Spoiler Warning for Season 8, Episode 2 of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Some minor spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed.
All Out War is in full swing and the communities are fighting back against their oppressors in a series of chaotic gun battles and strategic chases. While the Season 8 Premiere may have lacked some of the grand scale that one would expect from a war, this episode absolutely delivers it, following four groups as they attack Savior outposts. War is brutal, taxing and traumatizing, and the characters are forced to deal with a variety of moral dilemmas. Not only is this episode one of the most action packed in the entire series run, it is one of the most thrilling and intense, mixing shocking developments and pulse-pounding battles with powerful character moments and moving performances. The days of Negan and the Saviors are over…or are they?
The Season Premiere was incredibly difficult to recap because of the jumbled timelines, but this episode keeps things mostly linear; in order to recap this episode as adequately as possible, events will be discussed by location and group. “The Damned” begins with a series of close-up shots of the primary characters of this episode against a chilling musical score by Bear McCreary. One prominent storyline of the storyline begins at a Savior outpost, where a woman named Mara (Lindsey Garrett) rudely orders a worker around; she radios in to some Savior lookouts, but hears no response (likely because Rick and the gang took them out) before she is stunned by the arrival of the caravan of armored cars and a torrent of gunfire. Our heroes have arrived and they are unleashing a fury of bullets on the Saviors; Aaron leads this army that consists of several notable Alexandrians, including Eric, Scott, Francine and Tobin. Alexandria has seen battle time and time again, with the “JSS” Wolves’ attack and the Season 7 Savior/Scavenger take-down being prime examples of the residents getting their hands dirty; it’s always entertaining and rewarding to get to witness smaller characters getting in on the action…even if they do end up dying in the process.
Several Saviors are killed in the line of fire and the rules of the world play into Team Alexandria’s plan as those that are killed turn and attack; Mara has her throat ripped out after realizing that this was all part of their opponent’s greater ploy to take them down. In the firefight, Tobin is shot in the shoulder and Francine is shot in the chest before falling to the ground and dying; Eric is right beside her when this happens and he uses his anger to take down several Saviors. Aaron notices that Eric is in danger and uses one of the armored cars to run over a few Saviors before rushing to the side of his boyfriend; this is where he makes the grim discovery that Eric has been shot in the abdomen and is losing a lot of blood. The two stumble away from the scene, leaving Eric’s fate as a cliffhanger for the next episode; last season, Eric was quite reluctant to get involved in the war efforts, fearing that something like this would happen to him or Aaron. Are we about to experience some of “The Walking Dead’s” tragic irony with the death of Eric next episode? I would put money on it as this would be an absolute game-changer for the character of Aaron, who hasn’t received much development since his introduction; this is war and loved ones are going to die, but maybe Aaron will get Eric back to a community before it’s too late. Speaking of the cost of war, this episode says farewell to Francine, who goes down fighting for her beloved Alexandria; since her first appearance in Season 5’s “Spend,” Francine has proven herself to be not only a capable fighter, but also very mission-oriented. Farewell, Francine; thanks for fighting for us.
This episode also follows a band of survivors as they launch an attack on the Savior satellite compound that was previously featured in “Not Tomorrow Yet” of Season 6. There was a brief scene at the end of the Premiere that teased this attack and things kick off as Morgan, Tara, Jesus and Dianne try to figure out a way to kill the guards through a walker moat that has been set up. Before invading, Andy and Freddie from the Hilltop ask Morgan if he needs them to cover him, to which he replies, “I don’t die.” Riling up the walkers draws the guards right into Dianne’s range and she takes them out with her bow, giving the rest of the group full access to enter the compound. With expertly planned organization and stealth, the team consisting of Alexandrians, Hilltoppers and Kindommers, enter the facility and begin shooting any Savior that they cross paths with. Tara spots a message on the wall, reading “kill the bitches” with an arrow pointing to a bullet hole from the previous battle; that attack was a major blow and an embarrassment for the Saviors, so it makes sense that they would be angry about it and more defensive this go-around.
