The Walking Dead gave us a action-packed episode in “The Damned,” with a few emotional punches thrown in for good measure. The plan to take down the Saviors is in full effect, with three simultaneous attacks intending to take down several Savior outposts. Some exposition regarding each team’s objectives would have gone a long way to make the episode easier to follow. “The Damned” is about the tension and strategy of war, but it also addresses the moral conflicts engendered in armed conflict.
“The Damned” had a lot of gunfire, some hand-to-hand combat, and a few clashes with the dead. The battles added tension, but at times detracted from character moments. With all the fighting going on, it’s hard to care about losing Francine (Dahlia Legault) or worry about Eric’s (Jordan Woods-Robinson) potentially mortal wound. The character conflicts were the most engaging moments in “The Damned.” Conflict took the form of disagreement between characters, as well as internal struggle playing out on camera.
There are three assaults, but four different narratives in “The Damned.” The Walking Dead often keeps its cards close to the vest, but sharing a bit of Rick’s overall plan with the audience would’ve improved these stories. After focusing heavily on Rick in the season premiere, “The Damned” was broad in scope. The episode started and ended with close-ups of the primary characters in this episode – Carol (Melissa McBride), Ezekiel (Khary Payton), Tara (Alanna Masterson), Jesus (Tom Payne), Morgan (Lennie James), Aaron (Ross Marquand), Daryl (Norman Reedus), and Rick (Andrew Lincoln), but the shots that were more interesting were the beautiful scenes in the forest and the wide shot of Rick coming down the office building hallway. Additional establishing shots would have been useful to provide a clearer connection between the different sequences and to get a better understanding of the battles.
I don’t die
Tara, Jesus, Morgan, and Dianne (Kerry Cahill) lead a team against the Savior satellite outpost. They’ve attacked this compound before, killing dozens of Saviors in the middle of the night. Tara reminds the others, “We can do this. We did it before.” Rick’s assault on the Savior outpost, in exchange for food with the Hilltop, is what started this war. Inside the compound, it’s clear the Saviors haven’t forgotten what happened either, with graffiti pointing to bullet holes in the wall noting, “Tommy says kill the b*tches.” But don’t mistake these guys for victims – they were the ones with the Polaroid pictures of people with their heads bashed in.
Despite the atrocity of their past crimes, the enemy isn’t always easy to identify in war, at least if you’re Jesus. When a man claims he’s there under duress and offers to surrender, Jesus is willing to take him prisoner. Jesus points out that they are not there for revenge, echoing last week’s episode “Mercy,” which considered whether mercy or wrath is bound to drive these characters. Tara, on the other hand, is ready to kill the Savior, “You’re here. You had a gun. You’re one of them.” Even after the Savior proved he really is a bad guy by smashing Maggie’s prenatal vitamins, Jesus won’t back down.
Tara: “So he gets to live. What about Abraham, Glenn, Denise?”
Jesus: “This is different.”
Tara: “You’re not Rick, your not Maggie.”
Jesus: “No, but she’ll hear what I have to say.”
While Jesus and Tara debate whether the Geneva Convention still applies in the apocalypse, Kingdom lieutenant Dianne leads the firefight. Dianne has quickly become one of our favorite new characters – she just gets it done. While all this is going on, Morgan and the Hilltop guys who offered him help earlier find themselves knocking at a door full of Saviors. The nice but nervous bros don’t make it, but as Morgan forewarned them, “I don’t die.” Morgan moves into killer mode and starts to clear the compound. It’s easy to forget how dangerous Morgan is, both in terms of his fighting skills and his fragile mental state. Though we’ve been down this road before, Lennie James plays the complex role of Morgan so well that we remain invested. When Morgan makes his way outside, he’s confused to find that Jesus has taken a huge group of Saviors as prisoners.
Morgan: “We came here to kill ‘em. We’re supposed to.”
Jesus: “They surrendered. It’s not what we do.”
Morgan: “Then what do we do, huh?”
Morgan may be showing early signs of psychological decompensation, but he poses a good question. Managing a group of prisoners in the midst of war is never easy, but add in a small fighting force, a food shortage, and flesh-eating zombies and it’s a recipe for disaster. At the same time, Jesus is fighting for the soul of his group. If they just kill everyone who gets in their way, are they any better than the Saviors?
Fake it ‘til you make it, baby
Carol, Ezekiel, and a group from the Kingdom are in the process of assaulting a different Savior site. During their initial attack, a grenade loosened a group of walkers on them. Jerry (Cooper Andrews) calls out for them to protect the king, but Ezekiel tells them, “Protect yourselves.” The Savior who launched the grenade is gone, and Carol is concerned he will warn others of their impending attack. King Ezekiel expresses confidence in their mission, “For we together will find him, end him and fulfill the promise of what we’ve begun.”
We don’t need to know every aspect of the plan to take down the Saviors, but a little bit of information could increase our engagement in this story. Without knowing their final objective beyond getting to “the compound” might make their pursuit of the Savior feel more urgent. Despite this, we love every scene with King Ezekiel. He’s unlike any other character on The Walking Dead and it’s clear why he inspires such trust and loyalty in his men. Yet, Carol remains skeptical. As they track the Savior through the woods, Carol asks Ezekiel if he understands the risks of the approaching conflict.
Carol: “What’s about to happen-it’s not just a few walkers, you know that right?”
Ezekiel: “Yes, and yet I smile.”
Ezekiel: “Do I feel this supreme confidence? Or is my lot, my job, to simply project such certainty. No and yes. Yes and no. And then finally yes to both. Fake it to you make it, baby. That’s what I’ve done and what I do. I am king because I have provided a light to lead my people forward through the darkness and they have made my fictions realities. So with all this and everything that’s happened.”
Carol: “All of us may not make it. We may not even win.”
Ezekiel: “And yet I smile. There will be no fantasies of failure this day.”
They eventually catch up to the Savior, who was wounded in their initial assault. At the same time, the rest of the group from the Kingdom arrives, along with Shiva who makes short work of the Savior. We don’t even mind that Shiva instinctively knows who the enemy is. We can suspend our disbelief when it comes to Shiva because we just love having a tiger as part of the battle. It’s a dystopian science fiction series with zombies, after all.
Ezekiel’s awareness of his leadership style is a fascinating aspect of his character. Leadership is such an important part of The Walking Dead, but through King Ezekiel the series has explored cultivating leadership as a conscious act. As a man of the theater, Ezekiel inspired hope and trust by willfully developing his presentation and oration. He acted like a leader and he eventually became a leader. Ezekiel may have gained support through his performance, but it’s his actions and his optimism that engender confidence. He even seems to have inspired Carol. Khary Payton does a terrific job bringing this extraordinary character to life.
Rick has been a leader since the apocalypse, but his approach has lacked consistency. He gives a fair amount of speeches, but it’s his actions that motivate people to follow Rick. Maggie is a new leader, who is more of a collaborator and negotiator, but her lack of experience makes her leadership style less evident. How will Rick and Maggie’s response differ when their subordinates Tara and Jesus come to them with their prisoner dilemma. Right now Rick, Maggie, and Ezekiel are on the same page, but as this war progresses that could change. Even Churchill and Roosevelt didn’t always agree.
You were in Atlanta
Aaron, Eric, Francine, Tobin (Jason Douglas), Scott (Kenric Green) and some other Alexandrites attack a Savior compound. It appears that they are keeping the Saviors’ attention out front, while Rick and Daryl and a couple of red shirts sneak into the office building through the back. Though the fact that these attacks are connected was in no way evident. A little exposition or a long shot could have cleared that right up.
Rick and Daryl are in search of guns based on Dwight’s intel, but not having much luck. Daryl finds a utility closet similar to his own prison closet at the Sanctuary. The office prison reminds him, and the audience, that the Saviors are bastards that force others to bend to their will.
Rick has a death match with a man who it turns out has a lot to fight for. Rick opens the door hoping to find guns, and instead, finds a sleeping baby named Gracie. He stares at himself in the mirror, contemplating what he’s done. Seeing the baby was a gut punch, and not anything we were expecting. After building up the Saviors as the ultimate baddies, introducing the baby reminds us that they are also just people trying to survive in extremely difficult circumstances.
Rick comes upon a room with a familiar picture. It turns to be Morales (Juan Gabriel Pareja), a member of their Atlanta camp before Rick and the others headed off to the CDC. Bringing back this early character is a fun way to continue to pay tribute to Season 1 while giving the audience an interesting surprise. Morales holds a gun on Rick, telling him that more Saviors are on their way. It feels like Rick could get out of this pretty easily, especially with Daryl wandering the hallways, but let’s hope it’s not before we get to hear Morales’s story.
“The Damned” Review
In “The Damned” The Walking Dead continues the confusing battle started in the season premiere, and it appears that this fight will take two more episodes before it concludes. The series moves between demonizing and humanizing the Saviors, using this to create conflict over how the Saviors should be dealt with. Though The Walking Dead continues to revisit many of the same, sometimes tired, themes and concepts, the series gives us a few unexpected moments of drama in “The Damned.”