Okay. Look, I don’t actually enjoy coming down on this show, especially now that they’re finally picking up the pace and giving us action and zombies and all that good stuff we signed up for 101 episodes ago. But damn if they’re not making it too hard not to, even if these first couple of weeks have been a major improvement on the filler episodes we got last season.

For one thing, it seems that TWD directors really have a knack for slowing down the action or destroying whatever tension they’ve managed to build. We don’t need long shots of Morgan getting his wits about him or Rick slowly walking down a corridor any more than we need a several minute shoot-out in the beginning where NO bullets actually find their mark.

Still, at least we didn’t get the confusing non-linear structure this week, and I’m grateful for that, not least because it partially makes up for the way they shot what should have been a straight-forward action sequence. Why do we only find out what the stakes are (i.e. that they’re looking for the Saviors’ stash of weapons) halfway through the episode? Why did we need the foggy opening shots of Carol, Ezekiel et al, and why did we need to follow them through the woods before realizing who they were after? Why, instead of just releasing the ‘moat’ of walkers into the satellite outpost, did our group just start shooting up the place, if all they wanted was to capture the Saviors instead of killing them?

And while I’m at it, why did we get a preview teaser of Morgan sparring with Jesus weeks ago, if they knew they were going to pull the same stupid death fake-out trope they can’t seem to leave alone? Speaking of which, thanks to the Talking Dead ‘In Memoriam’ segment, I now know that the two guys who weren’t as lucky as Morgan were Andy and Freddy. No idea which was which, but one of them did a really shitty job trying to look dead as the camera panned: we first see his eyes move, then he visibly swallows as Morgan goes after the Saviors. Dude, you have ONE job.

In any case, this scene had far less impact than it should have, but at least it was saved by Morgan going into Terminator mode on the Saviors. Which is more than I can say about the scene with Tara, Jesus and the guy who wet his pants. I get that now that Morgan has gone nuts again, the group needs a new ‘moral compass’ but they DID just attack the compound, guns blazing, and took out a hell of a lot of people in the process, so why save that guy? More importantly, is there really anyone who fell for his act and was actually surprised when he pulled that gun on Jesus, or when Jesus went all ninja on his ass? Or were we supposed to be shocked that Tara would follow in Rick’s footsteps and want to kill the people who murdered her girlfriend? Was this entire episode just a big, corny Jesus Saves joke?

Also not surprising in the least: Eric getting shot. We had seen this coming ever since he decided to step up and join the cause, and especially since they gave him a few more lines last week. But, again, they managed to screw up this entire sequence: our guys had a clear shot of a dude standing in full view next to the lady Savior who eventually got her neck bitten off by a zombie, and none of the bullets flying all over the place actually hit him. One minute the Saviors were on the other side of the fence, and the next they were closing in on Eric. Aaron apparently ran out of ammunition but I wouldn’t have known had they not mentioned in on Talking Dead. If you’re going to stage an elaborate (yet completely trite) car stunt, at least take a few seconds to explain why the character needed to do it, otherwise it’s just there for effect.

The Ezekiel/Carol scenes were also a bit baffling. For one thing, why does he need to stay in character when it’s just the two of them talking? Oh well, I can forgive that because I loved his ‘fake it till you make it, baby‘ line. Plus, this exchange with Jerry, after he’d just sliced a walker skull in half, was gold: “what befell this creature? I mean, before you“. What bugged me was the pointlessness of tracking down that one Savior through the woods. I thought the whole point of taking out the lookouts last week was the shock-and-awe factor. Well, now they’d already smashed all the Sanctuary windows and the attack on the satellite outpost was underway, so even if that guy did manage to run back and warn his men, what difference would it make? They were already surrounded, just like Negan and his men were surrounded by walkers and couldn’t have come to their rescue. Again, though, I’m willing to let it go because Shiva in action is always a good thing, and the CGI didn’t look half bad.

And then we have Rick and Daryl, because it’s all about the bromance. However, our most badass characters are actually given so little to do this week, it’s almost infuriating. Daryl does squat, and Rick can’t go a full episode without getting all dirty and bloody, so at least we’re treated to a nice Savior kill before the requisite “are we actually the good guys here?” scene: the guy he kills was a Savior, but he was also a father to a beautiful baby girl. I wish I could say this scene had the emotional effect they were going for, but I was too distracted by the not-so-subtle metaphor as he looks in the mirror, conveniently (if very unrealistically) placed right above the baby’s crib. Still, points for the cute DIY mobile.

The callbacks to Season 1 continue this week, with a literal blast from the past: of all the characters the show could have brought back, they give us Morales? Who gives a f*ck about Morales? I had no idea who the guy was until Rick said his name, and I still have zero interest in him, especially since it seems he’s a die-hard Savior now. It also annoys me that they’d just throw this in there after an entire season of pitting Rick against Negan without the slightest indication that Negan might have some inside knowledge on Rick, which suggests that, once again, this little twist wasn’t really planned in advance – much like the rest of the show.

Speaking of callbacks: as the Saviors who surrendered are corralled by our group (and don’t get me started on how unlikely it is that long-haired douche who killed Ben would actually surrender, or that Morgan wouldn’t just shoot him on sight), one of our guys can be seen in the background taking a polaroid picture. Is Rick into scrap-booking now? Is there an actual purpose to all the photo-ops? Does the group plan to just show Negan what they’ve been doing, in hopes of forcing him to give up?

And what’s Dwight’s role in all of this? I assume he’s the one who fed Rick and Daryl the into about the lookouts last week, and about the guns this week. Yet the guns are nowhere to be found, so either he screwed up, or the all-seeing Negan somehow got wind of his treachery, and neither option makes for a very interesting plot line, because an ambivalent Dwight is boring, and a tortured Dwight is old news.

Sigh. Much as I like to nitpick, this wasn’t a bad episode. It’s just maddening because it could have been SO much better. All out war should be epic, and so far it isn’t. According to Scott Gimple, the next two episodes will also be ‘relentless’, so maybe when this arc is complete, it will make more sense. Hopefully.

Speaking of Gimple, this week’s Talking Dead was probably the saddest episode of the series. I don’t care about the guy from This Is Us, nor do I want to hear Gimple congratulate himself on what a great job he’s been doing on the show (although I did like his Rick lapel pin). And I certainly don’t want to hear his lame explanations about why they didn’t just shoot Negan last week: “there were workers there“, so Rick & Co. didn’t want to kill innocent people – great, so just let a few hundred walkers loose on them… how magnanimous! “They were hoping for a surrender” – sure, because from all we’ve learned about Negan, he’s the kind of guy who’d just put his hands up and give it up. Really, Gimple, just admit that the only reason no one took a shot at Negan was what I (and everyone else) have been saying all week: Negan has plot armor, because All Out War can’t just end in the first few minutes of the season premiere. I’m glad at least Chris Hardwick had the balls to blurt it out.

If I’m honest, I guess Talking Dead majorly contributed to my disappointment in The Damned, mainly because they just had to bring Alanna Masterson back. I’m not a Tara fan by any means, but it’s the actress more than anything that rubs me the wrong way. She always complains whenever she’s on the show, and generally comes across as such a self-important douche, she makes Gimple appear likable.