What The Walking Dead?
Episode two continues to exude energy and use the poignant figurative devices witnessed in episode one, but it takes the characters and the audience to a profoundly darker place in comparison. While The Walking Dead clearly falls into the category of science-fiction horror, at its center, it always has felt fundamentally like a drama. Millions of people tuning in world-wide are not merely doing so for the spectacle and gore of the show (although that is a big part of it). They do so because of the gripping human stories which take place within the brutal travail that is the zombie apocalypse. The elements of horror reach a new height, though, in the second installment of season eight. An abundance of positive energy and confidence ruled the tone of episode one. Perhaps this week's episode is a reminder that experiencing the true darkness of war is unavoidable. Will Rick and his allies be able to survive the symbolic hellscapes so artfully depicted in episode two? Though they may make great collective strides toward freedom, can the group remain intact while facing each of their deepest individual fears in the process? As Rick might ask, "Do we get to come back?"
Doomed: Revisiting the Satellite Outpost
While both outposts featured in this episode can be construed from figurative devices to be representations of hell for several of the characters, the previously raided satellite outpost proves particularly accursed for Tara and Morgan. After all, this outpost is where Rick's group first proactively hunted people, and the consequences of that raid for almost every major character proved to be fateful and devastating. That raid was the inciting incident that linked the Alexandrians and the Saviors as dire adversaries. It is most likely one of the last places any of these characters would want to go.
While this is Morgan's first time at this outpost (he refused to go the first time they went back in season six), this is Tara's second time, and she seems to dread being there this time around as well. Tara's first raid of this outpost haunted her with the memory of raiding the prison with the Governor, and she felt that she was repeating history. Not only does she find herself in this haunting, nightmarish situation again, she and Jesus encounter a truly evil Savior whom divides them. If this setting is to be likened to hell, this Savior seems to possess some demonic qualities. In order to control Tara and Jesus and escape, he convincingly and disturbingly becomes three different people within a scene that lasts just a few minutes, shifting personalities easily. This despicable Savior even sexually threatens Jesus. Tara responds to this with "go to hell," the exact phrase used by Maggie and Sasha when they were sexually threatened by the Governor and another Savior respectively (and if you want a reminder of what Rick can do when someone like Carl is sexually threatened, just watch the season four finale again). Even Negan himself finds sexual assault unacceptable. If sexual violence is considered that evil even in this world, then perhaps the hell that is the satellite outpost is exactly where a Savior that devilish belongs.
More damaging than his threats is the wedge he places between Tara and Jesus. Tara simply wants to eliminate anyone in cohesion with the Saviors, and Jesus, as his name would suggest, still wants to try to help and save people. How will this fundamental disagreement between them affect the outcome of the war?
The satellite outpost brings out a frankly terrifying version of Morgan, a creature already of true extremes and with a tortured past. Morgan, perhaps more than anyone, does not want to be at this outpost. He refused to join the group the last time they raided it, that being a time when he was consumed with his philosophy of peace and mercy. He refused to kill for the group much to the Chagrin of Rick and Rosita. Now, Morgan has given up his peaceful ways and has embraced violence similar to the way he did when he was in "clear-mode" in season three. Finally finding himself at this outpost, as if by fate, is not ultimately what makes this place hellish for Morgan. It is the place where he calmly and eerily confesses his believed curse: He cannot die. This statement also directly links back to the episode "Clear" where he explains to Rick that the good people die, and the bad people die, but the weak are doomed to continue living. This claim puts the bible verse about the meek inheriting the earth completely on its head. When his curse is proven to be true when the comrades around him are machine gunned down but he survives, he goes into full "clear mode" and robotically assassinates every Savior he comes across without so much as flinching. He does so until he wanders outside and is blindingly interrupted by the light of day (light imagery is used throughout this episode). How will this angry and self-accursed Morgan influence the cause against the Saviors, and is he tempting fate with his declaration of immortality?
