Review: The Walking Dead 8x02, “The Damned”

So I get how The Walking Dead wants to capitalize on the graphic novel’s “All Out War” chapters but did anyone count on this show going this far with that idea? For a series that’s been criticized in the past for holding off action for long stretches, “The Damned” went out of its way to spend lots of ammunition ensuring how slow things are likely going to get after these first few episodes of the season are over. There’s a way to make that work, but this being The Walking Dead, I don’t have much confidence in it paying off. Not helping: “The Damned” is not a very good hour of television, as it lacks all the things that are needed to help a sustained firefight.

Last week’s premiere set up a storyline that was going to need a payoff. That much was clear. However, this week, while heavy on firepower, feels like a waiting game. It picks up where we left off with most of the cast (Father Gabriel and Negan are on the bench this weekend, and Carl and Michonne are still back at HQ), and moves around between the five storylines that should amount to some intrigue or narrative tension. Instead, it feels like the longest shootout of the year, which is saying something when you consider Free Fire, John Wick: Chapter 2 and Dunkirk. The difference shows as we are watching a TV show do its best to have an efficiency close to The Raid, but instead, comes off like Taken 3.

It would be best to break it down, so first up is Aaron and his squadron. This segment of the episode almost finds a creative way out of its repetitive sequences of everyone spending lots of ammunition they likely don’t have too much of by the reveal of the actual plan. The idea was to shoot at the Saviors long enough to let the dead saviors reanimate and kill the leftovers. That’s rather neat if you don’t think about the Saviors being dumb enough (yes, even in the midst of combat) to forget how corpses reanimate. There’s also the bit where Aaron’s boyfriend, Eric (a name I forgot until it was said out loud), was shot. He’s not looking good, so we’ll either get the tearful goodbye soon or a chance to give Aaron something to be dramatic about every time the show wants us to be reminded of his character.

Carol and Ezekiel pick up where they were last seen last week, on the ground, slightly destabilized after a flashbang/smoke grenade went off. This team is bent on finding the one Savior that escaped, which puts a big emphasis on why this episode lacks tension. We don’t know the plan Rick and the gang have beyond “eventually kill Negan, make all Saviors surrender and party.” This team of 10+ people is after one guy, but why? If war is already loudly happening, what’s the matter with one guy getting away? Who is he going to tell that isn’t aware the fit hit the shan? More importantly, where is everyone? Geography is sometimes an issue on this show and “The Damned” is really stretching the limits of what we can discern without a video game HUD to refer to.

Tara and Jesus have a small subplot involving the morality of their cause. Since this show is always happy to remind us of the lessons we learned back in season 1, but with exciting new pairings, I suppose some good could come from this. Of course, that would make it the one time the optimist gets a win, and this show rarely deals out that sort of victory, so I’m not tipping my hat to Jesus’ choices to spare a threatening pants pisser just yet.

Morgan is also having quite the day. He doesn’t die, as we are reminded by him, but shooting the man doesn’t help any Saviors. Lennie James is too good in this role to be uninteresting, but his Terminator routine this week is not too exciting when the rest of the cast is also killing people left and right.

That leaves us with Rick and Daryl, who are on the hunt for guns, thanks to the notes left by Dwight. It gives us time to look at Daryl reflect on the sad dogfood prison he used to be subjected to. More importantly, Rick gets into an awkwardly shot fight with a guy dressed just like him, only to eventually impale him on a hook on the wall (those pesky things). Later on though, after discovering a baby, he is ambushed by a familiar face.

The arrival of Morales is not much of a big deal, as the character left almost no impression other than being one of those people that we assumed was out there and could be easily brought back if the writers decided to make it so. And that’s just what happened, and it is not at all unfunny to watch Rick be just as confused as the audience to learn that this was the big surprise of the episode. Let’s just hope the guy has something to contribute, beyond an awkward conversation about Shane and the other dead Atlantians.

Understandably, this episode is part of a whole, which is fair. I get no pleasure making fun of the shortcomings of a TV episode, as it is not simple to provide analysis to a piece so clearly designed to fit in a larger puzzle. Still, as the episode tries to have a neat wrap-around by way of sweaty close-ups of everyone, I can only judge what I see. “The Damned” felt like a struggle to get through. With the desire to be an intense, action-packed episode, it also forgot to establish stakes beyond “don’t get shot,” and the lack of much build up further held me back from connecting to the action we see so much of this week. Perhaps the next portion of this extended premiere will fill things in better, but if it doesn’t, I guess we at least get to catch up with what Morales has been up to.

Dead Bits:

  • Zombie Kill of the Week: Jerry sliced a walker’s head in two. Jerry’s a good boy.
  • “I don’t die” – Morgan proves this by having a staring contest with walkers on the other side of a fence.
  • Ezekiel is really hoping for that date with Carol once this all ends.
  • Shiva was helpful in wrapping up the Ezekiel/Carol portion of this episode. Good tiger.
  • Seriously, who thought it was a good idea for Rick to fight a guy that looked just like him. Thematic ideas are one thing, but there are no points going to those who make a confusing fist fight.
  • “You were in Atlanta.” – Rick made sure to explain who Morales was to anyone that went, “Which one was he again?” in his very blunt dialogue.
  • Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what me and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on The Walking Dead TV Podcast.

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks,, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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