Lennie James as Morgan Jones.
Maybe I was just in a bad mood when I watched this, but through the first 20 minutes or so, I was thinking this was one of the worst Walking Dead episodes ever. A close-up of a crate filled with cantaloupes? That shot summed up the entire second half of the season thus far — very little sound and fury, signifying nothing, but a long wait for the A-towners to gather an army and revolt against Negan. But then a funny thing happened on the way to boredom — Benjy gets shot and things go crazy faster than Jerry can scarf down a cobbler. What had all the makings of another snoozefest redeemed itself with surprises, some depth of character, and finally getting Zeke and the Kingdom onboard with the resistance.
The bizarre opening scene didn’t pump me up for what was to follow. It’s a weird one: Sad music plays as the Kingdomers load precisely one melon into a box before Zeke gives a solemn order to close the truck doors. I’m not looking for mystery or riddles to solve at this point in the season; I want Rick to find more guns, recruit the Junkyard Dogs and the Oceanside Riot Grrrls, and mount an epic assault on the Saviors. Produce and tender acoustic guitar is not the cure for what ails me.
Things get more annoying from there. Carol’s smoking again — because why the hell not? — and does a lousy job killing a walker on her way back to the Kingdom. Morgan’s real talk moves her to tears: Did you really find what you wanted out there, alone? But he stops short of telling her what really happened to her old friends. Richard, the Poor Man’s Gerard Butler (his official Kingdom title), stares at a backpack marked “Katy” and angrily digs a hole. Yawn. Sure, we meet Nabila, the girl in overalls with a poetic way of describing the beauty of gardening before shifting to “I think I just pissed myself.” So that’s a plus. And Zeke fulfills his “Must Yell at Jerry Once an Episode” contractual obligation. The rest, though — why bother?
But there are some breadcrumbs that hint at what’s ahead. Zeke and Benjy discuss how this world has gone rubber-room-straight-jacket insane, and Benjy says this: “The world does drive people crazy now. But you made us another world.” Soon, Zeke will realize the safe space he’s built can’t keep the crazy out anymore. Richard also has a heart-to-heart with Morgan, calling him a “good man” and offering this ironically prophetic advice: “The day’s coming when you can’t be that good. When that happens, don’t beat yourself up about it.” Morgan didn’t know it, but that was Richard’s way of saying good-bye.
The shopping-cart blockade and the grave marked “Bury Me Here” felt like another puzzle piece of a picture I didn’t really care to see in full. But that sentiment began to shift, slowly, when the tribute to the Saviors went south. Twelve cantaloupes seems like a rather skimpy haul, so when the load is one melon short, it’s apparently a BFD — so much that Jared, the Savior goon who always acts the dick at these meetings, puts his gun to Richard’s head. With his plan to frame Carol dead, Richard’s got a new idea for drawing the Kingdom into war — he set up that blockade as a diversion to give him time to stash a melon. He’d sacrifice himself so Zeke would see that fighting back is the only option. It’s all lining up perfectly — until Benjy calls Jared, accurately, a “rat-faced prick.”
Jared shoots Benjy, who’s rushed to Carol’s house and bleeds to death awfully fast. (Rest in peace, kid. Didn’t know ya for long, but you had a curious mind, a good head of hair, and were more likable than a few A-towners.) Morgan does not process this well at all: He splits and has a meltdown back at the site of that open grave — flashing back to his son, his wife, and his stint as a wall graffiti artist/babbling hermit, then putting a knife to his wrist.
This is the crazy that Zeke was talking about. Also bonkers is Richard’s plan, which Morgan uncovers when he kicks a bucket and finds the clandestine cantaloupe. Their confrontation leads Richard to spill his guts in a moving scene, revealing he was in a camp with his wife and daughter when society unraveled. “I thought there were stronger or smarter people there than me,” he says. “Who the hell am I?” He lost his family, he says, “because I did nothing.” So even though his plan backfired horribly, he’s undeterred. Now he’s a man of action. He sees an opportunity to convince the Saviors that the Kingdom is loyal, then strike when they least expect it.
We finally understand why that lone melon in the opener was such a sad-trombone moment, as Zeke & Co. give the missing cantaloupe to the Saviors. Richard steps up and begins his faux brown-nosing routine when the completely unexpected happens: Morgan straight cracks him in the head with his staff and chokes him to death with his bare hands, much to everyone’s horror. (Shocking, yes, but why didn’t Zeke or Jerry stop him?) It’s a brilliant play by Morgan — kill Richard as a sign that such disobedience can’t be tolerated. Now they’ll truly believe the Kingdom has fallen in line. Even Gavin the Savior middle manager seems taken aback, as if he’s thinking, Dude, two dozen melons next week would have been fine.
So the day has come when Morgan had to be very not good. It’s taken a steep toll, as he slips and calls Benjy by his son’s name, Duane. After quietly sliding his knife into Richard’s skull, Morgan heads to Carol’s alone, where he calmly ticks off a checklist of horrors: how he killed Richard with his own hands, how Negan killed Glenn and the Sarge and Spencer and Olivia. Rick is ready to rumble, he says, and now Carol knows the truth. The last shot is Morgan sharpening sticks — is he losing his mind again, planning to turn Carol’s place into another booby-trapped hideout?
All of this finally moves both Carol and Zeke to action. She’s ready to fight! He’s ready to fight! “But not today,” Zeke tells her. Instead of “Rise Up,” that should be the tagline for this half of the season, as we wait for what post-post-apocalyptic history books will call the Great A-town Rebellion: “Not Today!” But the episode redeemed itself. So go ahead and tend to that royal garden with Benjy’s orphaned little bro, folks. Hopefully that’s the last peaceful moment we’ll see from here.