Spoiler alert! The following contains spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 8 Episode 3, “Monsters.” To read our recap of Episode 2, click here.
One thing has fundamentally changed about The Walking Dead over the past few seasons (especially since Negan joined the cast): Things just sort of happen, character traits turn on a dime and actions don’t always have consequences.
Sunday’s episode,”Monsters,” and last week’s “The Damned” tried to reckon with the rash moves the series has made as of late, without much success. Both episodes return to the series’ omnipresent theme of moral gray areas. Down to its on-the-nose title, this week’s episode asks, “Who are the monsters now?” But The Walking Dead has asked that question many, many times, and with much better character work than the surface-level stuff done on Sunday.
Hopefully, the cliffhanger ending means next week’s episode will move on because presenting the “all out war” from this perspective isn’t working out too well so far.
No escape from reality
So, here’s where we are: The Walking Dead brought back an obscure Season 1 character in a dramatic reveal last week, only to unceremoniously kill him off in the very next episode.
I can’t decide if what the series did with Morales was brilliant or brilliantly annoying, but regardless of the gimmicky execution of his short reappearance, the series is far better off not turning Morales into “a thing” and just moving on. The contrived way in which he explains how he ended up a Savior was mind-boggling enough. Morales, instead of being this year’s big twists, ends up being a symbol of Rick’s current moral dilemma. Daryl kills him, even though they once knew each other. Later in the episode, Daryl also kills a Savior who surrenders and gives them information, even after Rick promised the man he would be spared. Rick looks plenty aghast, but it seems a regressive place to take the protagonist after all his years of development.
Rick and Daryl’s efforts are mostly for naught, as the guns that they were seeking weren’t there, but they did kidnap a baby in the process. Aaron’s boyfriend Eric also died, in a series of scenes that were clearly meant to hold emotional weight but fell epically flat considering that the audience has no investment in them.
And of course, Chekov’s machine guns showed up later in the episode, but more on that below.
Any way the wind blows
The most frustrating aspect of Season 8 so far is the show’s treatment of Morgan. It started with his breakdown last year when he killed Richard, which one would think might disqualify him from leading a battle this season, but apparently, that’s not a concern. None of his compatriots should have been surprised that he responded in such a way to being back in battle. The Walking Dead rarely interacts with the effects of the trauma that has befallen its main characters, but it has made that an integral part of Morgan’s story. To use him as a plot device to block Jesus’ goal of taking prisoners feels cheap.
The prisoners of war storyline was good, at least. Gregory returns to the Hilltop and is excoriated by Maggie, Enid and that random guy on the wall. It’s nice that this show remembers it can be a little lighter sometimes.
Caught in a landslide
Whenever anyone on this TV show (be it a big character, small character or one who was introduced five minutes ago) jinxes himself as badly as Ezekiel did during the episode, you know that someone is going to die.
After miraculous victories over the Saviors as Ezekiel and the Kingdomers approached the compound they were tasked to assault, the entire party is mowed down, seemingly by the guns that Rick and Daryl were so desperately seeking at the other compound. We don’t know who lived and who died.
Ezekiel probably survived considering how many of his people dove on top of him to shield him, even though he jinxed them. And hey, if the series wants to dig into moral quandaries, this is by far the most interesting one. Why does Ezekiel deserve to live? Why does he deserve to lead? Are the people of Alexandria, the Hilltop and the Kingdom going to blindly follow people for the whole war and after?
Sidenote: If we are going to continue to follow these three battalions for much longer, does that mean we’re just ignoring the characters not actively fighting? Asking for Michonne.