Warning: This recap for the “Monsters” episode of The Walking Dead contains spoilers.
What a difference 41 minutes can make: The episode starts off with a big victory for King Ezekiel and Team Resistance, but by the end of the installment, a beloved character is gone in one of the most heartbreaking death scenarios of the series, Daryl has become a stone-cold killer, a coward makes his return, a blast from the past makes his exit, and Jesus makes what could turn out to be one of the most disastrous decisions in apocalypse history.
King Ezekiel and the Gang
The episode begins as King Ezekiel, Carol, and their crew prepare to take on the members of a Saviors outpost, which, according to the Saviors’ walkie-talkie Ezekiel holds in his hand, are coming for them. “Bloodthirsty rogues and unrepentant cutthroats, coming for nothing short of our pitiless destruction, and yet I smile … and yet Carol smiles,” the King tells his people.
“Why, boss?” Jerry asks.
Carol answers for him: “They probably have the numbers — we have the strategy.”
As the Kingdomites make their way through the woods, they suddenly hear whistling coming from all around them, just like the whistling Rick and his people heard in “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be.” Just as Negan and company used it to announce their arrival in the Season 7 premiere, another group of Saviors does now, surrounding the Kingdom crew and making them get on their knees. But that thing Carol said about strategy: she and others were hiding in the area, and when the Saviors arrive and think they’ve gotten the upper hand, Carol and Co. jump out and start firing. Ezekiel had confidently told his people they would not lose one of their ranks in the impending battle, and after Carol and her squad take out the whole Saviors group, Ezekiel declares “Not one!” while Shiva growls in appreciation.
But later that same day…
Ezekiel and company are at the Saviors outpost they planned to clear, and the yard surrounding the buildings is littered with dead members of Negan’s group. Daniel tells Ezekiel everyone is accounted for, but even after this fresh victory, Ezekiel looks worried. He reminds his people they still have not lost anyone, but Carol, sensing the uneasiness in Ezekiel that his people don’t, tells him they need to sweep the compound. Alvaro says they should also “take care” of the Saviors — prevent them from reanimating — since they’re going to be there a while.
“We should do it either way, man,” Jerry says.
Ezekiel is standing in the yard, looking around, still with a worried look on his face. He focuses on a compound building with a large vent at the top and all of a sudden screams out to his people, “Scatter! Now!” Gunfire starts, and several members of The Kingdom are hit, while several more of Ezekiel’s people dive on top of him to protect him from the attack.
Rick and Morales
Inside another Saviors compound, Morales is still holding Rick at gunpoint. Rick tells him he called in his cohorts for nothing, that Rick is the only one inside. “I guess we’re not the same guys we used to be, huh?” Morales says. “Cuz you’re a monster. I called them back because you’re a prize, Rick. We’ve been told we don’t kill you, the widow, or the king, not if we don’t have to.”
Out in the courtyard, the gunfire continues, and the dead Saviors that have turned are noshing on the ones who haven’t yet. One of the men yells out for everyone to stop shooting at Rick’s people, because “the boss” wants them to head inside the compound.
Rick asks Morales if his family is with him. He lowers the gun slightly and tells Rick he never made it to Birmingham… “They didn’t,” he says.
Rick says he’s sorry, but Morales questions it. Rick tells him he is, that he’s lost people too, and names all the people Morales knew when he and Rick were early survivors: Lori, Shane, Andrea, Glenn. He tells Morales that Negan beat Glenn to death in front of his pregnant wife. “She’s ‘the widow,’” he tells Morales.
“Are you Negan too?” Rick asks, disgusted that his old friend is a part of the Saviors.
Morales, raising the gun up further, tells Rick he lost his family and his mind. “And the Saviors, they found me,” he says. “They thought I was worth a damn, worth bringing back with them. So, yeah, I’m Negan. To make it this far, this long, I had to be. I had to be something, just like you.”
Rick tells him they’re not the same. Morales disagrees. “We’re two a**holes who will do whatever we have to just to keep going,” he says. “The only difference is I’m the one holding the gun.” Morales says Rick would do the same thing if he were the lucky one holding the gun, telling him, “Officer Friendly died” along with his friends and loved ones.
