Okay, maybe this was a clickbaity title. Not because The Walking Dead has no issues, but because it actually has way too many to be considered a single problem. With last night’s episode, we finished the first half of Season 8. What was once a well-written show with actual stakes and human drama, is now the same plot rehashed over and over.
The Walking Dead plot formula is basically:
- Cycle through all 15 main characters taking turns having the “kill vs. don’t kill” debate. Then completely flip their positions on the moral issue.
- When it seems like fans are starting to catch on, kill someone off to distract.
This is the main issue with The Walking Dead. We’ve basically seen some variation of this nonstop for multiple seasons. And it’s not like we can’t do this differently. The spinoff series, Fear the Walking Dead is actually showing that there are more stories to tell in this universe than the contrived plot devices we’re left with in the original show.
I can’t keep track of how many times Rick has switched from the “we kill” mentality to “we don’t kill” (the Honest Trailer for The Walking Dead actually does a great montage). What’s worse is that when this change happens, it never feels organic. It’s either a slow transition that takes too long and eats up time, or goes from 0 to 100 all of a sudden.
Take Morgan for example. In Season One, when Rick first meets him, Morgan can’t even bring himself to kill his zombified wife. The next time Rick sees him, Morgan has nearly lost his mind and tries to murder Rick. Fast forward to the later seasons when Morgan is all zen. He spent a good portion of those seasons lecturing everyone on adopting the same concept, even putting them in harm’s way doing so. As annoying as it was, up to that point, his evolution into becoming centered and appreciative of life made sense. The writers threw all that away by making him go on a bloodlust during the two recent seasons.
Carol went through this as well all throughout Season 7 as she lived in exile. Maggie is doing some of this right now, going from “we can’t kill prisoners” to executing one solely in revenge last night. Tara is also more gung-ho about violence, as is Daryl. I’m going to predict that before this season is over, the character Jesus will have transitioned into a cold-blooded killer well. Then by next season, those who oppose violence will support it, while the ones who currently support it will no longer do so.
The difference between The Walking Dead, and Fear the Walking Dead is that on Fear, the characters are more consistent. Yes, they do also change their world-views and come to accept the horrible post-apocalyptic reality. However, there’s no weird backtracking and dealing in absolutes. They change, they evaluate, then continue to evolve. They develop their views on the world through experience. They don’t just drop everything they believe in and do a 180-degree reversal whenever it suits the plot. If Fear can turn things around in just four seasons, then the original series should be able to as well. The only consistent characters in the recent seasons of The Walking Dead have been Glenn and Carl. This is why it’s especially a shame that Carl is going to bite it next year once the season resumes.
Eight seasons is an extremely long time to keep up a show like this, and an impressive feat for sure. But no matter how talented the team behind it may be, eventually it’s going to become stale. To avoid this, some drastic change needs to happen to the writing to fix this “Walking Dead Problem.” As a long-time fan of the show, I don’t even need them to make a revolutionary show. They just need to figure out another way to drive the plot without falling back into their comfort zone.