The Walking Dead. (Season 8)
Created by: Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard, Frank Darabont
Starring: Andrew Lincoln, Melissa McBride, Lennie James, Lauren Cohen, Jeffery Dean Morgan, Norman Reedus
After an emotionally brutal season 7, the 8th outing of 'AMC's The Walking Dead' is a far easier watch. The scales have tipped, and the battle between the Saviours and our three communities has become less one-sided, resulting in a far more comfortable viewing experience. This battle has been a long and exhausting journey, but season 8 rewards us with many satisfying moments.
Season 8 starts off strong as Rick, Maggie and Ezekiel enact their plan to bring down Negan and the Saviours. It is an action-packed episode, full of emotion, tension and hope (something that season 7 lacked). The first half of the season continues at a similar pace, constantly pushing forward; Season 8 gives you little time to catch your breath. The pace slows as we progress past the mid-season break and into the second half, giving much more time to the characters and the decisions they must make. It's not all peaches and cream for our protagonists, but you won’t find yourself writhing in discomfort like you did while watching the previous season.
There are issues, perhaps unsurprisingly considering the show is in its 8th year. Previous seasons have provided us with an intricate weave of storylines and characters, where every moment and every action is purposeful, whereas there is much more ‘filler’ in season 8. Elements of the story seem to have been added only to generate enough footage, rather than to add to the story in a meaningful way. To The Walking Dead’s credit, a lot of shows find themselves doing this around their third or fourth season, so to be found guilty of this at season 8 is impressive. Following the mid-season premiere, this reliance on filler decreases, the story seeming much more deliberate and crisp, having far more substance than the visually exciting first half. The plot is less linear, different events forcing the story to change direction in fresh ways, recapturing an element of unpredictability.
The second half does ask a lot of its viewers, however, sometimes stretching believability to its limit, several plot points evoking some scepticism. Its final episode, a tense climax to the ‘all-out-war’ between The Saviours and our heroes, is tremendously exciting and book-ended with scenes wrought with emotion. It is a fitting end to this long fight, one which provides a healthy dose of movie-quality action, but which also takes the show in a new hopeful and optimistic direction. But, as a finale, it asks a lot of questions, perhaps too many, as a few ambiguous scenes leave behind more of a sense of confusion rather than anticipation for season 9.
Season 8 has a focus on moral dilemmas, not totally unfamiliar territory for The Walking Dead, but never have they been such a focal issue within a season. They raise fresh questions for some of our longest running heroes, injecting some originality into the season, while also providing a contrast to the high octane battle scenes, preventing the show from developing tunnel vision. These two elements run parallel throughout the start of the season but are delicately intertwined by the time we arrive at the second half, and become a major driving force for the climax.
Negan, our leather bound antagonist, returns as a major presence in season 8, but the camera’s devotion to him might be taking its toll. While Jeffery Dean Morgan does a fantastic job of making his character hugely dislikable, Negan’s menacing persona seems to be slipping away. Negan is slowly transforming into a caricature of himself - his bravado and theatrics are becoming tiresome, and the presence of his favourite weapon during his every conversation is starting to bore. The ‘in your face’ approach has diluted everything that he was built up to be in the final episode of season 6. In comparison, our exposure to Negan’s right-hand man Simon has been much more limited. His sickeningly sweet smile still brings a chilling air of tension to every scene he populates.
During the majority of season 8, Negan remains a rather shallow villain, only allowing glimpses into his past and his motivations. Thankfully, the latter half of the season fleshes him out to some degree, a process which was undeniably long overdue. Following a beautiful but devastating mid-season premiere, our perception of Negan begins to alter and his motivations become a little less vague, which carries his character for the rest of the season.
Now to address a more fundamental criticism which has plagued The Walking Dead for years; its repetitiveness. Sure, S8 presents some repeated themes, both narratively and philosophically. This has always been an issue with The Walking Dead, but, importantly, it is an issue which is inherent. The very subject matter dictates that the story will be repetitive. But this shouldn’t - and doesn’t - matter; The Walking Dead isn’t story driven, it is character driven, and it has always been character driven. The Walking Dead has always been a masterclass at character development and, despite an arguably shallow beginning, S8 continues to demonstrate the show’s prowess at this very thing. People watch The Walking Dead, not because they want to know what happens, but because they want to know what Rick and Carol and Daryl and all the rest of the characters will do when what happens happens. In this regard, season 8, particularly its final few episodes, will not disappoint.
Importantly, season 8 has soothed the emotional trauma its viewers suffered during season 7. It is a refreshing contrast to its predecessor, simultaneously combining energetic action sequences and philosophical obstacles while contributing effectively to the development of its characters. While it demonstrates some issues narratively, for these symptoms to be so minor in its 8th year is a testament to the show’s consistent quality. While it might not have returned to the top of its game, this show still sits atop the TV food chain.