The Walking Dead Review - Season 10, Episode 11 - "Morning Star"


PROLOGUE
Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Alpha (Samantha Morton) whip each other. Alpha thinks this is making them “stronger” through pain. Negan clearly doesn’t enjoy it, but he plays along. He wants to gain power within the Whisperers’ ranks.

Beta (Ryan Hurst) and the other Whisperers prepare for an invasion. Beta mutters some corny lines, but the eerie delivery is all that we can remember.

ACT ONE
All of the allied communities are at Hilltop now.

Eugene (Joshua McDermot) talks to Stephanie on the radio, learning that she also saw the satellite that fell in the season premiere, so the two must be rather close. He reveals that his people live in Virginia. The writers are trying to force the Eugene-Stephanie pairing on us with all their shared interests and nostalgia, but no one's buying this. You can't create authentic chemistry between two characters simply through conversation on a radio. Who cares if they have similar interests? This doesn't make them compatible romantic partners, and I suspect Eugene, usually a logical thinker, will realize this once he meets Stephanie in real life. It'll be sort of a "Tinder vs. real life" scenario, where Eugene decides Stephanie's best as a friend. Methinks he'll end up back with Rosita. The two are starting to feel more like a natural couple now that Siddiq's dead and Gabriel is becoming a hardass.

Alden (Callan McAuliffe) and Earl (John Finn) see Aaron (Ross Marquand) arrive with Gamma. She’s here to see the doctor and her nephew Adam, the infamous baby the Whisperers left for dead who was rescued by Connie last season. Earl refuses to let Gamma see Adam, understandably since the Whisperers killed his wife Tammy Rose in gory fashion. Alden promises Earl that he won’t let Gamma get to Adam. The two have bonded after both losing their women in the tragic Whisperer pike death affair. They both want to protect the baby as the last vestige of their lost lovers, so clearly they don't want another Whisperer anywhere near him. I get this, of course, and sympathize with the gents. However, I don't care about them. Earl and Alden are incredibly vanilla and underdeveloped. They haven't had enough screen time to be built into people we care about. The writers really missed a great opportunity to show us their immediate reactions to seeing their women's reanimated heads on pikes and their immediate grief. This would've made them feel much more relevant. Kang probably never planned for these two to last long on the show, so why bother spending much time building them up? There are so many characters I'd rather see than these anyway.

This whole conflict is trite and uninteresting, necessary filler. I don't care about Gamma. She's a dull, weak, stock character. Earl and Alden will eventually realize that she's now sincerely switched sides. Then, they'll allow her to join "the gang" and see Adam, but I have no desire to watch this slowly play out. We've seen this soap opera before, where a defector from an enemy group must slowly earn the trust of the protagonists and prove they're genuine. Gimple tried this in Season 8 during the drawn out Savior war, and it didn't work. That time, Dwight was the defector and Tara didn't trust him because he killed Denise. We understand the viewpoint of Tara/Alden/Earl, but we see that Dwight/Gamma is truly ready to switch sides now and don't have the patience to sit through this boring drama where other characters try to convince Tara/Alden/Earl to trust Dwight/Gamma until finally Dwight/Gamma does some heroic move to prove their sincerity, and Tara/Alden/Earl finally gets over it and moves on. The characters aren't worth the screen time anyway. And look where all of this led us last time. Dwight ended up moving to the disastrous Fear the Walking Dead, where I hear he's a shell of himself who goes around helping people to make himself feel all warm inside. Tara's head ended up on a pike alongside Enid and Tammy.

