'Monsters' on repeat: Familiar territory in The Walking Dead's eighth season

The Walking Dead's "Monsters" promises an exciting new trip with no passport required, but it comes across as a place we've already been.
Lennie James as Morgan Jones - The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 4 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Lennie James as Morgan Jones - The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 4 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC /

"Monsters" is the third episode of the eighth season of AMC's television series The Walking Dead. Originally airing on November 5, 2017, this episode continues the intense confrontations between the communities led by Rick Grimes and Negan's Saviors. It's a big picture conflict Largely initiated by Rick's "We're gonna have to fight" speech before the 6th season's infamous assault on the satellite outpost — an event which some feel marked the decline of Rick's group as "the good guys" (though to be fair, the group has always been in the midst of making murky decisions).

It's an episode that makes us more familiar with tensions between the Saviors and the Kingdom (a group we first got to know in "The Well"). Now, King Ezekiel and his group from the Kingdom continue their recent offensive against the Saviors, viewing it as necessary for "liberation" but perhaps also fate.

They face heavy resistance but manage to push through with Ezekiel maintaining his optimistic demeanor, despite the increasing danger. As Robert Kirkman wrote (through the character King Ezekiel): "The pessimist looks down and hits his head. The optimist looks up and loses his footing. The realist looks forward and adjusts his path accordingly."

Rick and Morales

In the episode "Vatos," Morales bravely defended the camp against the attacking walkers. However, as Rick encounters Morales, the character from the first season is in league with the Saviors. So, after his first appearance in "Guts," he has undoubtedly gone through quite a transformation.

Morales holds Rick at gunpoint and chastises him for the violence and death that Rick's group has supposedly caused. Then — spoilers alert! — Daryl intervenes and swiftly kills Morales before things escalate between Morales and Rick. It's a moment that some fans don't like, as it seems like they brought the character back just to kill him for a slight tinge of shock value. I'll just say it: He's a wasted character. Well, at least it didn't feature a space alien invasion.

Morgan and Jesus' conflict

One of the highly critical IMDB reviews of this episode suggests the makers said the episode "looks cheap," but there's at least a story building when Morgan and Jesus clash over what to do with captured Saviors. Then again, this fight comes with an awkward "let's do this" type of energy to it, which feels a bit forced. That aside, I think the writer's heart was in the right place.

Jesus advocates for mercy, while Morgan, traumatized and unstable, believes they should be executed to prevent future threats. I typically don't mean to get Biblical in my episode reviews, and I had to look up that it's from Matthew 5:38–39, but Jesus (The Walking Dead character) seems to be similar to the Biblical Jesus: "You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."

As so often happens, their disagreement leads to a physical altercation between the two, and I would not say it just happened out of nowhere. Remember, we had previously seen the homicidally unhinged Morgan, so there is definitely some greater context here, as opposed to Morgan's violence merely coming out of the blue. Still, I have to agree that the fight somehow still comes across as extraneous, and almost like something Morgan would not have actually done.

Eric's fate / Gregory's return

For another big development, Aaron deals with the emotional fallout of his partner Eric being gravely wounded in a previous battle. Eric eventually succumbs to his injuries and reanimates as a walker, forcing Aaron to leave him behind. Spoiler alert! (Just kidding.)

Then, Gregory returns to the Hilltop and begs for re-entry after fleeing during the attack on the Saviors.

[WARNING: This video montage contains violence and swears, in case you somehow didn't know what sort of show this is.]

Maggie reluctantly lets Greg in but is wary of his loyalty and intentions.

Building the conflict

The episode builds tension by showcasing the moral dilemmas faced by different characters, which might be considered valuable. It raises some of the standard questions about justice, revenge, and the cost of survival in the post-apocalyptic world. You know, the meat-and-potatoes type questions of "What is right? What is wrong?" and it continues the show's steady diet of moral ambiguity.

Admittedly, I have not read the book, but in The Things They Carried, author Tim O'Brien has a fairly famous quote: "Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to." A lot of Walking Dead episodes are a bit like that, and this one fits right in. The episode delves into the complexity of morality in a world where survival often necessitates ruthless decisions.

Characters like Jesus and Morgan represent the spectrum of responses to the brutality around them, and their seemingly necessary confidence in their decisions has them feeling like, individually, they represent "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (so to speak). Then there are the standard questions of leadership and responsibility because you can't just have one person doing it all.

Leaders like Rick, Ezekiel, and Maggie are depicted grappling with the heavy burdens of their roles, each making difficult choices that affect their communities and, at least subconsciously, probably vying to be seen as the best leader. So it's like humanity vs. survival. The episode examines the struggle to retain humanity and compassion in a setting where such traits can be seen as weaknesses.