SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for tonight’s episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead, “The Damned,” which has not yet aired on the west coast as of publication.
OG The Walking Dead fans got a serious payoff tonight when a relatively minor first season character returned to the show. Morales (Juan Gabriel Pareja), first name still unknown, got the jump on Rick as the latter desperately searched for guns in one of the Saviors’ satellite camps. Looks like the showrunners are making good on their promise to call back to the show’s earlier seasons in celebration of their 100th episode milestone. But Morales’ return is more than just a few tribute zombies and shot-for-shot throwbacks to older episodes.
If you’ll recall, Morales and his family were original members of the Atlanta group before they decided to part ways and head for Birmingham, Alabama where they had relatives. The rest headed for the CDC, and, at the time, Rick and Morales parted on good terms. If tonight’s interaction is any indication, those days are long gone.
Rick spent the second episode of Season 8, “The Damned” scouring a Savior-controlled former office park where Dwight assured him there would be a cache of heavy-duty artillery. Unfortunately, at the end of the episode all Rick’s found is an infant girl named Gracie, after having brutally murdered her father moments before. Rick’s immediately horrified at his actions, and searches even more desperately for the guns in the vain hope that they’ll absolve his sin. But before he can locate them, Morales holds him at gunpoint.
Rick’s still pretty shellshocked from the whole ordeal, so it takes him a minute to register who’s standing in front of him. But he does, whispering, “Your name is Morales, you were in Atlanta.” For his part, Morales doesn’t seem surprised to see Rick at all, which makes sense considering Morales is clearly a Savior and probably a decently high-up one. He’ll have no doubt heard of Alexandria’s upstart leader. He sternly whispers that Atlanta was a long time ago before revealing that he’s called in Savior reinforcements and cocking his pistol at Rick’s head. And, frankly, considering Rick just murdered baby Gracie’s dad for guns that don’t appear to exist, Morales has the both the ethical and tactical high ground at the moment.
The reality of what an “All Out War” means in terms of compromised morality is heavily emphasized in “The Damned.” Tara and Jesus clash over what to do with Saviors who surrender — kill them as ordered or show mercy to people with their hands up. Morgan looks like he’s barely hanging on to his sanity by a thread as he puts his Aikido philosophy on pause and turns himself back into the brutal killing machine he was after Duane’s death. When he comes face-to-face with Morales after realizing the guns at this station might have been a tragic wild goose chase, Rick’s coming face-to-face with his own ethics and how drastically they’ve changed in the past few years.
What Morales’ role will be in the coming season or how long he’ll stick around is still, obviously, up in the air. Considering the timing of his re-entry into The Walking Dead, just after Rick’s committed a grievous act that goes against everything in his moral fiber, Morales may be here to remind everyone that things are never as black and white as the “them or us” mentality an all-out war necessitates.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC.