Fans of the The Walking Dead can hopefully rejoice. If the most recent jaw-dropping episode was anything to go by, it signifies a much-needed return to action.
It’s been determined across the whole of fandom that the last season of The Walking Dead was a lackluster affair. It uniformly disappointed viewers across the board, and as a result, the show’s ratings dipped substantially. These same ratings made it glaringly obvious that a large chunk of once-loyal fans had finally had enough.
Furthermore, if you examined this half-baked eighth season with unbiased eyes – purely from a ‘get more viewers and keep the old ones’ standpoint – you could narrow everything down and pinpoint a few distinct reasons why viewers were forced into walking. Firstly, the incredibly slow and unrewarding pace/plot undoubtedly failed to impress the majority. Secondly, the fact that several integral, much-loved lead actors were unceremoniously killed off, and it was then also disappointingly rumored (and confirmed earlier this year) that more were leaving the show for good. Thirdly, the way the finale dealt with brutal Saviors leader and baseball bat-wielding madman, Negan, was – at the time – totally unacceptable.
Yet, it seems the new showrunner (Angela Kang) and the whole writing crew have taken this on board. Tonight’s episode was a step back in time – back to when The Walking Dead was actually a damn good show.
In an interview with EW, Kang is actually on record as saying: “We know from the end of the previous season that maybe not everybody was on board with the decision to save Negan. So, we’ll be exploring some of those stories as we go forward.”
She wasn’t joking, and she was definitely holding her cards very close to her chest. To cut a long story short: Negan has now been brought back in a truly clever and sinister fashion, and for the first time in a long time – TWD’s heroic action-meter is once again reading RED HOT.
Why was this episode so good? Why are we so excited? Let’s recap…
As the episode opened, Maggie’s (Lauren Cohan) decision to hang Gregory was still obviously bothering Michonne (Danai Gurira), who had come to talk to Maggie about “common law” – meaning all the different communities under the ‘Ricktatorship’ should have the same rules. With Michonne’s encouragement, Maggie then makes a series of tough choices: to supply food to the Saviors despite the mysterious disappearance of their last shipment, and to release Earl from prison and into guarded work duty after his Gregory-inspired attempt at assassinating her. As for Gregory, however, Maggie has no regrets: “Some people can’t be redeemed.”
One thing is amazingly clear: it’s becoming increasingly obvious that no one should never mess with Maggie – especially now that she has gone through such a serious transition. She has a heart, but something inside her died when Negan killed Glenn. Gregory’s execution will not be the last time we see Maggie in ‘dictator’ mode before she exits the show – and this is weirdly exciting.
Meanwhile, new romances are blossoming. Carol and Ezekiel (who has thankfully lost that ridiculous Shakespearean voice), Jerry and Nabila, and astoundingly, the priest and the cult leader formerly known as Jadis, ride the hobby-horse together. Yes, that really happens. After a brief courtship, Jadis (now known as Ann, played by Pollyanna Macintosh) learned that Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) wasn’t the sort of priest to take chastity vows, and not minding the fact he now has a bung-eye, went the low grope. He didn’t say no.
Then things really hot up…
Despite having some genuinely good people in their ranks, several of Negan’s former Saviors spent the episode causing issues. One of them makes trouble during the bridge reconstruction, gulping extra water and shirking his duties during an integral walker-herding operation, resulting in tragedy. He also makes the huge mistake of tangling with Daryl (Norman Reedus). It is well documented that Daryl never forgives.
Due to this same Savior’s inaction, a horde of the dead descend on the work party and Aaron (Ross Marquand) ends up with his arm crushed under a log. Daryl then saves the day by freeing him, and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) appears with a war party to cull the rest, but there is no hope for Aaron’s arm. He loses it at the elbow and has to have it cut off without anesthetic. Reminiscent of true old-school TWD drama, this fast-paced tragedy is beautifully brutal.
Rick and Daryl were at odds about Daryl’s fight on the bridge with the offending Savior, but Daryl goes after the same guy once again after Aaron is crippled, and gives him a savage and thorough beating – and is only restrained when Carol grabs his arm and calms him down.
Later, this same Savior, walking past Rick at night, makes the huge mistake of badmouthing Daryl. Rick – for the first time in a long time – embodies the old Rick, the ‘no shit’ Rick that everyone has missed, and gets right back in his face. When Rick gets like this, someone usually dies, but not this time. The Savior is told to leave, and he does so gladly.
We all know that Maggie is unforgiving, and it’s great to see her in her new ‘ruthless’ mode – but Rick once again embodying his animalistic, survive at any cost, kill you for looking at me the wrong way, pre-Negan badassery again was just nothing short of AWESOME. A complete showstopper. He is the absolute definition of ruthless. When he leaves/dies this season, he will be sorely missed. Finally seeing him in this mode again was enlightening for TWD superfans.
While everything partially comes together for our heroes at the end of the episode, a scene is set for a much wider future conflict. The troublemaking Savior, kicked from the compound, is taken out by an unknown assailant. The mysterious helicopter reappears, hovering in the night sky. And last but by no means least, and perfectly dropped in at the exact right time, a husky-voiced (post-throat-slitting), unkempt Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) taunts Rick from his Alexandrian jail cell after being told how the group is flourishing.
“You’re not saving the world,” he sneers. “You’re just getting it ready for me.”
DO NOT watch this vid if you have not watched the episode in full…
Negan is undoubtedly getting out of that cell in a big way. Just when and how is the question? While we may have been disappointed with how Negan was dealt with in last season’s finale, his new extra-malevolent demeanor in season 9 adds a whole new kind of baddassery to a show that had completely lost its badass factor.
This episode was the best we have seen in years. It was reminiscent of the action-packed season 4, when the Governor returned, in all his evil glory.
If the season continues on like this, The Walking Dead can potentially expect to regain the rating numbers it enjoyed throughout seasons 4 and 5, which were almost double that of season 8. Fan excitement regarding this return to proper pace will undoubtedly spread rapidly if the action continues, and TWD-orientated whisperings around any office’s water cooler on Monday mornings will reach unprecedented levels – but – this will only happen if the action stays constant and the script stays strong.
With the imminent departures of lead actors Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan, the show will sustain massive, unavoidable damage later in the year. How the scriptwriters tackle this, and who they nominate to fill these giant holes in the casting will undoubtedly determine the fate of the show. It is anyone’s guess how this will be accomplished, but amping up the action and strengthening the plot with viewer-pleasing content is a great start.
It’s once again exciting times for The Walking Dead. High praise to Angela Kang for having the guts to do what drastically needed doing. Let’s hope there’s lots more of the same in the upcoming episodes.
The Walking Dead airs on AMC every Sunday at 9pm.