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The Walking Dead Leaves me Conflicted

Content Warning: this review discusses mental illness and suicide, as depicted on the show.

This week’s episode of The Walking Dead kept me riveted from beginning to end. Even when my internet was acting squirrelly and causing buffering issues, I couldn’t look away. But often it’s hard to look away from natural disasters and car crashes, too, so…was this episode actually good? In many ways, yes. In other ways…well. I don’t know, to be honest.

Recap

The episode focused on The Kingdom, and the struggle to fight or not to fight. Richard, of course, is still solidly in the “fight” camp, while Morgan is against it. Morgan’s protégé, Benjamin, encouraged Ezekiel to fight, but he’s also reading The Art of War and trying to embrace Morgan’s zen lifestyle.

Of course after some heartwarming “dad!Morgan” scenes, Benjamin gets killed. I mean of course! The twist is that it was basically all Richard’s fault because…

Richard apparently didn’t get the memo about “the best laid plans of mice and men”, because he rigs up this whole dealy-do to get everyone out of the truck so he can steal a cantaloupe. When they get to their rendezvous with the Saviors, not only are they late, but they’re a cantaloupe short.

Dramatic reenactment.

Ezekiel insists it isn’t possible since he counted them himself, but he has no idea what Richard’s been scheming. Richard assumes he’ll be the one killed, since the other week Gavin said he would be. Only the asshole little shit who’s been giving him a hard time shoots Benjamin instead.

They run him to Carol’s as fast as they can, but they’re too late. He bleeds out. Aaaand Morgan loses it. During the course of his breakdown, he discovers what Richard did and confronts him about it. Richard gives this sob story about his wife and kid dying (we’ve all lost people, Dick!!) and swears he’ll tell Ezekiel the truth about what he did.

The next day they go back to meet the Saviors with the one cantaloupe they owe, and as Richard is presenting them with said melon, Morgan COMPLETELY loses it and attacks Richard. There’s strangling and head bashing and everyone flips out, but regardless Richard’s dead.

The Saviors leave and Morgan tells Ezekiel what Richard did. The King was close with Benjamin and his little brother, so naturally he’s furious. Even though Morgan just murdered him like a rabid dog or something.

Morgan buries Richard and then kills a bunch of zombies and goes to find Carol. He tells her what Negan has been up to in Alexandria, and she begs him to stay at her place to get his head together. She then goes back to The Kingdom, where Ezekiel and Benjamin’s little brother are replanting the garden they had to burn due to weevils. She tells him they have to fight, and he agrees.

“But not today.”

It’s a hopeful note, but the show isn’t done with us: the episode ends with Morgan sitting on Carol’s porch sharpening his faithful staff into a spear. Uhhhh oohhh.

Review

I kept the recap purposefully short because I have a LOT to say about this episode.

First, Lennie James. Wow. What a performance this week! If this were the type of show that got awards consideration, he would definitely be in the running for an Emmy, a Globe, something! He portrayed Morgan’s breakdown perfectly, the cracking of his zen shell to let loose all his old demons. He could hear their voices and see the signs he used to hang up everywhere, and he even had flashbacks of his son.

A brief selection of his PTSD-induced spiral.

So, okay, great acting. Still, I’m struggling with the fact that it had to happen at all. I’m still worried about this show’s obsession with “all or nothing.” Why does it have to be NEVER kill or ONLY kill? Why does Morgan have to choose between being the unhinged man with the signs and the zombies on sticks or the zen master with the students and the staff? Why can’t he walk a path between pacifism and all-out war?

I’ve discussed in weeks past that Walking Dead seems set on absolutes, without considering gray areas or middle ground. Maybe it’s meant to be a reflection of this season’s villain, as Negan doesn’t seem to have much gray despite his smarmy charm and false bonhomie.

We re-gained “badass” Morgan, a fan favorite, but we did so at the expense of Morgan’s hard-won sanity and peace of mind. Is it really better to have a Morgan who is willing to kill? Who’s also borderline suicidal? And who’s paranoid and traumatized? I think, despite appearances, we’ve actually lost with this ‘development’. We’ve lost a subtle and nuanced character who stuck to his beliefs against all odds. We’ve lost Morgan’s wisdom and his grace in favor of his kamikaze madness. What a downgrade.

I argued previously that Daryl was right not to tell Carol what happened to Glenn and Abraham, and I still believe he was. But all that got blown out of the water when avenging mad man Morgan decided to drop it on her like a bomb. So now she knows. And while she wants to join the fight against the Saviors, so far she hasn’t lost herself like Morgan.

Ahem.

I need to talk a minute about the race politics at play here.

We have a white woman who supposedly is afraid of losing her tenuous grip on inner peace receive the news that, in theory, would cause her to lose that grip. And she doesn’t. Yes, she moves back into The Kingdom. Yes, she tells Ezekiel they need to fight (something he already knows). But, she also begs Morgan to stay at her place to try and get himself together. Her final shot in the episode is planting a garden with a small child and the King, which parallels exactly what she was doing right before they showed up on her doorstep with a dying Benjamin.

Contrast Carol’s reaction to Morgan’s. Not only did he have his mental breakdown with the flashbacks and a near suicide attempt, but he also went postal on a bunch of zombies and attacked Richard like some sort of beast. A beast. A…bestial…unhinged…Black man. Huuummmmmmmm. Hello Problematic ImplicationsTM!

So Carol gets to preserve her purity, her “innocence” (relatively speaking), while Morgan transforms into some kind of monster. Sure, Richard had it coming, but Morgan brutally murdered him with his bare hands! And it happened immediately after the Savior guy was punished by his (white) boss for killing Benjamin just to contrast the actual Bad Guy’s actions with the actions of a Good Guy. “Oh, look, that Savior dude didn’t want Benjamin to die, and he’s acting sorta decent and…OH SHIT, MORGAN!!”

Look, I’m just saying…they’ve been paralleling Morgan and Carol since last season. Morgan is the one who talked Carol into giving up the Thug Life. When Carol came to him early in the episode and asked about Alexandria, he refused to tell her what happened because he was afraid of what it would do to her.

Yet when confronted with their personal set of challenges, it’s Morgan who becomes a rabid killing machine, and Carol who preaches patience. I guess maybe the show was making some sort of point about how Carol’s grown blahblah, but to me it just looked like the white woman got to be the “pure” one, while the Black man was reduced to something primitive and animalistic.

I might give them the benefit of the doubt if they hadn’t already exhibited so many issues with Black characters (especially Black men) in the past. It’s exhausting and troubling. While Morgan’s return to fighting form was inevitable (as was Carol’s), the whole thing could’ve been handled differently. Not just the racial issues, but Morgan’s mental health as well.

Episode Grade: I honestly can’t grade this one. Parts were incredible, but…well. See above.


Images curtesy of AMC

Meg
Written By

Meg has a lot of ~issues. They keep her very busy. Yes, she has read the book(s).

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