(Note: Spoilers for the Nov. 5 episode of “The Walking Dead” ahead.)
Not a lot of time has passed so far in “The Walking Dead” Season 8, which continues to bounce around the ongoing multi-pronged battle between the Saviors, led by Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and basically everyone else, led by Rick (Andrew Lincoln). But even though the war has only been raging for a short while, just about everyone is being put into tough situations this week that are making them question their humanity.
The episode opens with King Ezekiel (Khary Payton), who might be on a very short list of actually good leaders on the show, executing a plan with Carol (Melissa McBride). As Ezekiel fires up his people — the dude is great at morale-boosting — we see intercuts of him and his squad being intercepted by a much larger Savior force while walking through the woods. Except they aren’t being captured, they’re playing bait: As we watch, Carol and her team pop out of the bushes and together, the Kingdom soldiers manage to wipe out the larger Savior force. As Ezekiel had hoped, not a single Kingdommer is lost in the fighting.
Meanwhile, Rick is back in a Savior outpost, exactly where we left him last week. With him is Morales (Juan Gabriel Pareja), a character we haven’t seen since Season 1, who has Rick at gunpoint. Morales split from Rick’s group when Rick and the others made for the CDC at the end of that season. Morales and his family made for Birmingham, Alabama, instead.
At the end of last week’s episode, Morales radioed his Savior troops, telling them to abandon the fight in the courtyard outside the outpost and instead head inside. It’s not because it’s the better strategy — as Morales explains, he has orders to capture Rick.
“We’ve been told we don’t kill you, the widow [Maggie] or the king. Not if we don’t have to,” Morales explains.
Morales has lots to say to Rick, noting that he heard about him by reputation for a while, though not realizing he was the same Rick from back in the day. Rick, Morales says, is a monster. It’s an accusation that obviously doesn’t sit well for Rick.
Back outside, we pick up with Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson), who were in the courtyard fighting. Eric was hit during last week’s episode, and it’s definitely pretty bad. As Aaron pulls him out of the fighting, Eric convinces Aaron that he’s needed back in the battle. It’s a sacrifice on Eric’s part: His wound is bad and he’s very likely not going to make it. Aaron and Eric say tearful goodbyes and Aaron heads back to the shooty shooty.
There are even more threads to pick up from last week. We find Jesus (Tom Payne), Morgan (Lennie James) and Tara (Alanna Masterson) escorting a mess of Savior prisoners from their battle back to the Hilltop. For Morgan, going to war is weighing heavily and he’s struggling — this is exactly why he’d previously decided a while back to handle everything non-lethally until one of the Saviors killed his protege Benjamin back in Season 7. Now he’s got that old bloodlust again, and he’s not a fan of the idea of taking prisoners — but Jesus is insistent.
“There are many kinds of danger,” he tells Morgan. “Many kinds of dying. I kill. I’ve killed. You do, you have. But we don’t execute.”
“I have,” Morgan returns.
Back at the outpost, Rick asks Morales about his family. Morales left the camp in Season 1 with his wife and daughter.
“We never made it to Birmingham. They didn’t,” Morales says.
Rick then tells him about the people he’s lost — people Morales knew, like Glenn (Steven Yeun). He tells Morales that Negan executed Glenn, and “the widow” the Saviors are looking for is his wife, Maggie (Lauren Cohan). Morales falters at hearing that, but only for a moment.
“Are you Negan too?” Rick asks him.
“I lost my family. I lost my mind. I was in some tow trailer, waiting to become nothing. The Saviors found me. They thought I was worth something. So yeah, I’m Negan. To make it this far, this long — had to be something.”
Morales insists that if the shoe was on the other foot, Rick wouldn’t hesitate to kill him.
“You wanna know what I think?” Morales asks. “I think you can talk all you want. You can say all the words, Lori, Shane, Andrea, Glenn, but they’re all dead. And somewhere along the way, Officer Friendly died right along with them. Just like I did, with them. That’s what I know Rick.”
Before Rick can talk him down, though, Morales spins around and catches a crossbow bolt in the throat from Daryl (Norman Reedus). Just like that, Morales’ return is over.
Rick, shaken, tries to tell Daryl who he just killed.
“I know who he was,” Daryl says. “Don’t matter. Not one little bit.” After everything Daryl has been through, he’s got zero interest in what any Saviors have to say for themselves. And since Morales didn’t seem like he had any interest in reconciliation, it’s hard to blame him.
Back on the road, Jared, the dumb long-haired Savior who killed Morgan’s young friend Benjamin before the war started, doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut. He tries to strike up a conversation with Morgan about his armor — the armor that formerly belonged to Benjamin — but before Jared can annoy Morgan enough that it costs him his life, walkers appear on the hill beside the road. The ambush is enough of a distraction that Jared and some of the Saviors make a break for it.
