Be warned: a horde of spoilers lurk within this article from the start.
The All-Out War™ enters its third week, and we’re starting to wonder if these soldiers won’t be coming home from the Negan trenches for Christmas. Since the premiere, we’d estimate only a few hours have elapsed, with season 8 resembling the first half of season 6, where a single event is played out over several episodes – though perhaps at the expense of anything of great import happening. Still, despite last week’s repetitive rat-a-tat of bullets, episode 3 gives more reason to be optimistic. The Great Battle Of Unlimited Ammo finally drew to an end, and each plotline went in more satisfying directions, with stakes and surprises felt keenly.
Best among the fragmented groups is still Morgan, and his wrestle with his own sanity. Relapsing into his old ‘Clearing’ phase, Morgan is terrifyingly unpredictable, a Terminator of trauma, and his journey from staunch executioner to staunch pacifist and back to staunch executioner again is one of the show’s more interesting arcs. His fight with Jesus – one of the few characters who could go toe-to-toe with Morgan – is great, and the chaingang chase is intense, even if the then-we’d-be-no-better-than-them morality play feels a little overcooked at this point.
The return of Morales, which will only have the intended impact if you have an elephant’s memory or are willing to rewatch your season 1 DVD, seems a bit of a wasted opportunity. After an interesting exchange between Rick and Morales on how far they’ve come and how much they’ve changed, Daryl swiftly dispatches him with his crossbow. Rick seems momentarily upset, but the show forgets about this cameo so quickly and casually that we’re left to wonder what the point of it was.
Elsewhere: Eric, we hardly knew ye. Aaron’s boyfriend, a reluctant soldier, never earned as much screentime as his more militant partner, so his (presumed) death here might not have quite as much impact as a major character – but the death is handled well here, with a heartbreaking epilogue as Aaron watches a distant walker disappear into the horizon. Impressive stuff from Ross Marquand, and a reminder that few shows deal with tragedy more thoroughly (or frequently) than this one.
Ezekiel’s ambushes are extremely satisfying, too: it’s far more entertaining to watch a carefully executed plan than a relentless exchange of gunfire. “They have the numbers, but we have the strategy”, says Carol, and it’s a perfect plan, until it isn’t. That final surprise, the watchtower gunman, leaves us on a nice cliffhanger. (Also a nice touch: Ezekiel’s loyal servants launch themselves, Secret Service-style, in the path of the bullets, to protect the King.) We’re not sure how long this All-Out War™ is scheduled to last, but if nothing else, it’s entertaining enough to watch unfold.
Highlight: Aaron’s devastating farewell to Eric.
Lowlight: Gregory, the Neville Chamberlain of the Hilltop, getting yet another free pass. What does it take for a guy to get killed around here?
Kill of the week: Daryl’s cold, callous, execution of Morales is slick and brutal.
Quote of the week: “And yet I smile! And yet Carol smiles!” King Ezekiel remains the most quotable character of this or any show.
Zombie of the week: The Gloucestershire cheese-roller who nibbles on a shiny bald head.
MVP: Morgan is still the most unpredictable character – and therefore the most interesting.
The big question: Anyone else wondering what Gabriel and Negan have been up to in that Portacabin for the last two weeks?
The Walking Dead airs on Sundays on AMC in the US and on Mondays on FOX in the UK.