Following in the footsteps of The Walking Dead’s season 8 premiere, The Damned quickly addresses some of the major conundrums and cliffhangers left by last week’s episode, while continuing to heighten the tension as the show’s promise of 'all out war' rages on.
Even so, this season shows no sign of slowing down when it comes to playing around with audience expectations, and episode 2 throws up almost as many new whats, whys, and whens as it resolves. Clearly, this is going to be a season which doesn’t want to play all of its cards early, but is quite happy to keep teasing them along the way. Here are seven of the most burning questions I have after watching The Damned.
1. What was up with that melted walker?
About halfway into their hunting party, Carol and Ezekiel come across a grossly misshapen walker, who looks like what can only be described as a melted waxwork at Madame Tussaud’s. This isn’t entirely out of the ordinary for The Walking Dead, as weird looking walkers turn up all the time, but Ezekiel explicitly asks “what befell this creature?” as the camera deliberately focuses on its strange and disturbing ailments, suggesting there could be more to this one than meets the eye.
Is someone torturing zombies? If so, who? Alternatively, this could be one of Eugene’s molten steel-clad walkers from Sanctuary, who somehow managed to escape after last week’s big attack, but you can’t help but wonder if the scene is foreshadowing something more sinister.
2. Is Ezekiel really that happy go lucky?
“Do I feel this supreme confidence, or is it my job to simply project such certainty? No and yes. Yes and no. And then finally yes to both. Fake it till you make it, baby.” This is King Ezekiel’s cryptic response to Carol after she asks him why he keeps smiling so much and, as far as we can tell, it’s all just an act to maintain high morale among his loyal subjects… or is it?
Perhaps Ezekiel, the real Ezekiel, is genuinely happy to be fighting the good fight alongside the people he cares for. Or... maybe he’s actually deceiving himself, staying as positive as he possibly can to cover up the fear that resides deep within his heart. The truth is that I don’t think we’ll ever know what’s really going on inside Ezekiel's head, but that enigmatic quality is precisely what makes him such an interesting character.
3. Is Morgan ever going to stop having a crisis of conscience?
Asking about Morgan’s views on killing is like asking about Ross and Rachel’s relationship status in Friends; it depends on the season. For as long as we’ve known him, the character has been struggling with the ethical justification for murder in the apocalypse and, just as it finally looks as though he’s come to terms with the act of killing, he takes yet another U-turn after Jesus confronts him.
It’s like he’s a robot with only two compatible settings, in which he can either kill every single bad guy or none of them at all, without any room for compromise. That’s the result of poor characterization more than anything else, and if Morgan is going to grow in away way this season, he’s going to first have to grow out of this tiresome murder-life crisis he’s been having since the show’s very first episode.
4. Is a civil war between Hilltop and Alexandria on the way?
Throughout The Damned, a tension begins to arise between Jesus and Tara over how to deal with the Saviours. Tara is more than okay with killing Negan’s followers in cold blood, but Jesus isn’t having any of it, preferring clemency over her desire for closure. The debate mainly plays out as a personal argument between two people of different mindsets, but the way in which the pair reference both Rick and Maggie to support their own agendas seems to point to a wider conflict that the survivors will eventually have to deal with.
Rick, at least in his current state, is very much of the notion that the Saviours need to be wiped out completely, but we know that both Jesus and Maggie don’t share those sentiments. Could this philosophical disagreement between team Alexandria and team Hilltop escalate into something much, much worse? Probably not, but it’s certainly a point of contention that needs to be resolved soon before things begin to get awkward.
5. How does Shiva know who is and isn't for dinner?
So far, Shiva has run up against the Saviours twice, and it’s safe to say that she’s won both times, as she once again gets to dig her fangs into another poor soul in The Damned. Ouch. As cool as it is to watch, though, it does throw up a lot of questions about the extent of this tiger’s domestication. How on earth does she know that the person she attacks is an enemy, and not some poor Hilltop resident running away from a walker?
Tigers are intelligent, yes, and trained ones can identify people by sight once they’re familiar with them, but I doubt Shiva recognises every member of Hilltop, Alexandria and The Kingdom from memory. In fact, might be interesting for the show to explore what happens when Shiva lashes out at the wrong person, igniting a debate over whether Ezekiel should really be in possession of such a dangerous and unpredictable animal in a world that's already dangerous enough as it is.
6. Is Eric going to live?
It wouldn’t be The Walking Dead without a casualty of some sort, and Aaron’s partner Eric is left in dire need of medical attention after receiving a shot to the stomach in one of The Damned’s many shootouts. To be honest, Eric isn’t a particularly interesting or major character, so his potential death wouldn’t have much impact for the show beyond affecting Aaron’s season arc, but I’m pretty certain he’s going to come out alright anyway.
When The Walking Dead kills someone off, the show likes to do it in one fell swoop, and it's learnt from ‘The Glenn Incident’ that presenting a life or death cliffhanger doesn’t play well with the audience. The last we see of Eric is as he’s being hauled off by Aaron away from all the gunfire, so it’s likely that we’ll learn more about his fate next week.
7. How did Morales end with the Saviours?
The Damned’s biggest reveal arrives in the form of Morales’ unexpected return, who closes the episode by cocking a gun directly at Rick’s head. If you don’t remember who Morales is, that’s fair enough, as the last time we saw him was in the fifth episode of Season 1, which first aired all the way back in 2010. This was when Rick and his band of survivors (most of whom are now dead) were heading towards the CDC in the hopes of finding shelter, but Morales and his family decided to leave the group and head for Birmingham instead.
They leave on good terms with each other, and Rick even offers Morales a gun, a box of ammo, and a walkie talkie as a parting gift. Unfortunately, it looks as though Morales doesn’t plan on returning the favour, despite the fact that he and Rick appear to remember each other like it was only yesterday. How on earth did a happy family of three on route to Birmingham end up with the Saviours? Are Morales’ wife and child even still alive? The answers to those questions probably don’t make for a happy story, but it’s one that I’m dying to hear about nonetheless.