Without a doubt this week’s episode was a whole lot more exciting and impactful than last week’s season premier, which is saying a lot when “Mercy” was the show’s 100th episode. As I made it very clear in last week’s review I didn’t think “Mercy” was as good as it should’ve been as it didn’t allow The Walking Dead to shine in this tremendous occasion, making the moment feel…well, average. That’s not to say that the entire episode was without good moments, but for what it promised it did feel rather flat.
However, “The Damned” picks up very promisingly as it showcases what should’ve happened last week: conflict. There was a hell-of-a-lot more tension and emotion throughout this week’s episode, showcasing many different character’s experiencing the tragedy, and rawness, of war from different perspectives, thus each of them try to tackle these ruthless events differently and allowed their individual characters to shine and develop accordingly. In some of these cases I was really interested to see where the rest of Season 8 would take them, and how their decisions would affect the overall narrative.
I guess I can forgive “Mercy” a little bit due to the fact that “The Damned” showcased that Rick’s actions within the previous episode was just the mere set-up of their siege against The Saviors, thus cutting off Negan and his main forces whilst Rick went about taking out the remaining Outposts, and thereby evening out the odds for the final confrontation down the line. Nevertheless, I can’t excuse the lack of action when an entire episode is spent building up to something and then nothing actually really happens, so “The Damned” really saved The Walking Dead from becoming a truly disappointing experience.
A lot of shit happens due to there being different events playing out simultaneously, with different factions within Rick’s army attacking various Outposts in order to cripple Negan’s forces, and thus loosen his grip over the land. It was slightly disappointing not seeing what the hell became of Negan and Father Gabriel, but I suppose that will come in all good time. In the meantime we had a lot of interesting circumstances happening elsewhere to excuse this little factor, namely the progression of Morgan Jones, Paul ‘Jesus’ Rovia, and Tara Chambers.
We’d already seen the necessary changes within Morgan’s character over the last season where he finally got the realisation that his pessimist way of thinking would only get people killed and had to finally fight and kill in order to survive. Last week we saw Morgan kill a ton of people and this only increased by the end of “The Damned”. You could see his hesitation, which was really fascinating to watch because you got the impression he was battling with his inner thoughts and way of perceiving the world around him. His morals were really beginning to be challenged and due to a moments hesitation he ultimately got some people killed.
This well and truly sparked a fire up his arse as he went on a killing spree, murdering every single Savior he could get within his grasp. Lennie James performed this transition perfectly and I loved the conflict within his heart and the juxtaposition within his mind as he thought back to when Rick first spoke about tackling The Saviors all the way back in Season 6, that they had to act first, that they couldn’t afford to let them gain any kind of advantage otherwise it spelt doom for Alexandria. Morgan really takes this to heart and comes to the realisation that his words against Rick that day were utter bullshit and that he hadn’t a clue about the greater good that needed to be done.
Put this against Jesus’s progression and you hit a mirror opposite. It was always known that Jesus wasn’t much of a fighter, and was more of a peace-keeping figure to bridge the different communities through his wise words of wisdom. Sure he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, or commence in dangerous operations, but when it comes to killing those that have surrendered Jesus became quite timid in his actions, to the point where he went against his better judgements in order to perform the civil act of kindness. This nearly at one point placed him and Tara in mortal danger, leading to the obvious notion that Jesus clearly wasn’t thinking about the bigger picture and instead was more bothered about preserving his morality.
This quickly brings in conflict between him and Tara who is more than ready to pull the trigger and kill each member of The Saviors, but Jesus opts to become the better man and rounds up all those that surrendered, to which even Morgan looks on in confusion. He is near enough ready to kill Jared, the loose-canon who killed Benjamin in Season 7, but was stopped by Jesus. Tara is very much against Jesus’s actions and feels confident that Rick will quickly put a stop to it down the line, which will no doubt cause further conflict between the group and how morality is being distributed.
