Spoiler Warning for Season 8, Episode 3 of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Some minor spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed.
In the world of “The Walking Dead,” decisions matter and those decisions are what shape the future of the characters. In the scope of All Out War, the characters find themselves struggling to make life and death decisions on a daily basis, but the real beauty of the show is how these decisions affect the story. Morality and humanity have always been central themes since the beginning of the series, but Season 8 really dives deep and forces the audience to question their own beliefs about situations that are presented to them. “Monsters” explores morality and decisions in a powerful collection of storylines that will alter the story moving forward. While certain issues do exist, this is yet another thrilling chapter of one of “The Walking Dead’s” most brutal and epic arcs. When the world collapses around you, is it better to hold onto your humanity or let yourself devolve into a monster?
As with my review of “The Damned,” events will be discussed by location and group to assure that everything is covered. The first main storyline of the episode follows Morgan, Tara and Jesus as they lead the Savior prisoners of war to the Hilltop; these Saviors are basically a chain gang that march down the road as members from all three communities stand armed and ready for anything that crosses their path. On the back of a pickup truck, Tara speaks with Eduardo about their positions on keeping prisoners and how Maggie will handle this situation. Savior Jared continues to poke and prod Morgan, even bringing up Benjamin after realizing that Morgan is wearing his armor; Jesus and Morgan get into a bit of an argument over sparing the prisoners and it’s clear that they are on completely different pages. Jesus really opens up a moral discussion as he explains that while both he and Morgan have killed before, they are not the type of people to just execute unarmed human beings. While I have disagreements about Jesus’ arguments that he presents later in the episode, his dialogue here makes a strong case for showing some mercy to the Saviors.
Against the scope of human-on-human conflict, the walkers always seem to show up and cause mayhem, reinforcing the fact that the undead are still a threat. A small herd of walkers interrupt Morgan before he nearly snaps and shoots Jared; rather than a normal walker attack, this herd comes tumbling and rolling down a hill onto the road as the heroes do their best to wrangle the Saviors. The prisoners really aren’t able to defend themselves and a handful are devoured by walkers, including one, who’s head is gruesomely ripped apart. Jared leads a group of his men into the woods while the other survivors are busy dealing with the herd, but Morgan is hot on their trail, chasing them into the forest. He catches up to the chain of Saviors and shoots one in the head, but Jesus stops him before he is able to finish the rest off; this prompts an epic fight between Morgan and Jesus that fans have been waiting since it was teased in this year’s San Diego Comic Con trailer that was released in July. This fight gives Jesus the opportunity to show off his martial arts skills, proving to be a worthy opponent to Morgan and his aikido. The choreography of this fight is some of the best “The Walking Dead” has to offer and really makes the viewer fear for both characters.
To say that Morgan is a broken man is an understatement, something that even he admits after his fight with Jesus. Since the start of the apocalypse, Morgan’s life has been constantly flipping upside down and then right side up, but the death of Benjamin last season has sent him into a tailspin. He rambles about what he and the others need to do in order to survive, but it really comes across as incoherent; it seems as though he wasn’t even mentally present during the altercation with Jesus and this clearly worries his fellow survivors. “I’m not not right, but that doesn’t make me wrong,” Morgan states before walking off into the forest, telling Tara and Jesus that he can no longer be part of the group. This scene and Morgan’s role thus far in Season 8 is enough proof to me that he is one of my favorite characters in all of television; I realized this when we first met the character in the Pilot episode, but his growth, along with his rises and falls, showcase just how strong and simultaneously weak a human being can be when their everyday life is literal Hell. Lennie James continues to deliver truly remarkable and moving performances, solidifying himself as one of the best and most underrated actors on television.
This episode spends a few moments checking in with the Hilltop as Enid and Maggie stand on the lookout post. Cowardly Gregory returns from the Sanctuary, whimpering and banging on the gate, desperate to be let in to “his community.” Maggie questions why he has Gabriel’s car and lambastes him for turning against his own people, but Gregory vehemently defends himself and makes up ludicrous excuses; there’s a hilarious moment as Kal interjects and also angrily yells at the former leader for his actions, feeling betrayed after he escorted Gregory to the Sanctuary during last season’s “Something They Need.” It appears as though Maggie is going to banish Gregory, but she has a change of heart after hearing his desperate pleas for mercy, something that even Enid rejects; this change of heart can probably be attributed to Glenn, who would have absolutely let Gregory back into the community. It’s comforting to know that even though he was killed off more than a season ago, Glenn’s presence is still felt and he lives on in the decisions that the survivors make.
Jesus and Tara arrive at the Hilltop with the large collection of Savior prisoners and present their sides of the argument to Maggie. Gregory throws an childish tantrum as he lets everyone know that all Saviors are dangerous, even though he was literally just siding with them the day before. Maggie is weary to house the prisoners at the Hilltop due to the fact that there are children and families that would be put at risk, but Jesus proposes that they be kept in two trailers in the back of the community. This is really a central issue that I have with the episode as Jesus’ reasoning for keeping this large number of Saviors alive doesn’t have any real weight or justification to it. While I agree that surrendering Saviors shouldn’t necessarily be killed on the spot, housing them opens up a world of problems for our group; not only do they run the risk of being overpowered in an escape attempt (this almost happened earlier in the episode), they will also have to provide food and water to these prisoners, which they are surely running low on. There is absolutely no reason that Jared and the gang that tried to escape should be kept alive as they have proven that they can in no way be trusted. That being said, a Savior named Dillon (Callan McAuliffe) may hold the key to turning some of his people as he has shown that he is willing to compromise; not all Saviors are evil people and this survivor could be proof of that.
Following the shooting of Eric at the Savior outpost battle, he is pulled away from the fighting by Aaron and the two settle at a tree. Aaron inspects the gunshot wound and tells Eric that he’s going to get him to the Kingdom doctor, but Eric knows what needs to happen. The Alexandrians are still taking fire at the outpost courtyard and Eric tells Aaron to go back to the fight and finish it. This emotional moment showcases the guilt that Aaron feels as he believes that he dragged Eric into this conflict after he voiced his opposition back in “Rock in the Road.” Eric proves himself to be an absolute soldier as he flat out tells Aaron that it was his decision to join the fight. This powerful moment really allows this bond between these two to come to the forefront more so than ever before; their love is palpable and reaches back to before the apocalypse even began. At the courtyard, Tobin, Scott and some other soldiers continue fighting, but the Saviors are called into the outpost by Morales; there’s a bit of odd directing/editing here as these Saviors begin shooting inside the outpost at what seems to be the rest of the group that was with Rick and Daryl, but it isn’t completely clear and comes across as unnecessarily confusing.
The jaw-dropping return of Morales at the end of last episode continues here as he holds Rick at gunpoint while explaining that the Saviors have strict orders to not kill Rick, as well as “The King” and “The Widow.” It was already abundantly clear that Morales is completely changed, but we learn why he has developed a sharper edge; not long after leaving Atlanta, Morales lost his wife, son and daughter before they ever made it to Birmingham. Rick tells Morales about the members of the original Atlanta group that were lost since they separated, including Lori, Shane, Andrea and Glenn, who he explicitly details the circumstances of his death. It’s always rewarding to have the survivors mention the deceased characters as it feels as though they are still contributing to the overall story. Morales states that these people Rick has mentioned are dead and that both of them are also “dead,” even mentioning “Officer Friendly,” a nickname given to Rick by Morales back in Season 1. This back-and-forth between these two former allies is really deep and sentimental, but is basically wiped away when Daryl arrives and shoots a crossbow bolt into Morales’ head; he’s completely unaffected and unmoved by the identity of who he just killed as Daryl believes that all Saviors need to be killed. Not that I’m entirely sad to see Morales go, but what exactly was the point of bringing him back? In short, it was fan service and it feels gimmicky and quite lame.
With the Saviors called back by Morales now in the outpost, Rick and Daryl must fight their way out. They get resourceful after running out of ammo, using a fire extinguisher to create a cover for them to dispatch their attackers. When it’s all said and done, they reunite with Aaron and the others outside to deal with the aftermath of the battle; the deceased fighters on both sides have reanimated and begun feasting on bodies, prompting the survivors to clean up the area, paying respects to their dead and transporting their injured away from the scene. Rick takes more Polaroid pictures of the dead Saviors, which seems to be a recurring tactic this season that will surely come into play further on in the story. The devastating kicker of the episode comes when Aaron returns to the tree that he left Eric at only to find that his boyfriend has died and turned before slowly walking away from the area; he spots Walker Eric in the distance and breaks down as Scott retrieves him. This scene, while powerful, could have been far more emotional had Aaron been forced to come face-to-face and put down Eric; the actual scene felt somewhat rushed and I’m not really sure why Aaron and Scott couldn’t take a few seconds to claim Eric’s body for burial. The concept of characters putting down their walker-loved ones always fascinates me with Morgan/Jenny, Andrea/Amy, Daryl/Merle, Spencer/Deanna and Maggie/Sasha being prime examples of an already emotional moment being intensified because of this.
It goes without saying that this death will change Aaron forever, but there already seems to be some hope for his future as Rick brings out baby Gracie; Aaron volunteers to bring Gracie to the Hilltop, even as Rick suggests that Tobin or Scott do so. Aaron and Eric were originally going to go update Maggie after the battle, so he views this as something that he must do, especially now after what has happened. This scene demonstrates precisely what “The Walking Dead” is all about; people die in both this fictional world and the real world, but life always perseveres, even when everything seems hopeless. Aaron may have lost Eric, but now he has a new mission in life and that is to keep Gracie safe from the harshness of the world. The purity of this scene is juxtaposed by brutality as Todd (Lee Norris), the Savior worker from the previous episode fires a single shot at Daryl and Rick; this prompts a standoff as Rick promises to spare Todd’s life if he surrenders and provides information about the guns they are looking for. Todd agrees and explains that they were transported to Gavin’s outpost, outliving his usefulness to Daryl, who shoots him directly in the head. This is yet another case of the brilliant moral quandary that is being explored as Todd wasn’t even a threat as a low-level Savior, yet Daryl’s mission is to take down any and every hostile.
The final storyline of the episode follows King Ezekiel as he leads his Knights into battle, still wearing an aura of confidence. The opening scene showcases this confidence as Ezekiel gives a speech that is intercut over a scene of him and half of his soldiers being surrounded by whistling Saviors; these whistles are a frightening callback to the final few episodes of Season 6 when Glenn and the others were being captured for the lineup. Ezekiel’s speech hints that they have an expert strategy and this plays out as Carol, Jerry and several Knights appear and unleash a hail fire of bullets on the Saviors. The King triumphantly cheers after realizing none of his people were lost, prompting a roar of approval from a free-roaming Shiva (side-note: I would need some “shittin’ pants” if I was around Shiva like that). This success gives Ezekiel more confidence that they will be successful in their future attacks, something that comes true as they take out two more groups of Saviors. While standing in a open field of Savior bodies, Jerry and Alvaro decide that they will put down the turning corpses, showing their intact humanity. The confidence comes back to bite the Kingdom in the ass as Ezekiel spots a sniper in a perch and orders his people to scatter, but it’s just too late; several Knights are gunned down, while others “protect the King” and pounce on Ezekiel, covering him from the torrent of bullets. Luck seems to have run out and it seems as though the Kingdom is about to experience some heavy losses, possibly giving the Saviors an upperhand.
— The Walking Dead World (@TWalkingDWorld) November 6, 2017
— The Walking Dead World (@TWalkingDWorld) November 6, 2017
“Monsters” expertly plays with themes of humanity, morality, the effects of decisions and the costs of war. Jesus presents himself as a moral compass, while Daryl and Tara use their ruthlessness and vengeance as a means for survival; Morgan on the other hand is caught in the middle as his history, actions and decisions catch up to him. Morales’ decision to leave the group with his family in Season 1 to go to Birmingham is shown to likely have also been the wrong choice as he lost his family and ultimately his own life after joining up with the Saviors; the return of this character is absolutely ridiculous and I’m glad that it came to an end here, but I would have preferred that he would have lived on as a mystery and a meme. Eric’s decision to join the war cost him his own life, but I believe that his death will be a catalyst for a larger arc for Aaron as he works to honor his memory and build a future for Gracie. This episode uses these themes to spring the characters further into the complexities of war; the first three episodes of the season have seen many successes for our heroes, but I predict that the tide is about to turn. The characters have always existed in the moral gray area, but it’s apparent that this area is becoming increasingly grayer as time passes. Certain storytelling decisions within this episode feel clunky, rushed, and not completely thought out, but the character development, action, intensity, progression and emotions really make up for the shortfalls. War continues to rage on and the consequences of those decisions are presenting themselves with fury and gunfire.
Be sure to tune into “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.