Review: The Walking Dead 8×03, “Monsters”

It’s hard to say whether or not I liked “Monsters” any more or less than the season eight premiere of The Walking Dead, but it at least seemed a bit more focused than last week’s episode. We’re still essentially seeing an extended season premiere broken into multiple episodes, so it’s hard to critique a story that has been purposefully divided. However, AMC and the showrunners did see fit to put these episodes out and as it stands, “Monsters” continues to feel muddied in its execution. Again, there are some clearer elements as far as allowing breathing room for some of the characters, but it’s still a lot of people shooting at each other in a manner that comes off as more dull than exciting.

Part of the issue is the show’s continued perception of Rick Grimes as one of TV’s great characters. Andrew Lincoln puts his all into this role, no doubt, but the complications he has had have rarely gone anywhere more interesting than a challenge to the good man he used to be. There was that point when Rick seemed to be going crazy over porch dick back in season five, but it’s more or less been the same moral dilemma presented to Rick over and over again. This week follows up the ‘surprise’ guest reveal of Morales with some extended discussion of how both men are monsters.

Is this interesting? Not really, as I’ve seen this scene over and over with Rick. The only joy comes from the show’s darkly funny twist where Daryl shoots Morales with no fuss and even states that he knew who he killed when he did it. Later on, we get another example when Rick makes a deal with a shooter using his word as a guarantee. Daryl, once again, shoots the guy, letting Rick feel the pain of how things have changed. I had no real emotional reaction to this, as The Walking Dead has achieved its goal of showing how cruel this show can be over and over.

Not helping is how these action-based episodes are only going so far to set us up for the slower-paced drama to come. It will be great to see some new perspectives, but what is there for Rick to do once the shooting stops? We know Negan will have some big plan to get back at Rick, but will it be anything that adds any real complexity or just a way to wait out a solution involving more guns?

I know I’m getting ahead of myself and even understanding, based on the comics, how things will possibly resolve themselves by the end of this war, the show is not making it easy to like right now. It’s not my desire to find all the problematic elements of The Walking Dead, week after week, but I don’t think it’s a surprise when I say this whole opening to the season feels like a big miscalculation. Sure, it’s a change of pace from the Negan-inflicted drama from last year, but even with the issues I had regarding the Saviors, I understood the stakes and was happy to embrace the weirdness of stuff like Ezekiel and the trash people. With ‘All Out War,’ I just feel exhausted by it all.

But what else happened? Well, Ezekiel strolled through the episode proclaiming the intentions of not losing anyone. As anyone guessed, though, the episode ends by dramatically cutting down that victory. Meanwhile, Aaron must cope with the death of his boyfriend. To the show’s credit, while Eric didn’t leave much of an impression, these scenes work the way they need to in showing the pain and sadness this situation causes. Oh, and Jesus gets in his second debate in a row about the value of saving lives. This time it is with Morgan, and the two get a Mortal Kombat fight in where Jesus chooses Friendship over Fatality and Morgan stomps off on his own again.

There is one great thing this week and it’s the return of Gregory. Negan may still be MIA, but Xander Berkeley’s weasily performance is so effective on a show that benefits from a character who so comfortably rests in the gray area of morality, while also adding a much-needed dose of humor to the series. His scenes arguing for why he needs to be let back into Hilltop could not have been better until he suddenly began sparring with Cal the lookout over some little girl’s pancakes he supposedly ate. Follow that up with him arguing over why they should let the Savior prisoners into Hilltop, and you have a portion of the show that’s entertaining and intriguing thanks to an admission of characters not quite knowing what next steps to take.

Regardless of what horrible things Negan does in the future, it is these sorts of considerations that I look forward to the show going back to. Gun battles aren’t going to take me very far with this series if there is nothing all that interesting about them. Having diverse communities with different ideas of how things should run is best handled by way of letting these colorful characters discuss things. Sure, action can be entertaining and sometimes an effective means to an end, but if things are going to go anywhere for me, it’s going to take more than constant reminders of who Rick is to make me appreciate all the shooting. Let’s hope they put the “Monsters” in the closet and get back to adults doing proper adult things soon.

Dead Bits:

  • Zombie Kill of the Week: Morgan delivered some dead walkers, including one that had his brains splat on the camera lens.
  • Not helping the return of Morales was the return of season one’s subpar acting.
  • Tara has remained interesting thanks to being entertaining and siding with Morgan and Gregory as far as how to treat the Saviors. Let’s hear more from her.
  • Daryl clearly hates all Saviors and should anyone blame him? He hasn’t exactly been on easy street.
  • “I’ve been through Hell!” “I did not eat those pancakes!” – A Gregory origin story would be my favorite thing this show could do.
  • I’m looking forward to seeing all of Rick’s Pics on that Polaroid camera.
  • I like Ezekiel, but I’m hoping we get more from him now that he suffered a setback.
  • I guess Aaron gets a baby to make up for his loss…
  • Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what me and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on The Walking Dead TV Podcast.

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks,, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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