“Monsters” is very much a direct continuation from last week’s “The Damned”, and on the surface that is very wise choice for The Walking Dead, treating these as installments in a wider thread rather than thematically distinctive “episodes”. This week, we were dropped right back into the all-out assault against The Saviours, coming from Team Alexandria (et al) as Rick’s meticulous plan slots further into place, aggressively attacking outposts to cut off Negan’s defensive and offensive power. It was also a chance for the show to re-arrange what seems to be the major character arcs moving into this season, and while it’s still all very uneven in certain places at least we have optimism both in tone and a clear vision of where this show is going after a choppy seventh season; with “mercy” bring the motif, attempting to remind us that those who follow Negan are people too.
There’s still the jarring texture of bombastic, cartoonish King Ezekiel that is unfortunately pulling Carol’s arc down with it, and that’s more apparent than ever before as The Kingdom-ers take up a sizable chunk of this episode. However, if the cliffhanger-ending is anything to go by, things should be getting real interesting as The Saviours regain some momentum.
However, what the sole character death in this entire episode reminds us of is the need for the show to at least spend some time humanising characters other than the major cast. Outside of Jerry – the very occasional comedic relief in King Ezekiel’s crew – and to a lesser extent, Dianne (the woman who was part of Morgan’s team last week), there’s not really any Kingdomers of note and so next week when there’s inevitably a bunch of losses on the King’s side there won’t be a single care or feel. And that should be the bread-and-butter of The Walking Dead, as it has been in past years, to build characters up to a point where their deaths have an impact and bring the audience further into the helplessness and uncertainty of a world full of the undead.
That sole death I mentioned is of course the expected goodbye for Eric, Aaron’s partner who was fatally wounded in “The Damned” and bleeds out after being left by a tree. His death has a mild impact because we care about Aaron (and Ross Marquand is just generally excellent) and it’s nicely done having his reanimated corpse walk off to join a horde while a teary Aaron just watches helplessly, but ultimately there was very little at stake in an episode that could have used much more tension than Morgan going “crazy” (AGAIN) and fighting Jesus.
In fact, “Monsters” was in desperate need of any real tension throughout the entire episode. The return of Morales, last week’s twist, turned out to be nothing more than a platform for the episode to say “we’re all monsters lol” and remind us that Negan’s followers think they are doing the right thing. And then Daryl-ex-machina comes in with a quick crossbolt and it’s all over. It’s a strange situation to diffuse so quickly, made even stranger by Daryl’s new “take absolutely no prisoners” stance that, towards the end of the episode, even manages to make Rick question himself for a split-second. At least that should give the two dominate characters an interesting interplay moving forward.
Let’s go back to the subject of Morgan. It was already clear that “Jesus Saves” was going to become a thing this season but the fly-kicking, shampoo-horder (dude is obviously taking good care of himself) taking this “mercy” thing a bit too seriously is much too exaggerated to capture the same nuance of the excellent “Morgan versus Carol” dynamic from the past few seasons. Walking a large group of The Saviours back to The Hilltop – where families and babies are – and suggesting to Maggie that they are kept there is a bit too much and it weakens Tom Payne’s otherwise likable character dramatically. It’s about as dumb as Maggie letting Gregory back into The Hilltop.
Then we’ve got the issue of Morgan himself, who was last seen storming off into the woods after fighting with Jesus, something he initiated which allowed Jarod (the long-haired Saviour) and other to escape – something Morgan was trying to avoid in the first place. Do we really need “crazy” Morgan running around frustrating the hell out of everyone again? Lennie James was in top form this week, but there’s only so much stubbornness from who is otherwise one of the show’s greatest characters that we can take.
I do like where this season is heading with all the action and what not, but if these once strong and reasonable characters are painted into corners then there won’t be much left that could bring the series back to where it once stood – as a show that deserved it’s place as one of the most popular in network television history. I miss Glenn.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
- Rick and Daryl gun fight
- Daryl’s “take no prisoners” attitude taking Rick by surprise
- Lennie James’ acting
- Jesus’ fly-kick, I guess
- Lack of any tension
- Maggie letting Gregory into The Hilltop
- Jesus actually trying to get The Saviours into The Hilltop
- Carol stuck in a dead storyline with King Ezekiel, the most overacted character on the show (and that’s saying a lot with Negan and all)
The Walking Dead Season 8 screens in Australia on FX/Foxtel every Monday at 1:30pm and again at 7:30pm.
Image: Gene Page/AMC.