Then Rick’s eyes shift slightly to the side, and he yells, “Wait! No!” but Daryl has already unloaded a bow into Morales.
Rick: “That, that was…”
“I know who it was,” Daryl says. “Don’t matter. Not one little bit. You find them guns?”
Rick tells him the guns aren’t there and that they need to leave immediately, because Morales radioed the other Saviors to come inside. They arrive, with guns firing, before the friends can exit. A gunfight ensues, and just when Rick and Daryl are about to be overpowered, Rick shoots at a fire extinguisher to create a diversion, and Aaron and some of the others who’ve been fighting the Saviors out in the courtyard come in and help Daryl and Rick clear the inside. (Note: If you’ve been confused about the various Saviors outposts and battle locations throughout these first three episodes of the season, it’s not just you; we were too.)
Aaron and Eric
After discovering Eric had been shot in last week’s episode, Aaron helps him off the battlefield and over to a tree. Despite Aaron’s observation that there’s an exit wound, both men know Eric’s injury is serious. Aaron promises to get him to a doctor at the Kingdom and begins to cry as he apologizes.
“Are you the one who shot me?” Eric asks. Aaron says he pushed him into fighting when he didn’t want to, but Eric assures him he was ready to fight. And despite Eric’s injury, Aaron has to go back and help the others, Eric insists.
“You know I love you,” Eric tells him. “You know I’m right.” They kiss, holding each other’s faces. “Now stand your ass up, get back to the fight, and you win this thing!”
“I will,” Aaron says. “We will. I love you!”
Eric: “I always had a hunch.”
Aaron puts a gun in Eric’s arms and goes back to the Saviors compound. (Read what Jordan Woods-Robinson told us about filming this episode and the backstory that he and Ross Marquand created for Eric and Aaron’s relationship.)
Morgan and Jesus
The satellite outpost Saviors who surrendered to Jesus are tied together, as Jesus, Morgan, Tara, and other members of the resistance are leading them to the Hilltop. Jared, the weasel Savior who killed Benjamin, is whistling and annoying Morgan. Jesus irritates Morgan even further when he says the Savior prisoners will get to the Hilltop safely, no matter what. They’ve killed, Jesus says, but they don’t execute.
“I have,” Morgan replies.
Jared continues to needle Morgan, pointing out that he knows Morgan is wearing Benjamin’s armor. Morgan loses his cool and is about to attack Jared, when a more pressing matter pops up. Or rather, rolls in: A herd of walkers come tumbling down a hill like roly-polies and start to attack. Morgan and the others spring into action, trying to kill the walkers before they eat their constrained hostages.
Jared takes the opportunity to run off into the woods with the people he’s tethered to, and Morgan follows. He catches up to them and shoots one of the Saviors in the head. As he’s about to execute the rest, Jesus appears and pushes him. Jesus tries to convince him that they need to think about how they’re going to forge a peaceful future with the surviving Saviors once the war is over, but Morgan is having none of it. The two get into a physical fight — both show off their impressive battle skills — until finally Jesus knocks Morgan off his feet and asks him if their tussle is done.
“I’m not right. I know that,” Morgan says, acknowledging that he’s slipped into a fragile mental state because of his conflict about the war. “I’m not right, but that doesn’t make me wrong. I can’t be a part of this,” he continues and walks past the prisoners, past his friends, and out of the woods.
The king of cowards shows up at the Hilltop gates, pounding on the giant doors and demanding to be let back in. The gates open a nudge — not enough for Gregory to squeeze in — and Maggie asks him why he has Gabriel’s car. He lies and says he doesn’t know who that is, and she asks him why he’s there. He adopts an attitude and says it’s his home, that he built it, and that unlike her, “some of us didn’t just show up.”
Maggie reminds him about how he tried to sell her and the whole Hilltop community out to Negan and doesn’t buy his smarmy, condescending attempts to fast-talk his way out of it. Maggie says Kal told her that Gregory made Kal take him to Negan so he could narc on the resistance army’s plan to attack the Saviors.
Gregory says Kal is delusional.
“What the hell?!” says Kal, who reveals himself to be the guy operating the front gate and who flips Gregory off.
