I feel that before I can really review The Walking Dead Season 8 Episode 1 I need to explain why it deserves this critique and how the show’s status has managed to reach this stage.
There have been a number of high profile antagonists in The Walking Dead to date. Lets just recap who they were and how they were used. In Season one we had Merle and things moved fast, he was instantly despicable and possessed all the qualities of a great villain. He was a racist, drug addicted and exploded at every opportunity. In Season two we had Shane, expertly played by Jon Bernthal, Shane was someone that instantly put you on edge. His every move had you questioning his motives and he was genuinely someone to fear, especially when he started to make a move for Rick’s family.
Season 3 and 4 saw the introduction of The Governor. Not as complex, nor did he feel as realistic as Shane, he was still a worthy villain but it was in his presence that things started to go very, very wrong for the show. It was in season 3 that we saw the birth of the ‘filler’ episodes as they are known in the media industry. Roughly translated these are episodes where very little money is spent, very few actors are used and the writing is done quickly and cheaply. One particular example of this is Season 4 episode 12 ‘Still’. I still don’t understand why these episodes are made they are only of detriment to the show which would be better of with only 8 good episodes.
Season 5 was a little better and moved at a better pace than 2 or 3. It saw the introduction of the Terminus and its cannibalistic inhabitants. Gareth was a chilling character at times but again he lacked the depth, realism and tension that Shane brought to the table.
Then finally a god send! After episode upon episode of badly written scenes that you could almost see the actors wincing through we see the introduction of Negan. Season 6 episode 16 was masterfully crafted and filled with extreme horror, high tension and outright despair as we see our beloved group ripped apart by this new ferocious and unrelenting masochist. Because of this we went into season 7 expecting great things. Sadly great things did not materialise and The Walking Dead continued exploiting premises and threats rather than anything actually happening for the majority of the season. The problem with this was that by the end of the season we had started to lose sympathy for and care less about the characters. As scene after scene drones on without incident we find ourselves willing something to happen, anything.
When that something finally came, it was a hugely anti-climatic and devoid of any of the things that made the show’s big villain showdowns great. After a huge focus on Sasha (lets face it most people are not big fans) we are treated to a wildly underwhelming battle in which our heroes should not have prevailed. The entire battle scene was just a mess, poor cgi, badly choreographed and at times ridiculous. Game of Thrones this is not.
So after this strange mish-mash of poor writing, cheap looking scenes and effects with a spattering of watchable characters what were we expecting from Season 8?
Knowing the fan’s reactions to the corner cutting from online reviews/forums etc. you would think that season 8 episode one’s approach would be an entirely revised formula. You would be wrong. Rick round’s up his followers in the fashion of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, wielding motivating speeches and attempts at saying anything remotely profound. Sadly the producers have looked at the problems that the show has developed and decided that the way to fix it is to turn it into an 80’s Arnie movie. Yes if you like zero character development, corny dialogue and all guns blazing then you will probably enjoy this. As Rick and his team roll into Negan’s lair A-team style with corrugated iron clad vehicles you feel no sense of fear, anticipation or excitement. This is Negan! He is a suppose to be one tough hombre, where are all his tricks and subterfuge that made him so formidable when he was introduced? No, we are treated to nothing but guns blasting at Negan’s fragile looking home for the bulk of the show.
Then we have the arc of the episode, Negan is in trouble he’s pinned down. This is the man that tortured you, your friends, even your son. You have him, all you have to do is get past a few of the (now ridiculously inept) walkers and finish him off. Surely you would take that chance to be rid of this foul and persistent thorn in your side, especially now that you’ve won? No instead we see our hapless hero take the advice of the priest and head off back to base so that he doesn’t break a nail.
That is pretty much how the episode ends, except for one more motivational ‘America, f*ck yeah’ style speech from Rick that in that situation no one would make. If you are still watching at this point the now useless and uninspiring bad buy Negan finds himself trapped in a trailer with our good friend Father Gabriel (who we should have said goodbye to a long time ago). This was the show’s only attempt to try and win you over to come back next week for more. I’m really not sure where they can take the show from here. The Walking Dead when first announced with Frank Darabont ascribing was something special and to be revered. Sadly now it ranks amongst the typical Hollywood dross that is not designed to be intelligent or thought provoking. This is a huge shame as The Walking Dead was something special and something I knew I was going to enjoy. Now like many others I find myself watching it in the anticipation that it will get back to its roots and concentrate on quality rather than quantity. This is why people stick with The Walking Dead, when on form it is amazing. I just don’t understand why everything in-between has to be of such poor quality.