Phase two of Rick's war plan devolves into a confusing mess of multiple subplots, none of which amount to very much before the episode ends on its most unlikely callback yet.
[WARNING - This review contains SPOILERS for The Walking Dead season 8, episode 2.]
By and large, The Walking Dead season 8 kicked off with a fairly well-executed premiere. It brought the show's upcoming arc into focus, pitting Rick against Negan in an all out war that would not only decide the victor but have its characters grapple with the morality of doing battle. That Rick was choosing to be pro-active was also a great turn of events, but while the first part of his plan - the surprise attack on The Sanctuary - gave way to an interesting showdown, phase two of Rick's war plan devolves into a confusing mess of multiple subplots, none of which amount to very much before the episode ends on its most unlikely callback yet.
After catching Negan by surprise in last week's premiere, Rick's coalition splits into five groups: Aaron, his boyfriend Eric, and others from Alexandria engage in a shootout at one of The Savior's outposts; Tara and Jesus lead a group to infiltrate another outpost; Morgan breaks off from Tara and Jesus' group, going on a solo murder spree; Ezekiel and Carol lead their group in pursuit of that one Savior who got away; all the while Rick and Daryl sneak around some other Savior compound, working off a tip from Dwight in search of a huge cache of guns.
And usually, dividing the cast up into different groups and having them each execute one part of a plan would produce an exciting and tense episode - like we saw last week with the scenes of Daryl luring that herd in tandem with Rick, Ezekiel, and Maggie rallying their forces. But here, 'The Damned' is such a nonsensical mish-mash of hallways and courtyards and a never-ending stream of ammunition that it's hard to follow, let alone really care what's happening. It's clear that Rick wants his people to overtake the different outposts, but the only group actually accomplishing that is the one led by Tara and Jesus. And really, that's all thanks to Morgan turning into a one-man-army and taking out roughly half of The Saviors stationed there by himself.
It's in that plot that The Walking Dead revisits this season's theme of seeking revenge versus winning the war, again making the point that the two goals are not one in the same. However, this debate is clumsily handled, with Tara and Jesus acting like mouthpieces for the opposing philosophies rather than actual characters in a dispute. Plus, having this same debate internalized by Morgan feels redundant - and not just for this episode but for his character as whole.
So while Tara, Jesus, and Morgan are able to actually capture an outpost, gathering up the remaining Saviors as prisoners, Aaron's group engage in what is the most ludicrous shootout imaginable. The Walking Dead has always favored these action scenes over addressing the realities of prolonged gunfire, but the show is now basically admitting that ammunition is an unlimited resource. Sure, they've recently acquired more supplies from Oceanside, but wouldn't you still want to ration those bullets? Not take part in shootout that lasts the whole episode and accomplishes nothing.
Meanwhile, Ezekiel and Carol wander the surrounding woods, discussing again why Ezekiel leans so hard into playing king, and hunting down the one guy who could endanger their whole plan. Except, wouldn't you think the hail of bullets flying over where Aaron and Eric are is a bigger clue? Anyway, it's clear the writers were looking for another way to incorporate more of Ezekiel's pontificating, which is at least entertaining, as well as another moment for Shiva, which they do and it is satisfactory in a way only a tiger mauling can be. (Even if it only raises more questions about how is this tiger controlled? Do they just release it and hope it attacks the right people?)
For all the jumping back and forth from one group to another, very little actually happens in 'The Damned'. The biggest moment is held for the episode's final moments, but it's a lackluster reveal, re-introducing a character that even the most diligent and devoted Walking Dead fan would be hard-pressed to get excited over. The bigger surprise and perhaps best moment of the episode actually comes minutes earlier, when after brutally killing one of The Saviors, Rick discovers not guns but a baby at the compound. It's one of the scenes in where Andrew Lincoln manages to dig deep, displaying the myriad of emotions gnawing at Rick as he remembers that The Saviors aren't all evil, that within their ranks are families just as deserving of peace and safety as those living in Alexandria or The Hilltop.
'The Damned' is a mess of an episode, incapable of mustering anywhere near the excitement it should thanks to confusing plotting and lazy writing. Those final moments include a reveal that might just lead somewhere exciting, but it's hardly enough to make up for such an ineffectual episode.
NEXT: Where Has Morales Been?
The Walking Dead season 8 continues next Sunday with 'Monsters' at 9pm/10c on AMC.