Gregory continues to try to worm his way back into the safety of the Hilltop, telling Maggie he did no harm to her cause, because Negan already knew about the planned attack on the Sanctuary when he got there. That doesn’t persuade her to let him in. Finally, he admits he was wrong, that he went to Negan because he thought the resistance efforts would fail, and he didn’t want Negan to think he had been a part of it.
“We’re all just human beings with flaws and fears,” he says. “Have you no mercy? Have you no humanity, no charity? Please, open the gate. Open your heart.”
His insincerity and dramatics aside, Maggie allows him back in, telling Enid, “He’s not worth killing. Not yet anyway.”
With one crisis handled, another one immediately arises. Jesus arrives at the Hilltop gate with the Saviors prisoners. Gregory rants that they’re monsters, and can’t be kept inside the Hilltop. Maggie tells Gregory to walk away, but she also agrees with him, as does Tara. “There are families here, children,” Maggie says.
Jesus has a plan: There are two empty trailers in the back. They can lock the prisoners inside, and have people guard the trailers around the clock. “They surrendered,” Jesus argues. “We can’t let them go, and we can’t kill them. We can’t.”
Maggie gives in on what seems like it could potentially turn out to be one of the worst ideas anyone’s had in the history of The Walking Dead.
With the courtyard battle done and the Saviors compound cleared, Aaron goes back to the tree where he left Eric. Eric’s gone, but the tree trunk is covered with his blood, and his gun is on the ground nearby. Aaron shouts his name, but there’s no response. Then he looks up, across the road, to a field where walkers are roaming. And he sees Eric, shambling off to join them, having died and turned before Aaron could get back to him.
Aaron wants to go to him, but Scott stops him. “Eric’s dead. I just can’t let him…” Aaron argues, but Scott tells him that’s not Eric anymore. Aaron is distraught about letting Eric survive as a walker, but Scott pulls him away, telling him they have to leave now.
Rick and Daryl come up empty-handed in their search for the guns Dwight told them were stashed inside the compound, so they prepare to head out. Rick surprises everyone when he comes out of the main building carrying a baby. He asks Tobin to take her back home, but Aaron steps in. He says he and Eric had planned to go to the Hilltop to update Maggie when the fight was over, so he volunteers to take the baby there, where she’ll be safe (making Jesus’s plan to turn those Hilltop trailers into jails a really, really bad idea). Rick tells him her name is Gracie.
Rick and Daryl plan to head out too, discussing a solo pit stop Rick will make, where he’s going to try to reason with someone … Negan? Dwight? Another Saviors leader? Rick loads the Polaroids he took of the outpost massacre into his jeep, when he and Daryl hear shots ring out.
Rick yells to the shooter that he knows he’s alone, because there’s not enough room behind the tree he’s hiding behind for two people. He tells the shooter if he comes out, and answers his questions, he’ll give him a car and he can drive off.
The shooter wants to know why he should believe that.
“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, right?”
The shooter steps out, and it’s Todd, the bumbling Savior who was dismissed and laughed at by his peers just before their compound was attacked.
Rick asks him if there were ever any M2 Browning .50 caliber guns at the compound. Todd, who is cowering in fear, says they were there, but they were moved to another outpost yesterday.
With both Rick and Daryl pointing guns at him, Todd answers Rick’s next question: the guns were moved to Gavin’s outpost, which is west of where they currently are.
Having answered Rick’s questions, Todd has fulfilled his end of the deal, so he stands taller, and asks Rick if he can go now.
But before Rick can answer, and keep his word, Daryl shoots Todd in the head.
— Let the Pop Culture Universe record show: Daryl Dixon killed Stuart Minkus.
— He’s a dangerous presence with his fraidy-cat-ness, but Gregory can make us laugh. When Kal confronts him at the Hilltop gate, Gregory says, “You know you can be dramatic … like that thing with the sorghum pancakes.”
Kal: “You mean when you ate a little girl’s pancakes?”
Gregory: “I did not eat those pancakes!”
— Gregory told Maggie Negan already knew about the attack Rick and company were planning. Do we think Negan found out from the Heapsters? Or Dwight? Or could there really be something to that fan theory that suggests Father Gabriel has been working against Rick all along?
— Any thoughts on how Baby Gracie will factor into the future? Is it possible she’s the little girl we see with Old Man Rick, and not Judith?
— F-Bomb Count: still zero.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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