Those waiting to find out what happened between Negan and Father Gabriel in that zombie-surrounded trailer after last week’s cliff-hanger will just have to stay curious a bit longer, as “The Damned” instead followed four separate attacks on Savior posts by Team Rick.
First off, we had King Ezekiel and Carol leading a group through the woods to take out a straggler Savior who escaped them last week. Quite why they were expending so much energy tracking one man who might warn the rest of the Saviors about the attack when there was a full blown war already underway is beyond me, but this gave Carol a chance to grill the flamboyant Ezekiel on his eternal optimist schtick, and by the end of the episode, some of the king’s ‘fake it ’til you make it’ bravado seemed to have rubbed off on Ms. Peletier. It also meant we got to see Shiva take their target down, and that tiger is my second favourite character after Jerry at this point.
Elsewhere, Aaron was spearheading an attack on another Savior stronghold, joined by his partner, Eric. Their strategy seemed to rely on the fact that the compound they were attacking only had one entrance/exit, and so all that was required for victory was to keep everyone trapped in the yard, take out a few Saviors, wait for them to resurrect, and leave them to finish off the rest. This plan obviously needed time to pay off though, so in the interim there was a lot of gunfire exchange which resulted in the hapless Eric being shot in the stomach.
Eric’s character has never been fully fleshed out, and it speaks volumes that although Aaron is great, the impending loss of his boyfriend didn’t evoke any emotion in me beyond slight sadness for Aaron. In fact, if anything, the oft-injured and risk averse Eric has been painted as something of a party pooper, skulking around Alexandria while Aaron was out recruiting and foraging and generally having a great time getting backies on Daryl’s Chopper. (And yes, I know the actual Chopper got left in the prison, don’t @ me!) I’m not convinced Eric’s stomach wound will prove fatal, but I hope the show avoids using the death of another character in a same sex relationship as the catalyst for turning the surviving partner hard and ruthless.
Which leads us to Tara. She, Morgan and Jesus were tasked with clearing the compound which Rick’s people raided back in Season 6, setting in motion the chain of events which led to Negan killing Glenn and Abraham. Morgan’s life was also in the balance for a split second, but again, although he was shot at pretty much point blank range, I just didn’t believe his time was up. The show has wrong-footed and teased major character deaths too much at this point for many of these moments to be convincing. Morgan’s survival convinced him of his own invincibility, and the deaths of a few of his comrades seemed to drive him into full blown kill-mode. His murder spree was interspersed with snippets of a conversation he had with Rick previous to the assault, when he was still opposed to violence, with Rick adamant that a pre-emptive strike was the only option.
While Morgan was clearly suffering the utter destruction of his pacifist soul, Tara was also having a hard time thinking beyond vengeance and her orders to kill every Savior within reach. Faced with a man on his knees, hands in the air, and trousers drenched in urine, Jesus reasoned that they couldn’t shoot him in cold blood. Tara, still feeling the loss of Denise, thought they absolutely could and should. I’ve never thought much of Tara and the route she seems to be taking isn’t endearing her to me now either. Predictably, Jesus’ mercy almost got him killed, but he hadn’t learnt his lesson. He later prevented Morgan from mowing down a group of Saviors who had surrendered, much to Tara’s chagrin. While Jesus being all Jesus-like isn’t exactly subtle, I’m not sure why we’re supposed to buy that every single Savior is inherently bad. Where are the nuances, the light and shade? And surely not shooting a man on his knees is the correct response in that situation? The show seems to be suggesting empathy is a luxury no one can afford in a post apocalyptic world…
…But the close of the episode saw Rick engaged in a brutal hand-to-hand fight which resulted in the death of a Savior who’d been trying to protect his infant daughter. In another heavy-handed scene, Rick was confronted by a conveniently hung mirror above the cot, which reflected his devastated, bloodied face floating above the sleeping baby. This momentary lapse in concentration meant that Rick found himself at the business end of a gun belonging to none other than Season 1’s Morales! Now, this was supposed to fill us with shock and awe, the only problem being that I didn’t have a Scooby Doo who Morales even was! I’ve consumed a LOT of gin since 2010, and I suspect I am not alone in struggling to recall the face of a secondary character who left the show seven years ago!
It looks like the epic battle between Saviors and Team Rick will rumble on for a good chunk of this season. While last week’s opener was pretty enjoyable, “The Damned” lagged in comparison. Instead of A-Team style planning and rigging, we got a lot of drawn out gun fights and seemingly pointless covert ops. Let’s hope this was a blip and not indicative of a show which has lingered past its natural lifespan.
Final Grade: D
+ JERRY! Jerry is pretty handy with a medieval axe. Are there no ends to the man’s talents??
+ Jesus’ eyes looked super pretty! *shrugs*
– What was with those awful slo-mo close ups and the weirdly 80s sci-fi score? This show used to introduce me to new bands with its amazing soundtrack, and now this is the standard.
– There were a lot of deaths this episode, but most of the action centered on people we’ve never even seen before, so why would we care what happened to them?
– The lack of Negan and Gabriel just felt like major plot points are being kept back to keep viewers dangling through weaker episodes.
Extra Thought: Do you think there’s more to the Gabriel and Negan situation than meets the eye? Is it possible that Rick’s man of God is actually a mole?
What did you make of this bullet-riddled episode? Give us both barrels in the comments or over on Twitter!