The Walking Dead as a series is not in the best possible place right now.
Season seven did not connect with audiences. After a long, drawn-out cliffhanger at the end of season six, the show failed to actually move forward at anything resembling an engaging pace, leading many longtime viewers to decide to spend their time elsewhere.
The takeaway from this, at least as far as AMC is concerned, is to ditch the slow, methodical, suspenseful storytelling for something a little bolder.
The first trailer for season seven shows up more than a few explosions, action scenes, and big, bombastic setpieces designed to titillate and thrill.
Everyone involved with the show is eager to announce that bam, pow, The Walking Dead isn’t slow and boring anymore. They’ve got all guns a-blazin’, and audiences are in for a rollicking good time.
According, for example, to Seth Gilliam, who plays Father Gabriel:
“[Season 8 is] like a Schwarzenegger versus Stallone action thing from the ’80s. I think there are, like, 10 explosions an episode. Every time you turn around, somebody’s shooting something or blowing something up. There’s some serious action that I don’t think we’ve seen on television since The A-Team went off the air.”
Wow, high praise indeed!
True, these comments are hardly coming from an unbiased source, but from the sounds of it, The Walking Dead is no longer skimping on its firework budget.
That’s a good thing, right? More booms make for a better show?
Well, not necessarily.
Zombie movies have always been punctuated by big action setpieces. The explosions, gruesome deaths, and obligatory headshots are baked into the formula in such a way that it seems like one of the big elements of these stories.
In reality, though, if you actually watch a zombie flick, you’ll note that the actual action elements take up a relatively small amount of screentime.
Zombie stories are inherently Last Man Standing tales; lonely ponderings on the nature of humanity as the few survivors of societal breakdown attempt to put the pieces back together.
Going for broke with a big, explosive new series makes sense to grab attention, but it runs the risk of drowning out the part of The Walking Dead that has made the show really resonate with audiences: the characters.
The standout element of The Walking Dead has always been the way it manages to show human beings in their various reactions to the end of the world. Some, like Rick Grimes, cling to the Old World notions of law and order while others, like Negan, embrace an opportunity to gain power and influence in the new hellscape.
It’s significant that Rick Grimes is a sheriff – the Wild West parallels are deliberate. As much as The Walking Dead is a monster show, it’s more a modern reincarnation of the classic Western, with an honorable cowboy and his ragtag posse trying their best to endure in a world without law.
There’s a reason why things don’t blow up in Westerns very often, and why Jerry Bruckheimer’s The Lone Ranger failed so miserably to find an audience.
Action and excitement are all well and good, but stories like The Walking Dead need room to breath as our characters express their loneliness and frustration at a world bereft of life and justice.
If anything, the problem with season seven wasn’t that it moved too slowly, but that, with so many new characters and working parts, the show lost its focus on the core group of heroes that made The Walking Dead a success to begin with.
All of this isn’t to say that there’s no room for explosions in the show – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a Western that’s filled with things that go boom, and that works. But the movie also gives us plenty of time alone with the story’s two heroes, and their relationship is what builds such an engaging film.
So while watching zombies blow up will be fun, unless The Walking Dead doubles down on its core character group and gives us meaningful interactions between survivors, the season eight revamp is going to fail to grab any more attention than season seven.