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On The Walking Dead, Jesus Saves

By Rob Bricken on at

Alexandria, Hilltop, and the Kingdom continued their assault on the Saviors last night on several fronts. The result was The Walking Dead turning into a live-action video game with barely any zombies in it, for the most part. But there were a few interesting conflicts scattered in there that didn’t involve gunfire—often involving the post-apocalypse’s longhaired prince of peace.

Although the title comes from Ezekiel’s declaration early in the episode that “The damned are upon us!” during a zombie attack, “The Damned” begins and ends with close-ups on the face of Rick, Daryl, Carol, Ezekiel, Tara, Jesus, and Aaron. Like the show’s title, it’s clearly meant to refer to its protagonists, and certainly, by the end of the episode, they’ve all paid—or will probably soon pay—a price for their decisions.

The episode happily doesn’t deal with multiple timejumps, but it does focus on several groups: There’s Carol, Ezekiel, and various knights of the Kingdom, who are chasing a Savior, hoping to catch him before he has a chance to warn the compound they’ll be attacking. Then there’s Morgan, Tara, and Jesus, attacking a different Savior compound, the one with the satellites. Finally, there’s Aaron, his husband Eric, and a bunch of other people attacking a third compound with the use of the cars they armoured up last week, which provides a distraction for Rick and Daryl to sneak into another building located there, where Dwight’s intel says there’s a weapon cache.

The Aaron/Eric attack is easy enough to summarise, because all they do is fire guns at a bunch of Saviors who fire guns back at them for the entire episode. There is a cool bit where they purposefully keep the Saviors pinned into their courtyard, until their dead revive as zombies, and start eating them. It’s a neat combat tactic utilising zombies that I don’t remember having seen before. But the only other thing that happens for them is that Eric gets shot in the stomach, although he doesn’t die (yet). Aaron is understandably upset.

The Carol/Ezekiel storyline is even simpler: They catch the dude—well, Shiva the tiger catches the dude, and eats him—but they learn the guy has already contacted his compound, so the Saviors know they’re coming. Ezekiel isn’t worried at all, as part of an astoundingly upbeat, almost joyful attitude that makes Rick’s hubris last week look like conflicted concern in comparison. However, this arc does provide this wonderful, baffling speech from Ezekiel to Carol, explaining his insanely positive attitude:

Ezekiel: Do I feel this supreme confidence? Or is my lot, my job, to simply project such certainty? No. And yes. Yes and no. And finally yes to both. Fake it ‘til you make it, baby. That’s what I’ve done and what I do. I am king because I’ve provided a light to lead my people forward in the darkness. And they have made my fictions realities. So with all this, and everything’s that’s happened—

Carol: All of us may not make it. We may not even win!

Ezekiel: And yet I smile. There will be no fantasies of failure this day.

Speaking of failure, that brings us to Rick and Daryl (but mainly Rick). After they split up to search the building for the guns, about all Daryl does is find a formerly used cell, much like the one Negan kept him in, and looks bummed out about it, which makes sense. Rick, on the other hand, is pretty quickly tackled by a Savior, resulting on one of the best fights I think I’ve seen on The Walking Dead. It’s visceral and brutal and sloppy and kind of realistic, at least until Rick impales the guy on a shelf mount. What Rick finds instead of guns, however, is a baby sleeping peacefully in a crib. Rick immediately realises he’s just killed a man who, while a Savior, was also protecting his daughter. He’s so stunned by the revelation that he allows another Savior to sneak up on him and hold him up—but it’s Morales, a guy who we haven’t seen since season one, when he decided not to go to the CDC with the group and took off with his family. (Actor Juan Gabriel Pareja has returned for the role, too.) The episode ends with Morales coldly telling Rick he’s going to call the Saviors to tell them he’s captured the leader of the opposition.

But before that, we gotta get to Tara, Morgan, and Jesus. Tara and Morgan are in the same emotional place, which is to say they are bitter and just want to kill all the Saviors, which, to be fair, were Rick’s exact instructions: “We can’t leave them alive.” Other than getting shot and knocked out for a bit, Morgan pretty much has no problems following this order; he stalks through this other building basically one-shot killing every Savior he sees, like he was playing Call of Duty or Halo or something.

