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Review: The Walking Dead 8×03 “Monsters”

The war between The Saviors and Team Rick rumbled on for a third week, as “Monsters” explored the similarities between the allied forces and Negan’s army. The theme of humanity being eroded by dire circumstances is hardly a new one, and the idea that the zombie apocalypse has forced ‘good’ people to do very ‘bad’ things has been floated from very early on in the show. But this is potentially the first episode in which it’s been made explicit that Rick and his friends are really no different from those they are seeking vengeance against.

This week’s offering opened with a bizarre segment that consisted of fade-to-black shots of King Ezekiel giving a rousing speech about why he was smiling because he hadn’t lost a single soldier, interspersed with footage of his band of merry men gunning down the opposition. There were some interesting artistic choices at work here, with the Kingdom Crew looking like they were in a trailer for a Predator remake. Carol seemed to have to caught the bug too, a creepy, tight smile on her lips as she wielded her automatic weapon, and the foreshadowing was blatant enough to make even Jerry pull a face.

Meanwhile, the return of Morales from Season 1 was woefully brief as, after a couple of leisurely musings on how Negan had saved him after he lost his family, and how Rick was a monster, he was shot in the head by one of Daryl’s arrows. To be perfectly honest, the overlong and nonsensical soliloquies from a character we haven’t seen since the year dot were enough to make me cheer when Daryl skewered him. But it seems like a wasted opportunity to bring back a character who has been on a different journey for the last seven seasons only to have him spout some platitudes about how the goodies and baddies are all the same, and then kill him.

And just in case we hadn’t quite got the point about Team Rick being as bad as The Saviors, Morgan was on hand to really ram it home. He shouted “we’re the same” a few times before getting into actual hand-to-hand combat with Jesus which ended with him letting Jesus live and storming off into the woods to be alone. I know that the actualities of war and the unpredictable nature of it would lead to people making rash decisions, sometimes even at odds with their orders, but this episode really underscored how unprepared for battle all the main characters seem to be, despite having survived the best part of a decade under extreme conditions.

Jesus seems to be the group’s sole conscience now, along with Maggie, who allowed snivelling turd Gregory back into Hilltop despite clocking he was driving Father Gabe’s car. Jesus was sure Maggie would agree with him that the surrendering Saviors should be allowed to live, but knowing what we know about Negan’s troupe, it seems like this is a plot bomb waiting to go off.

While the purveyors of mercy are being made to look naive, characters like Daryl and Tara are coming over as cold and somewhat monstrous. Would Tara really have let Morgan slip off into the woods mid-mission, knowing he’s mentally in turmoil? And although Daryl probably had little choice but to take out Morales, who had a gun pointed straight at Rick, did he really need to shoot an unarmed man in the head after Rick had given his word that they’d let him live? There seems to be a lot of confusion among Team Rick about what they’ve set out to achieve. Do they kill every single Savior on sight, or is there room for humanity in this operation?

The most tenderness this week came from Aaron and Eric, who said an emotional goodbye under a tree as Eric bled out. This should have been heartbreaking but while Aaron got to ride around with Daryl, as I touched on last week, Eric has had no real chance to imprint on the viewers’ hearts since he was introduced in Season 4. I’m also stumped as to why Aaron was dragged away from his zombified spouse. Surely it would have been kinder to let him give the newly formed walker some peace? Still, at least Aaron now has an orphaned Savior baby to transpose his love onto and help him get over his grief, because that’s how emotions work.

So another ‘cliffhanger’ ending of sorts, although it’s doubtful Ezekiel is down for the count given how many of his men piled on to take the bullets for him. Eric is gone, and Morgan is AWOL. Maggie has a whole bunch of vipers in her nest. And we still have no idea what’s happening in that trailer between Negan and Gabe, although I like to think they’re playing a really limited game of I Spy.

I think the main problem with The Walking Dead of late is that it simply isn’t scary anymore. It used to be a show about isolation, where small bands of characters could travel for miles without encountering another living soul, and the dead were always skulking in the shadows. Now walkers are seen as a mere inconvenience, only a problem for those dumber than the biters themselves. I long for the days when our MCs would stumble across ingeniously designed undead, rather than idiot walkers rolling down hills at them like stinking bowling balls at skittles.

Nowadays, there are countless people populating the Rick’s world, and while the threat from ruthless humans could be interesting and horrifying in and of itself, the characters seem less well defined. Carol had an incredible and complex arc over the first few seasons, and is now reduced to playing second fiddle to a man who calls himself a king and has a tiger. Daryl has had very little to do since his smart mouth got his friends killed last year. Maggie is mostly shut away in the farming community although she’s now a leader with a badass nickname. Negan was terrifying when he was a name on a hundred brainwashed lips, but a pantomime villain in actuality. And many of the late-joining characters just haven’t been fleshed out enough for us to care about them. If this show wants to reconnect with its audience, it needs to focus on the people that populate its hellish world.

Final Grade: D

+ Kal giving Gregory the middle finger from all of us was pretty cathartic.

+ The later scenes of zombie Saviors feeding on their dead was quite chilling.

+ I like Maggie being dubbed The Widow. She should make that a thing.

– The dialogue in this episode was jarringly awful. I had to watch some scenes twice to even understand what was happening!

– RIP Eric. Another blow for LGBT representation.

– The overall tone of this episode was odd, with Gregory’s shtick particularly out of step with the rest of the action.

Extra Thoughts: Can anyone remember what Michonne is doing??

What did you think? Are you in it to win it, or should the machinations of war grind to a halt? Sound off in the comments or over on Twitter!

 

 

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Katie Young

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