While last week had us spending time with the folks from Alexandria, tonight’s episode put us back in the happy environs of King Ezekiel’s Kingdom. When last we saw them, tensions with the Saviors were escalating at their weekly drop-offs, Carol and Daryl and reunited (and he lied to her about events back home), and Morgan was continuing to teach young Benjamin the Way of Peace, as per his own sensei as we saw early last season in Episode 604 “Here’s Not Here.” So, where will these tensions and lies lead? Scroll down to find out, or check out my Sneak Preview from earlier this week to find out how right – or wrong – I was.

[Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss plot points of The Walking Dead S07E13, “Bury Me Here” – read further at your own risk.]

Turns out I was both right and wrong. The right: I got both character deaths spot on. The wrong: it wasn’t enough to push Ezekiel into open warfare. Yet.

We begin with a cold open. Ezekiel and most of the group that helps with the Savior drops is carefully placing a single melon in a crate on the back of the flatbed. They all look somber, and they have good reason – although we don’t find out why until much later in the episode.

We cut to Carol waking up from a bad dream. “Goddammit” she says, and she heads out. We get the scene from the preview video, as she walks to The Kingdom’s front gate, killing as she goes. Once in The Kingdom, she goes to Morgan’s room. “Why did Jesus bring Daryl and everyone else to The Kingdom?” she asks. “Is everyone okay?” Morgan offers to take her to Alexandria so she can find out for herself, but he tells her that what Daryl told her is between the two of them. He says, “You found what you wanted, right? You got away from everyone. Is it what you wanted, or was it just too late to get away?”

Carol leaves, heading back to her house. On the way out, Benjamin asks her if he can escort her home – not for her safety, but because he wants to learn from her. Yes, he has detected the bad-assitude that is Carol. She refuses, and goes on alone. Partway back, she finds a walker she’d injured on the way in. It’s dead now, someone else having finished it off – she’s being watched. No great mystery here, though, as we immediately find out it’s Richard. What’s he doing creeping about? He has a little girl’s backpack, and he’s doing something out of sight of the others. Wonder if this will foreshadow something later in the episode, hmm?

In The Kingdom, Ezekiel’s now awake, and he’s watching the smooth and happy operations of his little domain from his balcony, Shiva lying at his side. A Kingdomer, Nabila, comes out to let him know that there are weevils in the Royal Garden, and that they’ll have to burn out the whole crop before it’ll grow healthy again. Then she goes on a little soliloquy about how gardens need to be torn out sometimes, but that they’re amazing because they’ll grow back blah blah blah. Sometimes, when TWD wants to make sure you get an allusion, they hit you squarely over the head with it. (PS: Rotten weevil-y garden = Saviors; tearing it out = killing the Saviors; new garden = Savior-less world.) Despite the pithiness, Nobila does have the best line of the night. Ezekiel motions her closer, but she’s clearly afraid of Shiva. Shiva growls a little, and Nobila says, “Oh, I think I just peed myself.” (Cool fact: The actress playing Nobila, Nadina Marissa, has also appeared on three episodes of Better Call Saul as the Contract Counsel Administrator, the woman who pays Jimmy out for his legal aid cases.)

Inside, Benjamin goes to get Morgan for the Savior drop. He’s reading The Art of Peace, and he thanks Morgan for gifting him the book. In return, he gives Morgan a black velvet painting of a bullfighter, with a circle painted around the center just like the cover of the book. Once outside, Morgan rests against the truck beside Richard while it’s being loaded. They talk – well, mostly Richard talks – about being a dad and responsibilities in the apocalypse. And Richard says something pretty cryptic, about how when Morgan has to start killing again, he shouldn’t blame himself. Interesting. As they’re leaving, Jerry is standing by the truck door stuffing his face with apple cobbler. “Leave the cobbler,” Ezekiel intones. Jerry looks bashful, and you can just about hear Ezekiel thinking, “Jerry…”

On the way to the meet, there’s a string of shopping carts blocking the road. They exit the truck and walk with guns out, Richard acting as rearguard. Between two buildings, they find an empty grave with a sign – “Bury Me Here”. We get the eulogy to madness in the world which Ezekiel made in the Sneak Peek video from AMC last week, and then they move the carts and head on down the road.

They’re late – Gavin, Jared, and the other Saviors are already there. Jared is playing at martial artist with Morgan’s staff, and when Gavin is told by Jerry not to interrupt “his Majesty,” Jared uses that as an excuse to hit Jerry in the face, knocking him briefly to the ground. This is a mistake. Nothing happens yet, but Jerry is a hugely popular character – you don’t just hit Jerry with impunity. In response, everyone draws their guns, and we have a massive Mexican standoff going on. Gavin demands their guns. In return, Ezekiel demands that they return Morgan’s staff and leave. Gavin tells Ezekiel that he doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation.

