The Walking Dead turned its gaze toward Morgan and Carol in the Kingdom this week. Really, it’s all about Morgan, and if you're going to focus on one character you might as well choose one of your strongest assets and best actors on the show.
This week's episode asks: Can a missing melon spark a war?
The Kingdom goes to make its regular drop-off tribute to the Saviors, which apparently consists of a dozen melons. A roadblock of shopping carts halts their progress, so Kingdomers Ezekiel, Richard, Morgan, Benjamin and some others go to investigate. Along the way they find a mysterious open grave with the words Bury Me Here written on a makeshift tombstone.
This is all painfully obvious foreshadowing to the upcoming culprit. We saw Richard root around this area earlier, with the shopping carts in plain view. We also know that Richard is willing to do whatever it takes to start the war between his people and the Saviors, in order to get rid of them instead of bowing to them every week.
At the drop off, Savior-general Gavin is none too pleased with their tardiness. Once again, tensions flare between Richard and Jared (the “rat-faced prick” as Benjamin calls him). When Gavin discovers there are only 11 melons in the truck, he makes them hand over their weapons and calls for punishment.
Their lesson plan may need some work. Jared pulls a gun and aims it at Richard's face, who's more than willing to accept his fate as the catalyst for war. Instead Jared rolls his eyes and shoots young Morgan-protégé Benjamin in the gut. This may be shocking if not for the fact that being the young good-guy trainee to Morgan didn't already mark him for an early character-building grave.
Gavin trades some pithy words about bringing the 12th melon tomorrow while the Kingdomers grab Benjamin and head to the nearest safe house — Carol's.
They don't have any medical supplies or doctors, and Benjamin quickly bleeds out. His last words are to quote from the book that Morgan's been using to guide his own life-preserving mantra since season six: “To injure one's opponent is to injure one's self.”
Morgan completely flips out after Benjamin's death, the likes of which we hadn't seen since the infamous season three episode “Clear.” We even see a few scenes from that episode in a madness-montage as Morgan returns to the shopping cart blockade to shout, scream, and maybe even contemplate suicide. His grief leads him to kick over a recycling bin and find the missing twelfth melon. He figures it out pretty quickly that Richard created the blockade to steal the melon, and ultimately got Benjamin killed.
Morgan immediately confronts Richard, who's beside himself that Benjamin died instead of him. This is a great scene as Richard ends up telling us his backstory, about his wife and kid dying, and blaming his own inaction. Morgan just stares daggers at him the entire time, never saying a word. Richard wants to keep the plan going to eventually incite a war, though he mentions he will confess what he did. “This is it Morgan,” Richard intones. “You have to kill, or you might as well kill yourself.”
Richard is proven right during the replacement drop: Morgan does kill. When they go to exchange the melon, Gavin asks about the boy. When he's greeted with forlorn silence, he sends Jared packing, threatening to kill him himself.
When Richard strides up, Morgan launches into a furious assault, eventually strangling him with his bare hands. It's brutal and personal, and Morgan's first human kill since he began walking the zen path. Morgan's refusal to kill has been a major plot point over the last two seasons, and while using his new trainee as motivation seems obvious, it was still harrowing to watch thanks to Lennie James' phenomenal performance.
Everyone is shocked, but Morgan explains what Richard did through gritted teeth. Then he waves everyone off and buries him in that open grave.
After some cathartic zombie killing with his reacquired monk staff, he goes to visit Carol. They'd spoken earlier in the episode when Carol wanted to know about what happened at Alexandria. When Daryl visited he had lied to her to partially protect her from the Saviors and their drama.
Morgan had been brusque. He was willing to take her to Alexandria but otherwise wanted to stay out of their drama completely, including even talking to her.
After Benjamin and Richard's death, Morgan's views have changed dramatically. He's fired up and motivated. He tells Carol everything, about Negan, about Glenn, Abraham and the others that have died, and about how the Saviors rule Alexandria. The he tells her, “I'm going to kill them, one by one.” When it rains, it really fucking pours for Morgan.
In the end Carol visits the Kingdom, this time promising to stay. “We have to get ready,” she says to Ezekiel, “We have to fight.” Ezekiel agrees, though for now he's content with replanting his gardens. The kingdom is nudged a little closer to war. But more importantly, Morgan and Carol are ready for the impending conflict. Morgan is literally sharpening his staff into a spear at the end; the symbolism is not lost.
Morgan: The Morgan-centric episodes are a bit divisive among Walking Dead fans. I think they're some of the best work the show has done, and this episode is no exception. Lennie James elevates every scene he's in. Bringing Morgan back and making him such a compelling character is one of the best things the show has done.
Carol: Carol's not in the episode much but she's always an important force wherever she goes, and I can't help but root for her. I found it amusing that Benjamin wanted to escort her back to her place – not to protect her but to learn some of her badass zombie-killing skills.
Richard: We already hated Richard for his sneaky plans to start a war from a few episodes ago, and he certainly didn't improve my opinion of him this week. Even when he tells his sob story — at this point pretty much everyone has lost love ones. Congratulations Richard, you finally pushed Morgan over the edge.