Morgan catches up to them a moment later, shooting one, but Jesus stops him from killing anyone else. Morgan insists that he and the others are no different from the Saviors, and this is the only way to live. Jesus doesn’t believe it, though, and tries to tell him that once the war ends, everyone will have to come together to have peace.
Morgan’s trauma is getting the better of him, though, and his recent experiences are breaking down everything Morgan was able to accomplish with the help of his stick-wielding friend Eastman. When Jesus tries to talk him down, Morgan attacks him.
Ezekiel and Carol continue to perfectly execute their plan to take down their compound. They ambush Saviors as they’re moving through the open and quickly surround a building. The strategy is working better than they could have hoped.
But things aren’t going as well for Daryl and Rick. They’re pinned down inside the Savior compound and the machine guns that they were hoping to find are missing. They only barely escape the Savior attack when Rick shots a fire extinguisher, obscuring the Saviors’ vision. They finish off the last of their attackers as Aaron and the other Alexandrians outside reach them.
Back in the woods, Morgan and Jesus’ protracted kung-fu fight comes to an end as Jesus just barely wins. As Morgan finally relents, he decides he has to leave the group.
“I’m not right,” he says, acknowledging that the aftereffects of trauma are once again turning him into a bloodthirsty dude. “But that doesn’t make me wrong. I can’t be a part of this.” And with that, Morgan stalks off into the woods.
Over at the Hilltop, Gregory (Xander Berkeley) arrives after his apparent betrayal of his people to Negan. What nobody knows about is Gregory’s actual betrayal of Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), whose car he stole, leaving Gabriel behind to fall into Negan’s hands. Maggie’s not about to let Gregory back in after what he pulled, but Gregory insists he was trying to save his people’s lives.
“Some people with opinions not colored by a preoccupation with vengeance might even call that heroic,” he tells Maggie.
Maggie counters that they heard everything from Cal, a Hilltop resident Gregory made take him to the Sanctuary. Gregory insists Cal’s just being dramatic. He brings up some apparent past “sorghum pancake” incident to illustrate his point.
“You mean when you ate a little girl’s pancakes?” Cal asks, causing Gregory to freak out a bit.
“I did not eat those pancakes!”
This is not, as far as we can tell, a reference to anything that’s happened on the show or in the comics, but rather just a funny joke. More of this, please!
Maggie finally relents, letting Gregory in and telling Enid (Katelyn Nacon) that he’s not worth killing — yet. Gregory also lets slip another bit of information that nobody picks up on: Gregory didn’t tell Negan anything he didn’t already know about Rick’s plans to go to war. That could imply that there’s another traitor among the Hilltop, Alexandria and the Kingdom.
Before anybody can much process the situation, Jesus rolls up with Tara and their prisoners. Gregory doesn’t want to let them into the Hilltop, and neither does Tara. But Jesus remains pretty adamant that none of them turn into war criminals.
“We can’t let them go, and we can’t kill them. We can’t,” he tells Maggie. Before Maggie renders her judgment, though, we cut back to Rick’s battle.
In the aftermath of Alexandria’s outpost battle, Aaron returns to the tree where he left Eric, but finds nothing but Eric’s gun and a bloodstain. His grief is overwhelming, but other Alexandrians hold Aaron back from going to look for Eric as a walker. And after Rick brings out Gracy, the baby he found in the compound, Aaron volunteers to take her to the Hilltop — ostensibly as a way to work through what’s happened.
(On Sunday’s “Talking Dead,” Jordan Woods-Robinson, who plays Eric, confirms that the lone walker in the distance that Aaron saw was indeed Eric, for anyone who thought Eric’s fate was ambiguous.)
As Rick and Daryl prepare to head out, a Savior takes a shot at them from behind a tree. Rick tries to talk the the Savior into surrendering.
“I’m giving you my word,” Rick says. “There’s not a lot that’s worth much these days. But a man’s word has gotta mean something.”
The Savior, wounded, agrees to come out. Rick asks him about the 50-caliber guns he was looking for, and the Savior tells him they were sent to another outpost: Gavin’s outpost. When the Savior asks if he can go, though, Daryl shoots him — something that seems like it very much bothers Rick. They don’t have time to dwell on it, though, because Gavin’s outpost is the one Ezekiel is assaulting.
We cut back to Ezekiel and his troops next, who are still having a great day with zero casualties. As they mop up another group of Saviors, Ezekiel spots something in one of the distant buildings. It’s one of the guns Rick was looking for, but before he can warn his people, it opens fire. Several Kingdom soldiers fall, and several others throw themselves on the king to protect him as the episode ends.
Though so far Rick seems to be winning the war against Negan, there’s definitely a human toll that’s being taken on everyone. Winning the war might still be too costly. And Negan still has an ace to play: Gabriel.