The Walking Dead Recap: Mortal Combat

The Walking Dead

Season 8 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Gene Page/AMC Network Entertainment.

Three episodes in a row of nonstop action and there are no signs of slowing down. Also, no sign of Negan. Or walkers, for the most part. Remember when this was a zombie show? The undead menace always takes a backseat to the horrors of humanity, and now that the survivors have shifted from survival mode to war, the violence that’s easily applied to face-eating fleshbags is much harder and messier (morally, at least) when there’s a living person on the receiving end. As we watch part three of Rick’s assault take shape — and begin to unravel — we’re confronted with the frustrating complexities of combat. And with Gregory’s frustrating existence.

Each week seems to test my restraint in not yelling at the screen when a character does something dumb in the name of do-gooding. In episode one, it was Gabe rescuing Gregory, a decision that was certain to bite him in the holy ass. Then, Jesus nearly got himself and Tara killed by letting PissPants tell his fake sob story. (If Maggie ends up one bottle short of prenatal vitamins, it’s on you, Jeez.) The latest throw-something-at-my-TV moment arrives courtesy of Rick’s standoff with Morales. We learn why Rick’s old acquaintance joined the biker gang from hell: He lost his wife and kids, lost his mind, and when the Saviors found him, it gave him a sense of self-worth he’d long forgotten. Rick seems to get through to him when he explains that “The Widow” is single because Negan bashed in the skull of her husband, Glenn, whom Morales knew.

No time for sentimentality, though. Rick, Maggie, and Ezekiel are “prizes,” the only survivors Negan wants captured alive. Morales repeats an old theme: not much difference between the good guys and bad guys anymore. “As soon as I saw you, I knew you’d made the same trip as me, from there to here. Shit, well, I guess we aren’t the same guys we used to be, huh? Cause you’re a monster.” Well, okay, sure, Rick’s made some tough choices, but your leader gets his rocks off by burning people alive, giving hot-iron facials, keeping sex slaves, and using brains for batting practice. But Morales insists “everybody turns,” which is true at least in the biological sense. His observation sets the table for the question that’s often asked but never answered: In this savage world, where’s the line between surviving and losing what’s left of yourself? More important, Morales calls Rick “Officer Friendly” and gives him a new nickname: “We’re gonna settle your shit, Peaches.”

Things heat up and it looks like Morales might wax Peaches, until Daryl appears and puts a bolt through him. “You good?” Daryl asks casually, and judging by the look on Rick’s face, he’s not. Daryl somehow knew who Morales was, despite sneaking up on him from behind, and he didn’t care. Threat eliminated. So why is Rick shaken? Baby Gracie must have messed with head. Daryl pushes the line between right and wrong even further when he executes the unarmed Savior that Rick had promised to spare. Of all the moral-compass moments in the episode, this one hit home the most — like Rick, I was a bit slack-jawed after Daryl’s execution. It’s one thing to kill an enemy, but another when you give your word to spare a life and then kill anyway. Though Daryl would probably say, “Hey, I ain’t promised nothin’ to him. And Rick didn’t break his word.”

Rick’s increasing reluctance to kill ties into the Tara-Morgan-Jesus conflict, which reaches peak absurdity during the Great Walker Avalanche of 2017. Despite the occasional closeup of a zombie chowing down, this scene is more hilarious than horrifying. Coordination-challenged undead roll down the hill and dirtbag Jared seizes the moment to lead his tied-up Saviors on a sprint through the woods. I figured Morgan would chase them down, but I didn’t anticipate he’d go full Donatello on Jesus. Their rumble ends with Morgan snapping out of his altered state: ”I’m not right, but that doesn’t make me wrong. I can’t be a part of this.” He grabs his rifle, passes the unarmed Savior he killed, and walks away. Who knows what shape he’ll be in for next week’s finale of this battle?

When the hostage caravan arrives at Hilltop, even Maggie is torn over what to do with Negan’s flunkies. Jesus’s solution: Lock them in trailers with armed guards on watch. If they have any damn sense, they’ll throw Gregory in lockup with them. One guy who’ll definitely vote for that solution: Cal, who’s the new Jerry, thanks to his enthusiastic delivery of the middle finger and calling Gregory out for eating a little girl’s pancakes. (Says Gregory: “I did not eat those pancakes!” This is clearly a very sensitive subject. If someone starts a petition for a webisode in which we see the pancake incident, I will sign it.)

Forgive me for burying the emotional lede in all this talk of wartime morality. Two tragic moments unfold, and we saw both of them coming. Aaron and Eric share a touching moment as E bleeds out on a tree and Aaron says he loves him for the first (and last) time. When Aaron returns for his beau, Eric is gone — well, he’s actually off in the distance, doing the Walker Shuffle. Leave it to Rick to keep the circle of life spinnin’ by handing Gracie over to Aaron. (Though this raises a bigger question: Can this bunch care for two, and hopefully, three kids?)

The Kingdom crew, however, is about to find itself on the wrong end of the circle of life. Zeke seals his fate in the opening sequence when he declares, “We will not lose one of our ranks.” Yes, he’s trying to pump up his people with big talk and bigger smiles; even Carol gets swept up in his rose-colored bravado. The only problem they seem to have is making sure that the dead Saviors in their wake don’t reanimate (interesting that only one Kingdomer seems queasy at the sight of all the human carnage). In the end, Zeke learns what happened to the .50 caliber rifles that Rick and Daryl didn’t find. The scene hits a little too close to the real world, as a shooter perched in a window high above them rains down gunfire on the crowd. A few of Zeke’s loyal followers tackle him, appearing to shield him from the assault. But he’s suffering heavy losses. We’ll soon see how Zeke, Rick, and Maggie resolve their struggles to win the war without losing themselves along the way. And I’m guessing we’ll see Negan, too.

The Walking Dead Recap: Mortal Combat