Ezekiel tries to interrupt, but Gavin repeats himself. Turns out, they’re one melon short on the twelve they were supposed to be delivering. Ezekiel blinks first, handing over the group’s guns – but this isn’t enough for Gavin. He tells Ezekiel that they need to learn a lesson, that things have been getting too lax. Jared raises his gun into Richard’s face. “Just do it,” Richard says, pushing his face into the barrel, but Jared, idiot grin on his face, turns the gun aside and shoots Benjamin in the leg.

Gavin is pissed off at Jared – he makes him give Morgan his staff back – but that doesn’t stop him from issuing more ultimatums – they have to be back the same time, next day, to make up the shortfall – and then the group heads off, Benjamin bleeding out in the back of the truck. They get to Carol’s, where we see her planting seeds outside – see, more allusions – but they aren’t able to save Benjamin; he dies on her kitchen table. Morgan is hit harder than the rest – Benjamin was like a son to him.

Morgan leaves – he refuses to go back with the others. He walks off into town, on the verge of a breakdown, carrying two staffs – his own and Benjamin’s. We get a series of flashbacks, moments he remembers from episodes going right back to 101, and including flashes of “Clear” and “Here Isn’t Here,” two of his strongest early episodes. We see his sensei, Eastman, as well as his wife Jenny and son Duane, all gone. He ends up astride the grave they found earlier, a knife pressed against his wrist – but he can’t bring himself to end things. As he leaves the graveside, he kicks a turned over box – a melon rolls out from beneath it. He suddenly flashes back on the morning’s events; Richard. Richard hung back from the rest of them. Morgan knows where he needs to go.

Richard doesn’t have much in the way of apology. He genuinely didn’t want Benjamin to die – he tells Morgan, “It was supposed to be me. That’s what Gavin said.” He tells Morgan about his experiences shortly after the zombie apocalypse began, stuck in a camp with his wife and daughter, refusing to act when he saw things going awry. This failure to act led, in his opinion, directly to the failure of the camp itself, and a bunch of deaths including his wife. A few days later, his daughter died too. He tells Morgan that people died “because I didn’t do something. Because I waited.” He wants to join with Alexandria and Hilltop to fight the Saviors, and he felt that only through his death would Ezekiel see the light, so to speak. He sees Benjamin’s death as an unfortunate opportunity. He wants to assure Gavin that they get it, that they understand how they need to act with the Saviors going forward. Then, he says, not right away, not in a week or two, but when they’re ready, they strike. He then promises Morgan that he’ll come clean to everyone. Tellingly, Morgan never makes eye contact with Richard the whole time he speaks, looking at the floor and watching him only with his peripheral vision, much as a predator would do, waiting for its prey to make a sudden move.

Morgan leaves – he’s still in crisis, pacing and wandering, unable to get his head around Benjamin’s death. He sees Ezekiel comforting Henry, Benjamin’s younger brother, and this just about drives him off again.

We cut to the next day, and the scene we opened with as Ezekiel loads the single melon. They arrive, but before the Saviors get there, Morgan asks Richard if he’s come clean yet. “Not here,” he says, indicating that he’ll talk to Ezekiel later. Ezekiel, however, wants to know what’s going on, but before either Richard or Morgan can reply, the Saviors arrive. Gavin asks after “the boy,” and when Ezekiel and the others won’t respond, he realizes that Benjamin died. He actually looks almost, just kinda, remorseful. He orders Jared to walk home alone, which does the double-duty of punishing Jared for not following orders the day before, and of getting the most likely flash point out of the encounter before Gavin loses control of the situation.

Richard takes the lone melon and hands it to Gavin, saying, “We’ve learned our lesson…” but before he can finish, Morgan acts. He drops Benjamin’s staff, the metaphorical staff of peace in essence, strides up behind Richard, and hits him in the head and the leg with his own staff. As Richard falls, Morgan straddles him, and begins to strangle the larger man. Gavin holds his men off, watching, as Ezekiel tries to get through to Morgan, but can’t. Richard struggles, scratching at Morgan’s face, but nothing he does can stop Morgan’s rage, and soon, Richard stops moving. As soon as he’s dead, Morgan releases his grip and turns to Ezekiel. “He did it. He set the whole thing up,” he says, telling Ezekiel and Gavin how Richard organized the delay and the shortage, leading directly to Benjamin’s death. He then stands before Gavin, averting his eyes – much, again, the same way he averted his eyes when Richard spoke the day before – and tells him, “I wanted to show you that we get it.” He uses the very words that Richard had told him he wanted to use with Gavin. Somehow, I think they actually carry weight given the circumstances; Gavin leaves appearing satisfied that he has The Kingdom cowed.

