This post is going to contain some spoilers about The Walking Dead, so if you’re reading the comic and not yet past the All Out War story arc, or if you haven’t seen last night’s season 8 premiere, then you may want to read this later.
I have to confess that for the first time since TWD has aired, I was not excited about the season premiere. For the last few seasons, the show has moved at a sluggish pace, perhaps because they don’t want to outpace the comics. Only one book is released per month, and after one more major story arc, the show will be caught up to the comic. Last year’s season premiere was memorable, for better or worse, after Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) bashed Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham’s (Michael Cudlitz) face with his beloved barbed wire baseball bat Lucille. This happened to Glenn in issue 100 of the comic, and it was far more brutal on TV, to the point where it drew a fair amount of criticism. This is a show where zombies devour people, but the prolonged head bashing did seem gratuitous and even senseless.
My waning interest in the show, though, started before the infamous Negan/Lucille scene. Episodes prior to that, the script writers decided to make everyone think that Glenn was dead, devoured by zombies after getting trapped near a dumpster, only to bring him back a few episodes later and have him brutally killed. The season 6 finale teased who would be killed by Lucille, and it wasn’t revealed until the season 7 premiere, which, like Glenn’s fake death, felt cheap and gimmicky, a plot device whose only purpose was to maintain viewers.
Last night’s season 8 premiere, the start of the All Out War arc in the comic, when communities of survivors fight against Negan and the Saviors, felt dull, uninspired, and painfully slow. Sure, there were some cool shots of Daryl (Norman Reedus) riding a motorcycle and blowing stuff up to attract a massive horde of zombies to the Sanctuary, the Saviors hideout. However, about half of the episode included Daryl and friends trying to lure the horde to the Sanctuary. The rest of the episode included speechifying. The best scene included a verbal face-off between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Negan, before Rick starts firing at the Saviors. Nothing else happened in the entire episode, though, and it seems clear that the All Out War arc, which should be exciting on the small screen, will drag on for several episodes, thus worsening the show’s pacing problem.
The comic also faces a problem. It has recycled the same storyline time and time again. Rick and company find a community, only to be confronted by a group of humans worse than the zombies, the community falls, and then they eventually find a new community, only to encounter another villain again. This story has reoccurred since the prison arc. I had hoped that Robert Kirkman would break this after the All Out War art concluded, but soon after the dust settles on that arc, the group meets Alpha, Beta, and the Whisperers, engaging in yet another war.
Robert Kirkman recently teased that no one is safe and Rick could die at any time. The season 8 premiere hinted that. On the one hand, the show flashed forward to Old Man Rick, post-All Out War, similar to the time jump that happens in the comic. He was happy, surrounded by his children and Michonne (Dania Gurira). In other scenes, which seemed like a much nearer future, he was shaky, sweaty, and red-eyed, probably infected by the virus. That possibility is far more interesting and maybe where the show or comic are going. If Rick does indeed die, then it would allow greater character development from the fairly major cast that still occupies both show and comic.
Either way, the season 8 premiere provided a different possibility than the comic: the good guys could lose, and the Old Man Rick storyline is not guaranteed.
This would be a huge departure from the comic and maybe the type of shake-up the show needs to partially reinvent itself and allow stronger character development. The comic has been dancing with the Negan/Rick storylines for so long now, but maybe the show is willing to do something different. We’ll have to see…