Into the Heart of Darkness
The satellite outpost proved to be a sinister setting for some of the Alexandrians, but it doesn't hold a candle to the hellish journey Daryl and Rick take inside the compound at Mara's outpost. When Rick and Daryl split up to search for the armory, the sound and lighting alone somehow make it feel like a slightly different show, and some of the most dramatically captured, cinematic scenes in the entire series exist in these few minutes. Implementing minimal yet powerful visual and audio effects as well as prodding character histories and fears are what makes these segments of the episode some of the most truly horrific in the entire series. And, this episode answers a strange question: What does hell look like for Daryl and for Rick?
Ironically, as these characters ascend the floors of the complex, they descend deeper into their own personal nightmares. What fears might lie behind so many doors in this maze-like enemy territory? We first see Daryl enter his own personal hell when he busts into a coldly, darkly lit room that is almost unrealistically quiet (especially compared to the hailstorm of bullets raging outside). This eerie, almost supernatural vibe even throws Daryl off a bit as he becomes hesitant and visibly nervous upon entering the room. As he ventures deeper inside, there is a dramatic lighting shift. Cold, blue lighting shifts to low but warm, yellow lighting (perhaps indicating he has reached the epicenter of his personal hell), and he discovers a prisoner's cell similar to the one he was kept in at the Sanctuary. It's clear that despite Daryl's resurgence after escaping capture and being absolved by Maggie, this cell triggers every ugly thought and feeling of guilt, pain, and loneliness he experienced at the sanctuary. This triggering sight emotionally and physically paralyzes Daryl in this moment, which speaks volumes considering its hard to catch Daryl completely still at any given moment. Did Daryl ever really escape Negan's cell? If not, can he?
Rick's version of hell takes place within the same building and incorporates dramatic practical effects as well, but his experience is far more layered. His entrance into his own personal hell begins with an almost completely silent pass down a long, twilight colored hallway, and at the end, he emerges into warmer light much like Daryl did. Instead of a cell, he finds decorated bedrooms flooded with natural light which seem oddly out of place for any Savior compound. Rick moves in to open the door to perhaps the armory, and a Savior suddenly attacks him as if keeping him out of that room is a matter of life and death. The sustained fight that ensues, including the graphic and bloody strangulation and impalement of the Savior by Rick, is one of the all time scariest scenes in the series. It is also similar to the time Rick strangled one of the Claimers to death in season four, which sewed the seed for his climactic reckoning with them at the end of the season. This antagonist doesn't come back to bite him as much as haunt him as he finds out the man was merely protecting his infant daughter in her nursery, not an armory. This moment as well as his fateful encounter with the Claimers might be two of the most defining moments for Rick's character, changing him forever.
Rick's nightmare does not end there. He ventures farther into the building, continuing his search for the armory, and instead finds something no fan was expecting: Morales. Why would producers and writers decide to bring back a minor character from eight years ago, and what does it mean for Rick? Why is Rick broken and in tears at the sight of the Savior-converted Morales? Is it the cruel and astronomical odds of the situation which take him off guard, or is Rick dreading what he might have to do to his former friend, someone who helped bring him back to his family in the very beginning of the series. It has been said that the height of horror is not confronting the killer but becoming the killer. Why is this encounter with a tie to his past at the epicenter of his hellish experience, and is Rick so different from the killers of his nightmares?
So much of the second episode is steeped in darkness and fear. The title of it, "The Damned," is probably more of a reference to the living than the walkers. There is one great light, though, in King Ezekiel. All of his and Carol's scenes happen outside in nature and sunlight, and Ezekiel inspires Carol, despite her pragmatism, to embrace hope and positivity in order to carry on through the war. Are hope and despair two opposite and exclusive possibilities, or are they two sides of the same coin? Can one not only endure but also win any kind of war without going to battle with the darkest and deepest of human fears?
Other Lingering Questions
- The Alexandrians and their allies spare no resource in their fight against Negan, even if that means weaponizing walkers. Will they find a way to use the surrendered Saviors to their advantage as well and how?
- How are Carl, Michonne, and Rosita preparing for the war back in Alexandria? When will we see them back in action?
Ciara Cerrato was a projectionist and curator at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, and she currently is a poet and freelance writer in New York.