One of the first lines of this, the ultimate in heart wrenching send offs in the history of “The Walking Dead,” is “Just came for some of that butternut skillet cake you guys make.” Maybe I’m wrong, but that just doesn’t seem like a strong way to kick things off. These “flash-forwards” were teased in the opening of Season 8, and personally, I was hoping we’d be getting a time-jump. Instead, it turns out they’re just Carl’s fever dreams as he lays dying from the infected bite of a Walker. The show has been stuck in the same cycle of battling over territory for far too long now. Even the walking dead of “The Walking Dead” have ceased to represent any threat whatsoever. Jumping forward in time would’ve offered the reset the show desperately needs. Obvi Spoilers.
When “The Walking Dead” first premiered, it was must see television. Not in so much that it was a great show, but it was a ZOMBIE show on television. This was a time when horror shows were few and far between and certainly didn’t carry the type of cache we see today. I even remember the dark times, before I had cable. Sunday nights meant hanging out at a friend’s to watch “The Walking Dead” and argue about what we thought was or wasn’t working. Nowadays, that conversation is more like “Why are we still watching?”
The decline in ratings over the last couple of years has been well documented on this site. People are tuning out on a weekly basis (yet it remains the number one show on cable). But, I still watch. Perhaps, it’s because I’ve always felt the quality was hit or miss, only the episodes that were good would truly blow me away and keep me coming back for more. The assault on Alexandria directed by Jennifer Lynch in episode 6.2 (“JSS”) was exactly how an episode filled with running, hiding, and shooting should be handled. I still hope for episodes like that to spring up from time to time. That’s why I’m still here.
Perhaps, they should have brought Lynch back on board to direct large chunks of Season 8. She knows how to create a sense of geography and build tension through these epic shoot-outs. Tension is key, and it’s certainly been lacking from what we’ve gotten recently. I realize producers must have thought that after the slow-build of Season 7 they were giving us what we wanted – action. Unfortunately, it’s just become so repetitive.
On the note we left off on the mid season finale, I was numb to the incessant bullet slinging and juvenile villainy of Negan. Yet, the promise of a must-watch episode this past Sunday night piqued my interest. And, here we are. After an hour and a half of tear jerking goodbyes, all I can think about is “butternut skillet cake.” Why, for instance, if these flash forwards were the imagined peaceful future of Carl’s wishes for his friends and family, would he think of butternut skillet cake? Is that something any kid would dream of, apocalypse or otherwise? Sure, I love a good winter or fall squash, but even I would probably land on “pumpkin” for my poorly conceived, make believe dream world. It’s a silly thing for me to focus on, I know, but it’s bad writing. These awkward lines are peppered throughout the series and they serve to pull one right out of the viewing experience.
The mid-season premiere, “Honor” (AKA “Carl’s Death Episode”) should have been a heart wrenching hour of television. Instead, the drawn out goodbyes were constantly undercut by the necessity to give us more shootouts with nameless bad guys. I’m all for Morgan back-sliding to crazy land, but we didn’t need it right now. I think back to one of the strongest episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Body.” That was a deeply emotional hour that didn’t feel the need give us an action packed side story just to remind us “Vampire” was in the title. Even when a bloodsucker shows up, it’s handled poetically in tone with the rest of the episode. “Honor” could have been the “Body” of “TWD.”
Now, when it comes to child characters, there are typically certain limitations to how they are presented in film and television. They’re not often given the meatier material, okay? However, Judith is not a character so far in the series. She’s a prop, an uninvolved one at that. I respect them for not constantly playing the “child in danger” card, but they’ve also given no reason for us to be emotionally invested in her. The moment where Carl is essentially passing the baton (or tattered hat as it may be) to his baby sis, was painful. She had no connection to the moment and, obviously, no dialogue. I know she’s only a baby, I’m not expecting closing credits Timothee Chalamet, but she looked confused. The insult to injury was the ADR’d whining as Judith was pulled away. I’m not criticizing the kid here. I’m criticizing the producers for leaving this in. That was a scene for the cutting room floor, but we wouldn’t have an extra long episode without it, I guess? There was more missed opportunities by giving Saddiq such major screen time. He’s a new character that we know next to nothing about, and his heartfelt goodbye would have been better suited for someone like Daryl. Yes, Daryl is a tough character and I’m sure it would’ve been difficult for him in the moment. But, to wave his hand as if to say, “I just can’t do it.” That didn’t ring true for me.
I don’t read the comics, so perhaps my upset is tempered by lack of knowledge for the character’s future importance to the story. I don’t care they killed him off (which is a problem the show has as well). I’m angry his death will stand as a similar narrative crux as other major deaths throughout the series. It’s all become so wash, kill, repeat. The fact of the matter is, I’ll probably still see this season out. And if you are still seeking pleasure from this series like a sadomasochistic office worker who keeps getting “confused” on the correct way to use a stapler, I’m glad you enjoy it. Everyone has their own tastes. I just wish the showrunners would be respectful to their characters. Don’t change their motivations on a dime to suit the same old narrative. Give us something fresh and honest.
On a positive note, Danai Gurira did a pretty outstanding job during “Honor.” The moment when Michonne was boo-hooing and told Carl that he was her best friend – for the first time in the overly long episode, I almost got misty eyed. But then the camera cut back to Rick who looked like he was just as ready to get this whole thing over with as I was.