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‘The Walking Dead’ Recap: #FreeMorgan

Why won’t this show drop the “Mopey Morgan” storyline – and can this once-mighty series save itself before the season finale?

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier and Lennie James as Morgan Jones in "The Walking Dead."

As 'The Walking Dead' shuffles to the season finale, the question is whether Morgan – or for that matter, this limping show – can be saved? Our recap.

Gene Page/AMC

Anyone who keeps up with all the news about The Walking Dead franchise probably already knows that the character Morgan Jones will be moving over to Fear the Walking Dead when the spinoff series’ fourth season debuts in two weeks. So now’s as good a time as any to ask: What the hell happened to Morgan? Why did one of this franchise’s most engaging heroes have to become such a drag?

More importantly: Can this character be saved?

Judging by this week’s episode – “Still Gotta Mean Something” – the TWD writers have some sort of redemption in mind for Mr. Jones. But they also seem determined to drag him through the muck a little longer before they get there, for reasons that are frankly getting harder and harder to fathom. Morgan already went through this arc. He slipped into madness, and then found a stranger who taught him inner peace, deep compassion and martial arts. He came back into the story as an enlightened alternative to Rick and Carol‘s cynical swagger. It’s never been entirely clear why it was so vital to the narrative for him to lose his grip again – especially not when pretty much every third person on this show is now a homicidal nutjob.

Maybe we can hold out some hope that this week marks the beginning of the end of Mopey Morgan. Even if so, neither the storyline as a whole nor this episode’s potential resolution was all that satisfying. Intermittently throughout the hour, the action shifts over to our stick-wielding killer, who’s on a mission to “do what I was supposed to” and exterminate Jared: the obnoxious long-haired Savior who murdered the Kingdom’s kindly Benjamin and sent our peace-loving hero into a homicidal tailspin. Eventually, he’s joined by Sheriff Grimes, who’s tracking the escaped Hilltop prisoners and the remnants of Simon’s attacking army.

Soon, both men get captured, held by the fugitive bad guys in a broken-down old bar, with a herd of zombies encroaching. Rick makes an offer to protect those who come back to the Hilltop with him in peace. But when the walkers swarm in, both men take advantage of the melee to slaughter everyone.

Honestly, pretty much this entire subplot feels like a waste of time. First off, it’s getting increasingly silly that Rick keeps getting captured, and not killed. Jared says that he wants to deliver the sheriff to Negan; and when the zombies attack, the Saviors cut their prisoners loose to help with the fight. So the reasons Rick and Morgan are kept alive are explained, sure. But justifying a lame story-choice aloud doesn’t automatically make it more plausible. Nobody has this much dumb luck.

As for why we needed to see both Morgan and Rick be merciless … again, that’s unclear. Do we find out anything new about who they are right now? Not really. Do they learn about each other? Well, after they escape they do have a heart-to-heart, looking back at all they’ve gone through – together and apart – since that very first episode. But it’s hard to care much about whether or not these two still share a bond, given that we just saw them kill a bunch of folks, mostly out of meanness.

The best that can be said about the Morgan scenes in this episode is that at the end of the hour, when he walks up to Henry and says he assassinated Jared, the boy looks on him with pity and responds, “I’m sorry.” Maybe that’ll put an end to this phase. The show’s former resident Zen master went feral in part out of guilt over what happened to the kid’s brother, and he doesn’t even get a thank you for it. Time to move on, yes? Please? Pretty please???

Most of the rest of “Still Gotta Mean Something” is equally wheel-spinning. Carol and Ezekiel share a quiet moment together, where she talks about how finding the right support system can help anyone get over the worst grief – for a while anyway. And Daryl leads a small expedition to Eugene‘s munitions factory, setting up what could be a bloody battle next week.

The most potentially meaningful moments in this episode involved Negan and Jadis, and even those were frustrating in their own way. After rescuing him – and his barbed bat Lucille, of course – she takes him back to the junkyard, where she springs some of her bizarrely elaborate torture-traps on him while he earnestly pleads for his life. During the course of their afternoon together, one of those mysterious helicopters buzzes by, with no explanation given as to who exactly is flying.

The implication, recently reinforced by Simon’s kill”em-all visit to the dump, is that there’s always been more to the Scavengers than meets the eye. But while the boss villain asks his flannel-wearing cpator to explain what her whole deal is, she refuses, and he doesn’t push. Eventually, she just lets him go. Her deeper mysteries, for now, remain unexplored. Also unknown? The identity of the person Negan happens upon after he drives away. (Whoever it is, all we know about him or her is that, “If shit could shit it still wouldn’t look as shitty as you.”)

Will we find out who Negan’s new passenger is next week? Will we learn more about Jadis’s helicopter pilot pal? Or will we spend yet another hour watching tortured souls be awful to each other, while muttering somberly about their feelings?

There are two episodes left this spring, gang. Can this season be saved?

Previously: Over the Hilltop

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