Carrying out an attack like this requires cooperation among the various soldiers and this is seen clearly as hand signals are utilized throughout the assault. Unfortunately for the good guys, a closed door hides some armed Saviors that kick off a tense battle in close quarters; Andy and Freddie from the Hilltop are gunned down beside Morgan, who also collapses to the floor. He is given more reason to believe in his immortality as two people who offered to cover him are literally slaughtered in front of him, yet he gets away with only minor injuries (that we know of). Tara and Jesus come across a man named Dean (Adam Fristoe) hiding in a closet who claims to be a worker from the Sanctuary; Tara throws a Negan joke in his face after seeing that he has urinated in his pants (“Are we pissin’ our pants yet?). This is where a complicated moral dilemma erupts as Tara wants to shoot Dean right in the head, but Jesus prevents her from doing so seeing as how the man has surrendered. Tara obviously has all of the reason to kill this man after losing Denise, Abraham and Glenn to the Saviors, but Jesus hasn’t experienced such heavy losses. Tara finds some medical supplies, including Maggie’s prenatal vitamins, from the Hilltop and uses this as further reason to kill Dean; gunfire from the hallway draws Tara out and she receives an update from Dianne who tells her to stay put. I am wholly impressed by Dianne this episode as she really steps away from the rest of the Kingdom and becomes her own character.
The moral conflict between Jesus and Tara is a major part of this episode and will likely play an ongoing role this season. While holding Dean at gunpoint, Jesus is overpowered and becomes a hostage, prompting Tara to not miss any beats as she locks onto the lying Savior; not only did this awful man lie about being a worker, he was so convincing with his pissed pants that I genuinely believed that he could be trusted (have watching eight seasons of this show taught me nothing?). Jesus uses his badass ninja skills to regain the upper-hand, knocking out Dean and tying him up before rejoining the fight in the hallways. Outside, the entire army convenes at an exit to force the escaping Saviors to surrender and turn over their weapons; Jesus states that he will speak to Maggie about taking Saviors as prisoners of war to which Tara responds by stating that she will speak with Rick, who will listen to her complaints. I’m slightly worried that this will create a split between Rick and Maggie, although I’m sure that they will work through any disagreements they may have. I also have to point out the symbolism of the whole matter as Jesus is representing his Biblical counterpart in trying to save everyone; this is just one notable case of religion playing a role in the series.
Elsewhere in the compound, Morgan is straight up killing Saviors; the switch has flipped and he is in full-blown “clear” mode, becoming a murdering-machine until the sunlight hits him and snaps him out of it. In the lineup of Saviors, Jared steps forward and taunts Morgan; with all of his pent up wrath boiling out, Morgan moves in to kill “rat-faced prick” Jared, but Jesus intervenes and orders him to stand down. I really don’t see Jared lasting much longer as he has caused far too many problems for Morgan and the Kingdom, especially the heartbreaking death of Benjamin in last season’s “Bury Me Here.” The multiple viewpoints explored here allows the viewer to question their own beliefs about this situation; should all Saviors be considered evil and be killed as a result or are some innocent and should therefore be sparred? This moral quandary reminds me of the Randall dilemma from Season 2 where the group debated what to do with their mysterious prisoner; much like that, I am caught in the middle on what I think the characters should do. Killing the Saviors is the easiest and safest option as it eliminates them completely; at the same time, allowing them to surrender and live allows them to be prisoners and potential bargaining chips in the future. Killing the Saviors in the middle of a battle is far different from executing them once they have thrown up their arms and surrendered; if Tara and the others gun down the survivors, are they really any different than the Saviors themselves? That’s the million dollar question.
I mentioned in my previous review that some of the action at the end of the episode felt shoehorned in, including the altercation between the Savior lookout and the Kingdom. This episode picks up in the dusty aftermath of that Savior throwing a grenade and unleashing walkers onto the Knights; with a stunning sequence set to organ music, King Ezekiel and Carol dispatch walkers alongside their fellow soldiers. Once they’ve cleared the area, Ezekiel sends one of his Knights to collect the rest of their army and link back up with them en route to the Savior compound; Ezekiel plans to lead his small group to track down the grenade-throwing Savior that escaped in the chaos. They manage to pick up his trail in the forest and Carol points out that he must be stopped before he warns other Saviors; Ezekiel is far from worried and maintains his confident demeanor, spouting poetic lines of dialogue, some of which are a little too over-the-top, even for this flamboyant leader (this is the first episode that I have felt as though Ezekiel’s royal performance pushed the bounds of believability a bit). That being said, he does step out from behind the curtain for a moment as he reminds Carol that his grandeur nature is an act to give his people something to fight for.
