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The Walking Dead, season 7, episode 13: “Bury Me Here” is a turning point for Morgan — and for the show

Finally, things are happening again!

Lennie James as Morgan on the Walking Dead.
Gene Page/AMC
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

In “Bury Me Here,” The Walking Dead did something it’s been threatening to do ever since its very first season: It destroyed the remaining pacifism of its sole hold-out conscientious objector, Morgan.

The show accomplished this through a series of plot twists that should have felt forced given how little time we’ve spent getting to know the members of Ezekiel’s Kingdom — where Morgan (Lennie James) ironically went to avoid violence.

That “Bury Me Here” and Morgan’s regression wound up feeling surprisingly emotional instead of cheaply manipulative is mainly due to two things: committed acting from the episode’s ensemble, and showrunner Scott Gimple’s framing of Morgan’s choices as being about much more than the events of a single episode.

A lot happens in this episode (for once), so proceed with caution: Spoilers follow.

Richard’s best-laid plan goes awry — and predictably sets the season’s endgame in motion

Gene Page/AMC

As Ezekiel’s head deputy of sorts, Richard (Karl Makinen) has long been threatening to confront the Saviors, in order to provoke conflict between the entire Kingdom and the Saviors and ideally convince Ezekiel to join the Alexandrians in fighting them. “Bury Me Here” finally fills in some background context for his restless antagonism.

Of course, in typical Walking Dead fashion, it giveth and taketh away: The episode finally gives us a reason to feel for the guy, then turns him into zombie chow. Bye, Richard!

Richard’s plan, which you can see going pear-shaped from miles away, is to sabotage a routine goods drop-off from the Kingdom to the Saviors. Richard assumes that the Saviors, who’ve previously threatened to kill him, will make good on their promise when they realize part of their delivery is missing. So in preparation, he digs his own grave, heartbrokenly places his dead daughter’s backpack in it, and leaves a sign for the Kingdommers that reads: “Bury me here.”

Then he hides one of 12 cantaloupes the Kingdom has promised to the Saviors and prepares to face his doom. What actually happens: The hotheaded Savior Jared impulsively shoots young Benjamin instead, to Richard’s horror and Morgan’s total breakdown.

Richard tries to explain his reasoning to Morgan — his grief over the loss of his daughter, his frustration that he couldn’t fight for her, and his subsequent realization that the Kingdom had to be galvanized into fighting, no matter the cost. (And Makinen acts his heart out while delivering all this backstory in a touching monologue, albeit one that’s far too long.) The scene serves to draw a parallel between the two of grieving fatherhood born out of inaction — a tie we know Morgan is steeling himself to sever.

Morgan’s grief has always been an invisible force on The Walking Dead, and “Bury Me Here” nicely makes use of it

The look of a man who knows he won’t get this much screen time again until the finale.
Gene Page/AMC

If you don’t remember Benjamin, that’s okay: He’s barely been present on the show, basically appearing only to look like a tragic Greek hero and have a conversation with Morgan about Morgan’s copy of The Art of Peace, a book we’ve seen Morgan refer to before. He dies heroically quoting pacifist wisdom from the book back to a distraught Morgan: “If I injure my opponent, I injure myself,” and it’s to “Bury Me Here” director Alrick Riley’s credit that he downplays how maudlin and ironic this scene is.

Last season built up Morgan’s resolution about never killing humans only to clumsily dismantle it in the finale, making it clear he’s willing to kill in order to protect those he loves. “Bury Me Here” emphasizes that Morgan has been treating Benjamin and his younger brother like lost sons in need of protecting.

We haven’t gotten to see much of this dynamic, but that’s not surprising in a season that’s barely had a moment to spare for character development between all the commune hopping and Negan torture. And we know that as soon as Morgan realizes Richard has set the stage for Benjamin’s death, he’ll add “avenging the death of loved ones he couldn’t protect” to his rapidly growing list of exceptions to his rule of nonviolence.

We witness Morgan’s mental turmoil in an awkwardly edited series of jump cuts that are meant to remind and illustrate how close Morgan came to entirely losing his sanity after the apocalypse. But this sequence mostly just reminds us how little time the show has spent on his development. Simultaneously, it underscores how Morgan owes his continued status as one of The Walking Dead’s most compelling characters to Lennie James’s power as an actor, especially his ability to completely embody Morgan’s hunched silences and brooding anguish.

Perhaps more than any other longtime character on this series, Morgan’s largely unspoken grief has accompanied his every moment. We’ve seen Morgan evolve from a man nearly deranged by grief into a man of deep silences and painstakingly chosen words who lets his Aikido staff speak for him. It’s always been abundantly clear that time hasn’t lessened the horrific loss of his wife and son in season one.

