“If you care, you do something. You don’t just ‘hope’. It takes more than that.”
And so, The Walking Dead’s largely uninspiring eight season has limped to a mid-season finale that was… uninspiring. Plenty of action to be sure, and some welcome reversals for Rick’s Rabble in their thus far implausibly successful campaign against the Saviors. Yet it all felt too manufactured somehow, as if the writers, and the showrunner in particular, were just running on autopilot. You can just hear them brainstorming in the writers’ room – “Oops, mid-season finale coming up. We haven’t killed anyone of note, better put some people in jeopardy to bring the viewers back next year… check. Oh, and who can we kill off that will really shock people but won’t make them hate us as much as if it were Carol or Daryl?”
And to get the elephant in the room out of the way early, that’s really the only thing of note to come out of this mediocre cliffhanger to a, so far, mediocre season. Killing off Carl Grimes (well, giving him a bite-induced death sentence anyway) is the most massive departure from the comics yet, in which Carl is still alive, kicking, and an ever more interesting character.
You could look at this as a brave, audacious move, from a show that seems to have been coasting of late; equally, you could look at it as an act of desperation. Certainly the fans have, by and large, not been happy about it. Myself, I’ve a little too much experience of over-entitled Doctor Who fans insisting on the execution of whoever is showrunner at the time for blowing up the TARDIS / marrying off the Doctor / redesigning the Daleks to take it quite so personally.
That said, I struggle to think how much Rick’s character will have to change given the removal of one of his main motivators, while still playing the same role in the narrative. If I were him, I’d go mad with grief or rage (again), and the only potential results could be suicide or a murderous rampage. Which isn’t where his character needs to be going at this point.
That is, of course, assuming Rick doesn’t get offed too. Apparently Carl’s death was as much of a surprise to the cast as it was to the viewers; particularly Chandler Riggs, who had apparently been looking forward to some of the meaty plotlines coming his way had Carl followed the same path he does in the comics. Chandler has been fairly diplomatic about it, but his father didn’t share the same restraint, seething on a now-deleted Facebook post that, “I never trusted Gimple or AMC, but Chandler did. I know how much it hurt him.”
If Scott Gimple is willing to take that big a gamble to revive the flagging show, who’s to say Rick won’t go next? After all, Andrew Lincoln’s been flying off to Georgia and leaving his family in England for large chunks of the last eight years; he might appreciate a breather. And actually, with both Grimes and Son gone, the show would be able to truly depart from the source material and become more a thing of its own.
I’m sceptical though – for the last two years, I’ve thought the show (and the comic for that matter) has pretty much exhausted all the dramatic possibilities of the premise, and is just retreading old ground.
Still, Carl got to bow out heroically, offering his life for the safety of the Alexandrians, then leading them to a subterranean refuge while dodging and confusing the Saviors with an ample array of smoke bombs. That scene of Carl fronting up to Negan from the wall was pretty good, especially in light of their two-handed scenes last season where the actors sparked well off each other. In that sense, it’s a shame to lose Carl; Chandler Riggs has certainly matured as an actor over the last eight years, to the extent that he can more than hold his own in a scene with the scenery-chewing Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
Rick, on the other hand, didn’t do much more than angst in his usual fashion, right from his trademark crestfallen look right at the start, when he discovered the abandoned Sanctuary with a truck embedded in its side. Clearly not the Great Leader he thought he was, since his troops have taken matters into their own hands, he’s going through the same epiphany as Ezekiel. The trouble is, where Rick’s concerned, we’ve seen that before. More than once, in fact.
Ezekiel at least got to recover his courage, just in time to put himself in cliffhanging jeopardy. And Maggie at least got to be a proper hardass, though for a lady who should be very pregnant by now, Lauren Cohan seems to have kept her figure remarkably well.
I had actually wondered whether her pregnancy had been conveniently forgotten, or she’d gone off to give birth somewhere between scenes at some point. But no, the pregnancy was actually referenced onscreen for the first time in surely longer than nine months, as the repentant Eugene insisted that Doctor Carson head back to the Hilltop to help with the delivery.
Despite his rather comedic style, the increasingly conflicted Eugene’s character journey has been one of the few interesting ones this season. As a self-confessed coward with a keen instinct for saving his own skin, he probably represents a more accurate picture of how ordinary people would react in such an extraordinary situation. It’s been interesting watching his struggles to live with himself as it becomes clear that his own self-preservation comes at the cost of others’ lives.
Nonetheless, there was little of surprise here, which is why Carl’s impending death felt more like an act of desperation than an audacious bit of storytelling. If there’s anything you’ll remember about this episode, it’s that; which cunningly disguises how unmemorable the rest of it was.
I’d like to think The Walking Dead can recover its mojo. But after seven and a half seasons of post-apocalyptic zombie action, I honestly think it’s gone as far as it can go and still be interesting. Will I still be tuning in next year? Yes, but with that same sense of sadness I do when I occasionally watch the once brilliant Simpsons, like a friend on a permanent decline due to old age. In the mean time, if you’re missing Chandler Riggs already, you can take solace in his budding dance music career: