For anyone who knows me fairly well, or at the least followed me over here from ‘Legally Redhead’– you’ll know I’m a HUGE fan of ‘The Walking Dead’. While I’ve admittedly fallen a bit behind on the comics as of late (I blame work!)– I’ve never missed an episode of the AMC series since it premiered on Halloween night back in 2010.
Every Sunday night the show is on is like a mini-party at my place- complete with themed-snacks (Michonne-ion rings? Fried CARL-mari? Oh yeah. I’ve made ’em all), Walker-inspired decor, and official merchandise like t-shirts and pajama pants. I’ve speculated, debated, and predicated plot-points and characters’ motives at work, family functions, parties, online- and pretty much any place/outlet where the show is discussed. I’ve cosplayed as Daryl and Negan, I’ve hung out with some of the cast (who are all lovely)– and I’ve made friends and met kindred spirits with other fans from around the globe.
To say this show/franchise changed my life would be an understatement.
Every year, around this time- I always review the season that just wrapped up and make predictions for the season to come in the Fall. In this case, Season 8- which ended on a more sinister note this past Sunday night and included the show’s highly anticipated 100th episode- was a doozy of a nail-biter from start to finish. There’s a lot of unanswered questions- and although I’ve taken issues with the show’s writing/creative direction in recent seasons- I was pretty satisfied with Season 8 overall- save for a couple of major things here and there.
But I know there’s quite a few people who haven’t had the chance to catch up yet- and I don’t want to spoil anything for them- so I’m placing my review/guesses for the 9th season behind a “READ MORE/KEEP READING” cut to prevent ruining any twists/turns/shocking moments for those who still need some time to work their way to the Season 8 finale.
Again, last warning- unless you want to read spoilers for Season 8- DO NOT CLICK THE “READ MORE/KEEP READING” cut.
Otherwise, let Negan’s pained expression invite you in.
Same, dude. Same.
If there’s one thing Season 8 of ‘The Walking Dead’ made me appreciate, it was how quickly the Governor was dealt with back in Seasons 3 & 4. We had a solid season of building The Governor up as the new “Big Bad Guy” after Shane’s rise and fall in Season 2- and he was quickly obliterated within the first half of Season 4 and then we never had to see him again (save for some pre-death hallucinations thanks to Tyreese.)
At the time, some people were fed up with him fairly early on- especially when he had not one but two episodes dedicated entirely around his finding and subsequently taking over a brand new group of survivors to lead an attack on the prison in his blind rage and thirst for revenge for what had happened in Woodbury.
But now, with two seasons centered primarily on Alexandria/The Hilltop/The Kingdom’s feud with Negan and The Saviors- I only now realized just how good we had it in The Governor days. That’s not to disrespect Jeffrey Dean Morgan- who you can tell is having the time of his life playing the role and is really giving it his all to bring the character to life- but I’m over it. I’m tired. I’m sick of the one-liners, the corny puns, the stupid whistle. I’m sick of people who have guns and ammunition being terrible shots when it comes to taking down one man with a baseball bat (looking at you, Rick. How on Earth did you become a cop with such terrible aim?!)
Not even peeks into Negan’s past and the loss of his wife could make me feel sympathetic towards him. I wanted him dead.
More exhausting than this recycled storyline of “bad guy leads other bad guys to destroy Rick and gets killed in the process”? I’m tired of characters making the same stupid, irritating mistakes over and over again.
At the start of Season 8- Rick & Co. have developed a plan to trap Negan and the Saviors within their compound- herding a ridiculously large crowd of walkers to their doorstep, where they intend to eventually draw Negan and his generals out to force surrender (and kill anyone who resists) once food and water start running low. It’s a carefully thought out, intricate plan- one that would have worked had everyone done their part- so it’s only natural that Daryl and Tara would go rogue and fuck it up.
Daryl Dixon has been in a perpetual rut since the second half of Season 4 where the writers ran out of ideas for him but felt it necessary to keep him around as the designated “eye candy” (just before his hair got long enough to cover his face, that is) on the show. What was once a funny, perceptive, badass character that made hard- but the right- choices- has since been reduced to a mumbling, grunting, angry background noise character who makes reckless ad impulsive decisions over and over- and is easily outshined by newcomers like Ezekiel or Dwight. We get glimpses of old, great Daryl from time to time- but they are far and few between these days.
And Tara? The “quirky” shit stopped being entertaining shortly after we first met her back in Season 4. She’s been continually overstaying her welcome- which is a shame since she’s one of the few remaining LGBT characters on the show. Denise and Eric never should have died, damn it. At least they were funny and likable.
