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The Walking Dead - Monsters - Review

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The Walking Dead “Monsters” was written by the creative team of Matthew Negrete and Channing Powell and was directed by the ever wonderful Greg Nicotero. The episode really delves into who the monsters are – what have the humans been driven to do? Who still has their humanity, who has lost it, who can still get it back? Having Morales (Juan Pareja) back acts as a kind of dip stick. We inevitably think about what these characters were like in season one – and what they are like now.

The action picks up right where we left off again. Ezekiel (Khary Payton) rallies his troops. He has the Savior’s radio. He knows they are coming to destroy them – yet, he – and Carol (Melissa McBride) smile! Jerry (Cooper Andrews) wants to know why. This discussion is beautifully inter cut with the why as Carol explains that while the Saviors may have the numbers, they have strategy. And as Ezekiel binds hope to his heart that if they keep the faith in themselves they will lose not one of their ranks. And it seems like they are leading a charmed campaign as they have victory after victory…

Morales is still holding his gun on Rick (Andrew Lincoln). Morales didn’t realize that Rick was the Rick from Alexandria. Morales tells him that he recognized Rick in the mirror from the door. And I love how the show uses mirrors. Morales thinks that he is seeing a reflection of his own journey “from there to here,” but is he? Rick has struggled with becoming a monster. And it’s funny that Morales brings up the mirror because Rick did see and recognize a monster when he looked at his own reflection – the monster who killed a father who was primarily defending his baby. But there’s also no doubt that Rick felt real remorse for that action.

Morales points out that they aren’t the same guys they used to be – Rick is a monster. He also tells Rick that he’s a prize. They aren’t supposed to kill Rick, the Widow, or the King. Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is clever – he depersonalizes them by not calling them by name. Morales remembers Rick as the guy who rushes in and wants to know why he’s there. Rick won’t say, but Morales tells him that it doesn’t matter because what’s left of his people are coming. And they’ll get him to Negan, or they won’t, but either way, they’ll “settle his shit, peaches.”

The action shifts back to the firefight. Negan’s people are all being eaten by their own turned people. The survivors are suddenly called back to fight inside and they follow them in.

Aaron (Ross Marquand) takes Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson) to relative safety. His wound is a through and through, and Aaron assures him that that’s good. But it’s clear to those of us not in love with Eric that he’s in a very bad way. Aaron apologizes for pulling Eric into the fight. I loved Eric asking him, “Did you shoot me?” And he assures Aaron that he didn’t pull him anywhere – he wanted to fight.

He tells Aaron to leave him – that the others need him to lead the fight. He tells Aaron that he loves him, kisses him, and sends him back to win this thing. This is a fabulous scene between the two and they both knock it out of the park. It really makes me wish that there had been time for more scenes between the two – and I’m also remembering Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) dinner with them.

Back on the road, Tara (Alanna Masterson), Jesus (Tom Payne), and Morgan (Lennie James) are herding their prisoners back to the Hilltop. Eduardo (Peter Luis Zimmerman) tells Tara that when they get back Maggie (Lauren Cohen) will know what to do with them. Alanna agrees, but clearly has a very different idea of what that will be. Tara assumes that Maggie will also want revenge for her lost love. The episode ends with Aaron dealing with the death of his partner - but he chooses life. Cutting between these two scenes is another way the episode underlines how the tragedy of losing one's loved ones can play out.

Jared (Joshua Mikel) continues to bait Morgan – and why can’t someone kill this guy?! Jared really is a monster! Jesus continues to talk Morgan down. Morgan points out that regardless of anything else, what they are doing is dangerous. Jesus insists that whatever they’ve done, they’re people. He goes on to point out that there are many kinds of danger and many ways of dying. And we’ve seen the danger of Morgan slipping into madness and the death of his gentle half. Jesus draws the distinction between killing – something you do out of necessity in a kill or be killed situation – and execution.

The scene cuts back to Morales and Rick on that thought. Rick asks after Morale’s family and that does get through the emotional armor he’s grown. He drops his gun slightly and tells Rick that they never made it to Birmingham… or at least his family didn’t. Rick says he’s sorry – Morales doubts it. Rick tells him that he’s lost people too – Lori, Shane, Andrea… Glenn. He tells him that Negan bashed Glenn’s head in right in front of him and in front of Glenn’s pregnant wife. And it’s Glenn, even in death, who brings them together with hope. Morales is incredulous that Glenn could have met someone and gotten married “in this.”

