The Walking Dead – Monsters
By: Kelly Kearney
“We are the same,” is arguably the theme of Season Eight, but in Monsters we start to get a clear idea of what this means for the characters and their communities. With the war against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) heating up, a crisis of conscience grips the warring factions and causing a schism in Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) united front. The similarities between the two sides are forming, making it harder to determine victims from their executioners.
They are coming for us and, yet I smile
Picking right up where last week’s episode left off, Ezekiel (Khary Payton) is reveling in his Kindommites win over the Saviors and prepping his soldiers for the fight to come. He has faith that not one member of his group will die by the hands of their enemies and a smiling Carol (Melissa McBride) surprisingly agrees. Always the pragmatic one in times of stress, Carol says that while the Saviors have the numbers the Kingdom has strategy. As usual, she’s right, and the Kingdom presses forward taking down Saviors in an ambush style. If all wars were won with brains instead of brawn, the Kingdom would remain victorious and Ezekiel would have a plethora of Shakespearean pep talks in his arsenal for many battles to come.
Speaking of victories, Rick’s is cut short when Morales (Juan Gabriel Pareja) holds a gun on him and the two old acquaintances catch up. When the men last saw each other, Rick gave Morales a gun and he fled with his family only to lose them and himself along the way. Luckily, the Saviors found the broken Morales and brought him to the Sanctuary where he became loyal to Negan. Rick tries reasoning with Morales by telling him he’s lost people too, most recently Glenn (Steven Yeun) who Negan brutally killed in front of his wife. That seems to get to Morales because not only does he know Glenn, but he lost his own family and is familiar with that pain. His sympathy is short lived and says he alerted the Saviors and they are on their way. The Saviors have orders to let Rick, Ezekiel and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) live, but if he pushes Morales the man will have no choice but to pull the trigger.
Over at the outpost shootout, Aaron (Ross Marquand) manages to get a wounded Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson) out of the line of fire and props him up against a tree. The bullet went straight through, but Eric is bleeding badly and in no shape to go back to the fight. Eric knows where his love is needed so he tells Aaron to leave him and go back to their friends. Aaron, distraught and heartbroken, can’t bring himself to abandon the man he loves. The two men kiss and exchange a few “I love you’s,” knowing this will probably be the last time they ever see each other. Ross Marquand delivers a gut-wrenching performance deciding whether to leave his boyfriend. In the end, the teary-eyed Aaron heads back to the fight leaving Eric to succumb to his injuries.
Cracks form in the united front
After last week’s take down of the satellite outpost, the remaining Saviors turned themselves over to Jesus (Tom Payne) against the advice of Morgan (Lennie James) and Tara (Alanna Masterson). Jesus thinks the men deserve a second chance and plans on taking them back to the Hilltop where Maggie can decide their fate. Morgan thinks the Saviors are too dangerous and given the chance they will turn on their captors and wreak havoc on the people they love. Morgan, the former pacifist and current Savior slayer, has already been down this path to peace and knows what a failure it is in this post-apocalyptic world. Jesus insists on staying true to his namesake and refuses to execute people saying, “That’s not who we are.” He tries reasoning with Morgan by explaining the many types of killing and how both sides have blood in their hands for similar reasons. How can he execute men for things he has done? Morgan disagrees because, let’s face it, he’s executed plenty and will continue to slash through the Saviors if it means keeping his friends alive. The two men go back and forth with Tara, but eventually siding with Morgan. Jesus accuses her of not thinking clearly after losing her girlfriend. Tara blows him off and reminds him that Maggie is also mourning and will stand with her people and their safety over the lives of the captives.
Back to Morales, who’s mimicking what Morgan said about survival. He tells Rick they are the same, but the only difference is Morales was lucky enough to be holding the gun. If their roles were reversed, Rick wouldn’t hesitate to kill him. Rick disagrees but Morales is Negan now and there is no reasoning with his loyalty to a man who gave him a second chance at life. The standoff is tense with Morales ready to shoot Rick until Daryl calmly ignores his friend’s plea to stop and shoots and arrow in Morales’ head! Morales is dead, and Daryl is calm and calculated with his kill. Rick might’ve been willing to give Morales a chance to change his mind, but Daryl is done making deals, no more second chances. Before the two men can discuss the archer’s deadly decision, the Saviors start blasting through the armory door and a shootout ensues.
Morgan vs. Jesus
On the road, the Saviors are tied up in a line as Jesus, Morgan and Tara lead them towards the Hilltop. One long haired captive continues to push Morgan’s buttons by bringing up Benjamin and the armor he wears in the dead boy’s honor. Morgan snaps and right before he’s about to blast the mouthy prisoner into the afterlife, a herd of walkers start rolling down the hill towards them. Things quickly turn to mayhem with Morgan and his group slaughtering zombies while captive Saviors flee into the woods. Armed with a gun and his staff, Morgan takes off after the escapees. Right when he’s about to execute them, Jesus steps in to stop him. Morgan is irate because the fact they fled is proof they can’t change. Ironically, Jesus asks Morgan to have faith in Maggie that she will find another way to deal with these men. Morgan can’t take all of Jesus’ rainbows and kumbaya speeches and things go from verbal sparring to fists and staffs. Jesus and Morgan are evenly matched and for every weapon strike from Morgan, Jesus counters with a bob, weave and punch. In the end, the fight is a draw and Morgan decides that he can’t hang around and watch his friends die from their own stupidity. He turns to go and says, “I might not be right. I know I’m not right, but I am not wrong.” Tara agrees with Morgan and he heads off into the woods leaving Jesus to handle the Saviors and Maggie.
Victory is ours!
Carol was right – strategy is the key to winning this fight and the Kindommites have that in spades! They lay low waiting for the Saviors to return to the third and last outpost they’ve set out to conquer. It’s not long before a group wanders into their trap and they mow the Saviors down with a fury of bullets that leaves all of Ezekiel’s soldiers unscathed. Standing over the dead and smiling, the King reminds his troops that he predicted not one of them would die but did he speak to soon? Carol offers to search the outpost for any remaining Saviors and as she heads towards the building gunfire erupts! Ezekiel’s men cover him like armor, but many are shot and the death toll is unclear.
Speaking of surprises, Gregory (Xander Berkeley) somehow makes it back to Hilltop and wants Maggie to let him in the front gate. Obviously, Gregory can’t be trusted after he sold them out to Negan, but he tries to reason with her by saying he believed diplomacy was Hilltop’s best bet. Now that he’s seen what Negan is capable of, he realizes Rick’s the only way to get them out from under the Savior’s thumb. He also lies and claims he has no idea who Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) is and that he found the car that brought him back to Hilltop. Maggie decides to give Gregory another chance and lets him inside the gates, but when Jesus and the captive Savors show up he tries to overrule Maggie and block the Savior’s entrance. Maggie orders Gregory to stand down while Jesus explains the situation. They can’t execute people who surrendered and they can’t let them go free either. When the war is over, they will all have to learn to live together. Hoping that Maggie will consider a more humane option, he offers to lock them up outside the Hilltop gates until Negan is defeated.
Over at the armory, Rick and Daryl are in a tight spot and running out of ammo as the Saviors keep pressing forward. In a split decision, Rick shoots a fire extinguisher that fogs the hallway long enough for him and Daryl to flee as Aaron and his group blast through the remaining Saviors and free the two men. Outside the dead are turning into walkers and Daryl puts them down as Rick takes polaroid shots of their kills.
Aaron heads back to the tree where he last saw Eric, but his love has turned and joined a zombie herd off in the distance. The man is inconsolable and ready to run to his dead lover until he realizes Eric is gone and that walker is not the man he loved. Aaron decides to head back to the armory when he notices Rick is holding a baby! Baby Gracie is the only survivor from the shootout and Rick gives her over to the grieving Aaron to take with him to Hilltop.
As Rick and Daryl are packing up to head home, a bullet ricochets off a nearby car sending the two men running for cover. Rick tries reasoning with the shooter and offers him a deal; freedom for information. He gives the hidden assailant his word that if he tells him where the .50 caliber rifles are he will let the young man go. The man walks out with his hands up and says the guns were moved to a western outpost. Rick thanks him and before he can even decide what to do next, Daryl shoots the Savior dead!
Daryl, Tara and Morgan’s plan to kill first or be killed is at odds with Rick and the others who still think humans can be redeemable. In the end, there are no clear lines separating good from evil as it’s survival of the fittest and it’s the only thing both sides have in common.