Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Walking Dead Season 8 Midseason Finale Review: ‘How It’s Gotta Be’

(Photo Credit: AMC)

The Walking Dead
Season 8 Midseason Finale

The first half of season eight of The Walking Dead has been a whirlwind, to say the least. And, although ratings for the show have been down, there were aspects of this season that I genuinely enjoyed. If you’ve been following my reviews, you’ll know how pleased I’ve been with this year’s increased use of multi-storyline episodes. Also, there haven’t been any agonizingly slow filler episodes, as most weeks have featured an engaging, consistent level of action that’s been missing in seasons past. However, right off the bat, season eight was plagued by a massively confusing central plot that left out key details to the orchestrated attack on the Saviors. This resulted in a string of episodes, starting with the premiere, that were basically impossible to follow. The writers stumbled into something of a solution, as the overall plan naturally became more clear as the story progressed. However, this natural progression was not enough to completely save the season, which would have been much better served with a more explicit explanation of Rick’s plan.

Because we never get this explanation, though, a lot of the repercussions we see in this episode, after the plan fails, are hard to contextualize. We’ve inferred that the original plan called for members of Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom to arrive at the Sanctuary, at the same time, to induce the Saviors’ surrender. But why are Carol and Jerry the only ones that get there? Why are Maggie and the Hilltop so late to the rendezvous that, not only do the Saviors escape, but they manage to trap the Hilltop convoy in the middle of the road, with a fallen tree, and then sneak up behind them, cornering them with cars of their own. We never even find out how the Saviors escaped the walker-filled Sanctuary, to begin with- a disappointment beyond just the illogical omission of crucial plot points, given that the Savior-centric moments of this season have probably been its main highlights. Overall, “How It’s Gotta Be” mostly serves as a prime example of what happens when earlier unaddressed plot holes finally catch up with you.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
So much of this episode is just such a blur, with too many key moments that are easily missed, either because they happen too quickly, or because they occur in the literal dark. The midseason finale is sloppy, to put it simply. Even with a 90-minute runtime, vital narrative details are left by the wayside in favor of fancy explosions, and yet another stoic face montage. And sure, you could spin this into a positive- mainly that it's better to have more content, than not enough. And, in general, the first half of season 8 has done a good job of avoiding the kind of filler that has consistently hampered The Walking Dead, since its inception. But, a part of me thinks that the writers intentionally withhold important plot information, and try to misdirect viewers, in order to easily build a cheap level of suspense. After the disastrous season six finale, which pretty much wrote the book on this tactic, it’s hard to give the writers any benefit of the doubt. Ultimately, though, all they’re really doing is constructing a contrived, unenjoyable narrative that’s harder to follow than one of Eugene’s mumbling analogies.

This is an episode that fans will be talking about for a while, but not for the reasons that AMC, and showrunner, Scott Gimple, would probably hope for. Rather than giving us a compelling plot woven together with meaningful character development, we get a midseason finale that, in true Walking Dead fashion, forces itself to rely on misdirection and cheap shock value in an attempt to entertain viewers. Shock value was great back when the series was in its infancy- when a stray walker popping out from the shadows, and latching onto some poor soul’s neck region, was legitimately gripping. But, as the Walking Dead has aged, so too have our expectations.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
In this sense, I think it’s fair to say that the events of the midseason finale at least try to shake things up, by providing an opportunity for the show to depart significantly from the comics. The rules have clearly changed regarding the idea that some characters are untouchable, and that’s an effective way for the writers to potentially keep things fresh going forward. Whether you like the ending of this episode or not, we’re probably going to see some real, lasting changes in characters like Rick and Enid. In addition, it’s pretty obvious from the packed to the gills plot of the midseason finale, as well as the constant (though welcome) jumping around between multiple characters and storylines throughout season 8, that The Walking Dead needs to desperately start trimming the fat from its cast, which again, this episode makes progress in achieving.

However, this does not mean that The Walking Dead should turn into a contest of, ‘which character’s going to die a surprising and horrifying death, next?’ (Although, I can’t really blame you if that’s what you already think this show is all about.) Instead, The Walking Dead needs to ignore, or get rid of, the characters who don’t matter, and start doubling down on the characters who do- the ones who made it the most popular show on cable, in the first place. This shift in character focus needs to feel real and dynamic, and not just a reemphasis of the same traits that we’ve already seen time and time, again. We know that Daryl’s downfall has always been his emotionally-charged reactions. But, now it’s time to see some growth out of the series’ consensus fan favorite character. We’ve seen glimpses of these kind of changes with Maggie, and they’ve been great. But, now let’s see more of it.

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