After Gavin and the Saviors leave, Morgan tries to explain his actions further to Ezekiel, telling him that it’s about what happened to Benjamin – except that he calls him Duane. He’s nearly gone completely again, back to the Morgan that we saw in Episode 312, “Clear”, when even speaking to him was nearly impossible so lost was he. Morgan tells Ezekiel and the rest to head back, that he’ll do what needs to be done. Once they too have left, he drags Richard’s corpse all they way to the pre-dug grave. He digs deeper, and finds the child’s backpack – he senses, as do we, that perhaps this was really what Richard wanted.

Once he’s buried the body, he heads to Carol’s. Without preamble, he asks, “Do you want to know what happened in Alexandria?” She tries to deflect, and he asks again. “Yeah,” she says, her voice barely audible. He tells her everything, about Glenn and Abraham, Spencer and Olivia. She asks what he’s going to do now – “Kill them all, one at a time.” He starts to walk away, and she chases after. “You can go, and not go,” she says, indicating her house. “Please.”

Carol goes to The Kingdom for the second time in two days, and goes straight to Ezekiel. She’s no-nonsense. “I’m going to be here now. We have to get ready. We have to fight.” Ezekiel nods, and says, “We do. But not today.” The camera pans back and rises, showing Ezekiel and Henry planting fresh, clean plants in the now emptied Royal Garden. The weeding has begun, so to speak.

We get one last shot, this of Morgan. We’re watching him from behind as he sits on Carol’s porch, sharpening the end of his staff to a lethal point. He pauses, and looks back over his shoulder toward the camera – does he sense we’re watching? – and then turns back to his task. In the words of Russel Peters, “Somebody’s gonna get hurt.”

So, not a bad episode, but not exactly Shakespeare either. Gimple, when writing the episodes, is usually doing so in order to get across something IMPORTANT™. I say this with a degree of sarcasm, because while I do generally like the direction that Gimple is taking the show overall, he is just a little heavy-handed with his symbolism when he takes over the writing reins himself. Subtle he is not. Here, it was the in-your-face garden metaphor, first with the pithy words of wisdom placed in an unknown character’s mouth, then Carol planting when Benjamin is brought over to die, and ending with Ezekiel replanting his garden. There’s also the related planting of Richard in the ground, and the fact that all the fighting and tension arose over crops that they grow. Most of these connections would work just fine, but the speech given to Nobila – wait a second, do you see that? What’s her name? NOBILA? Seriously, this is ham-handed writing on the level of George Lucas dialogue. Where was I? Yes, the speech given to her drops like a lead balloon into the middle of the episode, apropos of absolutely nothing else, as she is a character with no character, a non-person, a woman we’ve not even seen in passing before (this was Nadina Marissa’s sole TWD credit). The only reason Gimple brings her on to stage center is to be certain that we, the idiot masses, get his message. I do not appreciate being talked down to at the best of times, and I sure as hell don’t want my entertainment to start doing it.

And lest you think that this is a one-off, I’ll point you to just one other example (I’m certain there are others). When I heard Nobila’s monologue, it suddenly brought to mind another blunt-force symbolic episode from back in season four, when Rick met an Irish woman who led him off into the woods to see her “boyfriend.” As she led him off, the camera focused in on a spider eating something in its web. Symbolic, perhaps? Djathink? Sure enough, I looked the episode up – it was Episode 401 “30 Days Without An Incident” and, yes, Scott M. Gimple is the “written by” credit. This is one of his things. Maybe he’ll just stick to guiding the show?

On a positive note, there was a lot of character development tonight. Morgan went from Way of the Peaceful Warrior to kill ’em all; Carol went from cowering in her house avoiding the truth to the hard-as-nails kickass Carol that we all remember (and miss!); Ezekiel went from hesitant leader trying to avoid confrontation to a new awareness of what needs to be done; and both Richard and Benjamin went from alive to dead, which is pretty big character development as these things go. I’m happiest about the fact that all the characters I like seem to be coming around to the same page, finally. In Morgan’s case, it’s taken almost two complete seasons, and for Carol it’s been just shy of a full season, and for Rick (who came to his senses in 708), it took eight episodes.

This means that we’re going to start seeing some interesting things happening ramping up to the season finale. And does anyone doubt for a second that it’ll be a confrontation with Negan and his Saviors? This won’t be a single episode fight – even if it begins by the end of this season, it’s going to take most, if not all, of the next to resolve. And I, for one, am looking forward to what it will do for the show. Maybe if they’re actually fighting out in the open, Gimple won’t feel the need to be so heavy-handed with his symbolism – and that would be a relief, too.

Steve’s Rating: 7 Stars (7 / 10)
A good episode that loses two stars because I’m pissed at Gimple trying hold my hand. Bonus star back for bringing back kickass Carol.

Episode: 713
Airdate: March 12, 2017
Directed by: Alrick Riley
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: Scott M. Gimple (written by); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (graphic novels); Frank Darabont (creator)