I digress- Daryl and Tara are not satisfied with simply surrounding the Sanctuary with walkers. No, they want the walkers to get INTO the Sanctuary and “finish the job”. They devise a plan of their own while Rick is off recruiting the double-crossing junkyard people for a second time- and plow a garbage truck through one of the walls in the Sanctuary. The walkers flood in, and this reckless act is enough to get Eugene- still under Savior reign and desperate to live- to come up with an escape route that gets Negan and his main men out of harm’s way and en route to Alexandria to deliver some payback. They strike The Kingdom first, taking Ezekiel captive in the process- and it’s up to Carol and Morgan to save the day. AGAIN.
Negan’s onslaught on Alexandria levels the community with bullets and grenades, and the remaining residents- led by Carl- retreat to the sewers to wait out the aftermath and let the fires finish burning. It’s here where Carl, who had gone out to locate and bring back a soft-spoken Doctor by the name of Siddiq (whom we’d caught a glimpse of in the woods at the very beginning in the season)- reveals that he’s been bitten by a walker in a compromised area on his body. Simply put, amputation is not an option- and Carl is done for.
Carl Grimes, who survived getting shot (twice), who had to kill Walker-Shane, then his own mother, and who has lost countless friends, family and people he’s cared about over the years while dodging walkers, cannibals, hillbilly rapists- and who has become a skilled survivor and one hell of a shot- trips and falls in the woods and gets bit. It was an infuriating end for such an important character who has served as Rick’s guiding force and who was truly the heart of the show- made even more upsetting when the shady circumstances surrounding actor Chandler Riggs’ release from his contract came to light.
Before Alexandria falls, Carl- knowing his impending doom- pens letters to every person in his life, including Negan- but it’s not until after his drawn out, gut-wrenching death (props to Andrew Lincoln and Chandler Riggs for pulling off such a convincing and heartbreaking exchange between father and son) where we find out what the letters say. Carl’s dying wish is for his father to find peace with the Saviors- and even Negan- and rebuild the world where people can work together, live in harmony and essentially start over.
It’s a plea that- at first- falls on deaf ears as Rick is blinded by pain and rage and continues his efforts to kill Negan. Amid the fights and near-misses- there is also trouble brewing back at the Sanctuary and within the Hilltop as the ranks begin to fall apart. Simon, my favorite Savior- is hellbent on killing everyone who have crossed them in the recent weeks, and succeeds when he wipes out all of the junkyard people- against Negan’s orders- except for a quick-thinking Jadis.
Negan still sees people as a resource. This vastly different viewpoint ultimately leads to Simon attempting to stage a mutiny- only to be killed by Negan when Dwight rats him out. Dwight, too, however- is eventually found out to be the mole working for the Alexandrians- and Negan is quick to punish him. Not with the hot iron to the face (again) or Lucille to the dome- but by making sure Dwight sees his people die during the final confrontation firsthand.
Elsewhere within the Sanctuary, Father Gabriel- who is taken captive during Rick’s initial plan when he attempts to save a useless Gregory who then in turn bails and leaves Gabriel for dead- becomes partially infected by walker guts/blood and loses a significant amount of his vision. Deemed useless and bearing witness to the death of Dr. Carson- Maggie’s Doctor from The Hilltop- he’s forced to work under Eugene’s watchful eye as Eugene begins making bullets for the Saviors.
Back at the Hilltop, Maggie has managed to take a group of Saviors hostage (with help from Jesus)– but not all of them are cooperative- and some of the ones she doesn’t kill to set an example/send a message- flee when The Saviors attack the Hilltop only to be hunted down and killed by Rick and Morgan. Those who don’t run stay to help- finding Maggie’s leadership considerably better than what they faced under Negan.
All of this leads to the final confrontation where the remaining Saviors attempt to ambush Rick and Co. who are following a trap laid out by Negan and unintentionally delivered by Dwight prior to his being exposed as the mole. When the Saviors go to fire their guns at the surrounded and cornered members of Team Family- the bullets backfire- killing and wounding a considerable amount of them. Come to find out, Eugene was playing possum pretty damned good and had set a trap of his own to give his friends the advantage.
Rick and Negan square off until Rick manages to convince Negan to give him a chance to propose a solution to their conflict that Carl would have wanted. Negan, who has been uncharacteristically emotional about Carl’s death since finding out- drops is guard just long enough for Rick to slash his throat with a piece of broken glass as residents of Alexandria, The Hilltop, The Kingdom- and the surrendering Saviors- look on. It’s a stunning moment- and a feel-good one for those who wanted an end to this arc- but following the comics, Rick orders Siddiq to aid Negan so that they can take him captive, instead- in a strange attempt at honoring Carl’s wishes.
