This review contains spoilers.
8.14 Still Gotta Mean Something
The Walking Dead isn’t afraid to divide an episode between multiple characters, sometimes to its detriment. When it works, like when there’s a strong parallel between story lines, it can be a positive thing. Sometimes, it’s actively a detriment. Other times, it’s just kind of there. Still Gotta Mean Something has some solid moments, but mostly, it’s just kind of there, as we get a whirlwind tour around post-apocalyptic Virginia as pairs of characters go off on adventures together to accomplish various things.
The most prominent character in this episode is Morgan. At one point, he was one of the most exciting developments in The Walking Dead universe; Rick’s oldest post-apocalypse friend returning, and one of the stronger performers on the show becoming a recurring character. Morgan has remained interesting, but he’s been back and forth a lot, and I don’t believe it’s a spoiler to talk about how Morgan is leaving The Walking Dead and heading into the world of Fear The Walking Dead, either to bring the latter show’s ratings higher or to reduce some of the crowding on the former show. (Maybe Lennie James just wanted a second paycheck, which is well-deserved.)
Morgan is the centrepiece of most of this week’s episode, either during his search for the Saviors with Carol or his assault on the Saviors with Rick. It’s good to have something to focus on, and it’s solid character work. Having Carol and Rick to bounce off only highlight’s Morgan’s mental instability, as Carol plays on his connection with Henry to try and pull him off the path of revenge and Rick merely feeds into that drive for revenge in an attempt to keep the escaping Saviors from getting back to the Sanctuary. Daryl and the rest of the Hilltop group do a little discussing of what to do when war comes back to their doors, but mostly this is the Morgan show.
It’s a true credit to Lennie James that this episode works as well as it does. Morgan has to carry the episode, and James’ performance gives the episode weight. He’s unsettling when he’s alone with Carol or yelling at ghosts; when he’s laughing while tied up with the Saviors, he’s both unsettling and kind of awesome at the same time. Morgan has reached the point where he literally does not care whether he lives or dies, because as he says, everybody dies and everybody turns. With Rick playing good cop, Morgan is able to fully lean into being bad cop (not that it’s an act; Morgan is going crazy). Rick is in a position to give his word to the Saviors and then break it; Morgan tells them he came there to kill them all, and unlike Rick, he’s not lying.
The scenes with Morgan, Rick, Carol, and Michonne work because they have more emotional weight to them due to familiarity. We know these characters; we’ve watched Morgan slowly unravel. We’ve seen Carol unravel and pull back together with the help of Morgan. Michonne is crying at several points in this episode, which is always shocking to see. Rick forces back tears before heading out on his murder mission. Eddie Guzelian’s script has emotional weight, because these are characters we know struggling with death, and how to deal with death in various ways. Michonne’s been where Rick is. Carol’s been where Morgan is. Rick and Morgan have been in one another’s shoes.
The other bigger emotional moment, Negan and Jadis having a sharing session, doesn’t work as well. We know both of those characters, kind of, but… does anyone really care about Jadis and all her dead friends? Is anyone at all surprised that Lucille is named after Negan’s long-dead wife? Lucille is essentially a talisman to a previous life, and while Jeffrey Dean Morgan sells it well, it doesn’t really make much of a dent, nor does it have a tonne of the tension that Morgan’s scenes do.
Despite director Michael Satrazemis’s best efforts, Negan never feels in danger, if only because he’s the bad guy of the series, and if anyone’s going to kill him, it’s going to be Rick. It would be anticlimactic to have the main character with the least amount of screen time kill off the villain, especially when we’re going to see a showdown between Negan and Simon, who might be a more effective Negan-type. It is a little surprising to see Negan let Jadis continue to exist, with the promise that one day she might find herself back in his good graces, and with the promise that he’ll track down the man responsible for what happened to her.
Rick’s turn is much more effective, because while we rarely see Rick break his word, this comes out of nowhere after a Savior saves Rick from a zombie. That’s rewarded with a hatchet into the back and a coup-de-grace with Rick’s famous Colt Python. Well, he broke his word to the Saviors; he kept his word to himself and to Morgan. It’s a good turn for Rick; we’ve seen him give second chances a lot, and finally he’s pushed too far and taking his grief over Carl out on other people.
It seems as though everyone is externalising their grief, either via actions or via personification. Negan’s got Lucille. Jadis has her pictures. Morgan has zombie ghosts. Everyone else, aside from Michonne and Carol, has revenge against the Saviors as their focus and violence as their outlet.
The Walking Dead might not always make sense, but so long as there are guns firing and zombies mauling bad guys, Greg Nicotero’s masterful special effects work will be on screen to enjoy. For some episodes, that’s the only highlight. There’s a bit more to this episode, but it’s more building things up for the finale rather than anything else.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Do Not Lead Us Astray, here.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan wonders just how Morgan is going to end up on Fear The Walking Dead since it takes place well before the current season of The Walking Dead. Unless maybe they’re closer than expected? Find more by Ron daily at PopFi.