WARNING: This article contains comic spoilers galore.
The Walking Dead on AMC returns for its eighth season this Sunday, October 22 at 9:00 PM EST. For me, this time of year has normally been filled with feverish anticipation. Unfortunately, the last couple seasons of the show have been, uh, not great.
Thankfully, the show came on strong in the second half of last season, particularly in the season finale. With one of the best story arcs from the comic coming up (in my opinion at least), it looks like The Walking Dead might be ready to right the ship–or at least recapture some of the juice it used to have in the early years of the program.
Let’s take a look at the some of the big plot threads and character arcs leading into this season and how it all might play out.
Grimey’s Got His Groove Back
After three seasons of wide-eyed panic and copious amounts of flop sweat, Sheriff Rick Grimes is finally back to old self…mostly.
I still say that Michonne, Maggie, and maybe even Ezekiel are objectively leaders, but the show has gone to great pains to start portraying Rick with some renewed (and much needed) swagger. Instead of constantly looking shell-shocked or yelling for Carl, he once again comes up with plans, keeps everyone calm, and even manages to smile once in a while.
Did his plan to get The Scavengers on their side completely backfire? OF COURSE IT DID! But he did manage to unite Alexandria, The Hilltop, and The Kingdom into a fighting force against Negan and The Saviors.
As far as Rick’s love life is concerned, it would be nice to see him and Michonne develop the sort of equal partnership that he and Andrea had in the comics. As it stands now, I still feel like it’s him leaning way too hard on her most of the time.
Don’t agree? Then ask yourself this: If you were in any type of life or death situation (particularly one that involved combat), would you rather have Rick or Michonne fighting with you? Yeah, I’ll still take her katana blade and strength/coolness under fire over Rick’s gun and whisper growling any day.
All that being said, it’s good to have Rick as a likable character again, even if it does feel a bit forced.
Is Carl Gonna Die?
That’s what a lot of people suspected (myself included) after Chandler Riggs’ dad posted a since-deleted Facebook message about how proud he was of his son for finishing his seven year contract with the show. Combine that with his acceptance to Auburn University (which is two hours away from where The Walking Dead primarily films), and it looked like the show might be setting up a major character character death that also deviates enormously from the comic.
As of right now, though, Carl seems to be sticking around. In addition to Riggs’ cryptic-yet-somewhat-reassuring comments about his future on the show, it would be hard to keep Rick’s character from slipping back into grief-filled mania if Carl bites the dust.
All Out War Ain’t the Only Problem
This season should featured plenty of action-packed battles between The Saviors and Rick’s combined community force. But what about Oceanside?
Remember them? The community of badass women Tara found and wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about…but she told Rick…who then led his Alexandria crew on a visit and took all their weapons?
Yeah, I’ve got feeling they’re not going to let that slide. The group may not have guns anymore, but they’re still a formidable wildcard, especially considering how little the community has been explored in the comics. Considering that the show likely doesn’t have the budget to go full Michael Bay for an entire season, look for the conflict with Oceanside to play out during at least a few episodes.
Last time we saw the Hilltop’s sniveling former leader, he was leaving for parts unknown, embarrassed and emasculated after Maggie had the audacity to save his life from a ninja walker attack.
He took Kal with him, but that seemed to be more in the role of a man-servant and less as an accomplice. There’s no way Oceanside would take him in, so it looks like whatever shenanigans Gregory gets into will be on his own…unless he decides to defect to The Saviors and/or The Scavengers.
This would be a massive departure from his character in the comics, who ends up sticking around to live under Maggie’s rule before attempting to assassinate her. His subsequent incarceration and death (via hanging) becomes a major turning point, both for Maggie as a leader and having a major idealogical split with Rick.
I really hope they keep Eugene as a traitorous bad guy this season. Not only is it a complete departure from the comics, but I love, LOVE how much more in character it is with the lying, cowardly, and self serving man we’ve known since he first showed up with Abraham and Rosita.
