It seems like in every season of The Walking Dead, there’s one episode that really sticks with you, one that’s exceptional and completely stands out from all the rest. “Clear” in Season 3. “The Grove” in Season 4. And, of course, the Pilot/”Days Gone Bye” from Season 1. Going into the new season, I really thought the premiere would be that episode for Season 7. I mean, let’s be honest. Yes, it was brutal, but it was also one damn good episode. At the very least, you can be sure no one will ever forget it. However, after seeing this week’s episode, I’m starting to think this one just may topple Negan, Lucille and their ruthless introduction to Rick and Alexandria in the season’s premiere.
A SINGLE MELON — SOMETHING SO SMALL DOES SO MUCH DAMAGE
The episode begins with what I call a cold open — literally. It’s also one of the shortest opening sequences of the series, lasting a mere 40 seconds. We see Ezekial (Khary Payton), Richard (Karl Makinen), and a few others from The Kingdom loading a single melon into a crate in the back of a truck, strapping it down, and then, closing the doors to the back of the truck, all while very somber music is playing. From appearances alone, it looks like they’re going to make a drop for the Saviors — but with only 1 melon? Also, if you have a keen eye, you’ll notice each character eyeing the area in the back of the truck, and if you look closely, there’s a big spot that looks suspiciously like blood. Then, it cuts to The Walking Dead theme music, and that’s it. If you’re like me, you’re probably scratching your head and thinking “WTF just happened??” Yes, it’s confusing, but trust me, all will be revealed in due time. In the spirit of the season 6 premiere “First Time Again” that began with the future scene of Rick rallying his troops before leading that mega-horde from the quarry, tonight’s very short opening scene actually takes place in the future, and we spend a good deal of the episode witnessing the events leading up to that single melon and pool of blood. Yes, just one melon and the bad judgement of a single man end up causing more death and destruction than you can possibly imagine.
And, yes, I just used the word “death,” so you probably should get those tissues ready. While it may seem ludicrous, a very foolish decision and just one melon result in the deaths of multiple characters, and forever change the lives of others — some for the good and some for the bad. “Bury Me Here” is one of those episodes that if you go back and watch a 2nd time, the big punchline is so obvious that it could literally come up and slap you in the face. A hint here. A hint there. Things that simply don’t add up. Certain characters appearing just “off.” And, we get a few of those very early in the episode. First, there’s Carol (Melissa McBride) who rushes to The Kingdom to make an unannounced visit to Morgan (Lennie James) (more on all of that later). As she approaches the gate, she attacks a walker with a hatchet, but leaves him “alive” and just crawling on the ground. But, then, when she leaves The Kingdom, she notices that walker has been put down. Well, who did it? She knows something is amiss and looks around suspiciously, and at the same time, we can see at the corner of the screen that someone is watching her. Hmm. Later, we are cut to a scene of Richard digging a grave, and once he’s finished, he puts the “Katy” backpack in it. These incidents are all related, and so, stay tuned.
We then learn today is the day of the weekly drop to the Saviors. 12 melons are loaded up on the Kingdom’s truck (and, yes, Ezekial is kind enough to allow Jerry to take his cherry cobbler with him! :-)), and off goes Ezekial, Richard, Benjamin (Logan Miller), Jerry (Cooper Andrews) and a few others on a run that they have done dozens of times before. However, we immediately see that something is very wrong. The road to the rendezvous point is blocked with shopping carts, and that certainly can’t be good. The key thing to note here (yet another one of those “hints” I spoke of above) is that Richard suggests that he stays and keeps watch, while everyone else take a look around. In the process, they find a grave with a note that says “Bury Me Here.” Keep in mind that we saw Richard dig a grave earlier but were led to believe that was at The Kingdom. Was it, or did he come all the way out here to dig this grave? If so, why?? Anyways, Ezekial remarks that this grave is a very sad indicator of how insane this world has become, and Benjamin has a very fitting response, a very mature response that is well beyond his young age.
The world drives people crazy now, your Majesty. But, you made us another world — Benjamin to Ezekial
Regardless, they dismiss the event, decide to move on and finally arrive to meet the Saviors, albeit late, for which they are immediately chastised by Gavin and Jared. We probably recall the last meeting with Gavin and Jared, and with how high the tensions are, being late is something that definitely didn’t need to happen. Gavin then goes to inspect the Kingdom’s offering in the back of the truck, and in a very unexpected turn of events, announces that they will be taking all of their guns as well. WTF??!! What prompted that? Gavin has always been the semi-reasonable one (well, as reasonable as a Savior can be), and Jared is the one who’s trigger-happy. Ezekial makes a stand and tries to negotiate getting Morgan’s stick back for their guns, but no dice. It’s either their guns, or things are about to get ugly. So, Ezekial finally relents — and, it is then that we learn the reason behind Gavin’s strange request.
