Walking Dead: Season 8
It is only natural for certain themes to catch on with the public resulting in the various purveyors of entertainment to jump on the proverbial bandwagon. During our childhood westerns were one of the most popular genres around. In movies and television shows, the white-hatted heroes consistently vanquished the villains always clad in sinister black. This fascination recently manifested in the zeitgeist of the current generation as an obsession with the undead creature feature antagonist, the zombie. These ever-lumbering animated cadavers with a predilection for flesh cinematically redefined in the late sixties. In 2010 the AMC basic cable channel introduced them to television through the live-action rendition of an extremely popular series of graphic novels, ‘The Walking Dead.’ The ninth season has begun which means season eight is available on Blu-ray and DVD. After eight seasons of fighting for each day of survival, the action has begun to trend towards the pedantic. The strength of the series was the way that the zombies were handled. In most examples of the genre, the undead is typically the primary focus; the main source of danger and drama. By literally taking a page from the graphic novel, the zombies are relegated to the status of a, plot device import McGuffin, a plot device critical within context to the characters but holding a peripheral place in the eyes of the audience. The conflict driving the overall narrative is derived from the interaction between the humans, this was a brilliant, groundbreaking strategy that has waned over time. Admittedly, this season was a valiant effort to revitalize the series but, unfortunately, despite above average acting and respectably taut writhing the effect is a condition that can be described best as anti-synergism. The combined constituent parts were less than its parts, a common response to declining interest among the fans is to react by amplifying established plot points frequently forsaking a modicum of quality. This response to fan feedback is greatly heightened in this age of social media and interactive convention
The better part of a couple of seasons was required to set the numerous pieces on the chess board. As usual, the primary point of view is provided through the vantage point of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), a former lawman and a natural leader. The previously mentioned amplification was achieved by dividing the focus of several groups of survivors. The first had been taken over by Rick, Alexandria Safe-Zone. Ostensibly before the collapse of society, it was a gated community which made its fortification feasible. It maintained the superficial façade of normalcy with well-maintained homes and neat suburban streets; the next settlement was The Hilltop Colony, a rural settlement formerly led by a man named Gregory (Xander Berkeley) demonstrated to be a narcissistic, egotistical, and cowardly man. Gregory was quick to make deals with the violent adversaries more for his gain or safety. After some particularly deleterious decisions, the group’s leadership was taken over by a long time member of Rick’s group, Maggie Greene (Lauren Cohan). A combination of Gregory’s dismissive attitude towards her and his detrimental mismanagement of the settlement incentivized Maggie to action. After the brutal murder of her husband, Glenn (Steven Yeun), she has become calculating, a source of strength that calls others to follow her lead. The third group of free survivors goes under the banner of the Kingdom. Under the wise and beneficial rule of King Ezekiel (Khary Payton), who speaks in a regal, Shakespearian fashion. His people may realize that he is not truly a king but his genuine love for his people and determination to promote justice forms a steadfast bond between monarch and his people. Together this triad of humanity’s last best hope as ‘Rick, the King, and the Widow.’
Opposing this coalition is one of the better ‘Big Bad’ villains from the graphic novels, Megan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the leader of the Saviors who serves as the season's primary antagonist. He was a ghost or boogeyman during most of the previous season, alluded to but not seen. In the last episode, he appears manifesting the epitome of cruelty. Wielding his primary weapon, Lucille, a baseball bat wrapped in barb wire, bashes in the skulls of two beloved characters. In this season, Negan is developed as the depraved indifference to life and morality. He is an example of a mastermind villain, commanding subservient more solid villains with military precision. Negan does exhibit an innate ability to create and manage a viable organization delegating crucial outposts to trusted captains. He goes as far as convening board meetings to gauge progress and address issues. Joining his side during this season is a former regular associated with Team Rick, Eugene Porter (Josh McDermitt).
