[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers from The Walking Dead Season 8 episode 2, "The Damned." Read no further if you aren't caught up.]
If you’re among the growing legion of folks thisclose to giving up on The Walking Dead, "The Damned" is probably not the episode to change your mind. Or maybe I'm just crabby.
Jam-packed with all the things TWD disgruntleds hate most—Rick going from zero to sweaty in 1.2 seconds, a bazillion “who the hell is that?” characters, confusing locales, melodramatic tight shots (Rick's got a scratch! There's Daryl's right eye!), close-up firefights chockfull of bad aim, Morgan getting trippy, the King getting lippy—"The Damned" was basically an excuse for the AHK’ers to run around and shoot stuff. Or not shoot stuff, to prove they still have a shred of morality to call their own, ain’t that right, Jesus? That’s right!
I’m fine with the idea that Gimple and Co. want us to plumb the depths of our souls to reckon whose side we’re on — the Tara/Rick/Morgan side that says Everyone Not Us must die, or the Jesus/I-Guess-Just-Jesus side that says if we do that, then we’re just like them or worse. And the bigger-picture notion of what that means for a future in which, even if we’re all technically under proverbial one roof, someone’s going to get hacked off about something and sides will be drawn again. But as I said last week, I need some distillation to happen, and soon. Moral battles are difficult to tap into when you’re spending most of an episode trying to figure out who is who, whether you’ve seen them before, and where the heck they are.
We have questions after the premiere, and an off-the-cuff wish list of what we want to see.
That said, I'll be the first to admit that I must have skipped school on the day we learned the totality of the Sanctuary's spread (did we actually ever learn that?). So, for those of you expecting me to call the three primary locales in this episode by name, I’m going to let you down.
In any case, the episode picks up pretty much where last week’s episode left off. With who I'm guessing are the Saviors who sped off from the compound in cars last episode. They're ... somewhere ... fixing up a bunch of guns under the ornery direction of a woman named (I think) Mara. I'm also guessing, given her attitude, she was the woman on the talkie with Dwight last episode, crowing about wanting blood and screaming. Clued in that something’s amiss by a few comrades gone silent, Mara doesn’t have time to do much about that, because here come the AHKers in the armored cars firing away at what proves to be a shockingly ill-prepared group.
Meanwhile, Jesus, Morgan, Diane and Tara are debating how to infiltrate the place with all the satellite dishes and a spanking new “moat” of Walkers. Morgan also has a pair of unwanted helpers. The reason he doesn’t want them: “I don’t die.”
Meanwhile Carol, the King and their platoon come to after being stunned by the grenade and find they’re indeed in the path of a crop of walkers. One that is quickly put down while we admire Greg Nicotero’s handiwork, which is on some kinda full display this season. Then it’s off in search of the bomb tosser, who is nowhere to be soon.
Rick and Daryl and their helpers, meanwhile, are raiding some sort of giant living situation where they’re hunting for guns with a map supplied by Dwight. Daryl doesn’t quite trust Dwight, even though Rick reminds him that everything Dwight has shared has thus far panned out. Daryl still calls him a piece of shit. Once a Savior, always a Savior in Daryl’s book. I sure hope he’s not right.
Outside Satellite Central, Morgan puts the others in motion, then rattles the fence which gathers the walker moat into a crowd that distracts the human guards enough to kill them. Tara, Morgan, Diane, Jesus and troops enter the place which rings some bells, although I’m not sure, of where Carol and Maggie were held back in early Season 7. There’s graffiti reading “Tomm says kill the bitches” with arrows pointing to bloody bullet holes where I guess said unlucky souls met their maker. Tara pointedly notices. The only Tommy I can remember is a relatively minor Alexandrian, but it’s not an uncommon name.
Back at Satellite Central, one of Morgan’s helpers is so scared by the sound of a human presence on the other side of a door that he begins shaking like he's being electrocuted. It’s a problem. A bad one. When Morgan kicks open the door and guns down the guy, the other guys behind that guy handily blast the trio to the ground.
And something is seriously up with Rick as the new season begins.
Back at the outdoor firefight, Mara is opining that the AHK group is too chicken to move in on them, so the best plan is to push them back. It’s not the best plan, and Aaron reminds us why. “We pin them in and it takes care of itself.” By it, he means the Savior dead who are beginning to turn. More about that in a bit.
Anybody else impressed by what a badass warrior Aaron’s lover Eric has turned out to be? When did that happen?