After tracking the Savior for sometime, the Kingdommers are relieved when they witness Shiva pounce and take down the runaway; I’m still not sure how Shiva knows to only attack bad guys, but I’m not really going to question it so long as we get more of this ferocious beast mauling Saviors. Ezekiel speaks with his entire army and rallies them to finish what they started, proving once again that his Shakespearean talk serves its purpose, even if it may be jarring and over-the-top. The Kingdom has survived this long because Ezekiel is a man of his word and he is willing to fight alongside his people, much like Rick and Maggie; with that in mind, I’m starting to worry that his overconfidence may lead to disaster for the Kingdom in the future. With the exception of Benjamin and Richard last season, this community hasn’t experienced many losses to the Saviors; will the cost of war strike them over the head? This episode also features something that I have been waiting a full season to witness: Jerry going absolute beast-mode with his battle axe; where can I get one of those?
The final storyline of this episode follows Rick and Daryl as they siege another Savior compound, one of which that seems to be far less populated than the others. This isn’t about killing enemies though, instead their mission is to collect guns that Dwight states are being kept here; Rick explains that this is important due to the fact that if the guns get to the Sanctuary, the Saviors trapped inside can use them to clear the herd and escape. Rick and Daryl make their way through the building before separating (never a good idea) and searching on their own; Daryl comes across a closet that holds a dog food sandwich and a pair of handcuffs, flashing him back to his time as Negan’s prisoner, as well as his brother Merle being trapped on the roof in Atlanta. This serves as a reminder to Daryl of the stakes of this war; if he or anyone that he cares about is captured, they will be thrown into a cell just like this. This is also a realization for Daryl that other people are suffering under Negan’s rule and that at least one other person has been subjected to the sick torture that he experienced; let’s just hope that that person didn’t have to listen to “Easy Street” on a loop.
Rick finds himself in a struggle with a strong Savior who is destined to stay alive as the two throw punches at each other; the man puts up a good fight, but Rick ultimately overpowers and throws him onto a metal spike. Things take a dark turn as Rick walks into a room to find a sleeping baby in a crib with the name Gracie written on the wall; Rick just killed the baby’s father and he realizes the gravity of this as he looks into the mirror. Again, the question of who exactly is good is brought back up; yes, the Saviors are evil people, but among their ranks are men and women with children that depend on them for survival. Rick has just left this baby orphaned, something that many Saviors have done themselves; in this moment, Rick is likely also thinking about Carl and Judith as he could just as easily have been in the position of the father he killed.
The real shocker of the episode comes as Rick finds a photograph of a couple who he seems to recognize; a man sneaks up on him and holds him at gunpoint, leaving Rick stunned at this Savior’s identity. It is none other than Morales (Juan Gabriel Pareja), who was last seen separating from Rick’s group in the Season 1 episode “Wildfire.” 95 episodes later, he has returned to the series…as an antagonist who isn’t looking for a happy reunion with his former friend. For years, Morales has been a meme in the fandom and this return is really nothing more than fan-service, something that I was originally against…but now I’m kind of okay with it if there is reasonable justification given. When he separated from the Atlanta group, Morales was with his wife and two young children; they are nowhere to be seen now, so the question remains: what happened to them? We know that the family was headed to Birmingham, but how did Morales end up in upstate Virginia? We will likely see some form of backstory for him that helps to explain why he is now on opposite sides as Rick.
“The Damned” is absolutely wild from start-to-finish and really captures the feeling of war on many different fronts. I’m most impressed by the blending of storylines that takes place here; had this been Season 7, this would have likely been four separate episodes. There is a real heavy emphasis placed on the morality of war and why everyone is fighting. Things aren’t as black and white as they seem and the characters find themselves in a gray area as they make life-altering decisions based on past experiences and their outlooks on the future. Tara, Jesus and Morgan will surely find themselves in more conflict moving forward as they deal with their prisoners; it will definitely be interesting to see how Maggie, Ezekiel and Rick deal with this development and if they will chose to keep or kill the captured Saviors. The return of Morales is shocking and unexpected, mostly because I had a feeling that he could possibly be the crossover character for “Fear the Walking Dead.” How Morales got here is still a mystery, but it is very apparent that this isn’t the friendly family man that we met seven years ago. Along with the story, praise must be given to the performances, with Andrew Lincoln and Lennie James standing out as Rick and Morgan, both absolutely nailing the trauma of their respective characters. The direction of Rosemary Rodriguez is another highlight, specifically because of the cinematography and the juggling of several different characters. It’s hard to believe, but this season is only just getting started and there are many more battles to be fought.
Be sure to tune into “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.