As it turns out, they are 1 melon short. The Kingdom was supposed to deliver 12 melons, and Gavin counts only 11. Ezekial is in complete shock and says he counted them himself, but it doesn’t matter. They’re non-compliant, and so, now, someone has to pay, which explains why Gavin insisted on taking their guns, to prevent them from fighting back. Given that Jared has been itching for a reason to kill Richard for some time now, he immediately points his gun at Richard’s head. Richard doesn’t seem surprised. He actually appears to have expected it. Then, he tells Jared “Just do it,” and closes his eyes. However, at the very last moment, Jared simply says, “Okay,” points the gun in another direction and then, fires. Then, in the spirit of last season’s finale when Negan selects his victim and we don’t get to see who it is, the screen goes black, and the only thing we hear is people screaming and Ezekial yelling, “No!” So, now the fandom literally explodes while everyone has to wait through what seems like an eternity of commercials to find out who got the bullet.
Well, we finally do, and it’s just horrible. Now is the time to grab those tissues. We see that Benjamin is the unlucky one and has been shot in the leg — and it’s pretty bad. Gavin turns around and seems legitimately shocked that Jared shot Benjamin but still continues to bitch like a teenage girl about his missing melon, all while Benjamin is bleeding out on the ground. After Ezekial promises that they will have their 1 melon tomorrow, the Saviors finally allow them to leave — but, it’s too late. They make it to Carol’s house, and she desperately tries to help, but it appears the bullet ruptured Benjamin’s femoral artery. Without a surgeon, he was dead before he hit the ground.
RICHARD AND A BAD PLAN GONE TERRIBLY WRONG
After it is all over and Benjamin is dead, Morgan surprisingly is the one who takes his death the hardest. He storms out of Carol’s house, goes back to the rendezvous point, and appears to have a serious psychotic break — or to be blunt, goes completely kookoo for cocoa puffs. We probably remember Morgan from “Clear” back in season 3, but to be honest, this is far worse. Talking to himself, mumbling nonsensical stuff, having intense flashbacks of moments from “Clear” and even from the pilot when his son, Duane, was still alive. He screams, he shouts, he kicks any and everything in his path. Hell, he even goes to that grave with the “Bury Me Here” sign, sits in it and comes pretty damn close to slitting his own wrists. We all saw how close Morgan and Benjamin had become, and looking back now, Morgan’s rage makes complete sense. Earlier in the episode, Benjamin brings Morgan a painting he had found while scavenging a restaurant. Ben says it had been damaged but that he “knows a girl,” and she fixed it for him so that he could give it to Morgan as a gift. In return, Morgan inquires, “Who’s the girl?” and when Ben doesn’t answer, he asks again right before they leave for the drop. It all seems so innocent, but in hindsight, I believe it’s a testament of how much Morgan had bonded with Benjamin. Morgan obviously begins to view Ben as a son, and so, to see him die right before his eyes was like witnessing Duane’s death all over again. Something simply snapped.
However, in the midst of Morgan’s big meltdown, he kicks a crate and what falls out of that crate stops him in his tracks. A single melon. A single melon falls out, and he immediately knows. Richard insisting that he stay behind as a lookout when they found the road blocked, while everyone else spread out to search the area. That gave him the perfect opportunity to hide the melon. So, Morgan returns to The Kingdom to confront Richard, and he doesn’t deny it. We learn that Richard, indeed, planned the entire thing, but it was supposed to be **him** that Jared killed, not Benjamin. The idea was simple — get Jared to kill him, which would be the critical event to finally move Ezekial to fight back against the Saviors. Richard is, of course, very distraught that Ben is dead, but goes on to explain to Morgan that the situation can still be salvaged.
Listen to me. Please. Just listen. We can use what’s happened. We can show the Saviors that we get it. We understand what we need to do. We know how to go on. And, they need to believe us. We need to do something to **make** them believe us. And, then, when we gain their trust back, we kill them. End them — Richard to Morgan
Morgan doesn’t seem too phased by what Richard says, and to be honest, I really thought Morgan was going to kill him, right then and there. But, Richard does go on to say that he’s going to tell Ezekial and everyone else what he did, and then, he’ll have to live with his actions for the rest of his life. This last part DOES seem to stick with Morgan, because when Morgan ultimately finds out that Richard lied and didn’t say anything to anyone, that proves to be a fatal mistake.
RICHARD FAILS — BUT HIS PLAN SUCCEEDS AFTER ALL
So, the following day, Ezekial and Co. load up that single melon (thus catching up to that confusing opening scene) and meet the Saviors once again. Morgan immediately asks Richard if he told Ezekial what he did, and Richard says “No,” that it’s not the right moment. Hmmm. Did he ever really intend to confess? I suppose we’ll never know. We can’t really be sure exactly what happened, whether Morgan just simply lost it or if a light bulb came on in his head on how to bring something good out of this tragic situation. Regardless, out of the clear-blue sky, Morgan hits Richard with his stick, knocking him to the ground, and then, he proceeds to strangle him. Oh, My. God! The strange thing is Ezekial and the rest of the Kingdommers just look on in horror, with nobody trying to intervene and stop Morgan. WTH?! What. The. Hell! Morgan does finally succeed in killing Richard, and what he says to Gavin afterwards is quite telling.
