This is a spoiler-free review. Read on below for additional, spoilery notes – plus how to watch online.
Rick (Andrew Lincoln) took the war against the Saviours right to Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) door in the Season 8 opener. The Damned continues that fight across the remaining Saviours outposts. The union between Alexandria, the Hilltop and the Kingdom continues to try and conquer while their enemy is still divided. The result provides a high-octane extravaganza with more gunfire than even The Punisher could fit into an entire series, which does beg the question: where has all this ammunition come from?
Although King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) remains upbeat and smiling, the harsh light of reality is beginning to shine on Rick and some of the other Alexandrians. The action splits between four assaults and each fight remains different, but all share the same theme of realisation. Each group is determined and euphoric from the battle cries given in Mercy, on their mission to destroy all opposing forces. That is until each group feels the veracity of their actions beginning to tug at their conscience; from their positive outset, each group finds themselves facing a difficult situation by the time the episode ends.
Aaron (Ross Marquand) leads an assault on one compound, his lover, Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson), by his side. Their skirmish takes place in a confined space, bullets ricocheting from every angle, the Saviours unclear on what the plan of attack is until it’s too late. Tara (Alanna Masterson), Jesus (Tom Payne) and Morgan (Lennie James) infiltrate another outpost, their attack a stealthy polar opposite to Aaron’s. Rick and Daryl (Norman Reedus) are also keeping their assault quiet, but they search for a heavy artillery weapons stash. Their search leads Rick to stumble upon some of the residents of this outpost, who make him question the cost of what he and the others are doing.
The only group that aren’t engaged in an attack is led by Carol (Melissa McBride) and Ezekiel, although they were last seen reeling from a grenade attack. Their search for their attacker provides the main narrative for the episode, with Carol questioning how Ezekiel can remain so happy in spite of all the murder they’re inflicting (and there is a lot of death). He explains his leadership (or showmanship) is not about him, it’s about his troops, his need to inspire and encourage others, even if his own conscience eats at his insides. It is this sort of leadership that each group is going to need, if they are to continue their march to war.
The nagging doubt in their actions is a feeling that all the groups experience in their own way. While difference of opinion between Tara and Jesus almost proves fatal, this decision is also somewhat disjointed. All the survivors are at war and all have been tasked with clearing each outpost of Saviours. Jesus choses this time, mid-offensive, to have a crisis of confidence. Although each survivor has their own moral code, Jesus knew the job he needed to do and deviating from it may only put himself and his team in greater danger.
A special note should be made to the sound department for this episode: they create a fantastic atmosphere and give great emphasis to certain points, especially when it comes to Morgan. The pace at which this season is moving is edge-of-your-chair electric, barely giving you a second to breath, let alone digest what has just happened. As we have seen from seasons past, it’s unlikely that this can be kept up , but it should be a lot of fun while it lasts.
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Innards and entrails (spoilers
Last episode, there were subtle nods to the Season 1 pilot, with Rick at a gas station. This episode, we end with a returning character from the first season, as Morales (Juan Gabriel Pareja) holds Rick at gunpoint, telling him the Saviours are on their way. It’s a peculiar return – Morales was last seen given some food and weapons and sent on his merry way to find the rest of his family. How he ended up a Saviour will likely be explained next time, or even in the Fear the Walking Dead crossover episode, but right now, he is here and holding Rick captive.
Seriously, where are all these bullets coming from? Oceanside? Wouldn’t it be wise to save some? Ezekiel does mention to Carol she can save her ammunition, as Shiva is going to execute the kill. Alas, one of the bullets appears to have wounded Eric, likely fatally. How will this affect Aaron and will it take him out of the fight to be at Eric’s bedside? Who is going to lead if he’s absent?
For all the bullets being fired, there are a lot of instances where people would rather fight or question first, rather than shoot. Like last episode with Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) face-to-face with Negan, both Morales and Tara had ample opportunity to shoot first and answer their critics later. Obviously, there must be a storytelling element to the show, but incidents like the one that befell Tara are occurring all too often, which only weakens the narrative.
Has Jesus become the moral compass of the group, now that Morgan has turned back into his psychotic-rampaged killing machine? His Terminator-like execution, cut with flashbacks to conflict him further, was excellent television. He even appeared to have his own catchphrase when he announces “I don’t die!” – normally, that sort of saying and overconfidence would be a certain death sentence, but he thankfully lives up to it. This Morgan is the best version of the character to watch, but will his delusions end up hurting himself or his friends?
Will knowing that Rick killed an innocent baby girl’s father change anything in his plan? Although it slowed him down a little, being held at gunpoint by Morales will probably put the child out of his mind and little Gracie will be left to live out the rest of her days in that crib… unless heart-of-gold Daryl decides he wants another Lil’ Asskicker.
Zombie Kill of the Week goes to Rick Grimes. While he doesn’t kill a walker, his dispatching of the Saviour father will make you take extra precautions when putting up your next shelf.
Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC