Recurring Cast: Andrew Lincoln, Danai Gurira, Lennie James, Lauren Cohan, Norman Reedus, Josh McDermitt, Alanna Masterson, Christian Serratos, Melissa McBride, Khary Payton, Tom Payne, Seth Gilliam, Austin Amelio, Ross Marquand and Jeffrey Dean Morgan
The Walking Dead is very good at doing nothing. As soon as the producers wrap up the shock finisher of the last group of episodes, it could be argued that the show descends into a slow-burning amble towards its intended ending. There was a time when the Walking Dead killed off characters far too quickly, several interesting red shirts never quite getting the characterisation they deserved. However, while the writing team were probably too merciless for their own good, it kept the audiences on edge. Every week, their favourite could be the next to be chopped. These days, the tension has seemed to settle, everyone looking like they have a healthy career ahead of them on the show. Season Eight does very little to rock the boat, which makes the second half of Season Eight, surprisingly tame.
However, for a show that does nothing, it sure as hell disguises that fact for a good long while. Rick and Negan duke it out. A prison break-out sends Hilltop into a frenzy. Negan comes up with a terrible new way of killing. Every episode opens full of promise, scary new twists being dipped into the mix. While these storylines never quite pan out as excitingly as you thought they would, it definitely makes for gripping television. A middle episode where Hilltop’s hospital is overrun, when the patients start rising as Walkers is a class-act, suddenly throwing real terror into the mix once again. And there is interesting dynamics going over in Negan’s camp, as Rick’s assault puts the Saviours on the backfoot and Negan’s own men turn against him. Negan is never going to cut it as the good guy character, even if the show continuously tries to shed light on his twisted logic, but he does make for a great source of entertainment. It roots the storyline in a devilishly good watch, as Negan is knocked to the bottom of the ladder, only to climb back to the top in fine Jeffrey Dean Morgan style. However, truthfully, the show is always putting emphasis on characters, every passing season turning proceedings into a soap opera feel. The regulars are becoming fixed centres of the show, their arc creeping forward rather than dramatically turning. The sad truth is Norman Reedus, Melissa McBride and Christian Serratos are almost out of reasons to hang around. Lennie James is also stuck in a rut, despite the show trying to make him the centre of attention quite a lot of the time. It is the lesser characters who prove the most interesting, like Seth Gilliam’s Father Gabriel, once the character we wanted to see killed off the quickest, but now an interesting insight into what role religion plays in this world. His cowardice paired with his willingness to do right by the world makes for an interesting concept. And Josh McDermitt’s Eugene is a strong area of drama, as his addition to Negan’s ranks take the character to interestingly dark places. Surprisingly, it is Andrew Lincoln who seems the most lost in the show. His character arc is so sudden that it is less gradual revelations and more shock twists. Shows like Game of Thrones handle surprise characterisation well, because even the unexpected twists are grounded in a sense of realism. We can track the character’s decision back to something tangible. Rick’s arc feels more like a script blowing in the wind. The writers keep Rick a smouldering wreck, until the plot demands action. It means that the audience have no idea if they are tuning into merciful Rick or a Rick who is tired of doing the right thing. It makes for a very jarring watch.
The most interesting thing to look out for with Season 8 is LAN (Life After Negan). Negan has definitely improved the show, giving the series a villain to spearhead its dramatic weight. With a sure threat in the mix, the slow burn of the Walking Dead has definitely been more forgivable. However, routine is definitely starting to sink in; there is only so much longer this war can play out. Season 8 finally gives us a light as to what we can expect after Negan has been put to bed. A mysterious helicopter is seen. New characters appear with promise of a future. And a new villain pops up from a surprising place. The future, while still shaky, looks intriguing at the very least. As for spending time with Negan while he is here, the finale sees good to that. There is a shock twist in the final episode that is delightful unexpected and while, probably not the ending you wanted to see, makes for damn good television.
Final Verdict: It’s business as usual with the Walking Dead with slow-burning arcs and a few dud notes. But it does what it does best as well as ever.