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?
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When walkers accost the convoy, Jared and a line of Saviors, who are tied up together, attempt to escape in the woods. Another line tries to follow, but one of them has the good sense not to run away from their heavily armed captors. Morgan gives chase and kills one of them, but when he turns his gun on Jared, Jesus comes up behind him to knock it away. The two have a heated exchange that leads to a physical fight. They’re faced again with this idea of “turning,” of losing oneself to this cruel world. Can you come back to yourself once you’ve embraced a darker nature? To be honest, I don’t so much care anymore for the answer because this has been hashed out many times over: Rick and Morgan lost themselves multiple times and came back.
Jesus is able to fend him off and, in the end, Morgan snaps out of it and admits he’s “not right” in the head. But that doesn’t inherently make his stance on the situation wrong. He declares he can’t be a part of this and walks off into the woods.
Another bad decision comes from Maggie. Gregory makes his way back to Hilltop, but the people won’t let him through the gates. Maggie confronts him about trying to sell them out to The Saviors, but she still lets him in after hearing him beg and plead. She tells Enid that Gregory is “not worth killing,” which — wake up, Maggie! — of course he is. What about the time the Saviors came and Gregory tried to lead them to the closet where she was hiding? What about every single time he gets scared for his own life and does something that royally screws everyone else? And the fact she somehow believes he drove there in Gabriel’s car without having any clue to Gabriel’s whereabouts is infuriating. He’s such a danger and will probably do something else to get someone killed.
As expected, when Jesus comes back with prisoners of war, Gregory is the first one to shout about how dangerous it would be to welcome them in. Fortunately, his opinion means little now. But still, he has a point. Maggie isn’t on Jesus’ side like he expected. There are families with children at Hilltop that will be put in danger if the Saviors stay there. Jesus suggests putting them in trailers out back under heavy watch. When he mentions that they surrendered, Maggie’s response was my own: “Jesus!” We’re left with Jesus standing his ground: “We can’t let them go and we can’t kill them.” So, it looks like they’re staying…?
Elsewhere, there’s another casualty of war. Aaron carries Eric away from the fighting to nurse his bullet wound, and they share a intimate moment as Eric commands his love to go back to the fighting. Though it’s difficult for him, Aaron does. But by the time he gets back, Eric is already hobbling toward a herd of walkers in the distance to join the dead. Ross Marquand sells the performance well, physically caving into himself as an ally carries him back to the others. (Head here for actor Jordan Woods-Robinson’s thoughts on Eric’s demise.) Rick and Daryl have to fight through the outpost after the Saviors Morales signaled came back. The guns they were looking for aren’t there. Rick carries out the baby, Gracie, and Aaron volunteers to bring her back to the Hilltop.
Rick now has to go make a pit stop to talk to “those a–holes” who told them the guns were at the outpost. Could it be Jadis and her junkyard colony? If so, I’ll turn you over to Maggie. (“Jesus!”) As they prepare to depart, a few gunshots are fired their way. Rick and Daryl take cover, coercing a young boy — the same guy who was being bullied by a Savior earlier at the outpost — to come out from behind the trees. Rick gives him his word he won’t kill him in exchange for information about the guns. The kid says they were here but were moved to Gavin’s outpost a day earlier, and Daryl promptly puts a bullet in the boy’s head as Rick looks on with disgust. But this is war, and he doesn’t have time to linger over what Morales said earlier about the men they turned into. It’s on to the next outpost.
The final scene goes to Ezekiel and Carol. The king celebrates how they didn’t lose a single life in their mission, which of course means something bad is about to happen. As Carol goes off to sweep the compound, Ezekiel spots a gunman stirring behind the building’s vents and shouts for everyone to scatter. A rain of bullets shower the scene as members of The Kingdom fall and soldiers throw their bullet-riddled bodies over Ezekiel to protect him.
Hey, at least it didn’t end with another speech.
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