Blah. These are all characters I don't even care to spend time discussing. There should be a name for them. Let's call them Cardboard Walkers, because that's essentially what they are. Their only purpose is to be set up for death. The writers invest minimal time developing them to the point where the casual viewer knows their names and kind of likes them. They're given screen time with a tiny bit of trivial, phoned in drama (a sub-subplot) a few episodes before their deaths. The Cardboard Walkers are useful when the show needs to kill off a character to advance the plot, adapt a comic moment, or create drama and suspense, because the characters are significant enough for their deaths to be worthy of acknowledgement, but not significant enough for the audience to care too deeply about them to the point where the show loses viewers when they die. Their deaths can be sufficiently noteworthy and impactful without leaving gaping holes in the show. I see the strategy behind these characters, but unfortunately, they're just never entertaining to watch. I want them to die quickly and in a satisfying way. Something gory and badass. But I don't need to see these Cardboard Walkers' emotional drama. Kill them and move on. Every minute we spend watching characters who will be dead in a few episodes moaning over a trivial, forced conflict with an obvious solution is a minute we could have spent watching the more entertaining characters doing awesome things. Thankfully, this scene is relatively short.

Ezekiel (Khary Payton) meets Carol (Melissa McBride) in the woods. He wants her to return to Hilltop, but Carol isn’t ready. The two have a refreshingly straightforward conversation, which it seems they haven't been able to have since their separation at the end of Season 9. Ezekiel is rejuvenated, ironic now that he's got cancer. He's more likable, with dialogue that is grounded in reality and less cartoonishly Shakespearean than it was before. I sympathize with Carol despite her reckless behavior. Anyone in her position would want the Whisperers to suffer and die slowly. I doubt Carol and Ezekiel will share many nice moments like this in the future, not because I think either will die, but because it's clear that, without Henry, the marriage is over. Carol and Ezekiel still love each other, but they aren't the fantasy king and queen they were before. This relationship is more realistic and more honest. It's two broken people who have lost a son and will never be the same again, but still care about each other and will carry on. I doubt Carol will assume a parental role again, unless it's with Lydia, and it would still be a much more withdrawn, detached role than she held before. She wouldn't be able to get as emotionally invested in Lydia as she did in Lizzie and Henry. Still, Carol would be a fine protector and conversation partner for Lydia. Maybe they'll bond over their past abuse. Ezekiel could become a parent again, but he's more likely to stay single and become a spirited fighter for the allied communities than to settle down in a family once more.

Luke (Dan Fogler), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) and Kelly (Angel Theory) argue over whether to search for Magna and Connie. Luke and Yumiko think Kelly should stay behind since she's been injured, and Yumiko admits that she thinks they're both dead anyway. The three have great chemistry, and I wish we could see more of their interactions. It would be a mistake to kill off any character from Magna's group, although I suspect one member of the team will go before the season is over. I'd guess Magna. Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Lydia (Cassady McClincy) return to Hilltop to warn everyone that Alpha is coming with her horde of walkers. It's not exactly clear how they learned this.

ACT TWO
Rosita (Christian Serratos) discovers Eugene’s radio, and Stephanie immediately goes quiet. Rosita assumes it’s someone Eugene is fucking at Oceanside, and Eugene for some reason doesn’t bother to immediately debunk this theory. He tries to assure Stephanie that he hasn’t told anyone about their communication and it was a mistake, but she remains silent. Eugene gets angry and insults Rosita’s appearance. It’s a weak, forced conflict. Why couldn’t Eugene have instantly told Rosita that it’s someone from a new group and he doesn't know anything else? Why is Rosita so concerned with this anyway? Why is Stephanie so freaked out over her location being given up? The drama feels forced, and we know that Eugene will get back in touch with Stephanie soon, whether it’s through the radio or in person. This scene doesn’t interest me, even though I like the characters. I don’t care about this fake conflict, but I do enjoy seeing Eugene and Rosita interact.

Elsewhere, Negan tries to talk Alpha out of her plan to destroy Hilltop and kill everyone with her horde, suggesting they instead subjugate everyone like Negan did in the past, with the Whisperers ruling the people and taking half of their supplies. At this point, I don’t know for sure if Negan really wants Alpha to subjugate the people so he can become a tyrant again, or if Negan is resorting to this proposal as an alternative to slaughtering everyone. Alpha agrees with Negan that the allied communities will join the Whisperers. Negan thinks that she's agreed to his suggestion.

