love you, Ezekiel, but enough with the speeches already. I know it’s only the third episode of the season, but so far each has begun and ended with some form of rousing address to the troops, and it’s all the same thing: We can do it! They have the numbers, but we have the strategy! We’re building a brighter tomorrow! “Monsters” begins like that, with more flashes between the end of last episode and the action that succeeds it — Ezekiel’s words accompany his soldiers into the woods, where it seems like they’ll be killed by a group of Saviors, but then Carol and her squad pop out from behind bushes and gun them down.
Once again, the storytelling could be more concise and not drawn out over multiple episodes, but at least here, there are some saving graces.
One is a conversation between Morales and Rick. After his surprise reemergence last episode, Morales notes how they both made the trip from Atlanta and ended up where they are now — one holding the other at gunpoint. “We’re not the same guys we used to be; you’re a monster,” he tells Rick. It doesn’t matter what happened to him along the way, except that he lost his family and his mind with it. The point is that Rick could’ve easily been on the other side of that gun barrel. He lost his mind when Lori died, and if he didn’t have anyone around to put him back together, perhaps he would’ve been a Savior.
Morales notes that Negan gave orders to not kill Rick, “the widow,” and “the king” if they didn’t have to. Though he learns that “the widow” is Maggie, who was forced to watch Negan bash in Glenn’s skull with Lucille, he remains loyal to Negan. “The Saviors found me, thought I was worth a damn,” Morales says. “To make it this far, this long,” he had to become one. It’s like an attempt to explain his bulls— politics. How could someone like Morales, a good man from Rick’s past, align himself with a tyrant?
Again, it’s hard not to draw a parallel to the current situation in America, especially after a Nov. 2016 Forbes interview with Jared Kushner revealed efforts by the Trump campaign to target The Walking Dead viewers. Negan felt different — a different kind of cruel — after Donald Trump was elected president, and the language sometimes used to explain Trump supporters is similar to Morales’ list of reasons for becoming a Savior: Morales felt forgotten, he felt lost, and someone came along when he was destitute with promises of purpose and making him something more than he is. And no matter what Rick says — “you can talk all you want” — it’s not going to change his mind.
“We’re two a–holes,” Morales says. The only difference between them is that one just got “luckier.” Daryl puts an end to this chat when he fires an arrow into Morales’ neck, but the Rick of the Ricktatorship days is already slipping into a more merciful mindset. Daryl is there to snap him back. He knows he just killed Morales, but it “doesn’t matter, not one bit” because he’s with Negan — and Negan is a cancer that needs to be forced out.
Another ongoing issue is the characters’ poor decision-making skills — Andrew Lincoln himself joked at New York Comic Con that it’s been a problem for Rick. It’s a problem for Jesus, who made the decision last episode to take prisoners alive and walk them back to the Hilltop so Maggie can decide what to do with them. Where are they going to keep them? Should Maggie agree to keep them alive? Is someone going to keep watch over them 24/7? If so, that’s someone else who can’t fight the larger war against Negan. How does he know Maggie will side with him? They also have to take all this time marching the prisoners back along the road to the colony instead of executing the next stage of the plan. Logistically, this doesn’t seem like a great idea, but it does provide the opportunity to wrestle with morality.
Yes, there are many men and women who are forced to work for Negan, but then there are the ones like Jared, who’s such a pain in the ass and has little regard for human life. Even worse, he revels in goading Morgan on the road back to Hilltop. Jared laughs when he sees that Morgan is wearing the armor of Benjamin, Ezekiel’s protégé who was killed by Jared’s own impulsive hand. But still, Jesus doesn’t let Morgan kill him because they’re not the kind of people to execute someone.
There are a few holes in Jesus’ argument. Yes, you don’t want to execute good people, but they didn’t give every Savior the chance to surrender. The groups have swiftly assassinated Savior after Savior as they infiltrated outpost after outpost. Then there’s the fact that every time they try to find another way to let a Savior live, it backfires. The one who peed himself last episode — and who now lies unconscious in the back of Tara’s truck — is still fresh in their minds. Also, of course this group has executed people. Where have you been, Jesus?
(Recap continues on the next page.)