The Walking Dead: Writing hits and misses in season 8

Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) in The Walking Dead (2010) 815. Photo: Gene Page/AMC
Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) in The Walking Dead (2010) 815. Photo: Gene Page/AMC /

Season 8 of The Walking Dead had its ups and downs. While there were some great storylines, there were also some missteps.  Most of these were missed opportunities that came from the writers seeming to become more plot-oriented, rather than writing action that is an outgrowth of the real emotions of the characters.

I have sympathy for TWD writers; they have a tough job keeping us riveted after eight years. Even so, sometimes it is good to revisit the basics of character.

First, here are some things that worked well in Season 8.

Father Gabriel’s journey was a natural extension of his growth so far.  He already did the difficult work of clawing his way out of his fear and finding a new level of trust in God.  When he is captured at the Sanctuary, escapes and tries to bring the doctor to the Hilltop, and is captured again, his faith goes through more challenges. This is not repetitive–it is a test of his new level of faith, and was well done.

Eugene’s continuing adventures at the Sanctuary were also intriguing, because we never knew whether he was acting out of self-interest or if he was waiting for an opportunity to sabotage Negan.  Eugene himself may not have known. Eugene is a beast of self-preservation, but he has also done the right thing when it comes down to life or death for someone close to him. So his story was true to everything we’ve learned about him.

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Morgan also went through trauma that made sense for him.  His descent back into “clear” when faced with killing again made his decision to leave his friends believable. The transition to FTWD worked well.

But there were some challenges in Season 8. Whether you agree or disagree with killing Carl, the way it was done was unsatisfying. First, we never saw what made Carl transition from wanting to see Negan dead to wanting Negan to plant tomatoes in Alexandria.  How did that happen? Don’t know.

In 704 (season 7, episode 4), he pulls a gun on the Saviors when they try to take all of Alexandria’s medicine. In 707, he comes out of the back of a truck armed and ready to kill Negan. And in 718, he is the first person to pick up his gun and fire when Jadis betrays Rick’s group.

In 801 he meets Siddiq and then doesn’t do much until he gets bitten, but in 809 he’s Kumbaya Carl. It’s like the writers wanted him to have a change of heart either to give Carl a legacy or to keep Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the show, but it never made sense for Carl, himself.

Second, being bitten was too passive a way for Carl to die. What if he had been shot by an errant, stupid Savior? It would have propelled the battle forward, with the Alexandria battle cry being “For Carl!”  It might have even led to some nice twists like Negan offering to let Rick watch the execution of the Savior who shot Carl.

Daryl was also a huge missed opportunity.  In the tunnel, Daryl asks if it was his fault that the Saviors escaped the Sanctuary.  Uh, yeah, it was.  Eugene came up with the idea to shoot the walkers in piles and leave a path, but it wouldn’t have been necessary if Daryl hadn’t driven a hole into the wall.  Rick’s siege plan was working until Daryl ruined it.  If Rick is the general, then this is insubordination. It would be a serious matter in any battle, but the writers didn’t take it seriously.

If they had, it could have led to a Rick/Daryl conflict so intense that it threatened their relationship. What if Rick banned Daryl from the rest of the fight? That would be a twist that would keep us on the edge of our seats. Daryl would have to make up for it in a big way, as Carol made up for killing David and Karen by saving everyone at Terminus.  Or, if the rift lasted longer, it would do more to justify Daryl’s presence with the anti-Rick group at the end of 816.

The third misstep was during Simon’s attack on the Hilltop. Why didn’t Tobin get the fever? It’s like the writers decided they wanted a surprise attack in the house and abandoned normal infection protocol, but there would have been ways to stick to the rules and still have great drama.

If Carol had noticed Tobin’s fever, they would have known that everyone with a wound could possibly turn.  What do you do with a house full of potential walkers when you are being attacked from outside? Do you put them in a closed room, with guards ready to stab the heads if they die? Tara would have been in that room. And what if a scared Hilltop person starts killing people proactively?

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Again there were many things worth cheering in Season 8, and all of this is definitely Monday morning quarterbacking.  But it is also true that there were themes in S8 which suffered from a pre-determined plot.  If the writers had stayed true to the reality of the situation and character emotions, as they did with Father Gabriel, Eugen and Morgan, it would have been better food for better drama.