Major spoilers below for the second episode of The Walking Dead Season 8, so be sure to watch before reading on.
Over the course of The Walking Dead's TV run, there have been relatively few characters who exited the show in a way that maintained their survival, with most getting taken out by walker bites or gunshots. This week's episode, titled "The Damned," previously teased a familiar face returning to Rick's life, and now we know that face belonged to Juan Gabriel Pareja's Morales, who hasn't been seen since Season 1, just a few episodes after being introduced. And that initial shock of Morales' reappearance was compounded by the reveal that he's apparently a Savior now. But does it actually make sense?
To quickly recap how things went down in the episode: Rick and Daryl were teamed up on a Dwight-inspired mission to retrieve guns from a Savior outpost, and things got weird near the end of the episode. For one, Rick found a crib containing a baby whose name is apparently Gracie. And then Rick found himself facing the business end of a gun, with Morales on the other end of it. It seemed clear from the long-lost character's words that he was aware that Rick had not only survived beyond Atlanta, but was also the top name on Negan's most current shit list. Rick obviously recognized him, too, and broadly exposited things for fans who forgot who Morales was. It's then when Morales revealed he'd reported Rick and Daryl's presence to the other Saviors, who were now on their way to the outpost.
All things considered, this was a pretty fantastic way to close out an action-packed episode, and it's interesting that perhaps the only undischarged gun in "The Damned" made for the biggest moment. But does it actually make any damned sense that Morales has returned to The Walking Dead in such a fashion? We don't get to find out anything about where Morales has been since he and his family first separated themselves from the earliest iteration of Team Family, so we can't be certain how things played out. But it definitely gave off vibes of being coincidence-driven fan service for those who've been clamoring for Morales' return over the years...particularly Juan Gabriel Pareja himself.
Back in Season 1's "Wildfire," Morales and his wife made the decision to split from the Atlanta group to head to Birmingham to look for other family members, rather than hitting up the CDC with everyone else. (Perhaps not such a terrible decision at the time, since that CDC trip wasn't too fruitful.) In the two-year-ish interim, however, something probably went very wrong, since Morales somehow found his way up around Washington D.C. where Negan and his Saviors set up shop in The Sanctuary. One would assume that something terrible happened to his wife and kids that caused him to reverse direction to turn his travels northward, but that's obviously unconfirmed at this point.
It does make enough sense from a time perspective that Morales would be able to reach a location where Negan's influence would have drawn him in, as Abraham met up with Rick after traveling all the way from Houston. Plus, Rick & Co. remained in Georgia well into Season 5, and they didn't leave until a little less than a year and a half had passed from the zombie outbreak first coming into existence. (At this point, Rick's group has only been in the Alexandria area for around two months of the overall timeline.) So if Morales had a working vehicle for some of his journey, he could have easily traveled to Birmingham, faced severe tragedies, and then turned his focus to the Northeast.
But while one side of the logic seems legit, does it really make sense that Morales would also have ended up in the exact same spot as Rick's radically changed group? Considering how big this country is, and how many cities and potential survivor communities are between Birmingham and D.C., it's quite a leap. It's certainly possible, of course, and it would likely strengthen the story if Morales' journey hooked him up with another group whose members were aimed for the area surrounding the nation's capital, particularly if that group had a few unsavory characters in it that were tailor-made to follow tyrannical leaders. I can't see him making it all that way alone, though. And I'm hoping he's not very happy to be a member of Negan's army.
Logical or not, it was still a pretty cool moment to see Rick and Morales once again standing opposite one another, but with a completely different situational context. And his re-arrival almost definitely ties into all of the Season 1 callbacks that showed up in the Season 8 premiere, particularly the reappearance of that very first walker girl. I can't wait to see just how long Morales has been a part of Negan's crew, and to know how long he's been aware of Rick's presence. Not to mention if he's noticed just how many people from that original group are no longer a part of it, from Lori to Dale to Shane and more.
Unfortunately for the villains, Morales likely wouldn't have been able to offer Negan much info by way of Rick's personality and war tactics, considering they parted ways so early in the Ricktatorship. But having him show up like this is a great way to give Rick a mindfuck that he definitely wasn't expecting, and the element of surprise offers major advantages to those who utilize it properly. Methinks Rick and Daryl are in for a messy situation.