The most heartbreaking twist in all of this comes from Maggie, who throughout the season has been the tough, take-no-shit leader that everyone else either fears or respects. She sees Rick saving Negan and crumbles- begging him to finish the job for what had been done to her husband and the father of her unborn child (side note: only about a month in time has passed since Glenn died and this season’s finale- so to everyone complaining that she should be showing her pregnancy by now? No.)
As the episode drew to a close, a recovering Negan is advised by Rick and Michonne that he will spend the rest of his days in a cell (does the Hilltop have a cell? When did that happen?) while Maggie, Jesus and Daryl begin what looks like another attempt at a mutiny against Rick- although it’s doubtful the intentions are as sinister as Simon’s were against Negan. Rick writes a response to Carl’s letter- telling his son he intends to fulfill his wishes and build a better world- while we’re treated to shots of Team Family arriving at outposts and the Sanctuary to aid with repairs alongside the Saviors- a callback of sorts to when Rick brought the survivors from Woodbury into the prison to start a new chapter.
And then we’re left to ponder what shitstorm is gonna’ go down come October.
Now, I have my own theories- the big one being that a new threat will emerge and Rick may actually have to rely on Negan for help. Whether or not Negan will actually come through is still a mystery- but he’ll have to make a choice while Maggie, Daryl and Jesus plot to kill him behind Rick’s back.
And with Jadis, the only survivor from Simon’s massacre at the junkyard- and who also began speaking in full sentences and attempted to take Negan out on her own as payback until he’d begged his way out of certain death- knowing the existence of a fully-functioning helicopter and possible military personnel- what does that spell for our survivors? She’s moved to the Hilltop at Rick’s request. Will the chopper follow?
Also, it looks like Dwight’s wife might still be alive. With Daryl having unnecessarily banned him from returning pretty much anywhere at the end of the season- will we see him or Sherry again?
And finally- Morgan done gone and lost his damned mind again- and is now a regular on ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ in what turned out to be a perfectly executed crossover. Will he be the only one from the regular cast to make the switch?
We’re gonna’ have to wait until October to find out- BUT FIRST- a couple of other points:
1. The final exchange between Negan and Carl: When Negan rolls up to Alexandria after escaping the Sanctuary- and is hellbent on blowing the community to bits- Carl engages him from atop the watch post to give the others a chance to flee into the sewers. During their exchange, Carl asks Negan if things are the way he wanted- and if he planned to become the man that he is. There is a moment, a split second- where Negan looks absolutely ashamed of himself- and it’s some of the finest acting I’ve ever seen on this show. I wanted to acknowledge it because in two emotionally charged episodes surrounding this series of events- that made me tear up. Real tears.
2. ROSITA COMIN’ THROUGH: Rosita was a character I disliked from pretty much the beginning. She was impulsive and reckless- much like how Daryl and Tara are now- but since Sasha’s death last season, she’s grown a lot. She trusts others’ judgment more. She’s not bloodthirsty- but she can still handle her shit- like blowing a guy up with a grenade launcher after he’d tried to kill her at a Saviors outpost. She’s quickly becoming one of my favorites now and I am HERE for it.
3. Oceanside!: The all-female community, which we were introduced to last season- had been reluctant to fight the Saviors after their men and boys were massacred (at Simon’s urging, we later learned) and instead retreated to a location hidden away from Negan. After their matriarch is accidentally killed by Enid and Aaron this season- their leadership position is soon filled by Cyndie- and with Aaron’s urging- the women take up arms to finally fight back against the Saviors and protect the Hilltop. I can’t wait to see what Season 9 has in store for them.
4. EUGENE!!!: In what was the most unexpected character turn so far, Eugene- who had seemingly swore allegiance to the Saviors and to Negan so convincingly- turned on them all by making botched bullets in order to protect Rick and Co. His redemption was awesome to watch- and I really hope we get to see more of him doing badass things now that he’s found his confidence.
5. R.I.P. Shiva: I’ve never cried so hard at the death of a CGI tiger before. Shiva’s death ruined me.
6. MORALES- Aaaaand he’s gone: I’d always wondered what happened to Morales- the character from Season 1 who split from the group heading to the CDC for a cure to bring himself and his family elsewhere. He was a nice, lovable guy who took to Rick right away and pulled his own weight when defending the camp- but it turns out he became a Savior after losing his family. Although Daryl kills him for pulling a gun on Rick- it was nice to see him for a few minutes.
With the exception of a few annoyances and some unnecessary deaths- I actually really enjoyed Season 8. There was a lot of unexpected twists/turns. It was action-packed and full of great, gory moments. I’m actually really excited for Season 9 now!
If anyone would like to share their own predictions/hopes for the upcoming season- feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line!
Enjoy your weekend, everyone! I’ve got to get some work done!
– Ashley –