I have a slight pet hate with shows that elegantly present a point - then blink and decide that they’ve been way too damn subtle and/or their audience is way stupider than that and proceed to beat us across the head with it. And so we have this episode
Morales has Rick at gunpoint and they both begin expositioning. It’s an epic speech - with a simplistic message: Morales became a Saviour after his family was murdered, he despaired, fell apart and the Saviour saved him - and yes, he’s “Negan”. He makes the point that both he and Rick are the same, and if Rick had the gun Morales would be dead now. They’re both monsters who do what they must to survive and they’re just the same.
Have we caught the theme yet? Yes Rick is just as bad as Negan and his people as bad as the Saviours they just happen to be on different sides, transformed by the same losses and horrors.
This would mean more if we hadn’t spend all of last season making the point that Negan was the worst with lots of torture and rape.
We also learn Negan wants Rick, “The Widow” (that would be Maggie. And while “The Widow is a pretty epic title it also defines her entirely by her relationship to a man) and “The King” alive
Daryl does not want Morales alive and shoots him in the back of the head. Rick protests asking Darryl if he knew who that was. Darryl is clear: yes he knows, he heard and it doesn’t matter even a little bit.. The enemy gets shot.
Y’know I get the point they’re trying to make and I guess it’s kinda sorta more powerful that it’s someone Rick recognises and remembers who he used to be… but at the same time dragging up Morales expressly to kill him. I feel a lot more could have been done with him rather than pulling back random latino most of us don’t remember in order to kill him
They start to leave but are ambushed by some returning Saviours and have to do some more fighting before the other of Rick’s forces out front finally finish everyone off and everyone gets a good slaughtering. Including Eric
Hey remember Eric? Yes almost-non-existent Aaron’s even more non-existent boyfriend got shot in the stomach and is now dead. I would say it’s a powerful display of grief but I’m not going to drag up even the slightest attempt of praise for a show that remembers a gay character exists in time to kill them. So random pointless tragedy of a character you care nothing about but hey, someone had to die for this to be an actual war.
In the aftermath Rick hands the baby over to Aaron because why not and then a survivor of the Saviours manages to take a few pot shots at Rick. Rick agrees to let the survivor - who seems very young - to live if he tells them where the big guns went. He does and Daryl shoots him
Rick has a duly horrified look on his face. You can almost hear his internal monologue “I’m not a bad person, I’m not Negan because…” BANG! “Damn it Darryl!”. Behold Rick’s moral compass - what have we become and what do we want to be?
So let’s go to the advanced course - Jesus, Tara and Morgan are leading a squad of captive Saviours to Hilltop - with one of them definitely being more mouthy than is good for him. Jesus insists that they can’t murder people who have surrendered and are helpless. Morgan and Tara firmly believe that they most certainly can. As they travel they’re attacked by zombies and some of the captives escape - Morgan chases them, captures them and shoots one and begins to massacre them - except Jesus stops him. Morgan and Jesus fight - Morgan bringing all his epic skill with his staff and Jesus evading pretty much all the blows with his even more epic skill. In the end, it’s clear Jesus wins and Morgan concedes:
“I’m not right. But I’m not wrong”
And Morgan pretty much sums up the whole conundrum right there. These captives aren’t safe, this is a risk and more so to bring them back to Hilltop. Morgan KNOWS that killing them is morally dubious and not something he should support - but he also knows it’s dangerous.
Of course Tara adds another edge with “you’re right” to Morgan. While Morgan represents a Carol-like sense of hard choices that have to be made; Tara represents the angry rage of those who want revenge (likely joined by Aaron now, maybe Daryl) against the Saviours. This isn’t an emotionless risk assessment debate - there are angry people here, angry for good reasons and they’re not going to hear logic.
At Hilltop Gregory has made it and he lies then begs and pleads for Maggie to let him in, becoming epicly pathetic as he makes many excuses and just is reduced to imploring Maggie for mercy to be let in. Maggie does - because Gregory isn’t worth killing
And it’s into this scene that Jesus leads the prisoners to Hilltop - to which Gregory, with no self awareness at all, makes many excuses why they can’t be let in which definitely applies to him. Maggie refuses to listen to him. But she does listen to Jesus - clearly troubled, she accepts Jesus’s plan of locking the Saviours up and imprisoning them.
There’s another faction to follow - Ezekiel and Carol are still leading their forces against Saviours. And Carol copies Ezekiel in smiling because Ezekiel is just that epic and inspiring and I don’t care, I love him. He’s playing his little game but he’s playing it so hard and so strong everyone is willing to believe in it
And he’s playing intelligently and they’re winning with no losses and even Carol is like five minutes away from putting on some spurs and declaring herself the Duchess of Alexandria Lady of Blowing Shit Up That Needs It, when the Saviours pull out their hidden big guns
Naturally people die and it’s a cliffhanger
Will finally losing people be enough to shatter Ezekiel’s games? Will it shake everyone’s faith in him?
And before the gun fired three people literally piled on Ezekiel to shield him with their bodies - what will that kind of devotion even do to him?
Thus begins the beginning of what I’m guessing is the new debate - Rick looking in the mirror and gasping “what have I become!” Which is kind of a sequel to Dale/Hershel/Morgan/probably other dead people I’ve forgotten looking at Rick and gasping “what have you become!”. With the follow up of him deciding a future that they can all live with - especially if they don’t want to build a whole new Saviours only with everyone saying “I am Rick.”
And I’m actually into this because it is a change. The whole being evil for survival has been somewhat a broken record for the last few seasons and inevitably when someone appears and says they need to be about more than surviving and they need to be good - only to be proven brutally wrong and the more-ruthless-Rick showing that violence is the way you survive. And hey, maybe that was true. But it’s time for a narrative change. Not just because it’s dull, because that IS the road that leads to becoming Negan and/or the Governor. But also because Rick & Co are in a different place now. They have three interconnected settlements that are, on some level, able to exist and thrive beyond scavenge and live from day to day in the ruins of what was. We’ve gone from seasons where the population isn’t just counted on the fingers of both hands, scrabbling against the odds - but where we have reams of extras we don’t even recognise; Rick has supplies, an army of men, women, tigers and a Carol. Zombies aren’t a threat. Random arseholes aren’t a threat. Even herds have become something they can manage. Starvation isn’t a threat. They’ve survive level 1; survival isn’t the issue any more.
A new society is being built here - which means climbing up Maslow’s pyramid a few floors and asking what you actually want to build. Now Negan had, pretty much, all of that already so the question is is this the creation of Saviours #2 or something else? I want this because The Walking Dead needs a new direction, especially with Fear the Walking Dead pretty much shambling in its survival footprints.
But there’s going to be that whole split between the Idealists, the Pragmatists and the Angry - and if Ezekiel suffers severe losses in his ambush, where will he lie? Will he be broken and lose his charisma and ability to lead - or will he use that inspiration to push the Kingdom to anger? I think it’s important to note this with the Kingdom because while Rick does run a Rickocracy in all but name and Maggie isn’t often questioned in Hilltop, Ezekiel is overwhelmingly supported by the Kingdom, respected and beloved: in his own way he has more pull over his people than Rick or Maggie have over theirs. I mean, Darryl and Gabe may be loyal followers of Rick - but take a bullet for him?