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The Walking Dead S8E02: The Damned

When a fan as big as myself cannot get motivated to write much of anything about an episode it’s either a sign that I need more coffee, or a sign the episode was a stinker. Since I’m just finishing off my second cup of the morning, I suspect it’s the latter. My first clue should’ve been (and kind of was) the slow close-ups of various characters for the first full minute of the show. Or at least it felt like that long. Showrunner Scott Gimple would explain later on Talking Dead that these close-ups, which the episode also concluded with, meant “these characters will go through something.”

Okay… Wow… how very deep.

To suppose that slow-motion shots of various characters to begin and end the episode can serve as some artistic avenue to express character depth is, in my opinion, quite lazy. Between those shots, “The Damned” chose to focus on four groups as they attacked Savior outposts after they had cut off the main complex from providing support. It really is a very good strategy for a smaller group to overtake a larger group by reducing them to a bunch of smaller groups. The problem was in the execution of half of them. I think the best way to provide any sort of breakdown would be to look at each group attacking their respective outposts.

Tara & Jesus at the satellite outpost

Things should have looked familiar here as this was the same outpost that Rick, Glenn, and others in the group attacked in season six. There are two interesting developments here; Tara and Jesus have a disagreement, and Morgan is apparently bullet-proof.

Making their way through rooms and hallways, Tara and Jesus encounter a man who was so scared for his life he peed himself. He explains that he’s just a worker, he raises his hands to surrender and he asks for mercy. Tara wants to kill him, Jesus doesn’t. This is a familiar dilemma on the show, but some circumstances have changed to make it somewhat interesting in its own right. A poll taken on Talking Dead revealed that 80% of the audience sided with Tara and thought they should’ve shot this man. This strikes me as hypocritical at the least, and morally troubling at the worst.

Sure, it’s a tv show. Sure, we know who the Saviors are and what they do so of course it turns out this guy is lying. But we shouldn’t turn off our moral sensibilities and judgment of life just because we’re pretty sure where this scene will end up. How can we call for an execution here, then be outraged when we see execution style murders in wartime? How can we prosecute soldiers for mercilessly killing a surrendered enemy, when we demand such out of our entertainment? “It’s not real”, you may say. That’s the excuse of one who has turned their mind off to decisions with consequences that these characters are presented with. You aren’t engaging the show, you’re dictating to it and thus are stripping it of any chance for discernment and deepening of your own mindset. Particularly as Christians, we need to approach such scenarios with a mind for balancing grace and mercy with justice. What’s the appropriate response, when is killing permissible, and is this one of those times?

To switch from the serious to the (sort of) silly, I guess Morgan is bullet-proof? He and two others stood in a doorway and took gunfire from about ½ dozen saviors. All three fell to the ground apparently dead, only Morgan wakes up moments later with barely a flesh wound on his arm. This begs a number of questions; How did they miss him? Why did he fall down if he wasn’t fatally shot? Did he pass out? How long until “I don’t die” becomes a meme? Honestly, I loved what they did with Morgan following this. The way he proceeded through the complex, shooting everyone in his path, while flashes of his challenge to Rick about flippantly deciding to kill people went through his mind was beautiful. But man, the show is asking for a lot from it’s viewers for Morgan to just proclaim “I don’t die”, then to appear to actually be bullet-proof. I feel like this could’ve been handled much better, and it doesn’t help that Gimple’s response to this critique was “he’s just lucky.” Come on, man!

Rick and Daryl at the building complex

Rick’s encounter with a Savior gets us back in the mindset of indiscriminate killing. When a Savior gets the jump on Rick, a skirmish between them leads to Rick with a choke-hold on this guy. He’s fully in control and easily could’ve choked him out, tied him up and moved on. Instead he kills him, only to find that what the man was protecting was not a stash of firearms. It was a baby. I really liked this choice. It highlights in the most personal of ways for Rick the consequences of killing when it’s not necessary; a lesson he has learned before but Negan is causing him to forget. It also causes the audience to question our supposed great leader because it appears he just leaves this baby! Perhaps he planned to return when all was clear. Either way, it’s a chance for the audience to really question Rick and his decision making.

Aaron’s group at the marketplace outpost

This was perhaps the best strategy of all the group attacks on outposts, but the most poorly executed. Aaron and about 10 other members of the alliance use their armored cars to box in an outpost of probably 2-dozen Saviors. The plan is to kill a few, wait them out long enough for the dead to turn to walkers, and the rest is history. It’s working great, until a few of the alliance get shot, including Eric, and they begin to lose a hold on their siege. Aaron tries to rescue Eric, but he’s too late and he must rush him off to see to his wounds, leaving the group even more depleted. Whether you’re in agreement with homosexual relationships or not, I think it’s fair to say that not enough time has been spent with Aaron and Eric to make this hurt much for the audience. It seems little more than someone carrying a good friend off the battle field.

My complaint with this portion is purely at the production and direction level. The gunshot sounds were ripped straight from the most mediocre 1980’s sound effects. The staging of the siege felt incomplete to accomplish what it supposedly was accomplishing. And the shooting skills of all involved was worse than the most poorly trained Starship Trooper. I could throw a paper airplane at targets 20 feet away and be more efficient than what I saw here. It was a big letdown in execution for such a smart strategy.

Ezekiel’s group

Finally, the king must inspire, and so he did; even Carol. We saw at the end of episode one, Ezekiel, Carol and others get caught off guard during their attack on an outpost. One got away and was headed to warn other Saviors while our group dealt with walkers. This would have all been fine if not for a pretty obvious hole in the practicality of it. The savior sets a bomb off and flees the area. Our group recovers from the bomb and fights of 10-20 walkers, while the savior is running away. Then they stand around and discuss their next move, while the savior is running away. Then they walk through the woods in pursuit, stopping at clues on the way, while the savior is running away. They somehow catch up to him on the other side of a small embankment right as Shiva pounces on him. He has a good 5-10 minute head start, and he’s running the whole time they’re walking, yet they catch up to him. This isn’t Terminator, and they aren’t T-800’s.

My Rating: D+

We’re in for a season full of small skirmishes, medium-scale battles, and all out war efforts. This show MUST get better at the production and execution of these battle scenes. If I’m noticing the things mentioned above, then fans who are barely hanging on are likely ready to drop off. In addition, all of these attacks on outposts are happening while Negan and Gabriel are stuck in a trailer together, yet we got zero development with that! This screams of the type of inconsistency in focus between episodes that have plagued the last two seasons. They can dive into the mind of Morgan and Rick and Carol all they want, but if they can’t execute basic fight sequences, fanfare will drop dramatically.

Written by Gene Gosewehr

Gene Gosewehr (@WizrdofGoz), former creator and admin of Let There Be Movies, is now a writer and editor at Reel World Theology and a contributor to A Clear Lens, a blog and podcast on Christian worldview and apologetics. He is a deacon and preacher at his local congregation, as well as a husband and father of three.