Last week The Walking Dead dropped us almost immediately into the action, and we were very thankful for it. This week, surprisingly, things have been dialled up a notch as the action, and Rick’s plan, continue to unfold. The majority of the episode works like a quadriptych with four separate assaults intercutting throughout the majority of the runtime. And it should be stated from the off that the show does this very well.
Firstly, we have an assault on one of The Savior’s munitions bases led by Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson). Beginning with a group of the allied communities arriving in their DIY-style armoured cars and opening fire on some unsuspecting Saviors, who are loading a shipment of weapons, through strategic holes in the makeshift shields. From there an all-out fire fight erupts. Many Saviors die and quite a few of the allied forces too, and Eric, trying to be a hero, gets hit pretty bad. As the fighting continues and more bodies fall, the allied forces’ plan begins to become clear: box the Saviors in, sit tight whilst the bullets fly, and then wait for the dead to rise and finish off the rest.
Meanwhile… Morgan (Lennie James), Tara (Alanna Masterson) and Jesus (Tom Payne) lead a raid on the outpost Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the gang had previously taken down in season 6 before they knew how powerful The Saviors really are. The sequence nicely contrasts the high-octane battle led by Aaron and Eric, as the crew have to take a stealthy approach to the assault. We begin with Morgan declaring that he cannot die – he now believes that his prolonged servitude to this mortal plane is his curse and that no matter what happens he won’t die. Morgan is clearly operating in mentally unstable territory again, but appears to be correct in his prophecy when he and two other allies are gunned down by Saviors and he is the only survivor.
This sequence serves to develop the growing tension in the alliance over what is ethical and what is efficient, with Tara and Jesus arguing over whether to kill a Savior or take him prisoner. “We came here to kill them,” Tara insists – and she may have a point as the Savior almost kills Jesus when the opportunity presents itself. The sequence works nicely to show how The Savior’s regime has pushed people like Morgan and Tara to the edge and offers a nice discussion on the role of morality and ethics in war.
Elsewhere, we witness the aftermath of the zombie-horde-booby-trap that was unleashed at the close of the first episode. Carol (Melissa McBride) and King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) led forces on a mission to one of The Savior’s stronghold, a mission that requires subtlety so The Saviors do not see them coming. They tail a scout through the woods as he heads back to the stronghold to warn the others. Luckily, Shiva leaps in at the last minute and kills the man before he can spill the beans.
And finally, we witness Rick and Daryl (Norman Reedus) infiltrate another munitions base, going off information given to them by Dwight. Rick has a run-in with a Savior who is seemingly guarding a room holding all of the weapons. A brutal fight breaks out until Rick gets the upper hand and strangles him to death, only to discover the man was not guarding weapons at all but a baby. Rick is devastated believing he had killed a man trying to protect his child. His distraction leads to him being caught off-guard by a familiar face… It’s Morales (Juan Pareja)!
Morales, for those who have forgotten (and to be frank, we may have been some of those people) was the family man who was part of the original group in Atlanta. Morales and his family parted ways in season 1 and nothing was heard from the since… until now. So it turns out Morales found safety with The Saviors serving Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and now has a gun cocked and ready to shoot Rick. Whilst his sudden return is nowhere near as exciting as Morgan’s a few seasons back, it is an interesting to see a man who was so optimistic and kind-natured return as a soldier serving Negan.
The episode stands as an improvement on the promising opening episode. The intense action of the assaults led by Aaron and Eric, and Carol and King Ezekiel is perfectly cut between the building suspense of assaults led by Rick and Daryl, and Tara, Jesus and Morgan. It is an elegantly constructed episode that plays to the beats of the action and teases tragedy at every corner. It is such a relief to see the show not only having fun with its editing and storytelling but also to see it fulfilling the potential it always promised.
War has begun and it seems, for a while at least, it is here to stay. The long lingering shots aren’t going anytime soon but the focus is completely on the story at hand. After a few seasons of painstaking teasing, fans are finally being given something to get excited about. Roll on the next one!