TV Review: The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 2 “The Damned”

Complaints that The Walking Dead has tipped the scales away from action as of late are not unfounded. Previous seasons have been dragged down by a modest sprinkle of muscle that are few and far between, eschewing the more meaty and direct throws of conflict for cartoonish grandstanding and careful, often nauseating, build-up. Sure, build-up ain’t all bad, but it’s nice to finally have an episode that plays out like a middle finger to all that criticism, stuffing more action down our throats than the show has managed in entire seasons.

“The Damned” certainly gave us a heavy dose of gunfire, and right from the jump as well. Much like in the premiere, the episode was spent jumping between factions of Team Alexandria as they continued their compartmentalised assault on Negan and The Saviors which involved a lot of minor-name Alexandrians (and Aaron; I love Aaron) using those shielded cars first seen in “Mercy” to rain all hell down on a group of Saviours who were presumably working on tools or weapons for The Sanctuary. First step was to cut off communication and then get straight to it, shooting – often like Stormtroopers – at this small faction of The Saviours until they reanimated and took care of the others. Of course, while Team Alexandria are on a roll at the moment, the little excursion wasn’t without its mishaps, with two notable characters (as notable as having an actual name in the show is) eventually falling – one definitely dead and the other likely to die next episode.

Stakes were a bit higher with the second group, being Morgan, Tara, Jesus and a bunch of others invading the Satellite Outpost with as much stealth as possible before waging all out war. The crux here was the interplay between Tara and Jesus, two opposing ideals which mirrored the dynamic between Morgan and Carol in season 6. Jesus’ insistence that no one needs to die and that those who surrender can be taken prisoner is a foolishness that almost gets him killed, a soft-heartedness that’s directly juxtaposed against where Morgan is at now. The former peace-loving, stick-wielding pacifist has now taken on shades of Carol, although a kind of tear between his two minds is apparent and sold incredibly well by the endlessly talented Lennie James. It all wraps up quite nicely here, and this side of “The Damned” has its own fair share of thrills and exciting moments to make it the most well-rounded venture of this episode.

What didn’t work so well were the other two outings. First there was King Ezekiel, Carol and a bunch of the crew from The Kingdom on a mission to stop a sole Saviour – the same who threw a smoke grenade in the premiere – before he warns the others. Though Khary Payton is fine in the role of the gregarious role-playing king, the cartoonish and exaggerated texture his character brings to the show does not bode well when contrasted with the gritty realism the show has spent seven years building on. As I mentioned in last week’s piece, it’s becoming clear that not everything that worked in the comic books necessarily works for the adaptation, and a seemingly stubborn commitment to doing the source material justice ends up weakening just about every piece of dialogue he has. Although the philosophy behind why he does what he does is quite thoughtful, and is expressed – or reiterated – well in a brief but tender scene with Carol.

The biggest misfire of this episode was the strange and rather empty time spent with Rick and Daryl as they stalked through a mostly empty outpost to cut of The Saviour’s gun supply. The obvious motif of mercy and wrath came into play here as Rick happens upon a sleeping baby right after he kills a Saviour in the next room and displays a tinge of self-doubt, while Daryl is off doing pretty much nothing. The real shock-and-awe moment here is the not-so-secret return of Noah Lomax as Morales at the episode’s very end. The last we saw of the Atlanta survivor he parted ways with Rick, Shane and the rest in the first season; now he’s a saviour, and a rather unrelenting one at that, revealing that he has called his cohorts back before he cocks his gun ready to shoot and kill Rick if he moves. There’s no doubt that Rick is making it out of this one alive, and they aren’t going to bring back Morales just to kill him off so quickly so what happens next is at least shrouded in some tension, a nice way to end of the episode’s most uninteresting thread.

Having an episode brimming with action should do well in making up for the average premiere, and though it’s a massive improvement over last week there’s still a sense of unbalance when the show attempts to juggle all these threads at once. We’ll see how it goes from here, but at least things are looking up.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights:

  • Morgan on a war path
  • Jesus vs Tara
  • Plenty of action gives the Alexandrians a platform to step up

Lowlights:

  • Daryl and Rick team-up wasn’t too exciting
  • King Ezekiel’s speeches can be grating
  • Carol underused

The Walking Dead Season 8 screens in Australia on FX/Foxtel every Monday at 1:30pm and again at 7:30pm.

Image: Gene Page/AMC.