This Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 8 Episode 2
There’s a certain blandness to “The Damned” that is actually symptomatic of a bigger problem facing The Walking Dead season eight. Even though I rather enjoyed last week’s “Mercy” and its tribute to the show’s past, it was exactly that: nostalgia for an era of the show that’s come and gone. “The Damned” brings us back to the present, where nothing really matters. It’s a soulless hour of television that’s indicative that this zombie drama might finally be out of tricks.
The general lack of real stakes during the second phase of Rick’s attack on the Saviors is evident throughout the episode. Even a moment like Morgan getting shot at almost point blank range failed to get a rise out of me. It seemed too sudden, too convenient, too easy. And it was, because Morgan was back to shooting bad guys ten minutes later. A few seasons ago, I would have lost my shit if a main character had been shot the way Morgan was – back when the inevitability of death seemed to haunt all of the characters, no matter their status – but now we know that this kind of sudden death is not dramatic enough for The Walking Dead, or drawn out enough.
We all know that there’s a certain plot armor that protects main characters from death, unless the episode is a premiere or finale. If Morgan had been shot in the midseason finale, I probably would have at least been intrigued. But in the second episode of the season? Ever since the show faked Glenn’s death in the season six episode “Thank You,” there’s been an unspoken rule about when a main character can and can’t die. No character on The Walking Dead is going to die in episode two of a season. Those days are long gone.
That’s a big issue when an entire season of your show revolves around “all out war.” But in the case of The Walking Dead, “all out war” feels more like a setting, background noise, than actual conflict. Without casualties on the side of the heroes, this war might as well be a rehearsed drill.
It doesn’t help that The Walking Dead is exploring war by plugging its characters into some really tired tropes in “The Damned.” Morgan is the soldier who’s being driven insane by the violence around him, Tara is the moral character who’s become hardened by war, and Rick is the flawed leader who’s eventually going to get someone on his side killed. Of course, that last bit won’t happen until the midseason finale.
When Morgan was shot, I didn’t even flinch. Even Morgan didn’t seem to take the risk of death seriously. “I don’t die,” he told a fellow soldier before charging into the Savior outpost. It comes off as self-parody as this point.
“The Damned” seemed more interested in showing the effects of war on a soldier’s psyche, which is all well and good if the story is saying something new about the characters. But there’s nothing fresh about “The Damned.” It’s just another assault on another enemy. Maybe that’s the point? But when Morgan is just reverting back into a more controlled version of his “Clear” persona and Rick is making the same dumb mistakes, it turns the whole affair into a bore.
The most evolved character in the episode is undoubtedly Tara, who I really started to like last season. She’s got more of an edge to her in this episode than we’ve seen from her in the past. The effects of war show on her character. Tara, who in the past has been willing to trust and accept (remember that her original alliance was with a “reformed” Governor), now shoots first and asks questions later.
The episode ends up delivering an interesting little B-story between Tara and Jesus, who is still such a boy scout despite the fact that the Saviors have shown him time and again that they’re ruthless and won’t hesitate to kill their enemies. Maybe that’s the conflict in this episode? These characters are struggling to keep their humanity in war.
But again, we’ve seen these characters wrestle with their demons in times of conflict before. I mean, what more do you need than season 5 Rick? That bearded maniac was about one shaving nick away from wasting all of Deanna’s people and taking over Alexandria. Jesus’ issues in comparison seem miniscule.
This time last year, I was BEGGING for something to happen on this show. Please, for the love of God, get us away from Negan and dog food sandwiches, and give us some action. Now that the action is here, droves of it in fact, I’m almost as bored. If the action doesn’t serve to tell an interesting story, what’s the point? And if there aren’t any stakes, the action might as well not be there in the first place.
I don’t pretend to know what this show needs to improve, because I don’t. All I know is that, now that the nostalgia of the 100th episode has come and gone, the present looks pretty hopeless.
– The show is not even capable of pulling the trigger on Eric, who is about as secondary a character as you can get. The fact he was shot in the stomach, but we never saw him die probably means that Aaron is going to find a way to save him. But as much as I like Aaron and want him to be happy, some kind of casualty would go a long way to give “all out war” some stakes.
– I was just as annoyed at Ezekiel’s “can-do” attitude as Carol was.
– What did Rick do about the baby he orphaned this week? Seemingly nothing.
– The Morales reveal is so groan-inducing that I didn’t even bother talking about it in the body of my review. Seriously, who even remembers this guy? Beyond a passing, “Whatever happened to that guy who decided not to follow Rick to the CDC,” I’ve never really been interested in finding out the answer to that question. I assume the Vatos are also allied with Negan now.