A council at Hilltop argues over whether to fight the Whisperers or run. Earl wants to fight and defend Hilltop. Some want to run to Alexandria, but this is a non-starter because the Whisperers will easily head there once they see Hilltop is empty, so I don't know why it's proposed. Daryl, Aaron, Yumiko and others advocate for the obvious plan of going to Oceanside, a location the Whisperers presumably don't know about yet, which is what the council decides on. The children are the first to be transported to Oceanside. Judith (Cailey Fleming) wants everyone to stay and fight the Whisperers. How cute.

We get a hint as to which side Negan is really on when the groups discovers that the path to Oceanside has been blocked with walkers and dead bodies of their comrades. The bodies are hanging in the exact same manner as they were in the road blockades the Saviors used back in the Season 6 finale to prevent Rick's group from getting to Hilltop. Daryl knows that this is Negan's work, and it means that the gang now must stay at Hilltop and fight.

Negan's seeming like a flaky guy at this point. Maybe he wants the Whisperers to become the Saviors 2.0 and take over the allied communities again. Maybe he wants everyone to make peace and live happily together as one community, and thinks that he could be the mediator between the Whisperers and the allied communities. If the former is true, then Negan is being set up as simply less bad than Alpha, a direct copy of Gimple's storyline in Season 8 where Simon was the guy who wanted to kill everyone and Negan was the "less evil" guy who "only" wanted to rule over them, not kill them. That would be poor writing and make Negan an irredeemable character. It would be truly frustrating given all the time Negan has had to reflect on his behavior, signifying that he truly can't change and is too far gone.

If the latter is true, Negan is rehabilitated as a pacifist and wants to prevent anyone from dying by getting the groups to resolve their differences and live peacefully alongside each other. This would be a little naive, but not completely unrealistic given how long Negan has been locked in a cell, making him forget what people are like out in the real world.

However, it's clear at least that Negan's responsible for our protagonists now being stuck at Hilltop in impending doom. Terror ensues.

ACT THREE
Hilltop is prepping for war now.

Carol reveals to Ezekiel that she already knows he has cancer. Ezekiel figures the cancer doesn't matter because they're about to die fighting the Whisperers. Carol makes light of the situation and doesn't expect them to die. The two are at peace living for the moment. If death happens, it happens, but they'll try to prevent it. They fuck and then talk more. Without speaking Henry's name, they acknowledge that he's what's missing from their lives and is the reason they are behaving like shells of their former selves.

Gamma finds Adam and wants to hold him, but Alden steps in front of him. He's still raging over the death of Enid, whose name he can't speak. Quite frankly, I'm unsure whether it's because he's too distraught over her death or because she was such a forgettable waste of a character. Aaron tries to be the voice of reason, but Alden's still in stubborn, irrational rage mode, which is, again, boring and a waste of screen time. These precious moments could have been used to give likable characters like Nabila (Nadine Marisa) and Jerry (Cooper Andrews) their first bits of dialogue this episode.

Outside, Rosita and Eugene share a cute moment as they talk about Stephanie and Gabriel. Rosita pushes Eugene to go for Stephanie. Still knowing that Eugene hasn't given up his longing for a relationship with his longtime friend but realizing it can't happen, Rosita tells Eugene to go ahead and kiss her. It's sort of a way for him to get this out of his system so they can both move on to their respective committed relationships. Eugene awkwardly kisses Rosita on the cheek. I love this scene. The dialogue is sleek and the actors complement each other so well, which is probably because they have been working side by side for six years. This is really the couple that's meant to be. Gabriel should die in the war to allow this to happen, but I'd be perfectly fine with Gabriel remaining alive and the Rosita-Eugene pairing naturally happening anyway (as in, Rosita drifting away from Gabriel and organically starting an affair with Eugene). Gabriel's gotten enough pussy for a one-eyed preacher in the apocalypse anyway. It's Eugene's turn. I sure hope Rosita doesn't get the adapted Andrea comic book death at the end of the season. Right now, I'd say that death is 50-50 between Rosita and Gabriel, but I'd much prefer it to be Gabriel, who isn't fun to watch and has no interesting story arc left.

