There’s something incredibly sinister about a whistle. And even more so when it’s the discordant tune whistled by a gang of armed guards. It’s a sound that seems to echo through this third episode of The Walking Dead Season 8; one that unnerves and unsettles both the viewer and members of Rick’s crew. But nothing quite unnerves the viewer as much as a dodgy second episode after such a promising first. While episode 2 focused on action occurring across several groups of characters with no sense of purpose or resolution, episode 3 manages to find a way to intrigue and grip its audience thanks to some actual plot.
It keeps the same fragmented structure as the last episode, moving between different groups with four currently running storylines, but this time each one actually offers some purpose and focus. First it’s back to Carol and Ezekiel and their merry band of random side-characters. Ezekiel is up to his usual theatrical tricks and despite some negativity - and a little bit of chemistry - between him and Carol, the section generally feels quite hopeful, echoing the sentiments of that first episode of the season. There are flashbacks and flashforwards between Carol and Ezekiel putting a plan together before executing it in quick successive flashes. Not quite the most elegant cinematic technique, but it certainly packs a punch in the opening moments of the episode.
But for me, it’s Rick’s new story arc that’s a little more interesting. Episode 2 left him facing an old face - one which I couldn’t personally remember, but anyway - after stabbing a baby’s father to death. It’s this renewed humanity that Rick’s found that is at the core of this episode. Actually, it’s the struggle for humanity. As the episode’s title suggests, Monsters, many of Rick’s crew are finding it hard to maintain the moral high ground. Yes, Negan and the Saviours are bad, but is any of the killing and deception being carried out by the respective Alexandria, Hilltop and Kingdom crews any better? It’s a theme that germinated in the last episode, but really comes to a head here.
That’s particularly the case with Morgan. He’s been on rocky mental ground for a while ever since the incident with Richard, Benjamin, and the cantaloupes, and the whole starting to kill people again thing, but one particular moment ends with him fighting Jesus over the right thing to do with some hostages. As we move between the groups, it seems like the actions that occur during the course of this war are being questioned more than ever, because eventually they’ll have to be dealt with when peace comes. If it ever does, AMC does want this series to go on for several more decades.
But none of these themes are fresh. Season 8 continues to feel like we’re stumbling over old turf, and the fact that’s there’s a massive elephant hanging over the season means everything else just feels a bit dull. How much more of this season can AMC string out before addressing what’s happening with Father Gabriel and Negan in that caravan surrounded by zombies. Something must have happened by now, right?
Thankfully at least Maggie is back in the fray again after a noticeable absence last week, mostly seen greeting a returning, snivelling, Gregory with all the warmth of a ice queen. Too right, too; that man’s a drip.
But do we really care about any of it? Rick’s got another baby to look after, Eric’s fate gets resolved, they still haven’t found those big guns and people are still getting killed. At least there’s an actual cliffhanger at the end of this episode that makes me almost excited to watch the next one. We all knew Rick wasn’t going to be captured at the end of the last one, right? Right.
That leaves me feeling like Season 8 is shuffling on about as fast as one of its titular walkers. Despite more deaths and some actual plot, it still lacks the pace of the season premiere. The fears of AMC dragging out this “all out war” we were promised several seasons ago are slowly coming to fruition - almost as slowly as the plot itself seems to move.