Tara has more problems killing Saviors, but that’s 100 percent because she’s searching the building with Jesus, who isn’t down with murdering everyone he sees. The first problem is when they open the door to find a man who has pissed his pants in fear, on his knees, Tara is all for shooting him, but Jesus won’t let her kill someone who’s surrendered. Of course—of course—the guy is faking (he pissed his pants on purpose, so points for verisimilitude), so as Jesus is about to tie him up he gets the jump on them, takes Jesus hostage, and holds a gun to his head, forcing Tara to decide if she wants to shoot the guy anyway and Jesus be damned. Luckily and unsurprisingly, Jesus quickly gets the drop on the Savior and knocks him out, at which point Tara wants to shoot the unconscious man, but Jesus still won’t let her.

They experience the problem on a larger scale a little while later. Jesus, Tara, and a number of the fellow soldiers/fighters/whatever surprise a large number of Saviors, maybe a dozen or so. Tara is itching for them to try to fight back, so they can kill them all, but they’re smart enough to surrender. Undaunted, Tara reminds Jesus that there’s no way Rick will let these guys live. It’s almost moot, because Morgan bursts out of the building (immediately after shooting down like nine guys who were mostly trying to get the hell away from him) and is also ready to shoot the now unarmed, captured Saviors. Jesus steps in again, saying, “It’s not what we do.” Morgan stalks off, but is clearly unconvinced, probably because in fact it is what they generally do—or, rather, they rarely give other people the chance to surrender.

Jesus saved. Specifically, Jesus saved the lives of a dozen or so Saviors; the first time it nearly got him killed, but that didn’t stop him from giving others the chance to surrender and live. Although most people disagree with him, he obviously thinks it’s the Right™ thing to do, even if he realises that, in the asshole-filled zombie post-apocalypse it’s probably not the smart thing to do. I honestly don’t even know how feasible his decision is; does Alexandria even have a place to store that many prisoners? Do they have enough food to spare them? When if ever would they be released? Jesus is smart enough to know that sparing the Saviors makes things harder,but he’s not going to compromise his morality just because it would be easy.

Some of you are (understandably) sick of my examination of morality of The Walking Dead but its impossible to ignore when, other than great zombies SFX and VFX, that’s what The Walking Dead is. You can’t ignore how the show has Tara and Jesus literally argue about whether it’s right or wrong to kill the Savior they’ve encountered, especially after the guy holds his gun to Jesus’ head. Or Rick’s obvious interior conflict when he discovers the baby of the man he killed, who’s suddenly been robbed of at least one parent. There’s a cost to both mercy and killing on this show, which is at its most interesting when it’s comparing the consequences of both policies, instead of solely presenting how not murdering your problems as something only dumb people do.

With the exception of its video game-ness—seriously, everyone is either firing an automatic weapon for eons and hitting nothing, or going on a murder spree full of nothing but one-shot kills—I’d say this was a solid episode, although the show is so serialised now that it’s practically useless to judge them on their own merits. But after a season of waiting for Negan and then a season of waiting for them to start fighting the Saviors, I’m finding the actual war to be kind of exciting—or at least I feel like things are getting accomplished. Admittedly, I think my bar for the show has been lowered after the last few seasons, which helps. But I’m actually interested in seeing how everything’s going to go to hell yet again for Rick and the others. All I’m hoping for is that Jesus’ mercy doesn’t get him crucified, metaphorically speaking.

Or literally. It’s The Walking Dead, after all.

Assorted Musings:

  • That shot of a bloodcovered Rick, next to a totally innocent, sleeping baby is pretty great, as is how Rick sees himself in the mirror and is just stunned what happened, what he’s done, and what he’s doing.
  • Was Rick planning on leaving that baby there to die? It seems completely insane, but I don’t honestly trust The Walking Dead to tell us what happens to it.
  • Morales left with his family back in season one, but we only see him alone in the Saviors compound. What if his wife made it to Sanctuary with him, but she died in one of Rick’s attacks? And that’s why he’s deadset on calling the other Saviors after he’s captured Rick?
  • What the fuck was with that zombie Ezekiel and Carol’s group encountered? It looked like it’d been tortured a lot—like it’d been burned, or had acid dumped on it, maybe? But was it done when it the dude was alive or already dead? Who did it? Was it the Wolves? Some other group of assholes? And what was the deal with the shirt, which had weird white edges where it had been torn? I’m sure some of you know, so please elucidate in the comments.