Back at Satellite Central, Tara and Jesus encounter an incontinent guy named Dean who cowers in a closet, throws his hands up and gives them a sob story about being separated from his family and made to work by the Saviors. Jesus buys it. Tara doesn’t. Can’t just be about revenge, Jesus says.
Tara for the win. After the pair are distracted by an approaching firefight, Dean grabs Jesus and puts a gun to his head, stomps Maggie’s stolen prenatal vitamins and says mother and child are as good as dead. While he’s prattling on, Jesus overcomes him, but lets him live. I just don’t think this is going to work out to be a decision.
Surprise! Just like he said, Morgan’s not dead. Dinged in the arm but not dead. His eyes are a little dead though.
Back at the firefight (why no one is shooting the gas tanks of all these cars is beyond me), Mara realizes a tad too late that the AHKers aren’t not moving in on them because they’re chicken shit. They’re not moving in on them because the dead are part of the plan. She gets the worst kind of hickey. The deadly kind.
Here we get the best walker of the episode (and what looks like another impending plot thread). The zombie is an oozy wreck of a soul that looks like maybe flesh-eating bacteria got to him long before Jerry did. I’d write him/her off as just more Nicotero handiwork, except Ezekiel gives it special notice — “What befell this creature?” — indicating that we should probably, too. Carol says no time for that because the Compound isn’t far away and if the grenade-tosser made it there alive, the Saviors will be ready for them. More wisdom from the King: “Two possibilities, just one fact. We shall be ready regardless.” Carol does have time to stop and give the dreadlocked feller a little reality check. E is undaunted. Yes is no and no is yes till yes is yes and there’s no no, you dig?
“Fake it till you make it, baby.”
A newly arrived Shiva to turn grenade man into lunch. Over the walkie, we learn the Saviors are on the move. The king raises the sword of no retreat. Onward to our foe, then to his compound, then to certain victory!
Back at the living quarters, Daryl comes upon the dark place where someone was held hostage? Him? Probably. It sure gives him the feels.
Meanwhile we get an excellent backlit shot that demonstrates just exactly how bowlegged Andy Lincoln is and how tall Rick’s boots are.
He makes some pretty good headway through the place before he’s tackled to the ground by a fellow who puts up a mighty fight. Rick gets control of his foe, demanding to know where the guns are. No guns, the guy sputters. There is a live, sleeping baby named Gracie though … which Rick discovers after he’s killed her protective dad, whose tattoo reads “Grace Be God.” He has a hard time looking in the mirror about the child’s crib. He has probably just sealed Gracie’s fate, too.
As Dirty Harry Morgy wanders through casa satellite bumping off Saviors left and right, he flashed back to his time in the church with Rick, when he, too, was on the side of mercy.
Outside, Tara, Jesus and company are on another mission. Jesus commands them to only fire if they’re fired upon. Given what just happened with Dean the willful pants-pisser, Tara really thinks he’s nuts now. I’m kinda there, too. Diane says if they fire first one of them will die. Jesus is willing to double-down, leading the charge so he’s first target. A door goes up and a sole guy stands before them. He drops his weapon and says living sounds good to him. He calls to his companions, tells them not to be “as dumb as they think we are,” they drop their guns, too.
Tara still has unfinished business. Even if Maggie listens to Jesus, Rick will listen to Tara, she hisses. They’re interrupted by Morgan, momentarily blinded by the sudden daylight, who’s walked right into the surrender. He’s still thinking of his talk with Rick when one of the captives happily announces, “I know you! Did you get transferred, too?” Oh boy. It’s Jared, the who killed Benjamin during a Kingdom supply drop.
Morgan charges him. Jesus intervenes. A brief argument ensues. Morgan: “We came here to kill them. Jesus: “They surrendered. It’s not what we do.” Morgan: “Then what do we do, huh?” He’s mad and he's outie.
Back at the firefight, the AHKers are getting tired and the remaining Saviors fighting for their lives. Tobin is hit in the arm. Tracy takes a likely fatal hit. Aaron hops in a car to block them and help out. But someone else is hit, too. Eric isn’t just tired. He’s bleeding, and badly, from a wound in his abdomen.
Meanwhile, Rick’s got more bad news. Entering another living quarters, he spots a photo that gives him pause. “Damn it,” he says softly. Oh, hey, Morales from Season 1 about whom I remember nothing! Rick remembers him, though. And Morales remembers Rick. He cocks his gun.
The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC