The Walking Dead Season 8 Preview
Usually by the time a series reaches its 4th or 5th season, the audience is pretty well established and in for the long haul. So it’s strange to think that an 8-season series could be at a pivotal moment in terms of viewership, but that is exactly where The Walking Dead finds itself. The season 7 premiere episode was the second most viewed episode in show history at 17.03 million viewers, just behind the season 5 premiere. That sounds great, except that episode 2 saw a 27% decrease in viewers. The remainder of the season saw a handful of episodes that were dangerously close to less than 10 million viewers, something the show hadn’t seen since the first half of season 3.
While this all sounds like alarms going off, let’s be real; most shows on television would kill for numbers like this at their highest viewership, especially when pitted against Sunday Night Football half the time. But it’s pretty clear something happened to drive away over ¼ of the regular viewers. Something that kept them away for the entirety of the season. That ‘something’ was the full, unadulterated introduction of the primary villain from the graphic novel; Negan.
Negan’s official introduction was actually in the season 6 finale, an episode that drove away a number of fans all on its own by virtue of a pretty unnecessary cliffhanger. That episode gave us a glimpse into the psyche of Negan, while the season 7 premiere exposed us to the lengths at which he would go. Lengths at which this show has yet to see. Bloody, brutal, gory, violent lengths. It wasn’t just that beloved characters were killed. Scores of shows make it through that and TWD should’ve been no different. The problem was how it was done. Audiences either weren’t ready for, or refused to be entertained by that level of bloodshed.
For all those reasons, season 8 is a pivotal one for this show. It’s all setup to enter the “All Out War” storyline of the graphic novel. The trailer for season 8 indicates we may see a few key moments to that storyline, including the zombie horde against the Saviors complex, the final stand at Hilltop, and unfortunately Shiva’s demise. We’re also going to see some really interesting moments of characters engaging, including Morgan and Jesus squaring off, Negan taking Gabriel captive, Ezekiel and Jerry infiltrating the Saviors complex, and…. old man Rick??? Let the series finale theories begin!
In my review of the season 7 finale, I broke it down into the good, the bad, and the ugly (points for originality). I think revisiting some of those points while looking forward to season 8 is a good way to look at what the show needs to do to find its legs again.
Last season’s finale saw the Scavengers group, led by Jadis, become all but irrelevant. They basically existed so Negan has a way of knowing Rick has loads of weapons and he plans to fight back. The Scavengers turn on Rick and are scattered to the wilderness when the gunfight gets going. Let’s hope they stay there. We already have dozens of named characters and four locations to focus on. Season 7 episode which featured the Scavengers were some of the lowest rated last season. Let that be a lesson, and let the Scavengers be gone.
Large Scale Fighting
A ‘bad’ note, in my opinion, in the season 7 finale was the scatterbrained feeling of the final gunfight. People were caught by surprise by people easily in their sight, and the camera was switching between groups almost as to keep the audience confused. The “All Out War” storyline, which will almost certainly last all of season 8, will feature at least two but up to four major battle sequences. Greg Nicotero is terrific at episodes featuring character depth, but not so much with handing battle grounds. Let’s pass the reigns in those episodes to someone more capable of handling all that action without confusing the audience.
A recurring theme in season 6, and in the first half of season 7, was terribly imbalanced episodes. Not only from a rating perspective, but from a theme and character perspective. Two to three character-centric episodes would be buttressed by episodes catching up with each group. The result was uncertainty for what to expect (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) and a clear distinction of which episodes were directed by whom. The show needs to strike a more artistically and thematically consistent balance to earn back its fan base.
You can’t discuss this show without mentioning the violence. Until season 7 that was largely human-on-walker violence. Last season changed the script, and it appears the primary violence we’ll see from here on out is human-on-human. This is where the show should be mindful of its audience, of their preferences and lines in the sand, but also of its own sadistic tendencies. Often times the show loses itself in the violence at the expense of more appealing themes of hope and family.
I would love to hear your thoughts on what the show is doing right or wrong and what you’re looking forward to in season 8! I’ll be spending this weekend catching up on the All Out War storyline from the graphic novel and looking forward to what the show will adapt, and what it will make its own. Happy Walking Dead season!