Morgan reaches his breaking point

By Nick Romano
March 12, 2017 at 10:07 PM EDT
Credit: Gene Page/AMC

What is the acceptable amount of time fans need to mourn the death of a fictional character before the slaying can continue? I’ve been thinking about this since the deaths of Glenn and Abraham, a moment that left some horror-struck and others aggravated. It was only a few episodes ago that Negan disemboweled Spencer and had one of his minions shoot down Olivia, but there hasn’t been a death of real consequence since we were haunted by the bloodstains on Lucille’s barbs, an unapologetic death to remind us of the harsh world Team Rick faces. I suppose this week gave us one — actually two, but only one that had this impact — and even then, I was surprised by the reaction it sparked.

The death of consequence was Benjamin, the young boy from the Kingdom whom Morgan took under his wing. The entire episode pointed to it — it’s not a good sign when Ezekiel prepares to greet the Saviors with a single melon as tribute in the unusually short opening scene, but it was a clear sign of worse things to come. We then see Ben eyeing his little brother Henry, to whom he’s had to become a father-like figure, as the boy learns the staff from Morgan so he can grow up to be more like his big bro. He asks Carol if he can walk her back to her cabin to learn how she handles the walkers, but her refusal leads him to head out on the Kingdom’s latest drop-off, the site of his demise. There are more moments, too, between Ben and Morgan: one in which his protégé gifts him a framed piece of art for his barren room, another where Morgan and Richard discuss stepping in to father the boys, and another when Morgan playfully asks Ben about the mystery girl he seems to have a crush on.

I didn’t pick up on the foreshadowing, though, until Richard’s plan was made clear. On the group’s way to meet the Saviors, they encounter a line of shopping carts blocking the street. Richard was spotted earlier sneaking around the area to dig two graves — one for a backpack belonging to his daughter, Katy, and another with a sign telling Ezekiel to bury him there. As the others were forced to waste time by clearing out the impediment, he was busy snatching a crate from their offering, the absence of which was noticed by the Saviors upon their arrival.

Of course, Jared, the poster Savior for douchebaggery, is twirling Morgan’s staff when they arrive and smacks Jerry over the head for raising his voice to Gavin. While Gavin has been much more levelheaded when it comes to Ezekiel, he is still Negan and orders the intensity between their two camps to quell. When he further infuriates the King by demanding their guns, you think it’s probably to prove his point, but it’s really because he needs to address the emotional matter of the missing crate — and they don’t fare well when it comes to emotions. Ezekiel pleads with Gavin to let them bring twice the shipment next time to make amends, but the Savior is exerting his authority, so he signals Jared to exact punishment.

This was Richard’s plan all along. He wanted to provoke tensions between the Kingdom and the Saviors, remind his King of their enemies, and perhaps incite Ezekiel into action with his own death. He assumes the Saviors will kill him, given how he fared during their previous encounters, but as Jared goes to pull the trigger, he instead shoots Ben in the leg. He stole that move from Negan, who often spares the life of the perpetrator but kills someone close to them. Even though Gavin is infuriated over his subordinate’s impulsive move, he continues to fan the fires of Ezekiel’s rage by forcing him to first submit before allowing him to aid Ben.

The group rushes to Carol’s cabin, fearing they won’t make it to the Kingdom. But in the end, it’s not enough, and Ezekiel’s would-be successor dies staring at Morgan and quoting back a piece of his monkish philosophy: “To injure your opponent is to injure oneself.” His death proves to be a turning point for Morgan, who then becomes a turning point for Carol and Ezekiel.

As he storms off to mourn the loss, we see flashes of his former self prior to his mission of non-lethal resistance — he shouts at invisible bodies to stay away, he sits in Richard’s grave preparing to slit his own wrists, and he recalls the deaths of his son and wife, the moments that made him unhinged. It’s there he finds the missing melon hidden beneath a plastic tub and pieces together what Richard has done.

Morgan confronts Richard in his room, watching silently as the man breaks down and recalls how his own wife and child died because of his inaction. Richard promises to reveal what he did to Ezekiel, but insists they can use the situation to convince the Saviors of their submission before ultimately killing them all. It’s an unconvincing argument. Richard’s vulnerability is quickly replaced with a cold determination to become the leader of Ezekiel’s army. But all Morgan can think about is Ben.

I was caught off-guard when his death turned out to be Morgan’s breaking point. It wasn’t apparent their relationship was such that Morgan would blur his pupil with the memory of his dead son, or that this was the moment that made him break his no-killing rule (which we’ll get to in a moment). However, Ben’s death has echoes of Duane. Going all the way back to season 3, it was revealed the boy died because he couldn’t shoot his mother, who had already turned. Now Ben, with his last words, recites a passive philosophy Morgan taught him. Perhaps he feels responsible for helping to lead him down this path, but this is mostly speculative. Maybe this will be further fleshed out onscreen later in the season.

The second death comes the next day for Richard. Before they meet the Saviors again to deliver the missing crate, Morgan asks him if he confessed to Ezekiel — which he hadn’t. So, when Richard walks over to Gavin and starts spewing his B.S., Morgan rushes up behind him and strangles him to death, bashing his head against the pavement as Ezekiel watches in disgust. In the aftermath, Morgan reveals Richard’s treachery and convinces the Saviors that the Kingdom is on board with their demands.

Instead of returning home, Morgan appears on Carol’s doorstep covered with the remains of his deed. Unable to sleep at night, Carol has been questioning what Daryl told her about their group’s encounter with Negan. Morgan wasn’t willing to tell her before, but he tells her now. He then goes to be on his own, but the cabin has become this rehabilitation center for personal exploration. Like Rick before and like Morgan now, Carol is returning to her former self, so she offers the space to Morgan.

Leaving Morgan sitting on the front porch as he sharpens the end of his staff, she goes to live at the Kingdom. She finds Ezekiel in what remains of the royal garden — it all had to be burned to get rid of weevils — and says they must start preparing to fight. Perhaps it was the sight of his friend brutally breaking his most sacred tenement, watching the life leave Ben’s eyes, or even what his subject told him earlier about how everything can grow back after its destruction, but he agrees.

So, now are we ready to fight — or is it, as Rosita says, just “more excuses”?

Episode Recaps

The Walking Dead

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

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  • TV-14
  • Frank Darabont
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