The Walking Dead, S08E02:
“The Damned”

The Walking Dead, S08E02:
“The Damned”

“The Damned” Is a Struggle Between What The Walking Dead Is and What It Wants to Be


A slight improvement over last week’s season premiere, “The Damned” tries to set up ethical dilemmas between the show’s characters that should’ve been settled long ago. Also there’s a lot of action that, while decently staged, seems to achieve very little.

Rating: 3.5/11


Let’s talk comic books (stay with me). For those who don’t know, The Walking Dead started out as a comic book, as did, incidentally, the character of Batman. Of course, there’s been several screen renderings of Batman over the years while, for better or worse, there has been only one of The Walking Dead. In its present form, this TV show wants to align itself (in the parlance of comic books adaptations) with Christopher Nolan’s gritty Dark Knight take on Batman. But, honestly, it’s more akin to Tim Burton’s fantastical Batman and Batman Returns movies. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the ensuing identity crisis that results between realism and “comic book” realism can make The Walking Dead seem even more of a mess than usual.

You can see this in the way the show tries to incorporate dark, messy moral conundrums and the confronting ambiguity of high drama. In this episode alone, we have a conflict arising between Jesus and Tara (and, later, Morgan) as to whether any of the Saviours are worth sparing. In another segment, Rick impales some poor bastard that attacks him, right before discovering the attacker’s infant child whom he has literally bastardised. And, finally, Carol is skeptical of Ezekiel’s blustery confidence which she feels is premature and a little disconcerting, all while Ezekiel assures her that it is essential for the good of his people.

On their own, these could potentially be some interesting plotlines to follow, but it’s the gnarled and mawing distance that exists between this show’s ideals and its execution that always leads it wrong. Everything plays out in one-note, repetitive ways that accentuate easy conflict, cheap twists and dumb spectacle over meaning, depth and emotional stakes. In other words, it comes across as a comic book story trying to transcend its origins without putting any actual effort or creativity into doing so.


For example, when Tara and Jesus encounter a Saviour who begs them for mercy, it reveals their differing feelings on what to do in this situation: Tara says shoot, Jesus says wait. If anyone could be arsed to remember far back enough to when Tara herself was at the mercy of… I’m gonna say the Water Hags* from last season, there could be a solid theme to plumb the depth of here, considering her immediate rejection of the idea of extending compassion to enemies. But no, it just becomes a basic-arse TWD argument, with a result as predictably upsetting as a hamster frantically mating with an escalator.

Because, again, this is the sort of thing we’ve seen approximately 8,000 times at this point. A random bad guy begging to be spared on this show has never not immediately abused the trust of anyone who’s dumb enough to believe him, and right away he gets the drop on Jesus and Tara. This clumsy fracas is made only more frustrating when they manage to incapacitate the dude once again and still don’t shoot him, leaving the door open for an awkward shoehorn into some internal strife amongst the main group. It seems, in this situation, that Tara is acting as Rick’s proxy while Jesus serves as Maggie’s, with the suggestion being that the fiery mistake of a person that is Rick represents decisive action and the anorexically-pregnant Maggie is more in line with compassion and civility.

This is none too subtle as it is and, for my money, dredging up more internecine squabbling about the value of human life is a fucking terrible arc to build this season on. Not least of all because – and I feel I can’t help overstating myself on this point – we’ve seen this before so many times! Then Morgan starts having flashbacks to Rick emphatically laying down his entire worldview, which weirdly forges him (Morgan) into some kind of serial killer in the process, placing himself firmly on Tara’s side. Boy, this sure would be an awkward time for Rick to experience a crisis of faith about his “take no prisoners” authoritarianism, huh?

Yeah so, of course, that’s exactly what happens. After going all Dark Knight on some dude – administering a chokehold, gruffly screaming, “WHERE ARE THEY?!” and promptly using his body to redecorate a wall frame – Rick discovers a sleeping child in a crib. Presumably, the kid belongs to the person that Rick just brutally murdered. This causes him no end of grief, because now who’s gonna raise that baby and teach it to attack the lead character in a shitty zombie show and hope for the best? Anyway, as far as toothless symmetry goes, having Morgan strongly affirm his choice for murdering in cold blood right as Rick is beginning to have doubts feels like a pretty typical brand of weak shit for this show.


Honestly, of all the plots this episode, the least consequential was the most enjoyable, and purely due to one character: King Ezekiel. His followers and Carol, having been discombobulated by an explosive at the end of last episode, are on the trail of a Saviour who might give away their planned stealth attack. It features a lot of aimless wandering, typically grandiose shit from Ezekiel and another surprise tiger attack. It was genuinely almost fun.

Look, I get that a lot of people prickle at the absurdity of Ezekiel but, as far as it goes, TWD deserves a hero like him. It’s a show grasping for profundity, mired down by a hopeless cause, and that’s literally his character description. And here’s the thing: the writers themselves seem to know what an asset he is. Scenes with Ezekiel crackle in a way that few others can because he allows for a knowingly-ridiculous outlet for the show’s most fantastical elements. Seriously, there’s something satisfying (on both a basic and meta level) about a character who espouses over-the-top Biblical nonsense, that seems to be taking himself waaay too seriously, yet always remembers to wink at us at the last second.

In the end, though, TWD will continue to be defined by the awkward failures wrought by its own lofty goals, which are just so out of reach and bizarre for the sort of program it is. There’s still, even this late in the day, time for it to become a show that doesn’t hold itself and it’s inherently silly content to the same standard of a prestige drama. But, as long as it continues to flaunt its comic book origins with its superficiality and shallow themes, it will never truly be an enjoyable show. Especially, and most unforgivably, if it can’t find a way to distract from how paper-thin and poorly-drawn its characters are.


Quotes, Random Thoughts & Housemate Contributions


  • *Oceanside is apparently the name of their community, so Water Hags might be a bit rough. Also, it’s worth noting that Tara is basically the only main character that I am continually looking shit up for. She’s. So. Boring.


  • Oh, yeah, and Aiden and some other dudes (who almost seem determined not to matter) shot up some other bad guys. “It happened” is about the extent of what I can tell you.


  • Sooooo, no Michonne or Maggie this episode? I mean, whatever I guess. Probably worth the trade-off for no Carl, Gabriel or Negan.


  • For what it’s worth – implausibly coordinated though they were – the scenes of Morgan, Tara and Jesus’s group infiltrating that compound were quite well handled. It wasn’t necessarily tense but, to some extent, there was at least some momentum to it.


  • Housemate Contribution #1 – [During one of the many shootouts] “I mean, I’ve never been in a war, but… I feel like could do better than this!”


  • “Do you know how hard it is to piss yourself on purpose? It’s like your dick knows you’re wearing pants!” Food for thought.


  • “Fake it ’til you make it, baby!” The only thing better than Ezekiel’s trumped-up pirate speak is when he abruptly slips into colloquialisms. Always good for a smile.


  • Housemate Contribution #2 – “You ever wonder how they find clothes that magically fit? And, like, shoes? And how is Jesus’s hair so silky? He’s majestic!”


  • There’s a lovely Spielbergian shot of Rick moving towards the camera down a hallway lit from behind. At least one moment like this every episode would be nice, please.



  • Housemate Contribution #3 – [As Morgan is blinded by the sun] “Guns cannot defeat me, but the sun! It will ruin me!”




  • So, the guy (Morales) who has the drop on Rick at the end of the episode is apparently from way back in Season 1. Shheeeeeeeiiiit, I didn’t properly catch up on this show til 2014 and I that still feels like a long time ago to have to remember/give a shit about.

One Reply to “The Walking Dead, S08E02:
“The Damned”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *