November 26, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Midseason Finale Review: “The Walking Dead”


The first half of The Walking Dead‘s 9th season included so many major changes that its ratings continuing their general downward trend rather than collapsing entirely may count as a sort of moral victory, even though the numbers are now at series lows.  New showrunner Angela Kang had 8 episodes to cover a whole lot of milestones.  Two of the show’s cornerstone characters exited, at least temporarily, as Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes survived a fake-out “death” to depart for his own 2-hour Dead TV movies, and Lauren Cohan’s Maggie vanished from the scene, so far without explanation, as the actress headed for the greener pastures of a starring role in a midseason series on ABC.  Two time jumps brought Dead 7 years into the future (that time sync with the suddenly superior Fear The Walking Dead didn’t last long, unless Fear is planning to follow suit), readjusting the status of the other regular characters and introducing new ones.  And for a while, it seemed like Dead was really going to take a conceptual leap by having its Walkers evolve into beings capable of speech and thought.

We learned in tonight’s midseason finale, written by Consulting Producer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and directed by Michael E. Satrazemis, that the latter wasn’t the case.  After an all-out horror movie battle in a fog-enshrouded cemetery, it turned out that the next band of psychotic villains to be faced by our heroes will be the “Whisperers,” who wear the faces of Walkers a la Hannibal Lecter, and guide them from within their mob while, you know, whispering.  It remains to be seen, now that we know these are just bloodthirsty humans, whether they’ll be any more interesting than the many other varieties we’ve met over the past 8 seasons.  (Their leader will be played by Samantha Morton, which should help.)

Nevertheless, there was plenty going on in this episode, including the heroic death of series regular Jesus (Tom Payne), and the escape of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) from his prison cell, which means–oy!–that he’ll soon be back to his old tricks bedeviling the citizenry.  There was also another bushel of hints about the tensions between the Alexandria and Hilltop communities that apparently came to a head during the time jump.

All of this has been a definite improvement from the last 2 Negan-intensive seasons, and the show’s willingness to explore the development of a new civilization has added a richness to the narrative (although at their worst, those scenes also bring to mind the tariff sequences of the Star Wars prequels).  There’s a breadth, if not necessarily a depth, to the storytelling under Kang that wasn’t evident under earlier regimes.

Nevertheless, The Walking Dead still has plenty of problems.  Pacing, never a strong point, continues to waver between swift action and moribund talkiness.  The exits of Lincoln and Cohan leave a charisma hole that no one else seems able to fill.  (The rumor was that Norman Reedus was being groomed to have his character Daryl take over as the series lead, but that wasn’t evident in this half-season.)  Despite the changes, the show still lacks a sense of overall direction.

The back half of Season 9 will reveal how daring Kang and the other producers are willing to be.  If the Whisperers are just a rerun of the villains we’ve met before, and Negan simply goes back to the bad-guy beat, Walking Dead will continue to gradually sink.  Despite the sliding numbers, AMC has gone all-in on its flagship, with more spin-offs beyond the Lincoln movies planned, at a time when viewers may be signaling that they’ve reached saturation with the franchise.  The next season or two will probably prove decisive as to whether The Walking Dead can keep its momentum or become as aimless as its Walkers.  So far, at least, this season suggests it won’t go down without a fight.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."