To say that the seventh season of “The Walking Dead” had a few problems would be something of an understatement. After a sixth season that had started to take a step in the right direction, the subsequent season once again reverted back to the show’s old ways by packing multiple episodes with filler and minimalizing plot and character development. This led to it being maligned by even the most die-hard fans of the show, and saw the ratings decline by millions of viewers. One thing was for sure, the folks in charge needed to do something to turn it around or else the decline would only continue to get worse. When it was announced that season eight would be adapting the “All-Out War” arc from the comics, fans suddenly found themselves with a glimmer of hope. After all, it was one of the most thrilling and exciting parts of the source material, so surely it would make for one hell of a season, right? The only question remained was whether this was going to be the show’s ultimate salvation, or if they would merely find a way to botch it like they had with previous seasons.
Following the events of the previous season, Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Ezekiel (Khary Payton), and the rest of the gang finally find themselves ready to wage war against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his Saviors. They immediately take the war directly to his doorstep by enacting a plan that sees his people get trapped inside The Sanctuary by surrounding it with walkers. Afterward, a series of battles is fought with Savior outposts that sees losses on both sides. Eventually the war comes back to Alexandria, where Negan and his troops unleash hell upon the community in retaliation, but amid the chaos and destruction, Rick and his people are able to escape to the safety of the sewers. It’s here that a tragedy befalling one of the characters is revealed, one that only serves to make their determination to win the continuing war even stronger.
As a fan of the comics, like everyone else I was looking forward to seeing “All-Out War” adapted for the show, as it really seemed like it could be a turning point for what has been a rather mediocre horror program for the last few years. Here was a chance to turn it into something big, bold, thrilling, and the kind of show you’d be on the edge of your seat for, instead of a show where you’re waiting several episodes for the smallest sliver of development. The rather sad part is, I can’t really say that I’m surprised that it didn’t turn out anything like what people were hoping it would be. After all, the showrunners have had access to the incredible source material this entire time, and yet, they’ve still managed to mess it up at nearly every turn, so when it came to the “All-Out War” arc, it almost seemed inevitable that something would go terribly wrong.
The problems from the previous season are more prevalent than ever. Character development is at an all-time low, while the plot barely moves an inch over the course of several episodes. Filler reaches a new high this season, with the vast majority of episodes serving little to no purpose in the still-too-long and clearly-unfillable 16-episode season. As before, this leads to chains of episodes where you can easily ignore them and not have missed a thing, and indeed, with the ratings dropping even further between the premieres and finales, viewers have already managed to figure this out. Once more, it’s more obvious than ever that the episode count needs to be cut down significantly in order to bring the needed focus to the story and characters, or else they’ll only continue to drown in the vast sea of filler.
As with last season, there were some high points that stood out. In the first half, there are a couple of episodes that focus solely on fighting the Sanctuary outposts. The episodes serve their purpose, and provide some good thrills along the way, which is a welcome change. I know I’ve said it several times before, but if the show is not going to focus on plot and characters, they should at least make it entertaining, which is exactly what these episodes are. Aside from those, we get a pretty good mid-season finale that sees the destruction of Alexandria, and the desperate escape of its people. We also get a decent season finale that finally does the show a favor by taking a page from the comics in regards to how the war ends. It’s just a damn shame they didn’t opt to learn from the comics a lot earlier than that.
With all of that aside, we still need to address the most bizarre event of the season: The Death of Carl (Chandler Riggs). His death was a pretty big shock to everyone, not only because he’s been around since the beginning of the show, but also because he’s still around in the comics. The official reason behind killing off the character, as stated by showrunner Scott M. Gimple, was to serve the story (i.e. to push the message of how things should be in this post-apocalyptic world), a reason that was quickly laughed off as it was completely unnecessary (the comics certainly didn’t need it to get to the same point). More than likely it was a desperate attempt by Gimple to get the show’s ratings back up to where they were before, an attempt that clearly didn’t work as they’ve only continued to dwindle by the millions.
The sad part was, the poor kid wasn’t even given a decent episode to go out on, but rather a long, drawn-out, and nonsensical one that somehow had Carl surviving for what seemed like ages after being bitten in the stomach. He would’ve turned in a couple of hours, and yet, we’re supposed to believe that he had time to get back to Alexandria, write several notes to friends and family (and others), help prepare for Negan’s attack, distract Negan, get to the sewers with everyone else, wait several hours for things to calm down, get to the church, give another speech or two, and finally end his own life, all before turning.
I guess the writers wanted to give him his due, even if it meant breaking their own rules. Not that Carl was ever a particularly important character in the first place, but the whole song and dance of giving him a pointless and extended death after his heroics to get everyone to safety just reeked of desperation. At least we are given a few points of amusement throughout the final few episodes as Rick and Michonne (Danai Gurira) treat his dying message with reverence, acting like he’s “The Prophet Carl,” and in effect, ignoring the really dumb things he’s done over the past couple of seasons.
On the whole, season eight was a major disappointment, mainly because they had what they needed right there in the incredible Robert Kirkman comics, but instead, they opted to go off on their own and deliver an “All-Out War” that was lacking just about everything that had made the arc such an exciting read in the first place. As we head into season nine, one can only imagine how they’re going to handle the time jump and the subsequent Whisperers arc, though with a new showrunner (Angela Kang) at the helm, perhaps there’s a reason to be optimistic. Gimple sadly let the show get way off track over the last few years, so a new leader could be just what the show needs to get it where it should be (i.e. cutting the filler and focusing on plot and characterization). As usual, I suppose we can only hope that the show will someday reach the heights that we know it’s capable of by fully utilizing its great potential. 2/4 stars.