Warning - MAJOR SPOILERS for The Walking Dead season 8, episode 2 ahead!
In tonight's The Walking Dead, both Rick and fans were served up a huge surprise. It had been teased for some time that a "familiar face" would return in this episode, but this is a face that hasn't been seen in a long, long time. Seven seasons, in fact, so viewers are excused if they didn't immediately recognize the man confronting Rick in the final moments of tonight's episode, 'The Damned'.
Following along with Rick's war on Negan, the attack moves from The Sanctuary to the outposts where the combined force of Alexandria, The Hilltop, and The Kingdom again prove to be more than The Saviors can handle. All along the element of surprise has been the key to Rick's strategy, catching Negan and The Saviors off guard in each encounter. But now Rick finds himself getting surprised, and it's a shock that just might have huge ramifications for what comes next.
While searching the outpost for guns, Rick is attacked by a Savior he believes is guarding their armory. They fight, Rick wins, impaling him on shelf bracket. Rick then enters the room expecting to find a cache of weapons, only instead he finds a baby in a crib! The room being guarded wasn't an armory, but a nursery - a discovery that clearly has Rick shaken. Leaving the nursery, Rick continues exploring the outpost, finding no evidence of a gun stockpile but rather photos taped to the wall.
It's then that Rick gets his shock, being confronted at gunpoint by none other than Morales - a survivor not seen since season 1 who, along with his family, was part of that original group on the outskirts of Atlanta. But why is here? Why is he with The Saviors? What happened to him since he last saw Rick?
The last time that Rick saw Morales was in the season 1 episode, 'Wildfire', when he announces to the group that he and his family will not be joining them at the CDC. Morales says he's "gotta do what's best for my family", planning to travel to Birmingham, Alabama and search for other relatives. Rick doesn't agree with Morales' decision, believing that going to the CDC is the best option for everyone (oh, how naive they were back then), but he doesn't try to stop him. Instead, Rick gives Morales a gun and some ammo, as well as a walkie-talkie if they need to get in touch, and wishes them luck. By all means, it was a pleasant parting - so what happened?
The very fact that Morales and his family were headed towards Birmingham, only for him to show up years later at a Savior outpost near Richmond, Virginia, implies that something drastic has happened in the years since we and Rick last saw him. Morales' sudden appearance raises a lot of questions, like what happened to his family? Are any of them still alive? Did they ever even make it Birmingham?
For Morales to be at this place and involved with The Saviors, it's pretty obvious he's had to face some hard times. It's very likely, given how death is all too prevalent in this post-apocalyptic world, that Morales has lost some if not all of his family by this point. Chances are, either his wife or one of his children died not long after they left for Birmingham; the journey between these major cities was sure to be a treacherous one, after all. He and whoever survived probably then found Birmingham to be in a similar state as the abandoned Atlanta, or they chose to change direction before they even reached the city. Either way, his course was altered and probably in response to suffering some tragedy.
Now, what brought him to become involved with The Saviors is likely the same thing that gets anyone involved with them - desperation. Whether Morales had kept to himself, been traveling with his surviving family, or had joined up with another group, eventually, resources run low and people are forced to do things they never imagined they could. As The Walking Dead has made sure to address in the past, surviving in this harsh world changes people, and not always for the better. Granted, not all of those who work with The Saviors are necessarily bad people, but when their lives or the lives of their family are on the line, even the best people can be made to do some terrible things.
It's likely that something along those lines happened to Morales, with him stuck in a desperate situation and the only way out of it was to throw in with The Saviors. Might this be connected to that baby? Possibly. Maybe like Rick, Morales' wife died, but not before giving birth to another child, one that Morales is protecting at all costs. That's a noble cause that Rick is sure to respect, even if it does have Morales working for his enemy. And in that case, it might be possible for Rick to reason with Morales, presenting him with another way to protect the child.
But Morales doesn't sound especially pleased to see Rick in this episode, immediately calling for reinforcements and alerting The Saviors to Rick's presence. What could have happened to sour Morales' opinion of Rick? Is it just Negan's brainwashing, or is there something else going on here? When Morales left, Rick gave him a walkie-talkie so that he could contact them in case he ran into trouble. And if we're assuming that's exactly what happened, leading to the deaths of some if not all of his family, well then, if Rick didn't respond to Morales' call for help, it's easy to see how that could develop into a real hatred.
Is Morales loyal to Negan and The Saviors? What happened to make him so? And does he hold a grudge towards Rick for whatever tragic circumstances he suffered since leaving Atlanta? Hit us up with your theories in the comments!
The Walking Dead season 8 continues next Sunday with 'Monster' at 9pm/10c on AMC.