Friday, November 3, 2017

The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 2: The Damned

Who knew war could be so dull?

This week's The Walking Dead is the second episode in the All Out War storyline from the comics, in which Alexandria, the Hilltop and the Kingdom join forces against Negan and the Saviors.

It should have been an exciting, rousing episode with tons of action. Instead all we got were endless scenes of people firing thousands and thousands of rounds of ammo at one another. There was lots of sound and fury, but like a famous writer once said, it signified nothing.

Once again the series tries to obscure its paper thin plot by cutting up a straightforward story into chunks and randomly splicing the pieces together. The episode spotlights four different groups as they attack various Savior outposts, but unfortunately the art school editing makes it difficult to figure out which team you're watching.

Even worse, there's a terrible sense of geography in the episode. I had absolutely no idea where most of these Savior outposts were supposed to be, and where they were in relation to one another. In fact for a good while I thought the Alexandrians were attacking the Sanctuary, and wondered where Negan was and what happened to the herd of walkers we saw last week. I finally realized Aaron & Co. were attacking some completely different Savior compound, whereabouts unknown.

The show's always played fast & loose with just where all these communities are located, but this episode took the confusion to a whole new level. I have to blame episode director Rosemary Rodriguez for this. Rodriguez is no newcomer, as she's directed various episodes of many TV series such as Third Watch, Law & Order, Rescue Me, Castle, Criminal Minds, Without A Trace, Elementary and Jessica Jones. So what the hell happened here?

The best part of the episode was no doubt Morgan waging a one man war against the Saviors. The former peacenik goes ballistic here, purposefully striding the halls and picking off enemies left and right with one shot, like he was in a live action video game. All that was missing was the score and his health level in the upper right corner.

The only other notable thing about this episode is the surprise return of an old character, as the series is seemingly doing its level best to remind us of Season 1. At this rate I fully expect to find out the Vatos are working for Negan as well. More on just who returns below.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
Since this episode pretty much consists of various people shooting at one another for forty two minutes, I'm not gonna write a lengthy, blow by blow account. The plot involves four major groups whose storylines are intertwined, but I'm gonna go through them separately to avoid confusion.

Shootout 1
At a Savior outpost somewhere, Maury (who I don't think we've seen before) is supervising a group of workers. She tries to radio several of the other outposts, but no one responds. She realizes something's wrong, and orders a worker to lock the stairwell. Just then a squad of Alexandrians in armored cars roars up and start firing on the Saviors.

Among the Alexandrians are Aaron and Eric, along with Scott and Tobin (bonus points if you remember who those last two are). They and several others fire tens of thousands of rounds at the Saviors, pinning them down. The Saviors fire back, but many are hit and killed. Eventually their corpses reanimate and start attacking the remaining Saviors, which I have to admit was pretty damned cool. One of the newly created walkers kills Maury, who for some reason sits and stares at it while it attacks her.

The Alexandrians continue firing for another thirty minutes or so, until Eric's hit in the gut. Aaron drags him away from the firefight, leaving his fate unknown (he didn't suddenly spew any backstory in the episode, so that means he'll be fine).

Shootout 2
Carol and King Ezekiel lead a group of Kingdom soldiers and attack a Savior outpost in a pharmacy (I think?). They pick off a herd of walkers that pours out of the building. Unfortunately the Savior assigned to the post gets away.

Carol says if he makes it to the Sanctuary and warns Negan, they'll lose their element of surprise. Ezekiel tells her not to worry, insisting they'll catch him. He orders some of his subjects to return to the Kingdom for reinforcements, and to release his pet tiger Shiva. He, Carol and the rest then chase the lone Savior.

Along the way, Ezekiel explains his terminally upbeat philosophy to Carol. Eventually they spot the Savior, but before they can dispatch him, Shiva appears and tears him to pieces. Luckily she can somehow sense who's good & bad. Jerry sees the man had a radio and undoubtedly warned the Saviors before he died. Carol says the Saviors know they're coming. Ezekiel shouts, "Indeed they do!" as he pulls out his sword and points it in the air, rallying his troops.

Shootout 3
Jesus, Morgan, Tara, Diane and several Hilltopians observe the Savior satellite station. It's surrounded by a protective, fenced-in "moat" of walkers. Jesus says if they fire on the walkers, the Saviors will hear and then they'll never get in. Morgan tells Jesus he'll take care of it. When several Hilltopians ask if he needs help, he declines, saying, "I don't die." Uh-oh...

Morgan bangs on the fence to attract a group of walkers. This draws the attention of two Savior Guards, who are killed by Diane. The group enters the building, which is seemingly filled with an endless supply of Saviors. The Hilltopians sweep through the station, picking off dozens of Saviors with just one shot. Morgan and two others are shot and seemingly killed. So much for Morgan not dying!

Jesus and Tara enter a room and find a Savior who's so scared he's peed himself. He claims he's just a worker, and was forced to leave his family to guard the station. Tara wants to kill him, but Jesus stops her, saying they don't kill unarmed people begging for their lives. Suddenly the man grabs Jesus from behind and holds a gun to his head. Tara tries to get a clear shot at him, but can't. Just then Jesus twists out of the man's grip and knocks him out. Tara starts to shoot him, but again Jesus won't allow it, tying him up instead.

Morgan then wakes up, saved from the gunshots by his Kingdom combat gear. He glides through the station, taking out dozens of Saviors like he's in Call Of Duty, which is pretty impressive. He's now an unstoppable killing machine, completely unrecognizable from the pacifist of a couple seasons ago.

Jesus and the others sneak out of the station and wait for the Saviors to exit. A lone Savior comes out, sees the Hilltopian army, lays down his gun and surrenders. He calls for his comrades to do the same, and a huge number of Saviors pour out and give up. Seriously, how many hundred people were inside this place?

Just then Morgan comes out of the station, sees the assembled group of Saviors and aims his gun at them. Jesus tries to talk him down, but Morgan thinks it's a bad idea to let the Saviors live. Eventually Jesus wins (you might even say he "saves") and Morgan reluctantly stands down.

Shootout 4
Rick and Daryl raid yet another Savior outpost, believing it contains a cache of guns and ammo. This particular outpost may be near the one Aaron's group attacks, as we can hear gunfire in the distance. I'm not sure though, since as I said, the geography in this episode is very, very poor. They make their way to the top floor, and Rick says they can search faster if they split up.

Daryl looks through an office, and opens a closet. It contains a dogfood sandwich and a pair of handcuffs, reminding him of his imprisonment in the Sanctuary. Meanwhile Rick finds a small apartment and looks around. He's attacked from behind by a Savior, and they have a brutal, no-holds barred fight. Rick ends it by shoving the man against a shelf support jutting from the wall, impaling him.

Rick then enters a nursery, with the name "Gracie" painted on the wall. He finds a baby girl asleep in a crib. He realizes he just killed the baby's father, who was only following Negan's orders. Whoops!

Rick enters another room and pokes around. He picks up a photo of a family and looks at it. Suddenly a voice behind him says, "It's over, Rick. I called the Saviors. They're coming." Rick turns around and sees it's Morales, who we last saw way back at the end of Season 1. He points his gun at Rick as the episode ends.

Thoughts:
 The actor title cards in the opening credits get tweaked a bit this season

Most of them remain the same: Rick's image still features his gun, Daryl's his "angel wing" vest, Maggie's the photo of Glenn that she burned (which I bet she wishes she had back), Carl's "Away With You" graffiti, Carol's knife, Morgan's "crazy vision" view of the woods, Eugene's bullet-making machinery and Negan's baseball bat and red hot iron. There are a few new ones though.


Danai Gurira as Michonne gets a new title card, featuring a closeup of her samurai sword. These images usually have some relevance to the characters, showcasing their weapon of choice or some plot point they were involved in.


Alana Masterson as Tara gets a new image of the satellite station, which replaces last season's shot of a moldy boat. The boat made sense, as she discovered the Oceanside community last year. I have no idea how the satellites relate to her.

Christian Serratos as Rosita gets a new image of a pile of guns, replacing last year's abandoned house with a busted window. The guns make much more sense for her character.

Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel finally moves up to the main credits, with an inexplicable shot of a sewer drain. Um... is that supposed to be a comment on his character?

Ross Marquand as Aaron also moves on up, getting an image of a bent and faded photo. This makes sense, as a couple seasons ago he invited Rick & Co. to Alexandria by showing them pictures he took of the place.

The title screen continues to decay more with each passing season. This year it's actually starting to miss large chunks out of the letters.

 What was up with all the arty, slo-mo extreme closeups of each of the main characers at the beginning and end of the episode? I tell you, sometimes I think this show's being filmed and edited by a first year film school student.

 I do like the Alexandrians' makeshift, armored "battle fleet." We saw a bit of them last week, but it looks like they've been busy and plated up several more cars. This makes perfect sense, and has a sort of Mad Max vibe, which is perfect for a post apocalyptic show.

 That said, the Alexandria Shootout scene was absolutely ridiculous. They roar up to the Savior outpost and start blazing away at them, firing thousands of rounds and Negan's people. Then the camera pulls back and we see the two groups are only twenty feet apart!

Are you freakin' kidding me? Look at how close they are to one another! And even more amazing, despite the fact that both groups are armed with automatic weapons and ceaselessly unload them at one another for half an hour, there are surprisingly few casualties on either side. They literally can't hit one another from twenty feet away!

The whole preposterous scene made me laugh out loud, as it reminded me of this shootout from The Naked Gun.

 The only good thing about the Alexandrian Shootout was their plan to kill a few Saviors, then keep the others pinned down long enough for the corpses to turn and attack their own people. That was a damned smart idea, and I don't think we've seen anyone on the show weaponize zombies like that before.

