“Morning Star” took its time building up to an epic, Game of Thrones-style conclusion, ending on a juicy cliffhanger for good measure.
This recap of The Walking Dead Season 10, Episode 11, “Morning Star”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Of all the things that Game of Thrones contributed to popular culture, including twincest and how to end terribly enough to totally undermine eight full seasons of effort, one of the most useful is the Giant Battle™. This is ideal for an episodic network show; big, lavish fights are always exciting, they’re an easy way to kill off one or several important characters, and you can usually wring out an episode’s worth of build-up and housekeeping on either side. “Morning Star”, which is uncreatively named after a literal morning star that Daryl (Norman Reedus) wields during the fight against Alpha’s (Samantha Morton) assault on Hilltop, is this season of The Walking Dead’s Giant Battle™.
If we’re going to endure endless scenes at Hilltop while artificially extending the amount of time that passes before we see what Michonne (Danai Gurira) et al. are up to, I’m happy for the inclusion of medieval weaponry. Why not? Even Luke (Dan Fogler) gets a cool mace, and I can’t remember the last time Luke even did anything. The Walking Dead Season 10, Episode 11 has all the spiky shields and ye olde battle formations you could want, but it also has the right elements for drama, since all of the kids, including Judith (Cailey Fleming) and RJ (Antony Azor), are stuck there. It takes its time building up to the climax, and just when I thought we were going to save it for next week, it all kicked right off. I like a general sense of unpredictable structuring in my network telly.
But as I said, “Morning Star” took its time, so let’s go over all the other bits and bobs that occurred before the battle. An unfortunate consequence of a Hilltop-centric episode is that we have to put up with Eugene (Josh McDermitt), and since nobody seems willing to retcon his insufferable dork robot speech patterns, I guess we’ll have to cope. He’s still enjoying a burgeoning relationship with “Stephanie”, a voice on the radio who keeps insisting that he keeps their dialogue a secret, and since he’s Eugene he’s obviously so head-over-heels in love with this deeply suspicious woman that he immediately flips out like a crazy person at Rosita (Christian Serratos) when she overhears and tries to respond.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but I hate this subplot. I can tolerate the fact that it’s nakedly setup for the next probably season-long conflict, but what I can’t abide is that it requires Eugene, a character whose only utility is his intelligence, to be an idiot. And by extension, everyone around him, including a hardened survivor like Rosita, must also be stupid. She later proves a point about how much he’s in love with “Stephanie” by asking him to kiss her, which he obviously can’t do, and prompting him to go get his girl, not considering for even one brief solitary second that she’s catfishing him. Eugene already talks like he’s wedged a thesaurus in every orifice – isn’t there a simile for “sucker” in there?
Whatever. Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Carol (Melissa McBride) enjoy a reunion in The Walking Dead Season 10, Episode 11 – she’s sulking about having potentially gotten two more of their number killed through sheer impulsive stupidity, and he’s sad because he’s dying of cancer, which leads to an ostensibly touching but actually kind of silly exchange in which she spots his tumour, he says it’s nothing, and she’s all like, “Never bullshit a bullshitter”. That’s a line obviously intended to emphasise their deep connection and how much they know each other, but… she can literally see the tumour bulging out of his neck. Nevertheless, they have sex.
Thanks to Aaron (Ross Marquand), Gamma (Thora Birch) is also at Hilltop, apparently to meet her nephew but really so that she can be present for the battle against the Whisperers. Again, I’m not crazy about how “Morning Star” bends over backwards to cram people into Hilltop so they’re imperilled by the climax, but it’s a means to an end so I won’t grumble too much. Besides, I liked the character work here. Earl (John Finn) and Alden (Callan McAuliffe) don’t want her near the kid, which is understandable, and Gamma’s let’s-just-be-friends arc doesn’t feel like a re-tread of Lydia’s (Cassady McClincy), who at least had her youth and relationship with Alpha to hide behind. She’s probably going to save the kids and/or kill a significant Whisperer adversary, one assumes Beta (Ryan Hurst), in order to earn her stripes – or she’s going to nobly sacrifice herself for the betterment of everyone. Either works.
The Walking Dead Season 10, Episode 11 includes all the hallmarks of the Giant Battle™. We get quiet scenes of character development, some people have sex because they think they’re going to die, others resolve to go out fighting, the tough-but-vulnerable characters insist they want to fight but aren’t allowed to – Eugene even sings us through a preparatory montage as everyone lines up in formation, ready to face the Horde. I think if the episode cut to credits here nobody would have been particularly surprised or annoyed, but no, we actually get to see the fight – or at least the beginnings of it. Unfortunately for Hilltop, the Whisperers planned much better than they did. Beta filled up a load of gourds with highly flammable tree sap, and as the heroes are battling the walkers on the front lines, his people launch them with slingshots that I’m pretty sure were made of entrails, coating all the residents of Hilltop in what is essentially gasoline so that they can be torched by flaming arrows.
This leaves Hilltop at the end of “Morning Star”, to use a technical, historical battle term, snookered. The fighters are trapped outside, while the kids, the old and the frail are trapped inside. The Whisperers and the Horde are approaching rapidly – or as rapidly as they can given their shtick.
Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), by the way, is not only present for the Giant Battle™, but actually fires one of the flaming arrows personally, although it admittedly comes after he proposes Alpha instead forces everyone to bend the knee rather than just massacre the whole settlement. She obviously isn’t interested in that and he adapts on the fly, praising her for her ruthlessness and trying to convince the audience that he isn’t just playing a long game with the ultimate intention of turning on her. He might not; the show hasn’t been afraid to veer wildly from the established comics continuity in the past, but the original dynamic – which I won’t spoil, just in case – seems too big of a moment to leave out.
Are we going to get a couple of deaths next week? Since Ezekiel already has a death sentence his head is firmly on the chopping block, and we could definitely stand to lose a couple of peripheral players like Luke, cool mace or otherwise. If Gamma does the whole heroic self-sacrifice thing, that’ll probably be in the next episode, during which I’m also predicting some kind of blindside last-minute rescue will keep the majority of the cast alive despite the calamitous circumstances. Either way, this was a fine episode that built to a strong conclusion and a real cliffhanger. And just when the show was starting to feel a bit blighted by stupidity. There is, after all, never a bad time for a Giant Battle™.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.