Carol sits beside Lydia and has a smoke. Carol is blunt. She wants to kill Alpha because it will feel good. She doesn't say much else. Lydia delivers a few strong lines that come from the heart. She knows her mother is an awful person, but can't bring herself to kill her, and knows that it won't accomplish anything. The characters have their best interaction when they are simply accepting the awful reality of what has happened and how miserable life is. There's not much to say and there's really nothing that can be done to fix all  this. So they sit beside each other quietly, at peace with each other. There's appropriately minimal dialogue. The body language and music convey all the drama and emotion we need from these two. Both actresses do a stellar job in their roles as truly broken people with little left to live for.

Kelly, Yumiko and Luke are on watch for the Whisperers. Kelly and Yumiko reconcile over their small dust-up earlier. Kelly signs "assholes get shit done" to Yumiko, a sweet way of keeping Connie in their hearts as they prepare for battle. Then, they see the warning from the Whisperers: a swarm of rats to indicate that the horde is coming.

Eugene sings a song over the radio to Stephanie. McDermot's delivery is chilling and spooky. The song's fatalistic lyrics fit the mood as people prepare for their anticipated demises. Stephanie finally answers Eugene, admitting that she got scared earlier when Rosita came in. I still find it strange that Stephanie is so paranoid about letting people discover her community for two reasons. For one, Stephanie hasn't given up her location yet, so it'd be difficult for predators to track her down even if they were aware of her community's existence. Additionally, if this is indeed the Commonwealth from the comics, the community has tens of thousands of people and is well fortified with strong defense. There's really no threat invaders could pose. This mundane, unreal conflict feels simply like a way of filling up time. Anyway, Eugene sets up a date with Stephanie in one week and they arrange a meeting point. He heads into the war giddy with anticipation of the future.

As the characters head out to fight the horde, there are a few last-minute exchanges that almost feel like "let's be at peace in case we die" moments. Ezekiel gives Lydia a piece of armor that belonged to Henry. Daryl and Ezekiel reconcile their previously tense relationship and agree that if either one of them dies the other will take care of the children. Daryl comforts Judith about her fears, and Judith gives Daryl a vest she stitched for him. Daryl tells Judith to go with Ezekiel if he comes looking for her and RJ. Daryl tells Carol that he could never hate her, forgiving her for possibly causing Magna and Connie's demise two episodes ago. Carol is elated. These short exchanges are performed well. The actors get the mood just right. It's not overly sappy and optimistic, like the corny, stupidly giddy mood the allied communities displayed heading into the Savior war in Season 8. There's a sense of realism. Everyone seems to be aware of the likeliness that they die soon, but they aren't gloomily resigned to this fate. Their attitude is sort of "some people will die, and we don't know who will die until they die, so we're going to fight for our lives as best as we can and accept death if and when it comes." This pragmatic, sober attitude starkly contrasts from the cavalier mood the protagonists displayed in the Season 8 premiere when they recklessly showed up at the Sanctuary and started firing precious bullets freely into the air.

Daryl's character stands out the most among these exchanges. His transformation into the show's leading protagonist is amazing. When he talks to Judith and Ezekiel, there are echoes of Rick's encouraging voice in his words. Daryl has done a great job of keeping Rick's memory alive simply by becoming the embodiment of Rick's character. He's really grown nicely into the leadership role. I'd argue that Daryl plays the leader position even better than Rick, who was at times overly idealistic and made clouded, rash decisions that weren't for the best of his people. Daryl is much more level-headed, with dialogue that's short, appropriate and on-point.

We head into the war in a mellow mood as the militia prepares to defend Hilltop.

ACT FOUR
The horde heads to Hilltop. The Hilltop gang has placed electric wires and barbed wire as barriers to stave off the walkers. While the horde is trying to break through the wires, the Hilltop's militia begins taking out the walkers with arrows and other weapons. Things seem to be going well at first, but the affair takes a turn for the worse when the Whisperers shoot inflammable tree saps into the Hilltop's den, followed by arrows to light them on fire. This allows the horde to break through and infiltrate Hilltop.

