Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Walking Dead Review Season 8, Episode 2: ‘The Damned’

(Photo Credit: AMC)

The Walking Dead
Season 8, Episode 2

Attention viewers! We interrupt your Stranger Things 2 binge watch for the latest episode of The Walking Dead! That’s right, while you’ve spent the last day and a half getting lost in the Upside Down, here in the land of broadcast television, the world keeps on spinning. (With the appropriate number of commercial breaks, of course.) Unfortunately, after last week’s convoluted mess of a premiere, the second episode of season eight, “The Damned,” does little to clarify what exactly is going on, and proceeds to thrust us into the midst of the context-less action, anyway. But, based on some clues sprinkled throughout the episode, we can make some educated guesses. It seems like the attack on the Sanctuary is the plan’s primary focal point, but in order for the walker hoard to inflict the most damage, the combined forces of Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom must take down several Savior outposts, to prevent them from sending reinforcements and guns to the Sanctuary. That last part, the guns, is a little harder to glean because only Rick and Daryl are actually seen looking for a weapons cache.

The lack of clarity for this season’s opening storyline is so strange- it almost feels like there’s an episode missing. It’s really too bad because on their own, these first two episodes have been pretty good. But, regardless of episodic quality, it’s hard to fully enjoy any show with this many glaring narrative gaps. Maybe this is the writing team’s response to the constant fan criticism that The Walking Dead moves too slowly? If so, it’s certainly a step in the right direction, but I very much doubt fans ever would have thought that this kind of change would have to come at the cost of incredibly basic, and obviously necessary, narrative table setting.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
If there’s one positive that we can take away from the first two episodes of season eight, and especially, “The Damned,” is that the action scenes have been quite stellar. The simultaneous group attacks on the different Savior outposts, almost make it feel like we’re watching three episodes in one. And, the best part is, these sequences all have a distinct feel to them. You have the infiltration scenes with Tara, Jesus, and the satellite outpost from season six; the armored car shoot-out between the Aaron-led Alexandrians and the Saviors; and Rick and Daryl’s stealth mission to find the gun stash. Another interesting wrinkle that’s been prevalent in these past two episodes is the weaponization of walkers. We’ve seen walkers used in this way before, as early as season three, with the Governor’s first attack on the prison. More recently, though, the living’s use of the dead has been for more defensive purposes, like the Sanctuary’s perimeter of teeth-gnashing, though immobile, walkers; and, the Scavengers’ fight club-pit walker, Winslow. So, while it’s not necessarily ground-breaking to see people use walkers against their human enemies, it’s fun to see the resourcefulness of our heroes shine through, as they seek to outsmart, rather than outmuscle the Saviors.

In typical Walking Dead fashion, though, the action comes screeching to an all too familiar halt, when Jesus has a stroke of pacifism just seconds after taking out a roomful of Saviors. We’ve seen this type of thing happen before. Throughout The Walking Dead’s entire run, the writers have always felt compelled to create a contrived sense of dramatic tension, by shoehorning in the one nonviolent naysayer, who determinedly goes against the group’s collective interest in killing the bad guys before the bad guys kill them. We saw it all the way back in season two with Dale. We saw it with Andrea, Herschel, Tyreese, Michonne, Morgan (ugh)- even Daryl and Carol. “That’s not who we are,” they all said. Killing others “isn’t what we do,” they bemoaned. Well, I’ve got news for you, Jesus. It is what you do. It’s exactly what you do. The whole reason you recruited Rick’s group, in the first place, was so they would kill the Saviors for the Hilltop. You literally shot someone in the face, during the first attack on the satellite outpost, and you were in the middle of shooting even more people in the face, this episode, before you decided that the guy who was just about to blow your head off, is probably an okay person to keep around.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
Without context, that last paragraph probably reads a little…whiny. But, if you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The whole debate between our heroes killing the bad guys that get in their way, and showing them mercy in the hopes of maintaining some sliver of humanity from their bygone lives, has persisted throughout the entire show, and was once its core inner conflict. But, those days are long gone. Now, our survivors are ruthless, operating with the kind of tactical precision (They have secret whistle signals for crying out loud!) that doesn’t really lend itself to these kinds of moments of hesitation, like the one Jesus displays. At this point in the show, over a hundred episodes in, it’s just too hard to accept that a character as apocalyptic-hardened as Jesus would willingly spare the life of such a lethal enemy.

What is interesting, though, is that Tara and Morgan- two characters who, at different times during the show, were reluctant to kill others- are now both leading the charge against the Saviors. Morgan’s transformation, from “all life is precious” do-gooder, to the seek-and-destroy Terminator we see this week, has been well documented, dating back to his return to the show in season five, and culminating with his short arc, last season, with the Kingdom. Tara’s change, meanwhile, has been more subtle, taking place mostly offscreen. It wasn’t until halfway through season seven, when Tara returned from her two-week scavenging trip, and learned about the fates of Denise, Glenn, and Abraham, that she really started to embrace violence as a solution.

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