Could his turn all be a big fake out with him fully intending to double cross The Saviors at some point? I guess. But that would be pretty disappointing, especially since Dwight is already fulfilling that role in a much more interesting manner. I know he seemingly helped Sasha with that cool zombie bomb trick in last season’s finale, but that appeared to be a result of his guilt rather than an indication of his loyalties.
The show’s writers have done a great job showing how Eugene thrives in a brutally structured place like The Sanctuary. Much like everything else he does, his decision to join The Saviors was based on carefully calculated pros and cons to his own well being and comfort. It’d be a shame to see his character suddenly experience a surge of empathy and throw away one of the show’s most intriguing developments.
Badass Carol is Back
After a ridiculously contrived and frustrating break from fighting, Carol is seemingly back in the game.
We all knew this was coming, but it will be great to see the Carol we all know and love finally realize that her decision to survive via pacifism and indifference was unsustainable.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about her fate this season, though. With her comic counterpart long since dead, the TV show character’s path has been a wildcard for a while. Now that she’s right back where she was before leaving Grimes’ posse, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that she could end up looking at the flowers herself before this season ends.
Crazy Morgan Gets Clear
After nearly losing his marbles again (like he did following the death of his son), it looks like everyone’s favorite bo staff wielding badass has found a sustainable balance. Much like Carol, Morgan appears to finally realize that disdain for taking human life does not mean the act won’t still be necessary in the post zombie-apocalypse world–especially when people like Negan and The Saviors will stop at nothing to kill you first.
But don’t give up on Morgan’s anti-death penalty stance just yet. Remember that prison cell he was building near the end of Season 6? If things play out anywhere close to how they do in the comics, then it will end up being occupied by one very notorious inmate.
What are The Saviors Going to Do?
My guess is start killing folks. Immediately.
Don’t forget that despite getting their asses kicked in the season finale (and getting mauled by a freaking tiger), The Saviors still have an infinitely larger supply of guns. That number swelled even more thanks to their to their unholy alliance with The Scavengers. They may be outnumbered now, but firepower ratio is still most definitely on their side.
Also consider that Rick’s Combined Community Force (we’ll just call them RCCF from here on out) have to defend three different locations. That’s going to stretch them thin no matter what they do. The Sanctuary may represent a single focused target, but it’s also a much more strategically tough and defensible base than any of the other communities, which look more like suburban neighborhoods than fortresses.
Combine that with the fact that RCCF may be fighting a war on two fronts with Oceanside, and there’s no way this is going to be easy. While Rick & Co. have to figure out how to effectively defend three communities and come up with a cohesive/agreed upon plan of attack, Negan and his Saviors can just do what they’ve always done–follow their leader’s orders and kill whatever he points at.
What About that Time Jump?
In the comics, the story jumps ahead two years after the conclusion of All Out War. Alexandria is a thriving community (along with its neighbors), Negan is sitting inside a jail cell, and Rick has grown a glorious beard.
Is that going to happen in the show? The trailer certainly seems to indicate that it will. The producers are still playing coy, but it sounds like they are hinting at some deviation as to WHEN the time jump takes place in the show’s chronology. My guess is that the two year leap will occur early on (maybe even in the first episode) and flashback through a series to episodes to show us how we there.
Either way, though, both groups have a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to go through before any potential future gets settled.
Who’s Watching Judith?
Look, I get that some parents don’t want to micromanage their kids, but I’m pretty sure Rick’s little girl is going to forget what he and Carl look like if they don’t start spending some more time with her.
I can also guarantee that whoever they’ve got assigned to babysitting duty isn’t getting paid nearly enough to basically raise that child on their own.
At least she still knows not to cry or freak out during gun fights.
The Road Ahead
So lots of conflict, lots of violence, and lots of death. Par for the course when it comes to this show. Unfortunately, that has led to three seasons (some would say four) of stagnation. Even if I disagree, the ratings are indicative of an audience that feels like the show is spinning its wheels.
This season, however, The Walking Dead has a great opportunity to recalibrate itself with a renewed tone and focus–particularly if the time jump plays out the way it looks like it will.
Either way, we get to watch a war where one of the sides uses a tiger. That’s a step in the right direction matter where you’re going.