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Morgan struggles to get clear on a violent The Walking Dead

“You have to kill.”

B+
B+

The Walking Dead

"Bury Me Here"

Season 7 , Episode 13

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It’s no surprise that the tentative peace the Kingdom has formed with the Saviors was never going to last. Negan’s system of domination, brute force, and prolonged abuse has, putting morality aside, only one real flaw, but that one’s a doozy: In order for him to maintain power, he needs a ready supply of goons, men and women who are willing to bully and threaten their way through the brave new zombie-infested world. The numbers aren’t the problem here; the problem is that the kind of person Negan needs is also the kind of person who is going to fuck things up. Giving assholes a chance to embrace their assholery as some kind of self-help philosophy means that you’re going to have lots of creeps with bad tempers feeling empowered to do whatever the hell they want. In the short term, that works for Negan, because it makes the Saviors more frightening. But in the long term, it means any arrangement you’ve made with any group will eventually break down. Sooner or later, people are going to fight back, and sooner or later, they’re going to organize.

Okay, I think we’ve avoided spoiling anyone browsing through—so, when did you realize Benjamin was going to die? I mean, yes, he’s a nice kid trying to make a go of things which means he’s had a target on him from the start, but it felt like that target actually turned into a countdown clock the moment he asked Carol to let him walk her home, and she refused. It’s the perfect setup to make Carol feel worse: Not only did she turn down what would turn out to be one of his last requests, in saying no, she also made sure he’d be at the handover where he ultimately got shot.

Later, Benjamin brings Morgan a painting to hang in his room, and Morgan starts bugging him about a girl. It’s all a bit much, but not all that surprising. Logan Miller did a perfectly reasonable job with the material he was given, but the main value of his character was how he affected others: how his determination seemed to charm Carol in spite of herself; how invested King Ezekiel was in him and his little brother; and, of course, his relationship with Morgan. Carol’s two visits into town—the first time asking for answers, the second time to stay—bookend the hour, but “Bury Me Here” is mostly concerned with Morgan and how he reacts to losing a surrogate son.

It’s here where the episode takes its biggest risk, a risk that I can respect, but one that doesn’t entirely succeed. The buildup works well. The show has made an effort to delineate the tensions between the Kingdom and Saviors in small but believable ways, and when violence does happen, it happens in a way neither side entirely expects, but seems entirely inevitable in retrospect.

Even Richard’s plan, as desperate as it is, makes sense, at least from a character perspective. We know he’s convinced that he needs to push Ezekiel into Rick’s war, and we also know that the last scheme he came up with wasn’t going to work out; he couldn’t use Carol as a sacrifice because if he did, Daryl would’ve told the King what had really gone down. So he decides instead to put his own neck on the line, figuring that if he can sabotage a delivery, the Saviors will shoot him in reprisal, and his death would be enough to turn the Kingdom against Negan.

It doesn’t work out that way, because complicated plans involving bullies with guns hardly ever work out the way we want them to. Richard successfully screws up a delivery, throwing up a blockade that gives him time to steal one of the 12 melons the Saviors had demanded (Why only 12? I don’t think we’ve ever seen them demand such a specific amount before.), which leads to the Saviors shooting one of the Kingdom’s men. But because they are bunch of psychos, Benjamin catches the bullet instead of Richard, and he eventually dies in Carol’s house.

All of which is pretty standard, I’d say. Where things get weird is Morgan; Benjamin’s death really, really upsets him, to the point where he starts flashing back to his old “Clear” days. Morgan’s been stable ever since he started following the Way of the Stick, and while it’s not entirely out of character for him to relapse—this isn’t an upbeat show—it feels forced. This is better than Carol’s sudden decision to take herself out of the game, because at least we’ve seen how unstable Morgan can get, and how deeply his son’s death affected him. But while he clearly cared about Benjamin, I’m not sure their friendship was close enough to make this sudden break work.

The most unexpected turn, though, is when Richard confesses his crimes to Morgan (after Morgan puts the pieces together on his own), and Morgan murders him in front of the Saviors at the next exchange. He does it partly to prove to the Saviors that the Kingdom really is willing to follow their deal, but mostly because Richard’s actions led to Benjamin’s death. This is the big risk: Morgan turning from the path of peace is upsetting enough, but having him choke a man in (comparatively) cold blood represents a level of anger, desperation, and violence in him that we haven’t seen in years, if ever.

The scene is horrifying in all the ways it’s supposed to be horrifying (though it’s also darkly comic in the way no one steps in to stop him; it takes a long time to kill Richard). It works fine as a shocking twist, but it’s hard not to feel the heavy hand of the author working behind the scenes. Contrast this with Eugene’s decision to go evil: That was a big deal, at least for his character, but it also worked as the culmination of everything we’ve seen from him. I didn’t expect him to go evil, but the fact that he appears to have done so makes me think more about my own assumptions than it does the writers’ choices. Morgan snapping seems less like something the character would do, and more like the work of a creative team that wanted to find a way to surprise us. It’s a very fine distinction, and the show has done far, far worse, but it still feels like a minor disservice to someone who deserves better.

Still, it nearly works, in no small part due to Lennie James’ performance. As with Melissa McBride, he’s very good at making these sudden shifts feel organic and part of a whole, and the scene at the end of him going to Carol and telling her what really happened with Negan—telling her the truth that Daryl was trying to keep from her—is powerful stuff. A better written show could’ve handled this more effectively, but the fact that this episode ends with two more people dead, the Kingdom on the brink of war, and Carol ready to get back into the fight, at least makes it feel like we’re moving forward.

Stray observations

  • Okay, why put a single melon in the crate? And if you’re going to do that, why not just put the crate in someone’s lap for the drive over? The roads have to be rough going by now.
  • I think this is the first time we’ve seen someone wearing a headscarf on the show? And she gets the funniest line in the hour: “Okay, I think I just pissed myself. I’m gonna go” (in regards to the tiger).
  • “Leave the cobbler.” Damnit, Jerry.
  • A line from my notes (before I remembered what Benjamin’s name was): “Teen brings Morgan some art. Teen is sooooo dead.”
  • The Saviors finally take some guns from the Kingdom. The show tries to walk this weird line where Negan is the most terrifying monster in a world full of terrifying monsters, but also at the same time there are these weird gaps in his awfulness. It’s reminiscent of the Governor, in that it’s trying to normalize a larger-than-life psychopath, and it doesn’t quite work.
  • “We have to get ready. We have to fight.” “We do. But not today.”