Is The Walking Dead About to Repeat One of Its Worst Mistakes? – Vanity Fair
This post contains spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 2, “The Damned.”
Would The Walking Dead ever kill Rick Grimes? It’s a fair question after Sunday’s episode, which ended on a cliffhanger: our fearless leader, held at gunpoint by. . . Morales from Season 1?! More on that later. For now, let’s focus on the two people who appear to be on the chopping block: Rick and Aaron’s boyfriend, Eric. Walking Dead cast and crew have, as always, promised an intense season ahead, but are the bodies really going to start piling up this early?
Rick’s death, naturally, would complicate things for several reasons. But Eric’s—which is far more likely to actually happen—carries its own risk: in killing Eric, The Walking Dead runs the risk of crossing a line it’s already run afoul of once before.
This week’s installment found our motley crew of heroes executing their master plan, step by step, in teams. One of those teams, which includes Aaron and Eric, must keep a group of Saviors pinned in a confined space until they’re decimated by the growing undead horde. Unfortunately, some fighters on the good side die, too—and Eric, last we see him, is bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound as Aaron leads him away.
Meanwhile, Rick—who has accidentally killed a father guarding his baby’s nursery—is reeling with guilt. (As he looks at himself with anguish, we’re prompted to wonder who this episode’s title—”The Damned”—is really referencing.) But Rick’s moral dilemma doesn’t last for long; soon, Morales appears out of nowhere, holding a gun to Rick’s head and saying, “It’s over, Rick. I called the Saviors back, and they’re coming.”
For those who need a refresher: Morales left our screens way back in Season 1, when he and his family decided to make their way toward Birmingham, Alabama rather than going with the group to the CDC. Rick gave Morales a gun and a box of ammo, along with a walkie-talkie to use in case he changed his mind—but it seems that long-ago act of decency will get him nowhere. Then again, when actor Juan G. Pareja teased his potential Walking Dead return earlier this year, he wrote, “The only thing that can stop a bad guy w a bat, is a good guy w a bat.” So maybe Rick can win over Morales before he pulls the trigger.
Truthfully, it seems almost impossible that The Walking Dead will ever kill Rick. Although Andrew Lincoln has teased fans with the idea of imagining a Walking Dead without his character, we’re guessing AMC and Robert Kirkman would rather them not have to. But Eric seems like a far more likely candidate to get the axe: he’s not a core ensemble player, but he has been on the show for awhile, and viewers have known him and Aaron long enough that his death would have an impact. The problem? Depending on its execution, killing Eric could mean that the series is once again abiding by TV’s pernicious “bury your gays” trope, which basically dictates that gay characters never get to enjoy a happily-ever-after—or any “after”—with their longtime significant others. If this sounds familiar, that’s probably because it came up once already on The Walking Dead, in Season 6.
Back then, the series killed off Denise just as she decided to tell Tara she loved her. Her death stirred up a furor, not least because it occurred shortly after a handful of other shows had also unceremoniously offed gay characters. It’s unfair to say that gay characters should never die—especially on a show like Walking Dead, which makes carnage its bread and butter—but killing Denise still stung, especially since her character was given a death that actually befell Abraham in Walking Dead comics. Denise’s death barely factored into Season 7, but on Sunday night, its effects finally started to show: Tara wanted to kill everyone in the Savior outpost, while her partner on the mission, Jesus, urged her toward mercy.
“I know they killed your girlfriend,” Jesus tells Tara as they hold one of the Saviors’ workers at gunpoint. “But you loved her. This isn’t you.”
Jesus desperately wants to avoid killing the workers, whose complicity in the militia’s actions is minimal. Unfortunately, Tara remains unmoved. Even as her comrade tells her, “We’re not here for revenge. It can’t be about that,” all she says in response is, “It can.”
Tara was once one of the group’s gentler members. Now, thanks to Denise’s death, she’s become hardened. It’s one of the first tangible effects fans have seen from the trauma Tara’s endured, which may be a sign that the show has learned from its mistakes. But before we rule on that, we’ll have to see what happens to Eric. Meanwhile, we’ve got one other warning: say a prayer for Morgan. Him saying “I don’t die” sure sounds like a promise that before this season ends, he will.