“Bury Me Here”’s most powerful moment comes with an acknowledgment of that fact, as Morgan finally lets his grief over the loss of his son overtake his mourning for Benjamin. If there’s any universal truth on The Walking Dead, it’s that the dead never stay dead, and Morgan’s grief has always been his most defining character trait. He and Michonne carry the memories of their dead loved ones more palpably than any of the show’s other characters, and this episode is a solid testament to James’s ability to shoulder that weight consistently and meaningfully. He’s done so despite seven seasons of intermittent appearances — and he’s done so while having to juggle The Walking Dead’s ambivalence toward his character’s nonviolence.

It’s entirely predictable that “Bury Me Here” ends with Morgan quietly sharpening his staff into a spear — an image that Riley cleverly allows us to hear and infer rather than see. If any arc on The Walking Dead was going to tilt Morgan’s pacifism into a resolve to kill and keep killing, it was always going to be the Negan arc, with its all-encompassing cloud of violence and sadism. But at least the show has framed Morgan’s acceptance of violence as the result of the grief he’s never shaken, rather than the result of the death of a character we barely knew. It’s a step up from more manipulative tactics we’ve seen in recent seasons, and it makes “Bury Me Here” an unexpectedly moving hour of television.

The episode’s other loose ends, however, aren’t nearly as satisfying

The Walking Dead’s waste of Carol and Ezekiel, two of its best characters, emphasizes — again — how repetitive it’s become

Khary Payton’s Ezekiel has been a solid scene stealer throughout this season, despite being frequently portrayed as woefully unprepared to deal with the Saviors’ hubris and violence. “Bury Me Here” is no exception — he comes across as completely thrown off by everything that occurs in the episode, even though the Saviors’ escalating violence and Richard’s escalating frustration have been building in front of him for months.

When Ezekiel finally does decide to take on the Saviors, his decision weirdly happens offstage. We hear of it through Carol, who, having finally learned from Morgan what happened to the Alexandrians after she left, returns to the Kingdom and announces that they’re going to have to fight. Ezekiel tells her he agrees. We don’t know when or how Ezekiel has decided that he agrees with her, or whether he’s making up his mind on the spot.

This is strange. Ezekiel’s choice to fight is a monumental, game-changing decision that The Walking Dead has been building toward all season. It’s one of several deciding factors in the eventual mega-battle against the Saviors, and nothing in Ezekiel’s character has indicated that he was leaning in that direction — other than the fact we all know the show needs him to decide to fight, of course. Benjamin’s death might have been the push he needed, but we’ll never really know, because we didn’t get to see more than a glimpse of his reaction.

And that’s a shame. I mean, the dude has a tiger. His decisions should all be weighty and portentous and announced with the pomp of a guy who owns a tiger.

It’s possible putting this moment on Carol’s shoulders instead of Ezekiel’s is meant to remind us of her strength, but that also feels weird. I’ve complained in the past about wanting The Walking Dead to focus its plots more closely on its female characters, but there’s no throughline here.

All Carol has done this season is hang out in her cabin in the woods, regret her decision to leave Alexandria, and cry about it a bunch. She set off on her own for the first time all series, and her entire subsequent plot has just been regretting her decision? Of all people, Carol? Really? And it’s no less weird now that finally learning about Glenn dying (and some others dying, but mostly Glenn) has convinced her to fight; we don’t see her decision either, until she shows up at the Kingdom and announces it.

Both of these decisions are the culmination of their characters’ respective season-long arcs — such as they are. That The Walking Dead show treats them like offstage afterthoughts is yet another nod to how repetitive and rote it has become. Even in the moments when it finally gives us meaningful plot decisions, it presents them as foregone conclusions because they are foregone conclusions. The show is proceeding without any deep thought, and definitely without all that much enthusiasm, toward the inevitable confrontation between the coalition of communities and the Saviors.

“Bury Me Here” was the most heart-wrenching episode the show has managed to deliver all season, and it’s probably no coincidence that it successfully tugged at our heartstrings for reasons that had nothing to do with the main Negan arc. The Walking Dead’s core strength comes from allowing its main ensemble to grapple with the ethics of their decisions past and present. For a season that has stagnated hopelessly around the question of how our heroes should respond to Negan’s violence, there’s been surprisingly little of this sort of character-based moral reckoning.

Hopefully, “Bury Me Here” marks a change in direction. With just three episodes left in season seven, it can’t come soon enough.

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