Warning - SPOILERS for The Walking Dead season 8, episode 3 ahead!
AMC's The Walking Dead went for a deep cut last week when Rick came face to face with Morales - an original member of that Atlanta survivor group who hasn't been seen or heard from since season 1. It was an odd callback, challenging even the most diligent of viewers to recall just who he was, but it hinted at an interesting confrontation for Rick as one of his former allies returned as a loyal soldier for his sworn enemy.
In tonight's episode, 'Monsters', Morales shares with Rick what happened in the years since they parted. As many suspected, his family did not survive their trip to Birmingham, though Morales doesn't elaborate on just how he lost them. Their deaths warped his mind and when he was later discovered by The Saviors, he admits he was in a bad place and that they offered him safety and new purpose. Morales seems to also bear a bit of grudge against Rick, but it was never clear if he somehow blames Rick for the death of his family or if he's just deeply invested in Negan's war against Rick - something that perhaps became more personal for Morales once he discovers that the Rick of Alexandria is the same Rick he knew in Atlanta.
Anyway, none of this really winds up mattering all that much because as Rick and Morales' discussion escalates, Daryl comes up from behind Morales and shoots him dead. And just like that, Morales' wildly unexpected return is over roughly 10 minutes or so after it began, amounting to little more than weird throwback to a season when not everyone on The Walking Dead was a cold-blooded killer.
As usual, fans' immediate reactions to Morales' fate sum it all up perfectly:
WHAT WAS THE POINT OF BRINGING MORALES BACK TO LITERALLY KILL HIM IN THE NEXT EPISODE #THEWALKINGDEAD
— nicole rhee (@debnamgrimes) November 6, 2017
Last week: Oh my God, they brought back Morales.
This week: Oh my God, they killed Morales.
— Addison (@FancySkittle) November 6, 2017
— Ryan macellaro (@Ryanmac818) November 6, 2017
I'm really glad that they made the most of that Morales subplot. I was worried that it would just be a waste of time. #TheWalkingDead
— Erik Olson (@HalfASwede) November 6, 2017
So was there a point to Morales' return? Coming right after the scene in where Rick discovers the baby, Gracie at The Savior's compound, it could be that having an old pal like Morales pop up was meant as further evidence that not all of The Saviors are evil. (At least initially, before Morales began monologuing like a cartoon villain.) His return also came with the possibility that, over time, Rick may have been able to convince him to change sides by appealing to the man Morales was before he lost everything - mirroring what was done with Morgan's character after his surprise return a few seasons back. Of course, killing Morales only minutes after he makes this dramatic return makes that impossible so maybe that was never the intention at all.
So why have Morales, a callback character to season 1, return and be killed only moments later? Chances are, this unexpected turn of events has far more to do with who killed him than it does with who died. Right after Daryl shoots Morales, Rick explains that he was from Atlanta, saying it in such a way as to imply that Daryl has made a mistake. Daryl responds: "I know who it was. Doesn't matter. Not one little bit." Well that's harsh, even for someone as emotionally closed-off as Daryl.
Rick is taken aback by Daryl's response, but the action picks back up and the episode moves on. Then, in the episode's final minutes, they confront a lone Savior who lays down his weapons after Rick insists that he trust them. He then offers The Savior a vehicle and fuel in exchange for information on where the weapons have been moved. But after the man complies, Daryl kills him. And even without Rick's look of confusion and concern, it's obvious that an unsettling pattern is developing. If Daryl continues to kill without any thought towards mercy, he's going to come into conflict with Jesus, Maggie, and possibly even Rick the longer this war goes on. It may seem like the easy option, but if they kill indiscriminately, they'll be no better than The Saviors they're fighting to overthrow.
So maybe that's why The Walking Dead brought back Morales: to illustrate that Daryl is reaching a point where he'll kill anyone who gets in their way, no matter who they are or who they used to be. It's either that, or Morales' return was just totally pointless, becoming more of a laugh out loud moment than anything poignant or significant.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC.