The Walking Dead: Season 8, Episode 2 – The Damned

“This isn’t about revenge, it’s about getting it done.”

(SPOILER WARNING!)

After a fairly lacklustre start to the season, I must say that The Walking Dead seemed to up its game this week, with a much more straightforward – and very action-packed – ep that cut down on the jaw-jaw and delivered on the war-war. No tricksy non-linear narrative this time, just a furious onslaught of gunfire, impalements and well-aimed crossbow bolts right from the outset, in a show that felt like nothing so much as an ep of WWII drama Band of Brothers.

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Rosemary Rodriguez, whose only previous directorial credit on the show was last season’s Carl/Negan psychodrama Sing Me a Song, showed herself to be every bit as adept at hard-boiled action in the style of classic war movies. Bookending the ep with moody closeups of our heroes’ faces was a nice touch, but the frenetic sound and fury that filled the space between was well-handled. All right, it was no Battle of the Bastards, but then what is?

We saw last week that the campaign against the Saviors had been meticulously planned, and that was nicely expanded on here as separate narrative strands followed near-simultaneous attacks on four separate Savior strongholds. Well, I say “four”, but Carol and Ezekiel’s team didn’t actually reach their target by the episode end, spending most of their time wandering cautiously through the woods looking for the guard who’d set those Walkers on them.

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Within the sound and fury of the rest of the ep, those quieter, contemplative scenes gave a necessary respite from what might otherwise have been a barrage of action without much substance. Carol is still one of the show’s standout characters, and her relationship with Ezekiel has been built up nicely from last year to now; Melissa McBride and Khary Payton played well off each other as always.

I particularly liked Ezekiel’s rhetorical questions about whether he really felt that confident, needed to project it for the benefit of the troops, and might end up genuinely feeling it as a result. Again, we were in classic war movie territory – these are questions every conscientious commander asks him/herself before an attack. Again, see Band of Brothers.

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The better episodes of Walking Dead always manage to intersperse thrillride episodes with character beats like that; we saw another with the conflict between Tara, Jesus, and then Morgan during the assault on the previously visited radio telescope. It’s fair to say that Jesus hasn’t really had that much to do since his introduction (beyond kicking a lot of ass), so it was nice to see him develop into another of the group consciences – he certainly lived up to his name.

Nevertheless, I had to wonder about the practicalities of allowing a large group of Saviors to simply surrender and be taken prisoner. Particularly since they seemed less than repentant – that surly bearded one Morgan’s been dealing with since the Kingdom didn’t look too keen on laying down in the field and singing Kumbaya. It’s a recurring, nihilistic theme of the show that well-meaning attempts to cling to old moral values never end well; I’m sure we’ll see some of that later on down the line.

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Rick and Daryl’s plot thread had less of that kind of depth, sadly, and felt possibly the most formulaic. Discovering that the man he’d killed was trying to protect his baby daughter rather than the promised stash of Savior guns gave Rick an opportunity to wheel out his well-worn “oh God, what have I done?” face, but we’ve been there plenty of times before when he’s got things wrong. Which, let’s face it, happens a lot.

Still, it was interesting to see the unexpected return of old hand Morales, last seen in the penultimate episode of season one. At least, it was interesting once I’d remembered who he was (it even took Rick a few seconds). He never really made that much of an impression back then – which rather undercut the presumably intended shock moment that he’s working with the Saviors now. Perhaps he’ll become more interesting from hereon in, but I’m not exactly holding my breath.

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The lion’s share of the ep’s action was over with Aaron and Eric’s group, who stormed onto the scene guns blazing from the very first scene. That’s a hell of a lot of ammo our heroes have got, judging by the way they were spraying it around so freely. The relentless gun battle was exciting, but a bit one note; it was just as well the four plot threads were intertwined so as not to completely inure the audience to it.

It did at least give us the opportunity to see one of the major characters shot. Well, a bit shot. And a bit of a major character. Ish. Eric has never really been given any kind of personality beyond “Aaron’s boyfriend”, and that didn’t really change here, despite his sudden metamorphosis into Sgt Rock. His possibly mortal injury doesn’t work to upset the viewer because we’ve come to care about him; more because his potential death will affect Aaron, who has been given a personality. At least Tara’s lust for vengeance comes from the loss of a character who was actually interesting.

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Gore of the week

A fair bit, though as with last week any living characters who bought it were strictly redshirts. Mostly gunshot wounds, but the Walkers did get to chow down on the unfortunate leader of the Savior compound being stormed by Aaron and Eric:

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The unfortunate father encountered by Rick had a fairly graphic encounter with a shelf bracket, though if I’m honest it was pretty clear one or the other of them would end up stuck on it from the moment the shelf was broken off:

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But my top moment has to be the unfortunate Walker encountered by Carol and Ezekiel, who looked rather reminiscent of that poor bloke who gets covered in toxic waste at the end of Robocop:

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I wonder what did happen to it? Carol made quite a deal of asking, but we don’t know yet. Perhaps it will become important next week…

A shallower episode than last week then, but actually a more enjoyable one, giving us more of the action you’d expect from an all-out war. With Negan and Gabriel absent this week, we still haven’t resolved the previous ep’s cliffhnager; this one added a few more, with Morales’ distress call to the Saviors and the possible mortal wound suffered by Eric. It’s fair to say though that neither of those registered particularly high on the drama index.

There was also no resolution to the mysterious flashbacks/flashforwards sprinkled into last week’s ep. It looks like I was right in my supposition – I think they’re going to string them out for a while, possibly the first half-season at least. It remains to be seen if that’ll pay off, though I want to find out just so I can see more of Rick’s hilarious beard.

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