October 23, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “The Walking Dead”



Last year’s season premiere of THE WALKING DEAD was the show’s most polarizing hour, introducing long-awaited Big Bad Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and lingering on his brutal murders of two series regulars.  That seemed to hit a saturation point for some viewers, and although Dead is still the 2d biggest show on television (Game of Thrones gets similar ratings but with HBO’s subscriber base of 1/3 of US households), the numbers dwindled by more than 30% over the course of the season.  By that point, showrunner Scott M. Gimple–and presumably AMC–had figured out that they might have drank too deeply from the cup of nihilism, and the season finale was more focused on the heroism of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his fellow survivors as they fought back against Negan’s army of sadists.

The Season 8 premiere, written by Gimple and directed by series vet Greg Nicotero, built on that shift.  We didn’t see much of Negan, and when we did, he’d lost his all-powerful aura.  Instead, the hour stayed with Rick, his lieutenants Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Daryl (Norman Reedus), Morgan (Lennie James) and Ezekiel (Khary Peyton), and their multi-pronged assault on Negan’s stronghold, The Sanctuary.  There were very few character beats, unless you count Hilltop chief Gregory (Xander Berkeley) being his usual weasely self and endangering Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), who in the cliffhanger ending found himself trapped in a trailer with Negan as hordes of walkers circled.  The episode was for the most part one big action-adventure, with plenty of AMC’s budgetary resources spent on explosions and CG.

The only wrinkle was the continued motif, introduced in the Season 7 finale, of Old Rick (actually just a few years older than Current Rick, as we saw other characters around him) in an oddly positive-looking future that may be a fantasy or the set-up for a time jump.  The season premiere also included glimpses of another Rick, seemingly closer to present-day, with eyes red from weeping.  These mysteries may–or may not–pay off during Season 8, but they introduce a puzzle-box layer to Walking Dead that the show hasn’t tried before.

The rest was fun enough, even if the straightforward boom-boom content made Walking Dead seem more like an extremely well-funded Syfy series than it ever has before.  (And not quite as clever as Z Nation.)  One assumes that Walking Dead hasn’t lost its angst for good, whether or not it was in evidence for this episode.

Even with its ratings in decline, The Walking Dead won’t be going anywhere for years to come, but one does wonder whether the Meet Big Bad–GoTo War–Rinse & Repeat structure is going to need a revamp sooner rather than later.  Season 8, at least, seems as though it’s remembered that the series needs to mix in some wins with its horror.



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."