SPOILER ALERT: Do not keep reading if you have not seen Episode 2, Season 8 of “The Walking Dead,” titled “The Damned”
“The Walking Dead” ramped up the action in a big way this week, with the Alexandria-Hilltop-Kingdom coalition initiating a multi-pronged attack on various Savior strongholds. This is the kind of episode that embodies all the good points of the series: serious action, heavy emotion, and a healthy dose of lighthearted humor courtesy of the show’s resident G.O.A.T. King Ezekiel (Khary Payton).
The coalition kicked off the war on the Saviors in last week’s season premiere. This episode saw the plan play out on a larger scale. It involved four different groups all working simultaneously. They are: a team led by Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Daryl (Norman Reedus); a team led by Aaron (Ross Marquand); a team led by Ezekiel and Carol (Melissa McBride); and a team led by Jesus (Tom Payne), Tara (Alanna Masterson), and Morgan (Lennie James).
As the episode begins, Aaron’s team ambushes a group of Saviors, driving up in the armored cars seen in the last episode and opening fire on them. They create a barrier around the Saviors in an effort to prevent them from escaping. With Aaron and his team creating a diversion outside, Rick and Daryl lead their team into the third outpost to look for a stash of guns Dwight (Austin Amelio) has told them is stashed inside.
At another outpost, Morgan prepares to create a diversion so that the Saviors standing guard can be dispatched with arrows. When another in the group tells Morgan that he will need help, Morgan coolly replies, “I don’t die.” The diversion is successful, and the group begins sweeping the outpost for Saviors. Morgan and two others take up position outside a door, but when they kick it in, there are more Saviors inside than they anticipated and all three are gunned down.
The Carol-Ezekiel team is still reeling from the grenade set off by a Savior at the end of the season premiere. As the team regains their senses and the dust begins to clear, a horde of walkers pour out of a nearby building and set upon them. With a combination of gunfire, swords, and axes, they are able to dispatch the walkers but discover that the Savior has escaped and is most likely headed to warn his compatriots of the team’s arrival at another nearby outpost. Ezekiel is supremely confident that they will catch the man before he can tell anyone, telling Carol to “trust the King.” Before they set out after him, Ezekiel tells one of his men to go back and get reinforcements, including his faithful tiger Shiva.
Aaron’s team successfully picks off multiple Saviors, but they are taking heavy fire themselves. Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson), Aaron’s boyfriend, puts himself in the line of fire to prevent some of the Saviors from breaking through the line. As the firefight presses on, the team’s plan becomes clear: kill off a number of Saviors, then let the others get eaten when their dead comrades reanimate as walkers.
Tara and Jesus continue their sweep, coming across a man in a closet who claims to be no more than a worker forced into labor by the Saviors. Tara is ready to kill him but Jesus tells her to wait. But when Jesus gets momentarily distracted, the man grabs Jesus’ gun and knocks him to the ground. He grabs Jesus, using him as a human shield, but when he takes his gun away from Jesus’ head, Jesus takes him down. Rather than kill him, Jesus knocks him out and ties him up. Afterwards, the Saviors begin to retreat. Morgan lies motionless next to the bodies of his fellow team members, but suddenly awakens and sits up. Apparently the hockey pads distributed at the Kingdom really are bulletproof. That or he got wounded in another spot that is not totally obvious.
Ezekiel and Carol’s team continue their trek toward the outpost. Carol reminds him of the danger they face ahead, but Ezekiel remains confident. When she presses him as to why, he first delivers a very kingly speech about how he has to be the brave leader his people have come to expect. Drawing closer to Carol, he follows that up with “Fake it til you make it, baby.”
Daryl and Rick split up and continue their hunt for the guns. Daryl comes across a room in the outpost that looks quite a bit like the cell Daryl was kept in at the Sanctuary (complete with a can of dog food), clearly leaving the motorcycle riding bad ass shaken. Rick presses on, and finds a Savior hiding in what looks like living quarters. They fight and Rick demands to know where the guns are. The man refuses to answer but tries to make it a closed door nearby. Rick kills him by running him into a piece of metal sticking out of the wall. He opens the door to discover the room is a nursery where a baby named Gracie lies in a crib. Rick is forced to face what he did, staring at his bloody self in a mirror with the knowledge he just orphaned the girl.
Morgan, meanwhile, is on a killing spree. He walks through the Savior outpost killing everyone he comes across without hesitation. As he does so, he remembers the conversation he had with Rick before Rick first led them against what they thought was the Saviors’ main base in Season 6. Jesus and Tara have led the rest of the team outside and get the jump on the fleeing Saviors before they are able to escape. Jesus convinces them to lay down their guns and surrender peacefully. Morgan comes upon the group and nearly kills Jared (Joshua Mikel), the Savior who killed Benjamin in Season 7. Jesus is able to convince him to stop.
Carol and Ezekiel continue on, coming ever closer to finding the Savior who escaped them earlier. Ezekiel runs ahead but pauses. His tiger sense must have been tingling, for as soon as Carol catches up to Ezekiel Shiva pounces on the Savior, killing him.
As the episode draws to a close, Aaron’s team starts taking casualties. Aaron rushes to assist Eric, discovering that Eric has taken a bullet to the stomach. Ezekiel, with Shiva by his side, learns that Saviors are ready for the team’s arrival by picking up radio chatter. But rather than retreat, Ezekiel promises to lead them into battle.
Rick keeps looking for the guns, but as he examines a picture he finds tacked to a wall, a man with a gun tells Rick to turn around slowly. Rick turns to find himself face-to-face with Morales (Juan Gabriel Pareja), one of the original members of the Atlanta group who departed in Season 1 with his wife and children for Birmingham rather than join Rick’s group that was headed to the CDC. Morales is now a Savior and tells Rick he has called for reinforcements.