Rick tells him that Glenn’s wife is the Widow. Rick asks if Morales is Negan too. Morales tells Rick that he lost his mind when he lost his family. When the Saviors found him, they thought he was worth a damn and took him in. He tells Rick he is Negan because to make it this far he had to become something. Rick is still trying to draw a distinction between them, but Morales sees none. He tells Rick, “We’re two assholes who’ll do whatever we have to just to keep going.” He doesn’t see any difference between them other than he’s the lucky one holding the gun.

Morales is convinced that if Rick were the one holding the gun, he’d be dead already. Rick says he doesn’t know that, but Morales is pretty sure – and Rick’s actions up until now would seem to support that. Rick tells him he wouldn’t want to do it. He’d try to find another way. Morales says why – because we knew each other for a few days at the start? Morales says he can say whatever he wants, but somewhere along the way Officer Friendly died – just like he did. It’s that other way of dying that Jesus was talking about, and before Rick can do anything, Daryl executes Morales.

Daryl asks if Rick is good. Rick is appalled and says “that was…” But Daryl knew who it was – and he’d known Morales longer than Rick – and it doesn’t matter “one little bit.” Their mission is to find the guns. Rick tells him that the guns aren’t here and Morales called the Saviors back from the courtyard – they have to get out – but it’s too late. Now the question is, is it too late to save Daryl, Tara, and Morgan who are clearly consumed by revenge?

Is it just me or is it the epitome of stupidity to let Morgan walk beside Jared? And Jared almost pushes Morgan beyond his limits when he starts taunting him about wearing Ben’s armor. They are interrupted by walkers rolling down the hill at them. It’s both horrific and hilarious to watch this perversion of a childhood game. Naturally, Jared’s line of Saviors uses the distraction to make a break for it – with Morgan hot on their heels.

Morgan is about to shoot them all like fish in a barrel. Jesus and Dianne (Kerry Cahill) and some of the others arrive, and Jesus stops him. Morgan insists that they are just going to keep trying to escape. He wants to know if Jesus thought they would change, that they’d be something else. Morgan insists that no one comes back – once you turn… And there it is in a nutshell. When you are consumed by your rage, you are no better than the mindless killer walkers. This theme really plays out beautifully in this episode.

Jesus insists that Maggie will find another way – and that echoes what Rick said he wanted to do with Morales. Morgan sees himself as just as guilty of being a monster as the Saviors – what they’ve had to become to be there. If the Saviors are to be judged, then shouldn’t they all be judged? Morgan, like Morales, sees himself – and all of them – as exactly the same as the Saviors. And that’s what breaks his heart.

But Jesus insists that there’s war and then there’s peace. They will have to find a way to live with these people after. They have to find a way to peace. Morgan just can’t deal with that concept. He’s tried that route, right? He loses it, and we get one of the best fight scenes ever – in my opinion. Payne is beyond impressive here.

I loved the way Jesus tries to talk quietly with Morgan like he’s a spooked horse. He underestimates Morgan’s distress, however, by saying “you’re having a little trouble” – it’s a lot of trouble. But I also loved him fighting, taking a beat, brushing back his hair and asking if he’s done yet. Jesus clearly doesn’t want to hurt Morgan, and eventually does get the better of him. He asks if it’s over after he takes the staff – and then gives it back.

Morgan stops as he’s about to plunge the staff into Jesus’ throat. Morgan admits that he knows he’s not right – and he means that in two ways – but he also knows he’s not wrong. Tara tells him that he is right. Morgan realizes that he can’t be a part of “this.” And it’s unclear when he walks away if he means the war or taking the prisoners to the Hilltop.

Daryl and Rick end up separated and pinned down in a hallway. And this is intercut with the fight between Jesus and Morgan. Aaron and reinforcements arrive in the nick of time.

Gregory (Xander Berkeley) arrives back at the Hilltop. Maggie cracks the gate and wants to know why Gregory has Gabriel’s (Seth Gilliam) car. Naturally, the coward lies and says the car was just there. Gregory knows no shame as he asks to be let in to his home. Maggie finally loses it and tells him to shut his damn mouth – they all know he tried to sell out the Hilltop. He insists that he was working for peace and was on a diplomatic mission. Even Gregory brings up the dangers of revenge.

I loved Gregory trying to spin Kal (James Chen) as delusional, and Kal being right there to flip him off. Kal left him as soon as he realized that Gregory was selling them out to save his own skin. Gregory does tell them that Negan knew about their plan anyway. Gregory admits that he went because he was afraid to fight. He admits that he was wrong and made a mistake – he sees that the Saviors can’t be reasoned with. He even says he’s sorry. Does anyone believe him?

Gregory goes on to say that they’re all just human beings, with flaws and faults. And that does get through to Maggie. He asks her if this is who she is – does she have no mercy? No humanity? And there we have the tie in between the first episode – “Mercy” – and “Monsters.” Mercy is the thing that separates them from becoming monsters. And it’s exactly the distinction that Glenn and Hershal would make – and it’s what gets through to Maggie, and is a clue to the fact that Jesus does know her better than Tara.

I loved Enid (Katelyn Nacon) watching Maggie’s every move, word, and thought. When Maggie says to let him in, however, she’s shocked – and so is Gregory! – and wants to know why. Maggie tells her that he’s not worth killing. And that’s when Jesus arrives with his prisoners.

Jesus and Maggie discuss what to do with the prisoners. Gregory tries to have a say – they need to kill them all, and Maggie yells at him to go. Tara agrees with that prick. Maggie doesn’t want to let them in – there are families there. But Jesus insists that they surrendered. They can’t let them go and they can’t just kill them.

Rick takes more polaroids – and I’m sure he’ll be sending them to Negan – while his people clean up. They gather their dead and get the wounded to help and take care of those who have turned. Aaron goes back for Eric – and did anyone expect him to be alive? Aaron sees Eric – turned – walking off to join the herd. Why he doesn’t go after him and kill him – he’s still far enough away from the herd that he could have gone after him and taken care of him. Marquand is outstanding in this scene. Scott (Kenric Green) pulls Aaron back to the others.

Rick is going to send baby Gracie with Tobin (Jason Douglas) or Scott, but Aaron asks to take her with him to the Hilltop. He and Eric had been planning to go there after to update Maggie. It’s an important turning toward life for Aaron. Is it too soon to want him and Jesus to get together?

Daryl and Rick are about to leave – they’re the last ones there – when they are pinned down. Rick tells the shooter that if he drops his gun and comes out and tells them what they want to know, he’ll let him take a car and go. He’ll let him live. Not surprisingly, the guy doesn’t believe him, but Rick says he’s giving his word. There’s not a lot that’s worth much anymore, but a man’s word’s gotta mean something.

Rick wants to know about the Brownings and the guy tells him the guns were sent to Gavin’s outpost, west of there, yesterday. The guy asks if he can go, and Daryl shoots him. And gives it absolutely no thought. It seems like we are back to the episode in which the two met Jesus – but this is a very different Daryl. We’ve been reminded last week why, when Daryl saw the empty torture cell. However, Rick is very concerned about the casual way Daryl kills this Savior.

And the final scene leads us back to another “victory” for the King. They seem to have taken another outpost with no casualties of their own. Carol insists that they still need to sweep the compound. Carol’s smile has faded – it’s been too easy and she knows it. And then Negan’s strategy reveals itself. Ezekiel isn’t happy about all the killing – it is we or they; it cannot be both – and then he sees the gun. Was Negan’s strategy just to sacrifice his people to lure them there? Does he have so many followers that he’s willing to so callously sacrifice them? If Negan is the monster, I’d have to say yes, that was his strategy all along.

Ezekiel calls for them all to scatter just before the gun opens fire. Ezekiel goes down as several of his own people tackle him to protect him with their own bodies – and given the blood spray, their very lives. Ezekiel will be crushed by their sacrifice.

I have to admit that on first watch I wasn’t as impressed as I should have been by this episode. Part of me also felt it might have been a bit on the nose and heavy handed at times, but then, I did miss a lot of the nuance on first watching the episode. It’s a symphony of writing, editing, direction, and acting as each piece helps to underscore and reinforce the others on the theme of mercy versus monster. What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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