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REVIEW: First half of ‘The Walking Dead’ season eight fails to reawaken dying audience

PHOTO: Promotional photo for "The Walking Dead" season 8. Photo courtesy of AMC Networks
Promotional photo for “The Walking Dead” season 8. Photo courtesy of AMC Networks

“Don’t open. Dead inside.” What once was an iconic warning written on a hospital’s cafeteria doors could now describe the minds of the writers for “The Walking Dead.” 

Coming into season eight with the 100th episode of the series, there was a lot of anticipation and excitement from fans. As an adaptation of the Robert Kirkman graphic novel with the same name, “The Walking Dead” has always loosely followed the source material. 

Thus, there was the expectation of a riskier and explosive first half of the season. Yet, after enduring eight weeks, it’s safe to say that the season’s “all out war” slogan was really meant as a reflection of the writers battle with the show’s fans. From a struggling plot to poor character development, the show had one begging for mercy.

The big scary uninteresting plot 

After Rick Grimes’ (played by Andrew Lincoln) crew spent the previous season under Negan’s (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) control and slowly began preparing to wage war, one would have thought this season was poised to take chances. However, this notion was quickly thrown away following the painfully missed opportunity Rick had to finally take out his enemy in the opening episode.

From that moment on, a signal was sent alerting one to the fact that the first half of the season would fail to meet expectations. The eight episodes consisted mostly of group-centric side quests that merely highlighted why binge-watching the show makes it more tolerable. Wasting airtime on lackluster characters, predictable outcomes and pointless banter only contribute to dying ratings.  

As the Kingdom, Hilltop and Alexandria residents move forward with Rick’s overall plan, there was still a lack of understanding, from the audience perspective, of what the plan was. Is it really as simple as targeting the Saviors’ outposts and leading a horde of the dead to Negan’s front door? Grand speeches and a never-ending barrage of gunshots do little to flesh out the season’s plot.

The only saving grace came during the final moments of the mid-season finale. In that moment, as Carl (played by Chandler Riggs) removed his bandage revealing a bite, a shift was made in not only the show’s tone but potential. By making the unexpected step away from the graphic novels, it allows for the second half of the season to take necessary risks. 

The King, the widow…oh, and Rick too 

Watching Rick Grimes point his Colt Python at the camera while squinting his eyes ever so slightly, was always a clear indicator that stuff and things were about to hit the fan. However, this first half of the season saw slight sacrifices in overall character development in order to move the plot along and accommodate the actors’ personal schedules.  

For example, much of the season saw Michonne and Rosita (played by Danai Gurira and Christian Serratos, respectively) being uncharacteristically sidelined in Alexandria with Carl. Meanwhile, cracks within the core group of heroes began to form, as the lines of morality blurred.  

With Daryl and Tara (played by Norman Reedus and Alanna Masterson, respectively) creating chaos by expediting an already established plan, and Jesus (played by Tom Payne) facing off physically with Morgan (played by Lennie James), the characters seemed to be forced into two separate figurative containers; maintaining morality and dismantling morality. Speaking of containers, why does Rick continue to end up in a literal one?  

Nevertheless, as the lead character on the show, Rick was disappointingly used to photobomb episodes by showing up for a quick scene or two. For him initiating the war, it seemed this first half of the season was geared towards establishing King Ezekiel (played by Khary Payton) and Maggie (played by Lauren Cohan) as better leaders. 

While the season has so far presented unexpected, but welcome, pairings of characters, the show did little to develop them beyond if they are Team Rick, Team Negan or Team Best Shot of Survival.  

How it’s gotta be

With spinoff series “Fear The Walking Dead” season three concluding the week prior to “The Walking Dead” season eight premiere, there was a level of expectation to be met. The once ridiculed spinoff has quickly transformed into a gripping and exciting mix of drama and twists; something its parent series is losing rapidly. 

While “The Walking Dead” continues to be a solid ratings getter, the series’ content is quickly tanking what it could be. Predictability never does a show well and if fans who have never read the comics can sense a plot point from a mile away, then it’s time to bite the bullet and change.   

Long-running series have a lot of expectations to meet, especially ones adapted from a beloved source material. However, taking creative liberties allows for not only fans to experience that edge of their seat thrill, but also gives writers the opportunity to be more than mindless copiers.

Moving into the second half of the season, one would hope to see bolder risks being taken. Killing off Carl is a major step in the right direction, even though he will be missed. Next, maybe have Negan take Rick prisoner or Maggie finally have her baby. The possibilities with creativity are endless. 

To put it bluntly, the viewership is already dying off so why not give fans a reason to tune in each week, in real time, as opposed to driving them to binge watch later. If the series is going to survive, this is “how it’s gotta be.” 

Also published on Medium.