 I brought this up last week, but it's worth another mention just how much ammo does Rick's Army have? The Alexandria group fires a good ten thousand rounds at the Saviors in this episode. Maybe more. And all without reloading!

If you'll remember, just last season ammo was so scarce that Eugene was trying to figure out a way to make more. And after a lot of blood, sweat and tears he managed to make exactly one bullet for Rosita to use against Negan!

Yes, last season Rick & Co. stole the Oceanside community's guns and ammo, but surely they went through it all in this episode.

The only downside to this scene was when Maury the Savior was killed by one of her own recently turned comrades. Despite the fact that she was tough as nails all through the episode and constantly barking orders at her people, the second she sees a walker lurching toward her she seemingly freezes in place and lets it rip out her throat. Odd.

 Outside the satellite outpost, Morgan leans his bo staff against a tree and arms himself with a machine gun. I'm guessing this was a symbolic scene, as he literally cast off his pacifist ways?

 I have no idea what's going on with Morgan anymore. A few seasons back he was the Supreme Pacifist, who refused to take another life, even if it meant sacrificing his own. Then a season or so later, he was forced to kill, and realized it's sometimes necessary in this brave new world. Now in this episode he's a one man killing machine whose impossible to contain. He even tries to kill the Saviors after they've surrendered.

I have this feeling that The Walking Dead writing room features a spinning wheel with Morgan's face in the center. Around the edges are phrases like, "I Refuse To Kill," "I Only Kill When Necessary," "I Don't Die" and "ME KILL ALL I SEE!" The writers then spin the wheel and whatever it lands on, that's Morgan's philosophy for that week's episode.

Actually, I think they must use that same wheel for ALL the characters, in order to give them something to do and fill up airtime. A couple seasons ago Carol inexplicably went from badass killer to "I Want To Be Alone" in between episodes. And this week Jesus suddenly refuses to let Tara kill a Savior, even after the man tries to kill him.

 Ultimately the surviving Satellite Saviors throw down their weapons and surrender to the Hilltopians. There must be at least fifty or sixty of them so what the hell is Jesus gonna do with 'em all? Do any of the the three "good" colonies have a jail large enough to hold this many prisoners? Do they have enough food and water to spare for that many captives? I don't think Jesus thought this plan though...

 So what was up with the weird looking walker that Ezekiel's group ran into? It looked like it fell into a vat of acid or something, as its flesh had been eaten away instead of rotting. There was no explanation as to what happened to it, so I'm betting it'll become relevant in a future episode.

Or not. Who knows anymore on this show?

 I'm fascinated by the way Shiva can always seem to tell who's an ally and who she should attack. Maybe she can pick up non-verbal cues from Ezekiel and figure it out. 

 Caro's puzzled by King Ezekiel's relentlessly cheery outlook in the face of certain death. He drops the Shakespearean patois for a second and tells her, "Fake it 'til you make it, baby! I am king because I have provided a light to guide my people forward in the darkness. There will be no fantasies of failure this day."

It's nice to occasionally see through Ezekiel's act, and realize he's putting on an act and isn't actually an insane man who believes he's a king.

 I have no idea where the building Rick & Daryl searched is located, but it must be close to one of the other groups. The whole time they're in the building, you can hear gunfire in the background. It had to be near the Alexandrian or Hilltopian firefights, as the Kingdomites didn't fire their weapons much in the episode.

Would it have killed the director to have shown us just exactly where Rick & Daryl were?

 I enjoyed the brutal fight between Rick and the Savior who attacked him. There was a visceral quality to it, as it felt real instead of rehearsed. I could almost believe the two were actually fighting for real!

Kudos to Rick for creative use of a shelf support too. Although that had to be one of the most telegraphed deaths in the history of the series. The second they knocked down the shelf and I saw the supports jutting out, I knew what was gonna happen.

 After Rick impales the Savior, he finds a baby girl in a nursery, and realizes he just killed her father. He then catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror and doesn't particularly like the man staring back at him. OK, that was a nice touch, and a powerful little scene.

 The big surprise in this episode was the return of Morales, a reveal that was as unexpected as it was un-asked for.

Morales was last seen wayyyyyy back in Season 1. He, his wife and his two children were part of the original group of survivors that Rick encountered, and soon began bossing around.

In the Season 1 episode Wildfire, Rick decided the group should try to make it to the CDC in Atlanta, figuring they'd find safety there. Morales disagrees, and he and his family leave the group to head for Alabama. 

That's the last we saw of him until this episode. Apparently he either didn't make it to Alabama, or changed his mind and outran Rick to Virginia, getting there some time before he did.

It's not yet clear if Morales' family survived and is living at the Sanctuary. Based on how pissed he seems to be to see Rick, I'm gonna guess they must have perished along the way.

One last thing about Morales he was pretty doughy when we last saw him eight years ago, but in this episode he's slimmed down and become quite fit. I guess living in the Zombie Apocalypse will do that to a person!

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