Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Walking Dead Season 8 Midseason Premiere Review: 'Honor'

(Photo Credit: AMC) 
The Walking Dead
Season 8 Midseason Premiere

In recent years, The Walking Dead has crafted the two halves (A and B) of its seasons into roughly standalone story arcs, with season A wrapping up its major plot points, before the show bounds off into season B. There are some exceptions to this, however. The first half of season six famously ended on a cliffhanger- with poor, little Sam Anderson whimpering his way through a herd of walkers, only for the second half of season six to open, unsurprisingly, with his death at the hands (and mouths) of said herd. Chalk season eight up as another exception to this trend; and what’s more, it’s the first time where the midseason finale ended after the big plot twist/reveal, rather than before.
I’m talking, of course, about the death of Carl Grimes, which was confirmed as soon as Carl revealed his walker bite, in the closing moments of the midseason finale. Unlike with the Negan lineup cliffhanger, The Walking Dead spared us the ratings desperate “Will. Carl. Die???” ploys, and made it fairly obvious in their season 8B promotions that the show would be saying farewell to Carl. Now, you could argue that The Walking Dead is still playing the ratings game, holding viewers hostage by intentionally saving Carl’s actual last episode for the midseason premiere, when he could have easily been completely killed off in the midseason finale. In which case, you would be absolutely correct. However, this is The Walking Dead we’re talking about, and if you haven’t adjusted your expectations by now, you’re in for a long season.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
‘Honor’ essentially picks up right where the midseason finale ends, with Carl showing his lethal walker bite to Rick and Michonne. And, while it’s a touching episode for sure, the timing and structure is awkward, especially since it’s the first sight of The Walking Dead we’ve had in almost three months. These problems can be traced back to the midseason finale, specifically with how unnatural of an ending point Carl’s walker bite reveal was. It would have made a lot more sense to air the midseason finale as 8A’s penultimate episode, and use ‘Honor’ as the actual finale. Carl’s death feels a lot more like the closing of a chapter, rather than a genuine jumping off point. What’s more, while watching this episode, it’s difficult to become fully invested in Carl’s fate because the shock of his death came and went with the airing of the midseason finale back in December. It’s not an inherently bad episode, by any means. For those Netflix bingers who will pass through season eight in the blink of a Sunday afternoon, episodes eight and nine might actually feel like a relative highpoint for the season, in terms of quality. But, for those primetime warriors following the show as it airs, it’s hard to overlook the 11-week gap of real time wedged in the middle of an otherwise sound narrative.
In addition to the timing issues, this episode is also hurt by the same nonlinear storytelling that plagued almost the entirety of season 8A. Remember wondering, during the midseason finale, how exactly the Saviors managed to escape the walker-surrounded Sanctuary? Well, we finally get our answer in a brief scene, at the beginning of this episode, that essentially takes place before ANY of the events of the midseason finale. This type of jumping around is easier to forgive if it happens with all of the storylines in an episode, but it’s inherently confusing when an episode has an A-plot taking place in the immediate present, while the B-plot starts off, chronologically, an entire episode earlier.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
Obviously, part of the reason why we didn’t get to see how the Saviors escaped, is because the writers are trying to maintain their foreboding sense of mystery, as the show’s main antagonists. This characterization worked well back in season six, when the Saviors were first introduced. Their ability to pop up eerily at every turn, in the season six finale, helped give the Saviors an almost supernatural aura, while also establishing them as a seemingly insurmountable threat, the likes of which our heroes had never faced before.
But, in the past two seasons, we’ve spent enough time with the Saviors to know that they are anything but the magical teleporters that the show sometimes lends us to believe. The Saviors are a cunning group, with a vast amount of resources, and the willingness to use those resources in whatever way necessary, in order to survive. If anything, having the Saviors magically escape situations is actually undoing a lot of this character development, and it would be much more compelling to see them capably conquer dangerous situations, just like the show’s protagonists.
As for the impact Carl’s death will have on the show? I think it’s going to be significant, though, it might not be apparent right away. Despite all the growing up that Chandler Riggs did right before our eyes, Carl was still very much a child growing up in the zombie apocalypse, and his unique perspective was a useful storytelling device, when the writers allowed themselves to use it. It’s likely that most of this role will fall onto Enid; which is fine with me because I think she’s an underdeveloped character worth exploring. Of course, comic readers will lament at the fact that they’ll never get to see show Carl develop into the eye patch-wearing badass that’s graced the pages of The Walking Dead graphic novel in recent years. But again, these storylines will probably live on through one or more characters, such as Enid or even Siddiq.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
Carl’s death also marks the start of a new era for The Walking Dead. Carl was one of the OG Atlanta survivors- a subset of characters that are becoming increasingly endangered, as The Walking Dead turns eight years old. Of the twenty Atlanta camp members from season one, only three remain- Rick, Daryl, and Carol. For most of The Walking Dead’s run, Carl, along with Rick, were seen as the show’s two untouchables, but with Carl’s death, it’s clear that no character is truly safe. Even if this core group of Rick, Daryl, and Carol do stay alive in the short term, major character deaths, like Carl’s, are going to become much more common place, especially if The Walking Dead is going to last for another twelve seasons, as showrunner Scott Gimple believes.

It’s hard and rare for actors to stick with the same show for almost two decades. (Mostly because shows don’t usually last that long, but still.) Contract negotiations stall, new opportunities will always come calling for the leads of a widely popular series, and ultimately, sometimes shows need to take a different direction, writing off certain characters, in order to survive and stay relevant. Sometimes, these new directions are happened upon by accident, in the wake of a cast departure that initially seemed damning. I know we all love Daryl, but what if Daryl was written off, and replacing him was a new, better Daryl? Hard to imagine? Sure. Even harder to pull off? Definitely. But, change can be good, especially for a show like The Walking Dead that has a lot of creative potential but hasn’t quite managed to get the pieces right.

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