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Maybe it’s just a bad dream: “The Walking Dead” Season 8

Updated: Sep 3, 2018


Episode 16, "Wrath": Glenn's widow Maggie (Lauren Cohan) loses it when Rick and Michonne decide Negan's fate. (Courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment)


Blu-ray, DVD; 2017-18; TV-MA for violence and gore, profanity, and frightening/intense scenes; streaming via Amazon Video and Prime, FandangoNow, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Best extra: “Carl Grimes: Leaving a Legacy”

SEASON EIGHT of AMC’s apocalyptic Sunday night series will go down as the year they killed Carl Grimes.

Other things happened during those 16 episodes, but that’s what most will remember. Forbes is on record saying it was the worst, most “unforgivable” mistake the series could have ever made.

For many fans – those still hanging in there – the trend to kill original, favorite characters began about four seasons back. Still, it wasn’t until Season Four when “The Walking Dead” began steadily alienating its viewers and critics as when The Governor (David Morrissey) returned to wipe out the home Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and friends had worked so hard to build.

Carl was played by Chandler Riggs. Viewers watched Riggs’ character grow up from 8 to 18 on the show. His work was always good, amazing in one so young. He was part of an ensemble that made “The Walking Dead” a must-see hit for an audience that grew beyond the initial horror fans.

Episode 2, "The Damned": King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) rallies the forces as Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) looks on. Season 8 was described as "all out war!"

Episode 4, "Some Guy": King Ezekiel (Khary Payton in action.

Season Eight opened to the lowest ratings since the show began according to Variety, although it was still Sunday’s top-rated cable show at the time. But its mid-season premiere got the lowest ratings ever. By the time Eight closed, more viewers had bailed.

Long breaks between new episodes was cited as a reason for the decline. A few new episodes would play, then stop for weeks. Another problem was sloppy and repetitive story telling. Production values continued to be top notch, but the drama and sense of identity viewers had with the characters diminished as the story was replaced by scenes of sex, infidelity, adultery, jealousy, ad infinitum. It seemed as though TWD hoped to copy the excess of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” if not the appeal. The recent plotline starring Big Bad 2.0, Negan (Jeffrey Dean) and his weapon, Lucille – a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire – is a l-o-n-g rehash of The Governor’s, which also wore out its welcome.

No spoilers here; it was announced prior to airing that, just like The Governor, Negan also survives his downfall. Rick decides he should live and suffer in defeat. Looks like Rick’s gonna take another hit to keep old plotlines churning. It’s no wonder Lincoln has announced Season Nine will be his last.

That’s the worst of the AMC show’s storytelling – its total disregard for the characters and actors. Fluctuating traits, particularly in Rick Grimes, have become the show’s most frustrating cliché. Early on, we learned likable characters would die. Mothers, children, good guys and bad, no one was sacred, but heaven help them if they became a moral compass like Dale Horvath (Jeffrey DeMunn), Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson) or Tyreese (Chad Coleman). And showrunner Scott Gimple was determined to prove it.

Episode 3, "Monsters": Carol is back in form.

Episode 5, "The Big Scary U": Negan (Jeffrey Morgan Dean) and Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), camouflaged in zombie guts, make their way through an undead horde.

Episode 7, "Time for After": Rick fights for his life at The Scavengers sanctuary while Jadis looks on.

Episode 9, "Honor": Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) help Carl (Chandler Riggs).

Episode 10, "The Lost and The Plunderers": Negan's right hand man Simon (Steven Ogg) bullies Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), leader of The Scavengers.

Episode 11, "Dead or Alive or": Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) and his team find themselves in a world of trouble.

Episode 12, "The Key": Jeffrey Dean Morgan of "The Watchmen," "Supernatural," "Grey's Anatomy," "The Good Wife" and "Rampage" as Negan, sadistic leader of The Saviors.

Episode 15, "Worth": Dr. Eugene Porter (Josh McDermitt) has played all sides of the fence in the war between The Saviors, The Survivors and The Hilltop group.

Need a boost in ratings? Let’s take out a favorite like Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun), Beth Greene (Emily Kinney) or Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz). Nothing gets more attention than when an actor shows up for an official send off on “The Talking Dead,” TWD’s companion show. Especially, as in Kinney’s case, when they cry. Apparently, Riggs was up for contract renewal. Cast members, fans, actor and his outraged family posted their frustrations and disbelief before the show aired.

Andrew Lincoln’s Rick, the leader of the original survivors since Season One, is the hero and heart of the story, even after Gimple began playing fast and loose with the character’s personality turning hero into brute, bully and psycho, the hell with continuity. Even so, Lincoln was gobsmacked by Eight’s turn of events.

“I never saw it coming. I didn’t think it would ever happen. I always thought I’d be passing on the gun and boots to my son. I always thought that was going to be the way. [Carl] was the next generation; he was the future.” – Andrew Lincoln, “Carl Grimes: Leaving a Legacy”

Others felt the same, including Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl Dixon, and katana master Michonne’s Danai Gurira (“Black Panther”). Ironically, just before he dies, Carl is turned into another super-prophet of peace, love and understanding. In Robert Kirkman’s comic, the source for the show, Carl is alive. But who cares what they – or the fans – think? Shame on you – the whole lot from AMC to Gimple and its producers.

So what else does the latest five disc Blu-ray set from Lionsgate Home Entertainment have to offer? As mentioned, excellent production values that make a great leap onto 1080p. The series looks and sounds far better than broadcast. Every detail is sharply focused, especially in close-ups. Wideshots are sometimes fuzzy, but it’s easy to ignore small flaws during the intense action scenes. Season Eight was heralded as “all-out war.” Even Ezekiel’s (Khary Payton) tiger, Shiva, is slaughtered saving his humans from a zombie attack. (Remember them?) We’ve seen gorgeous animals killed here before; we just never had a chance to become attached. Color is restrained in TWD’s world, but looks very natural, particularly in the complexions of the multi-racial cast.

Episode 16, "Wrath": Michone (Danai Gurira), Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Carol (Melissa McBride) survey the aftermath of the battle.

Episode 16: Michonne played by Danai Gurira.

Episode 16: Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) decide Negan's fate.

The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack is state of the art, especially for a cable TV series. We usually only get this kind of finesse from GOT. Dialogue is clearly delivered front and center, while the score and multi-channel ambient sound boost emotional cues. Meanwhile, effects – gunshots, explosions, motorcycle action, battle scenes, screams – fill the room.

Bonus features have been pared down from earlier seasons. In addition to “Carl Grimes: Leaving a Legacy,” there are two audio commentaries on Disc One for “Monsters” and “Some Guy.” A near-10 minute “In Memoriam” bids farewell to characters – and tiger – that died in Season Eight, with comments from the actors. “The Price of War” gives cast members and producers a chance to discuss the effects of the season’s war.

TWD was at its best during Seasons One through Three. Characters and plots began to fluctuate and weaken in Season Four and have been walking an increasingly rocky road since. There were still outstanding story arcs, like Merle Dixon’s (Michael Rooker, “Guardians of the Galaxy”) sacrifice, and the Terminus plotline. Another best was watching Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) grow from a cowering abused wife to fierce protector and warrior. She headlined “The Grove,” a chilling heartbreaker. Shades of “Aliens’” Ripley, Carol took out a colony of cannibals to save her friends in the opening of Season Five – although later, Gimple recreated her again as a weepy pacifist, a slap in the face to abuse survivors everywhere. Season Six saw the return of Morgan Jones (Lennie James) in the critically acclaimed Episode 4, “Here’s Not Here,” with John Carroll Lynch.

At the end of a disastrous 1984-85 season, the original “Dallas” got a lot of flak when the next season began with a shower scene in which a main character opened with a “Wow – what a nightmare” revelation to reboot the show. It’s probably the most famous shower scene since Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”

It could be time “The Walking Dead” also hit the showers.

— Kay Reynolds

Episode 16: A flashback shows Rick with a young Carl. For several seasons, AMC's "The Walking Dead" was an unstoppable hit; killing major characters, repetitive plots and other factors have taken a toll on the ratings.




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