I wanted to show you that we get it. That we understand what we need to do. We know how to go on — Morgan to Gavin
Now, do those words sound familiar? They should because they are exactly the same words, verbatim, that Richard used earlier to explain to Morgan how they could use this tragedy and turn it around to their advantage. So, does this mean Morgan has come around and now agrees with what Richard did? Or, did he kill Richard out of rage and out of revenge for Benjamin’s death? I personally think it could be a combination of both, but the end result is the same — Morgan has put The Kingdom on a collision course with a war with the Saviors, which is exactly what Richard wanted in the first place. And, the irony is Richard died for the cause — again, just like he had wanted.
It also seems that Morgan connected the dots and realizes that the grave they encountered earlier with the “Bury Me Here” sign was intended for Richard, as he fully expected to be killed instead of Benjamin. So, Morgan honors Richard’s wishes and drags him to the grave, burying him there. In the process, Morgan finds the “Katy” backpack, and even though he says nothing, I think it’s safe to say that Morgan knows who the backpack belongs to. Richard had earlier told Morgan the story about his family and about the death of his daughter. Richard never mentions her by name, but I’m pretty sure Morgan knows. The funny thing is it could have easily been Morgan in this grave had he gone through with cutting his wrists during that big meltdown earlier in the episode. These two men are more alike than either of them ever imagined.
RENEWAL AND UNITY IN THE FACE OF TRAGEDY
So, with everything that has happened, what about Carol? In the sneak peek released by AMC, we see Carol coming to see Morgan at The Kingdom, and she seems pretty agitated. As some may have suspected, she is there to ask Morgan about Alexandria and whether everyone is truly OK, like Daryl said. Well, Morgan flat-out refuses to tell her and says if she wants to know, she needs to go to Alexandria herself.
You got what you wanted, right? You got away from everyone. Is it what you wanted? Was it too late to get away? We can leave for Alexandria now — Morgan to Carol
They don’t go to Alexandria but, after tragedy strikes and Morgan’s moral compass begins to erode, he ultimately goes back to Carol and tells her truth. Abraham, Glenn, and even Olivia and Spencer. At the same time, Morgan has continued spiraling, and at this point, he just wants to leave and basically go back to his old ways of having to “clear.” However, ironically, it is Carol who talks him down from the ledge and convinces him to stay. Well, sort of.
I’m going to kill all of them out there, one by one — Morgan
Where? — Carol
Somewhere else — Morgan
Wait. Just wait. Please. You can go, and not go — Carol
Calling back to the beginning of the season when Carol was the one who wanted to leave, she offers Morgan her little house. And why? Because she’s not going to need it anymore. The events at Alexandria were exactly what was needed to snap Carol out of it, and the next thing we see is Carol walking through the gates of The Kingdom. Except this time, it’s not just a visit. She’s here to say. Yay. What’s more, she doesn’t really need to do anything to convince Ezekial to fight, because apparently, he knows.
I’m going to be here now. We have to get ready. We have to fight — Carol
We do. But, not today — Ezekial
Carol then goes with Ezekial to help him, along with Benjamin’s younger brother, plant a new garden. This all made me think of an earlier scene in the episode, which is the reason why they are planting a new garden in the first place. Ezekial had been informed that the Royal Garden closest to the main house was being overrun with weevils, and if they want to insure they don’t spread to the main crops in the courtyard, the garden would have to be burned and they would have to start over. The woman who brings the bad news says something very powerful that I think pretty much sums up this episode and the loss The Kingdom has just endured:
Here’s the beautiful thing, your Majesty. You can tear it out and cut it down. You can burn it and throw it all away. But, if you want, it can all grow back
All in all, I thought this was a fantastic, top-shelf episode — one of the best of the season and probably ranking in my top 10 episodes of the entire series. Thus, I give it an A+ rating, and I don’t hand many of those out. You know, some of my favorite episodes are from back in season 1 when Frank Darabont was at the helm. There was just an exceptional quality about them, the overall atmosphere, the raw emotions, the music and the superbly-crafted storylines. This is something, in my opinion, Glen Mazzara and Scott Gimple have never really been able to duplicate, although they have come close. Well, that was the case until tonight. Perhaps Gimple has been secretly taking lessons from Darabont? I doubt it, but regardless, nice job, Mr. Gimple.
And, of course, this review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Lennie James. This man just continues to amaze me, and every time there’s an episode where Morgan is featured, he somehow manages to out-do himself. Wow. The amazing part of his performance tonight is from the point when Benjamin is killed, Morgan hovers along the boundary between sanity and insanity, falling to one side but being pulled to the next. Do you know how incredibly difficult that is and to make it believable to the average viewer? Regardless, Lennie James manages to pull it off without a hitch, giving one of the best performances by any actor in the entire series. As of now, Jeffrey Dean-Morgan is the only cast member of The Walking Dead to have won a major award (he won a Critic’s Choice Award for Best Performance by a Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his role in the season 6 finale as Negan). After tonight’s episode, perhaps that will change, and Lennie James will finally be recognized as the superb talent that he most certainly is.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND SIDENOTES:
The Walking Dead airs on Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
Critic Grade — A+
Geeky computer and math nerd by day and TV fanatic by night. My beats are The Walking Dead, The Strain, Person of Interest, Z Nation, and anything that most people would call freaky. Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer of TVGeekTalk.com