The second episode of The Walking Dead season eight continues with the theme of ‘all out war’ as it presents a number of stories of the people of Alexandria, Hilltop, and the Kingdom assaulting Saviour camps and outposts.
Following the singular assault that was the main focus of the premier episode, ‘The Damned’ splits our characters off into four groups, widening the war against the Saviours and using the confusion at the Sanctuary to their advantage.
Compared to previous seasons, where each of these four stories would be spread out over four separate episodes, here they’re all told at the same time, giving the story a sense of pace that The Walking Dead has severely lacked in the past. Whilst this is a good thing, there are a number of plot points that feel underdeveloped as a result of this mashing of stories.
The action is spread across four groups: Tara (Alanna Masterson), Jesus (Tom Payne), and Morgan (Lennie James) attacking the satellite facility Rick and his group assaulted way back in season six; Carol (Melissa McBride), Ezekiel (Khary Payton), and other members of The Kingdom track down a wounded Saviour; Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson) pin down a group of Saviours; and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) try to track down some high calibre guns.
The Carol and Ezekiel story is easily the weakest in the episode, with the group essentially just following a trail through the woods for several minutes before finally finding the man they were looking for. Even after all that build up, however, we fail to get a satisfying resolution as the tiger comes out of nowhere to kill the man before our characters even get close to him. Whilst the surprise tiger pounce in the season seven finale was a moment that stands out, repeating it again just two episodes later is rather weak.
The group led by Aaron and Eric had something of a strange mission, simply keeping a group of Saviours pinned down in their compound. Whilst part way through the assault we discover that this is in part to allow those Saviours that they’ve shot time to turn into walkers and attack their former friends, it’s a plan that only feels half good because it’s never really explained.
Are they keeping the Saviours busy or do they actually want to take the compound? Are there only the Saviours outside the front to worry about or are there more inside? Is there a back way out of the compound, and if so are our group doing anything about it?
Because there are so many questions about this particular plot point left hanging there’s no real sense of what our heroes are trying to achieve, and it’s hard to tell towards the end if they start losing because more Saviours have arrived to help, or if they enemy has just fought back hard enough.
Sadly, one thing that they do decide to do with this story is shoot Eric in the stomach. Whilst his fate is yet to be determined it’s very hard to see him being able to survive a wound like that in this kind of scenario. Whilst I’m not particularly attached to Eric in any major way and he’s had very little screen time, is this going to be another example of the show killing off an LGBT+ character for no real reason, like Denise (Merritt Wever) in season six?
Thankfully, we do get some better character moments in the assault (re-assault?) on the satellite facility as we see a darker side of Tara. It’s nice to be able to see some moral clashing, even during what is supposed to be a war for survival, as she and Jesus argue about what’s the right thing to do, whether they should take prisoners or simply kill people outright.
With Morgan having given up his pacifist ways, perhaps Jesus is stepping up to take over a similar role, to be that voice that tries to keep the group from straying too far down a dark path. Even after almost being killed by a Saviour pretending to surrender Jesus refuses to shift from his position, going on to stop the group from killing over a dozen others. How this will continue to play out over the rest of the season is anyone’s guess, though this is surely not the end of this moral debate.
Sadly, these sections are let down by Morgan, who appears to have become something of a parody. After telling a couple of guys that he can risk his life because he ‘doesn’t die’, he indeed survives being shot point blank; a moment that kills the other two. Perhaps because sudden and unexpected death seems to be a thing of the past for main characters on this show, or maybe because Morgan just blatantly said he wouldn’t be killed, but I wasn’t worried in the slightest when he was shot. I knew the show wouldn’t let him be dead, and as such any tension or drama was missing from this event.
The one surprise that that the episode did manage to deliver well was the reappearance of Morales (Juan Gabriel Pareja), who we haven’t seen since way back in season one. One of the original members of Rick’s group in Atlanta, he reappears moments after Rick discovers that he just murdered a man protecting his baby to hold our leader at gunpoint. This is a character whose fate fans of the series have been asking for years, so his sudden reappearance as a saviour is genuinely a surprise, one that will leave viewers guessing as to what happens next for a week as the episode ends with him telling Rick that he has called for reinforcements, telling Rick to surrender.
‘The Damned’ manages to miss a lot of the sour notes that made the first episode of the season suffer by putting aside time shifts and narrative complications to simply focus on events. Unfortunately, some ill thought through and poorly developed storylines means that despite being a stronger episode than the season premiere, there were still a number of issues that kept it from being truly great.