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Even as it’s still reeling from the fresh departure of original series star Chandler Riggs, The Walking Dead is gearing up to say farewell to another season one veteran before too much longer — even if this someone will still lurk elsewhere in the world of AMC’s zombie apocalypse.
Much ado has already been made of the news that Lennie James will be moving on from Walking Dead at the end of season eight, only to become a series regular on a newly refocused spinoff Fear the Walking Dead. Exactly how and why will Morgan Jones travel from Alexandria all the way to Texas, where the fourth season of the AMC zombie franchise’s second series is in production? Those are the big questions on fans’ minds, ever since the news was first announced this fall. Thanks to the latest episode of Walking Dead, however, the motivations behind Morgan’s exit are starting to come together.
In addition to serving as a farewell episode for Carl Grimes (Riggs), the season eight midseason premiere, “Honor,” also advanced the storyline of Morgan’s increasingly fragile psyche. During the course of the season, Morgan has plummeted deeper into his old violent ways, killing several Saviors with zero remorse. It’s a far cry from the pacifistic Morgan who arrived in Alexandria at the end of season five, morally realigned thanks to the time he spent training under aikido master Eastman (John Carroll Lynch). Thanks to some traumatic episodes in season seven, Morgan has fully walked away from the view that “all life is precious,” unleashing his most violent murder rampage yet over the course of “Honor.”
Alongside Carol (Melissa McBride), Morgan infiltrated a Savior-controlled Kingdom in order to save Ezekiel (Khary Payton) from their clutches. At least, that’s the intention of the mission. In executing the plan, Morgan veers off script, unnecessarily killing every Savior in his path. The violence becomes so vicious that at one point, Morgan eviscerates a Savior, displaying his guts and gore for everyone in the nearby vicinity to see.
Morgan’s wrath comes to a halt near the end of the episode, when he’s about to kill Gavin (Jayson Warner Smith). Both Ezekiel and Carol try to convince him that there’s another way forward, but Morgan will only entertain their protests for so long. Just as he’s about to kill Gavin in cold blood, someone beats him to the punch: Henry (Macsen Lintz), the young boy whose older brother Benjamin (Logan Miller) died back in season seven, triggering Morgan’s psychotic break.
Watching Henry kill Gavin seems like it has the reverse effect on Morgan as watching Benjamin die at the hands of one of Gavin’s minions. There’s pain in Morgan’s face, as if he’s finally awake to the severe acts he’s committed over the course of “All Out War.” It’s fitting that the start and finish of Morgan’s killing spree all stem from the same family: Benjamin and Henry, both of whom are deeply connected to Ezekiel, who was close friends with their father.
Knowing that Morgan is set to leave Walking Dead for Fear the Walking Dead by the end of the season, it feels like we now have some clarity on the “why” behind the transition. How can Morgan stay within the Kingdom, the Hilltop and the Alexandria Safe-Zone after such a violent episode? Members of the group have been banished for less; his forced exile is certainly a possibility. Equally possible: Morgan, who has already been nomadic in nature over the course of his time with the series, could decide to set off on his own before the season’s conclusion, no longer trusting himself around Carol, Ezekiel, Henry and the others — or simply feeling like he’s unworthy of their company.
Before Morgan leaves, however, there’s still one major way he can contribute to season eight’s overarching theme of mercy versus wrath. Not only can he stabilize his view on the matter, he can help Rick find his way to the same path. Remember, Morgan spent much of season six working on building a prison cell in Alexandria. In the comics on which Walking Dead is based, the prison cell comes in handy for a very special guest: Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), leader of the Saviors, sentenced to life imprisonment while the community flourishes in the aftermath of the war. Given that Rick’s entire journey in the apocalypse began with Morgan, it’s fair to expect at least one last meaningful interaction between the two men — a meeting that could see Rick’s mercy prevailing over his wrath, with some help from an old friend.
What are your predictions for Morgan’s exit? Sound off in the comments section below, and keep checking THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage.
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Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media