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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A disappointing surprise can’t save The Walking Dead

Illustration for article titled A disappointing surprise can’t save The Walking Dead
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The logline for “The Damned” centers on Rick meeting an unexpectedly familiar face. It takes the entire episode to get to this scene. Even putting aside the massive anti-climax of it all, that’s a whole lot of nothing. There’s a lot of gunplay in the episode, a fair amount of death, and some gory zombie action as the latest phase of Rick’s war plans unfold. But it’s neither suspenseful nor thrilling to watch. It’s better than if they’d just sat around talking, but not that much better.

“The Damned” follows five storylines: Rick and Daryl, following Dwight’s notes to look for guns; Aaron, his boyfriend Eric, and a group of others attacking a Saviors compound; Carol and the King and his men going after a lone survivor who might warn Negan about something; Tara and Jesus, sparring over ethics as they assault yet another compound; and Morgan, also on that mission, dealing with his usual Morgan stuff.

Ostensibly this is all part of Rick’s grand plan to take Negan down, and that’s fine in basic outlines, but given how bad the show has gotten at establishing geographical relationships between places, it ends up just being a bunch of scenes of sweaty people glaring at each other and firing automatic weapons, sometimes in front of a building, sometimes in the corridors of a building, and sometimes in the woods. The action gets repetitive quickly, and it’s not helped by the complete lack of urgency.

Take Carol and the King’s hunt for a stray Savior. They’re worried he might blow the plan, but… how? What is there goal here? I guess they’re planning to attack yet another Savior compound and want the element of surprise, but given that we don’t really know what the plan is beyond “Go to a place and shoot some people,” it’s impossible to worry about whether or not they’ll succeed. (They don’t, and Ezekiel is fine with it, which makes it worse.) The scenes turn into yet another referendum on the value of hope, with the King explaining again why he puts on the big show. That was a great reveal the first time, but here it just plays like dialogue the writers threw in to kill time between bullets.

It doesn’t help that a sense of tired familiarity pervades all of the episode’s efforts at drama. Tara and Jesus arguing about the morality of killing all the Saviors is the same “how tough do you have to become to survive?” debate we’ve been having since the first season, and while it’s nice to see Jesus stay true to his optimism, it’ll probably all turn out badly for everyone, since optimism tends to backfire on this show. (If it didn’t, there would be even less show than there is now.) Morgan getting shot and surviving (“I don’t die.”) leads to him going full Terminator because reasons.

And yes, I realize there are actual reasons there, but seeing as how he’d already decided to break his promise not to kill (y’know, the most interesting thing about the character, apart from the fact that Lennie James is a great actor), having him make that decision even harder doesn’t make for good drama. Very little of this does. Worse, without the show’s queasy borderline nihilism to worry about, it’s hard to get worked up at all the violence. Eric gets shot, which doesn’t look good for him, but will anyone care if/when he dies?


About the only moment in all of this that really worked was the Saviors’ horrified discovery of why their assailants weren’t moving in on them: the firefight is ultimately a trap in which the Saviors get killed by their own dead, because zombies still exist. It’s a nice “aha” twist, albeit one that requires the Saviors, who kill people all the time, to have forgotten what happens to corpses.

Everything else is just a lot of effort for very little reward. It’s telling that the writers are at a point where bringing back Morales seems like a good idea. I hope there are fans delighted to see him again, but it’s hard to get excited about someone who barely made an impression the first time he was on the show. A stunt is bad; a stunt that can’t even generate a “holy shit!” is much, much worse.


Stray observations

  • Boy, that opening montage of close ups of the cast looking worried just reeked of flop sweat.
  • No Negan this week, so there’s that, at least. Probably working on his one-liners.
  • The music is trying so hard to make this intense.
  • “Fake it till you make it, baby.” -The King.
  • How many bullets do these guys have? I’m honestly curious. Because they sure are using a lot of them, and no one seems all that concerned with reloading.
  • “It’s not about revenge, it’s about getting it done.” -Tara