‘The Walking Dead’ Ambles Along While Musing About Its True ‘Monsters’ (TV REVIEW)

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After an entirely unnecessary episode-long gunfight in last week’s “The Damned,” somehow this week’s installment, “Monsters,” felt there was still some gas left in the tank. Picking up where last week’s rudderless installment left off, factions of the Ricktatorship are still leading the offensive against The Saviors on multiple fronts.

On the upside, there was slightly more story interspersed between the fire fights, all of which hovered around the theme of vengeance vs. mercy, the central theme that will likely carry the narrative of “All Out War” through to the end.

First, with the stand-off between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Morales (Juan Gabriel Pareja), we hear The Saviors’ perspective of Rick through wooden, expositional dialogue. To Morales, Rick’s an antagonistic, bloodthirsty killer. He’s the man who started the conflict by leading a raid into a compound and killing a slew of Saviors while they slept. He’s The Saviors’ monster, which makes him a prize for Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), along with Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Ezekiel (Khary Payton) — referred to as “the widow and the king.”

Morales muses about how they’re both the same, but also different, (seriously, this dialogue), but it didn’t matter, since Morales is a Savior. He’s Negan. And he’s determined to bring Rick back alive. Or not. That also didn’t matter, apparently.

Nonetheless, his return to the show would be incredibly short-lived, as Daryl (Norman Reedus) moves in behind him and takes him out with his crossbow. Rick tries to get him to stop, but Daryl was unmoved. He knew he was one of the fellow survivors from the Atlanta camp, but that it made no difference. Daryl’s time as The Saviors’ prisoner puts Daryl firmly in the vengeance camp, making any sentiment or mercy irrelevant.

Rick, on the other hand, finds himself conflicted on the matter. As Morales observed, somewhere along the line, Officer Friendly was left behind. He tries to redeem this outcome by rescuing the infant, Gracie, who had no problems sleeping right through a gunfight just outside her room.

This moral quandary comes up again near the end, when a stray Savior tries to take out Rick and Daryl as they leave. Rick gives him his word that if he drops his weapon and tells them what he wants, he gets to live. Once he tells them where the stockpile of weapons have been moved to, which was the entire purpose of their raid, Daryl shoots him. Even though he had run out of ammo during a gunfight in the hallway earlier, but if The Walking Dead isn’t going to spend its time bogged down with consistency (it isn’t), why should we?

While Rick struggles with vengeance vs. mercy, Jesus (Tom Payne) and Morgan (Lennie James) are on opposing sides of the issue. After taking a slew of Saviors prisoner following their surrender, Jesus insists they remain alive. “There’s war, and there’s peace,” he explains (seriously, this dialogue), trying to rationalize his logic by looking for what life is to be like after their war. The war, incidentally, that they just begun fighting.

Morgan, on the other hand, sees it differently. Having shed off the pacifism he found under Eastman’s (John Carroll Lynch) tutelage back in season six, his bloodlust is back. He wants these prisoners executed for the safety of everyone he’s fighting for.

It gets heated, and he and Jesus come to blows over the matter. While Morgan sees the prisoners as a threat to the well being of The Hilltop. Whereas Jesus… seems to have learned nothing from almost being killed by a Savior who tricked him into surrendering last week.

Granted, Jesus isn’t the only one making poor decisions based on misplaced idealism. Maggie lets Gregory (Xander Berkeley) back into the Hilltop, despite showing up in Gabriel’s (Seth Gillam) car with zero justification for his actions back at the Savior compound. You know, when he openly declared his allegiance to Negan.

On that note, that the cliffhanger from the season eight premiere — which found Gabriel trapped in a shipping container with Negan — hasn’t been brought up since.

While we’re talking about cliffhangers, this week’s involved an overly confident Ezekiel — firmly in the vengeance camp of late — leading members of The Kingdom through the woods to an apparent victory. While he stands there gloating over the fact that he hadn’t lost a single troop due to his ‘strategy’ (which was, incidentally, people hiding behind bushes), they get ambushed by The Saviors, who start taking down their ranks from the rooftop of another nearby compound. Keeping The Walking Dead’s long tradition of subpar episodes memorable with a shocking development in the final seconds.

Also worth noting, we have the first non-redshirt casualty from All Out War. After being wounded by a gunshot last week, Eric (Jordan Woods Robinson) died while resting against a tree where he was left by his boyfriend, Aaron (Ross Marquand). When Aaron goes back to find him, he sees his now lifeless shell wandering toward a heard of walkers. It’s an emotional moment, even if it ignores the fact that it’s the first walker in the show’s history that seemed to be drawn away from gunfire. In the aftermath, Aaron takes it upon himself to take baby Gracie back to The Hilltop. A definite act of mercy, but it’ll be worth watching to see if he develops any ideas for vengeance after losing the person he cared for the most.

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