I suppose that was the really interesting theme throughout the episode. It made you think about Rick’s actions and how his group are currently operating and how their actions are being perceived by others. Are they now no better than The Saviors? Sure, they aren’t going around brutalising people in a vicious fashion, nor terrorising the innocent through fear, but they are still going around murdering people without any real justice. Who’s to say that they aren’t killing innocent people, people who are merely following orders because they are too afraid to do otherwise? We already know how much of a psychological hold Negan has over his people through the acts of tyranny so who’s to save that many of The Saviors aren’t just poor bystanders caught in the crossfire?
There’s even the added implication of “who are these people outside of their duties?” Do they have families? Are they doing what they have to in order to keep loved ones safe, secure, and well fed against the cruel world outside the walls of The Sanctuary? Rick comes against this very idea in a moment which is perfectly captured through “Show Don’t Tell”. In the very expressions of Andrew Lincoln‘s performance we see a man who is guilt ridden, looking upon himself in the mirror as if to say, “Who is the person staring back at me?”
In a very intense moment of conflict, which perfectly demonstrates that Rick isn’t indestructible, and when caught off guard can be taken advantage of. It was a small skirmish between a low-key member of The Saviors, I know, but it was still effective in its imagery and the brutality of this world of survival, especially in the midst of a huge “All-Out War” between surviving factions. The end result was Rick desperately trying to survive and ultimately, and brutally, killed this man in order to live another die. You’d assume he’s done the right thing, what with Rick being the supposed hero of this series, but then you have to question his fatal decision upon realising the man was a father to a child, a child wrapped up in a cot now defenceless without parental protection.
This is why it was so fascinating to see Rick look at himself in the mirror and question his own existence (and possibly every decision he has ever made to get him to this point). At the end of the day this character isn’t a saint and has done some vicious shit multiple times in the past in order to survive and protect those around him. Call him what you like but he isn’t a hero, merely a desperate man who will do anything to get the job done, and I think after all this time he’s beginning to question what he’s actually become (and more importantly, what he’s capable of), and whether or not his reflection matches the man he once was back at the very beginning.
Of course this moment of clarity hit Rick even worse upon bumping into an old friend, a man he hadn’t seen since Season 1. We see the return of Morales (reprised by Juan Pareja), who is now a member of The Saviors, which quickly puts a spanner in the works for Rick as he must overcome the dilemma of fighting against an old comrade now turned enemy. Honestly, I am really enjoying the stacked up dilemmas characters are forced to face this season, which is really making the overall experience that bit more exciting and engaging as a viewer because you become more invested and tuned into what will happen next, constantly anticipating the very next conflict of events and how things can possibly get worse before the supposed silver-lining.
Also, I really love King Ezekiel. Khary Payton‘s energy in this episode was brilliant and it added a lot to the overall narrative. Elsewhere there’s dark conflicts, with people left, right, and centre getting killed (placing likable characters in serious peril), whilst other characters are being faced with terrible moral decisions that is affecting who they are as people, but then we cut back to Ezekiel and you’ve just got a man full of energy and high spirit. He doesn’t care about the odds, or the grimness of the situation, all he’s bothered about is staying true to his symbolic meaning as King of The Kingdom.
Carol Peletier, on the other-hand, is very much in the zone of depressing nature as she see’s the world for what it is, and observes this dark situation and tries desperately to push herself through the ordeal as she battles with her recent change in heart (which previously made her question her position within the group and her ability to protect other’s through the transformation of becoming a stone-cold killer). She often questions Ezekiel and his behaviour but by the end even Carol becomes convinced by his optimism as it is needed in this grim moment of conflict. Somebody needs to be the beacon of hope and treat this battle as if it is a matter of “good prevailing over evil”. But as the rest of the narrative will tell you it’s not quite that simple.
Honestly, if The Walking Dead can keep up this strong quality, high energy, and constant dilemma’s for the characters to endure, then we might just have us a definite season for the show. Seriously, this was a great episode and I loved the character’s being tested and I really can’t wait to see where the show will go from here as conflict not only ensues between Rick’s army and The Saviors but between themselves as they determine just what kind of people they are willing to become in order to gain the final victory.