Contrary to the impression conveyed by his mullet. Eugene is well educated and extremely resourceful. Negan utilizes Eugene’s skills to his best advantage. A substantial portion of season eight concerns Rick’s attempts to consolidate the factions, unifying the resistance against Negan and his Saviors. One of the outlying communities is ‘The Scavengers’, led by a stern woman, Tamiel (Sabrina Gennarino). They survive I a walled-off junkyard under the draconian rule. Tamiel is willing to break any agreement or alliance to secure her objectives. The scavengers represented the wild card in the escalating power play that served as the seasonal motivation. Logic would dictate that Rick’s offer to Tamiel for a cooperation pack would seem natural except for the single-minded insistence on self-sufficiency fostered by the Scavenger’s leader. Instead, the result was the addition of extraordinary stress on an already overwhelmed Rick.
The interplay of these rival faction is the fundamental reason for the distinctive reason that the zombies can realistically be regarded as a McGuffin. All sides are forced to address ‘Walkers’ in their respective machinations but always secondary to devising more efficient ways to destroy each other. Throughout the years of the series’ run the term ‘Zombie’ is never used. Many might think that this is merely a contrivance, but it is indicative of the lack of narrative focus eschews direct reference. During the previous season, Negan remained the unseen bogeyman who is fully realized with each episode of this season. The fashion in which he wields ‘Lucille,’ demonstrates a complete lack of remorse and capacity for empathy. Even his most trusted captains are not immune from his draconian control. One of the most obvious examples is Dwight (Austin Amelio), a trusted worker who betrayed Negan by attempting to flee the Sanctuary. Negan’s reaction was beyond brutal. After heating iron in an industrial furnace, branding the side of his face, leaving a permeant designed, a lasting reminder and warning. Although the general narrative has lost some of the sharpness that initially made it the water cooler sensation enjoyed by the early seasons, retaining a modicum of literary cohesiveness. There was never any doubt that the Negan issue would have to be addressed and resolved to at least a satisfactory degree. The season poster featured Rick and Negan facing off reminiscent of a highly publicized boxing with no potential for amelioration on either side. The factors that permitted a departure from the expected, familiar tropes resulted in a conclusion significantly softer than anticipated or warranted considering the reprehensible actions accumulated by Negan. This was telegraphed when the writers painted an emotionally complicate personality for Negan. All indications depicted him as a psychopath, a severely psychotic individual beyond any chance of socialization before civilization’s collapse.
Under usual circumstance providing a detailed backstory for this villain would have been welcomed, establishing a duality between the two mortal adversaries. Both had loved ones, lost to the undead. Even this could have been successfully handled with a satisfying defeat of Negan at Rick’s hand. Rick was a rational man pushed beyond reason. Negan had to take a liking to Rick’s teenage son, Carl (Chandler Riggs). Many devoted fans have developed the theory that Carl would be the ultimate survivor. Alas, one of the ratings coasting twists involved Carl getting bitten by a Walker. In this zombie variant, everyone is infected with the zombie virus, all deaths no matter what cause, results in turn. However, Walkers are carries for a myriad of conventional and very lethal infections. The details of this scenario are ideal for the insertion of an overly, melodramatic, prolonged death. Most television series exhibit a degree of soap opera infused in their makeup, but in this instance, the screenwriters pushed the plot contrivance too far considering the overall tenure of the story. It came off too forced, particularly for a show that tries to create a sense of dread and terror through a realistic depiction of fantasy horror. I fully understand the responsibility of the showrunner to provide suitably emotional plot points and that often the most successful way to achieve this is killing off a popular character, especially relatively young. A short, sharp shock, (apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan), would maximize the impact, heightening the inherent emotional punch. The thread was an example of anti-synergism and base emotional manipulation.
Without descending into spoilers, the season conclusion tied up some loose ends while establishing the foundation for the next phase of the continuing story. Once again, season nine promises to expand the continuing theme of betrayal while overly telegraphing several of the crucial details. For years this has been AMC’s flagship show. Over the last years, the network has expanded their programming slate considerably, depending not only on shows that have successfully run their course such as ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Sons of Anarchy’ but spinoffs that defy the odds capable of establishing their solid fan base. Unlike the above examples, the ‘Walking Dead’ and its spinoff, ‘Fear the Walking Dead.’ Have approached the zombie saturation point as new genres gather to supplant them.