After a strong and exciting Season 8 premiere, "The Walking Dead" quickly went off the rails with its second installment. Just who was "The Damned" for? Because it damn sure wasn't for any possible newcomers to the show, and it didn't have much to offer long-time fans, either. Maybe it was for people with eidetic memories who could remember who Morales (Juan Gabriel Pareja) was.
We get it. Returning characters are pretty cool. People got excited when producers recently announced that there would be a character crossing over from "Fear the Walking Dead" onto "The Walking Dead," or vice versa. Morgan (Lennie James) appeared in the pilot and didn't return to the show on a regular basis for years, and he's now a fan-favorite. But Morales? That was the big hook for this episode?
It was much cooler that they brought back the original zombie little girl for the 100th episode cold open in the premiere. But we understand why the return of Morales -- whom nobody remembered five minutes after he made his first appearance -- was the big news about this episode, because it was kind of the only thing that happened.
Sure, Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson) got shot, but let's be honest; there were a lot of bullets flying so some people had to get hit. It was like John Woo directed this episode and only forgot his bag of doves. We even got completely nonsensical slow-motion facial close-ups of the main cast to open and close the episode for no reason whatsoever.
The whole thing felt really self-indulgent, like the kind of schlock you get from a creator who is snorting a little too much of their own hype and success. Garth Brooks lost a ton of weight to become Chris Gaines, while Roseanne decided to kill off John Goodman's Dan and have the family win the lottery in the final season. These were not good ideas. These were people who had too much power and influence and so no one told them to stop.
We're here to tell "The Walking Dead" to stop. You have enjoyed several years battling it out with "Game of Thrones" as the most influential and highest-rated show on television. It buys you some grace, but not enough to go off the rails and try and create some weird hybrid between French autere and Hong Kong action. You still have a job to do.
This episode was completely impenetrable for newcomers, who would have had absolutely no idea what was going on. Here's a whole bunch of random people shooting at one another and it's almost impossible to tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. That about sums up the hour. There was no explanation as to why this was happening, no dramatic hook to lure anyone in save the random appearance of a baby, and no context to make any of the violence make sense.
But it's not for long-time fans either, because there was no forward momentum in the story. It was like soap opera pacing if soap operas spent as much on bullets as they budget out for hair-care products and obnoxious wardrobes. Most of the characters barely spoke throughout the hour, and the big dramatic climaxes came with Tara (Alanna Masterson) and Jesus (Tom Payne) arguing over whether or not to kill unarmed prisoners … twice!
Carol (Melissa McBride) learned what the rest of us already knew about why Ezekiel (Khary Payton) is the way he is, and they walked toward the enemy, so that was nothing. Morgan killed a bunch of people and then saw that Jesus didn't want to kill, so he's conflicted. Again. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) saw a baby and so he was conflicted. Again. That's it. Mix in a half-million bullets or so and you've got a full hour you could quite probably have skipped.
It's a shame, too, because the premiere saw a decrease in ratings from previous season premieres -- suggesting that "Dead" may be beyond its peak and on its slow decline toward its inevitable end -- and it was a better episode than most of Season 7. All of that goodwill was totally wasted on an episode that brought nothing to the table and barely progressed the story at all. With only six episodes left until the mid-season finale, hopefully they get things moving.
"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.