The zombie apocalypse is rough. Add in an unrelenting war and you get Season 8 of The Walking Dead. The allies have made it clear that they’re after Negan and are willing to take out anyone who supports him. But he’s the only one who has to die. They’re not monsters, after all.
King Ezekiel spins his magic on the Kingdom forces. They will not lose. They have already won. His velvety voice and Shakespearean cadence convince his army and those of us watching at home. The Kingdom strides into battle with the swagger of the undefeatable and we believe. But we’re only granted a moment of optimism. Before we know it, they’re surrounded (and outmanned) by the Saviors. All hope is lost. We kick ourselves for trusting, once again, that good could prevail. Over and over, we’re plagued with images of King Ezekiel’s rallying cry interspersed with their capture. What once inspired hope now looks like naive buffoonery, on their part and ours. Even the King finally accepts his fake-it-til-you-make-it attitude is a joke. Or is it? Shots ring out and Saviors fall. What looked like defeat was a ruse, a well planned maneuver. And just like that, our hopes soar again. They will not lose. They have already won. We’ve traveled from triumph to despair and back to triumph in two minutes flat. I’m emotionally exhausted and we’ve only just begun.
Rick finds himself in a decidedly darker place than the Kingdom. Morales has a gun to his head and the Saviors are on the way. Any attempts at reconnecting with Morales are futile. Both of them have changed so much in their time apart that they’re practically strangers. Morales sees Rick as the monster the Saviors claim he is. He’s a man who kills the innocent and guilty alike. As Rick stares into Morales’ disturbed eyes, he’s forced to reckon with the part of himself that matches those traits. Morales tells Rick that they’re the same. They both do whatever it takes. If Rick was the one holding the gun, Morales would be dead by now. Officer Friendly died a long time ago. As Rick struggles with the truth of his words, Daryl shoots Morales and steps over his dead body. He doesn’t care that they knew him. Morales was in the way.
Aaron pulls a wounded Eric away from the battle. His only agenda is saving his love. But Eric knows this fight is about more than the two of them. He denies Aaron’s guilt and urges him back into the fray. He promises to wait. They have time to get to the doctor. After. His words are convincing. One of them actually believes he’s going to survive.
Tara, Jesus and Morgan lead a caravan of shackled Saviors to the Hilltop. Jesus feels sure of their decision; Morgan isn’t sure they’ve actually made a decision. It doesn’t help that Benjamin’s killer continues to needle him. A passing horde rolls down a hill straight at them. The allies clear them as quickly as possible but the trussed Saviors are easy targets. In the excitement, a chain gang of Savoirs run into the woods. This changes everything. Morgan follows them, a hunter after prey. He starts shooting but Jesus knocks the gun away. Their argument increases in intensity. Morgan hears the words he used to say coming out of Jesus’ mouth and it physically hurt him that he can’t be that man anymore. Jesus touches his shoulder in solidarity but it trips a wire in Morgan’s brain. He attacks Jesus. It’s Morgan’s staff against Jesus’ ninja moves. First Morgan is down, then Jesus, then Morgan. Jesus tries to make peace but Morgan has to keep going. Finally, Morgan snaps out of his fugue state. He seems confused by his own actions. He explains that he knows he’s not right but that doesn’t make him wrong. Even the crazy make sense sometimes. With that, he wanders into the woods. Morgan is done. For now at least.
Gregory arrives at the Hilltop in Father Gabriel’s stolen car. He’s whiny and demanding and can’t understand why they won’t let him in. This is Maggie’s house now. He lost his spot when he colluded with Negan. Gregory wheedles and pleads. He tries every excuse in the book but Maggie is resolute. Eventually he settles on the truth: he didn’t think they could win and he was scared. She relents. Enid is dumbfounded. After everything he’s done? Maggie looks at him with scorn. He’s not worth killing. Not yet anyway. When Jesus shows up with his prisoners, Gregory is the loudest voice screaming to keep them out. Maggie sends him away like a puppy that peed on the carpet. His opinion is meaningless. But Maggie has her own reservations about the captured Saviors. Jesus points out that they can’t let them go and they can’t kill them. It’s a quandry.
The Saviors arrive before Rick and Daryl can run. Now they have to fight their way out. There’s a gun battle in a hallway. They hold the Saviors off but bullets run low. Rick shoots a fire extinguisher, creating a smoke shield that gives them the edge in hand to hand combat. As the smoke clears, their allies find them and escort them out. Rick takes polaroids of the damage. Aaron goes to get Eric but all he finds is a bloodstain. Heart breaking, he watches walker Eric join a horde. He knows what he has to do but he can’t. A friend leads him away. It’s not Eric. Not anymore.
As Aaron sits, staring at Eric’s blood on his hands, Rick carries out baby Gracie. Aaron offers to take her to the Hilltop. He needs to do it. His world just crumbled and now he’s holding new life in his hands. Eric gave his life so Gracie could live free. And Aaron is going to make sure she gets to.
Rick and Daryl are the last to leave. While saying goodbye, shots ring out from behind a tree. Ricks warns the shooter that a horde is coming. He offers a deal: drop the gun, tell them what they want to know and Rick will let him take a car and leave. It works and they learn that the armory was sent to another outpost the day before. It doesn’t bode well for Dwight that he didn’t know about it. Instead of letting the man leave as promised, Daryl shoots him in the head. All he cares about is getting the guns. Rick is perturbed. Was Morales right? Are they the monsters?
The Kingdom continues from outpost to outpost. They clear without losing a single soldier. The King is pleased. This is really happening. They are winning. At a compound they’ve seized, Carol decides to sweep the interior. The rest of the crew stays in the field, making sure all of their kills are headshots. King Ezekiel reviews the carnage. He’s not happy about the deaths but he knows it has to be done. And then he spies something inside the compound. He yells for everyone to get down but it’s too late. They’re mown down with machine guns. Bullets fly and the survivors run to protect their King. And just like that, hope bleeds away.
Next week: A new weapon in the Savior arsenal proves to be a giant hurdle as fighting continues between Rick’s forces and those of the Saviors.