The militia is instantly freaked. They all run back to the building, but it's too late. The Whisperers' saps and arrows start a fire in front of Hilltop, trapping the militia in between the fire and the horde.

Negan now realizes there's been a misunderstanding between himself and Alpha. In classic Alpha fashion, she said that the allied communities would join the Whisperers, by which she meant as part of the horde. Negan seems to respond with genuine pleasant surprise, calling Alpha a "badass." Of course, we still don't know if this is all an act and he's really thinking inside "oh, shit, what am I going to do now?"

This is where the episode finally gets exciting, but unfortunately it's over. 

CONCLUSION
This episode was a lot of filler and not much action. It was all set up for next week, which doesn't excuse this episode from not having much excitement. It should stand on its own merits. There simply wasn't much entertainment this week. The entire episode felt like necessary stuff - events that had to occur and conversations that had to take place in order for the war to begin. However, these "necessary steps" as buildup to the real payoff didn't make for particularly interesting television. I could begin to feel the tension building up at the tail end of the episode, so hopefully next week is really exciting.

Despite the plot being sluggish, the actors' performances were overall pretty great. In particular, Daryl, Yumiko, Kelly, Luke, Eugene, Rosita, Ezekiel and Lydia's performances were really strong and they emitted tons of energy on the screen. Alden, Earl, Gamma and Aaron were pretty bland and uninteresting, mostly because they have boring story arcs. The dialogue was decent - not the best this show has had, but passable and great at times.

The things that stand out to me are the action scene at the end, the interactions between the select characters I mentioned above, and Eugene's song. The episode really could have used more action and exciting moments, and particularly more Negan and Alpha screen time! Even though Negan and Alpha are such bad people, they are incredibly entertaining to watch. I want more of them. Beta is also a truly frightening figure despite not being given the greatest dialogue, and he's underused in this episode.

I really want the mini-plot with Alden and Earl not trusting Gamma to end, and for all of these characters to either do interesting things or die. I want more screen time for Daryl, Carol, Lydia, Yumiko, Kelly, Luke, Negan, Alpha, Rosita and Eugene. Mostly, I hope next week's episode is much faster-paced and suspenseful. It should immediately start with the action and keep the excitement going all the way until the end to make up for the slow burn we got this week.

I rate this episode 6/10. Its sluggish pacing is only redeemed by the performances of a few really good characters and the exciting cliffhanger on which the episode finishes.

PREDICTIONS
Going into the next episode, which will likely be all about the battle at Hilltop, it looks like there are a few groups right now. We have the militia trapped out in the field with the horde, which includes Daryl, Kelly, Yumiko, Luke, Jerry, Diane, Lydia, Rosita, Ezekiel, Gamma and Aaron. Then we have the group inside, which includes Alden, Earl, Nabila, Carol, Judith, RJ, Gracie and the rest of the children (and some background characters, assuming they're still around, like Marco, Oscar, Kal, Eduardo and Bertie). Then we have the group at Alexandria, which is almost entirely unnamed background characters, Gabriel and a few named background characters like Scott, Barbara and Gage. I doubt we'll see much from the third group in the next episode, unless the Whisperers also stage an attack at Alexandria while the full horde storms Hilltop.

I'd expect deaths to be a handful of B- and C-listers and a bunch of background characters. Maybe Diane and Gamma die out in the field, then Hilltop gets burned down and everyone is separated when the horde marches through. Maybe Earl and Alden will be the big deaths from the inside group. A few scattered groups probably flee by disguising themselves in walker guts. I don't foresee any major characters dying yet. Alpha will likely get her comic death at the hands of Negan after the attack. A major character will probably get a remix of the infamous water tower death scene at the hands of Beta in episode 10X15, and we'll probably see an A-lister (most likely Gabriel or Rosita) reveal they've been bitten and die in the season finale.

Be sure to catch the episode on AMC Sunday at 9/8c or watch early online through AMC Premiere!

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