Later on, Rick has a regretful run-in with another man who should have been killed when the chance presented itself. Last seen in Atlanta during the first season, Morales makes an unexpected return as one of Negan’s flunkies, and their shared past doesn’t seem to count for much when he’s holding Rick at gunpoint. The episode ends on yet another one of its tiresome non-cliffhanger cliffhangers — of course Rick’s not going to die, not now — but its disturbing suggestion that empathy constitutes a fatal weakness in a world turned savage leaves a more bruising impact. Even if the new coalition can best Negan and begin the long process of restoring order, the world it inherits may not be worth the struggle it took to win.
The concluding note, when Morales cocks his gun with Rick in the cross hairs, may be necessary for the episode’s statement on the hazards of pity. But that doesn’t change how narratively unsatisfying it is. The writers have fallen back on bad habits, toying with the viewership’s trust and eroding its patience. Morgan gets shot and collapses to the ground, only to wake up seemingly unharmed moments later. The scene is shot in such a way as to imply that he’s dead, which makes the revelation that he isn’t feel a bit crass. It’s a classic boy-who-cried wolf scenario; after casually pseudo-killing and reviving Morgan for no other reason than sheer kicks, the writers can’t expect the audience to take Eric’s apparent death seriously.
The bitter ground war with Negan has only begun, and with Maggie and Rick at ideological odds about their plan of attack, more characters are bound for reckonings with their moral limits. It’s in their best interest — and the show’s — to do so quickly and move forward under a single banner. Negan’s great strength comes from his dictatorial rule, having the full allegiance of his disposable grunts; if the heroes assembled hope to stand a chance against their foe, they’ll have to reconcile some deep-seated differences and form a united front.
A Few Thoughts While We Survey the Wreckage
• The episode begins and ends with a lugubrious montage of facial close-ups for our assorted heroes. These sequences prove ineffective and non-affecting as bookends, as artistically blank the first time as the second.
• Harnessed as weapons by Negan’s crew, the zombies continue to saunter farther away from relevancy this season. Once the primary antagonists, they’ve now been reduced to a substitute for water, forming a “moat” in a fenced-in perimeter around the Savior compound. Outgrowing its fundamental premise has been the main factor in the growing pains this series has experienced over the past few seasons.
• We last saw Gabriel in dire straits, trapped with Negan, doom all but certain. He makes no appearance whatsoever in this week’s episode, which would seem to suggest the worst, but Negan is conspicuously absent as well. Perhaps next week will provide resolution for them both, and even upend the grim assumptions about the character’s fate that his last sighting invited.
• The count of C.G.I. tiger maulings currently stands at one, an auspicious start to what we can only hope will be the most tiger-maulingest season yet.