Recurring Cast: Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan, Josh McDermitt, Khary Payton, Danai Gurira, Lennie James, Chandler Riggs, Christian Serratos, Alanna Masterson, Melissa McBride, Tom Payne, Seth Gilliam, Ross Marquand, Xander Berkeley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Action is saved for special occasions on the Walking Dead. While hordes of zombies flit across the show and now Negan brandishes a small militia of henchmen to attack Rick, the show hasn’t really done battle before. When the AMC flirted with action set-pieces, they always came as season openers or finales, building up to something special: the Governor’s attack on the Prison, the horde attacking Alexandria, Negan’s forces being stopped by a CGI tiger in the last thrilling finale. The best scenes were always saved for the ideal moment. Yet, in a show where a gang war is inevitable and most problems seem to be solved with a few shots, there is always this empty sense of the show writing in ways to avoid problems. Characters have moral issues about fighting back and risking the lives of their friends, confrontations need to have a three-step plan before we can have them… there is always a sense of beating the big battles around the bush. However, with Season Seven ending with Negan and Rick deciding it was time for a fight, it seemed that the action would be forced to be upped a crucial notch.
And, in fairness to the AMC, they do so. It is almost as though the show has been saving up the pennies in the budget since the very beginning (or perhaps someone put a swear jar in Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s trailer), because now an episode rarely goes by without an explosion or cacophony of death. One episode sees Rick and Daryl have an actual car chase against a weapons truck. Suddenly, this is a show that refuses to make us wait for the good bit. The season opens with Rick, King Ezekiel and Maggie agreeing it is time to take the fight to Negan, arriving on his doorstep, and, from that point onwards, the action very rarely lets up. This is the first time in a long while that the Walking Dead feels like a show you would watch a second time around, rather than enjoying and then moving onto the next shock. The first four episodes of Season Eight could be argued to be one, continuous battle. It is still broken up into stages as is the Walking Dead’s style, the episodes jumping from one assault to the other. This is a format that works with the show, meaning that no character gets stranded on the side-lines. One episode is spent with Rick and Daryl storming the outpost, another with King Ezekiel leading his royal guard to a weapons cache and then we jump to Negan’s lieutenants’ perspective. Just because the running time is now spent fighting, doesn’t mean that the character studies are going to get lost. If anything, we see what everyone is made of when the blood is pouring. Khary Payton is a show-stealer this time around, his King figure being pushed to the limit as he proudly marches his beloved followers into a bloody battle. Josh McDermitt’s Eugene is also one to watch, his character never not finding new roads to go down, a wonderfully complex and surprisingly divisive character. Even Negan gets explored a little better this episode, as he gets moments where he explains his philosophy. He is hardly going to be a soft-hearted misunderstood villain, but his killing is not without reason and that is where the interesting morals come into play, especially among his followers. The story takes all of these figures and leads them in a bitter road of chaos. The writers have a field day putting them through the ringer. One death in the middle of the season is predictable, but no less upsetting. And then there is one twist character who shows up, briefly, and really opens up an interesting talk. The real power of the moment is how sparingly the reveal is used. For a moment, you feel that this is going to be the crux of the season, but the writers choose to keep the story Negan-centric. What we get instead is a satisfyingly thought-provoking moment of what-could-have-been.
The only problem with keeping the action on high for the whole of the season is that the midseason finale feels a tad flat because of it. It’s no less gripping, the usual Walking Dead atmosphere of being hard-pressed to guess what is exactly coming next. However, it proves tricky to write your show out with a bang, when the entire season has been a series of smaller bangs. You want the kind of finale that kills of plenty of characters. There is room for it. Some of the cast, and sadly I guess I am talking about a few of the main ones – Rosita, Tara, Michonne – seem to just have the job of brooding on the side-lines at the moment. They feel ripe for a shock killing-off. Perhaps the issue with having so many plotlines in the air is that you feel the need to have a bar chart, a production planner and a calculator on hand to figure on where everyone’s arc is at. We will cut to Carl being grumpy about something and in the heat of the fighting, you have sort of forgotten why he is so miserable. If it wasn’t for Eugene retorting with a fantastic quip, you will have also forgotten that the whole reason Eugene’s relationship with Dwight is hampered is because Eugene bit on his dick once. This is a show with quite a few balls in the air. The dense plot also kind of makes the one shock death that the writers do come up with a little too confusing to land. You end up reeling at the reveal, but being stumped as to the specifics of what happened. Most of the audience will jump to google as soon as the end credits pop up.
Final Verdict: Confusing in places, but the Walking Dead continues to be a bloody, tense thriller. And yet I smile.