Sunday night, AMC’s The Walking Dead returned for it’s 8th season premiere, which also just so happened to be the 100th episode of the series. This episode was hyped up to no end, including an entire red carpet event livestreamed on Facebook, and a special two hour episode of The Walking Dead’s aftershow, Talking Dead. That Talking Dead episode featured almost the entire cast and even some long gone cast members. So, coming into the episode I had high expectations—and, well, the episode wasn’t bad. It was simply average.
The episode opens with various shots of the three communities—Alexandria, the hilltop, and the kingdom—preparing for battle against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the saviors. It features inspirational speeches from Rick (Andrew Lincoln), King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Maggie (Lauren Cohen), and right off the bat I was rolling my eyes. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a rousing speech to rally up the troops every once in awhile, but this show does it way too often. They ended off season 7 with a similar speech from Maggie, and by now I think we get the point: they’ve finally united and are ready to fight Negan together. Got it. Given that the last season was entirely spent building up to all-out war with Negan, I think it’d be best if we just get to the war, as that’s what people want to see.
Thankfully, this episode does not linger on speeches for long, as we start to understand Rick and company’s master plan to start the war. They go to the entrance of the savior’s compound, Rick and Negan have a bit of a back and forth, and Rick decides to countdown from 10. Brilliantly, he begins shooting on 7 and the allout war has officially begun for the season. I really enjoyed this scene, especially that moment.
But there was one thing that bothered me. Negan and Rick’s back and forth did not make that much sense. I don’t understand why Negan would come out in the open to talk to a bunch of people with guns pointed at him, without any weapon other than his bat and barely any men. Negan tells Rick that he doesn’t know what’s about to happen, and it led me to believe that Negan had a trick up his sleeve that would potentially ruin Rick’s plan. But, it turns out, Negan had nothing like that and instead incredibly weakened his position by going outside. It’s possible that the show is trying to say that Negan is underestimating his opponent, but I can’t buy that because it would require us to believe that Negan is stupid enough to risk his life. We’ve been shown throughout all of season 7 how calculating and good at reading a situation Negan is, so it doesn’t make any sense that he would have such a critical lapse of judgement.
Outside of the big fight, I absolutely loved Carl’s (Chandler Riggs) looking-for-gas scene, if for no other reason than nostalgia. It was a shot-for-shot remake of the scene in the very first episode in which Rick was looking for gas. Nostalgia aside, it highlighted the change in Rick’s attitude from the very beginning of the series to now, eight seasons later. In the original scene, Rick tries to help the girl he sees, not knowing she was a zombie. In the season eight scene, Rick stops Carl from helping a stranger asking for food and shoots at him instead. It’s an interesting parallel, because Carl is taking his father’s place relative to the first season scene and is now the one trying to help a stranger. Meanwhile, Rick has become cold and hardened by the apocalyptic world he has had to live in for so long and just shoots at the guy. It’s not the first time they’ve paralleled between early series Rick and current Rick, but it’s the first time they’ve done a shot for shot remake to do so, and I thought it was a very well done scene that recalled a much simpler time in The Walking Dead universe.
This wasn’t a terrible episode, but it wasn’t great, either. And that’s the problem. After a season that garnered a mixed-to-negative response from critics and fans alike, The Walking Dead needed to come back with something amazing to get people back on board, particularly with all the hype surrounding the 100th episode of the show. But they failed to deliver. And it shows. This season premiere drew the lowest ratings of any The Walking Dead premiere since season 3. People are losing interest and the show has to be consistently great if they want viewers to keep tuning in. I can only hope, as someone who is still invested in the show despite the lackluster season 7, that this season gets better from here.