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The Walking Dead, Season 8B: Surprisingly Subtle?

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The second half of The Walking Dead season 8 has radically divided fans; some, still reeling from the [SPOILER ALERT] unexpected death of Carl Grimes, saw the half-season as a cheap gimmick trying to emotionally manipulate the audience into believing the previous half season’s violence was something bigger than a compilation of poorly-edited explosions. Others, taking a more optimistic approach, saw the death of Carl as a sign of showrunner Scott Gimple’s willingness to take risks in an era where television characters are often staid in their ways so as to extend the lifespans of their respective shows. Either way, it’s clear that season 8B of The Walking Dead is an improvement upon the previous half-season’s butchered “All Out War” story arc.

We pick up where we left off: Carl, an A-lister present from the first season, has just been bitten and is doomed to turn into a walker. An admittedly subtle episode, the mid-season premiere is an apt send off to a decent character limited by his poor acting. His death permeates throughout the entire rest of the season: our heroes must decide whether the fighting and violence that preceded the death of Carl were necessary. What’s the difference between justice and vengeance? What is the value of mercy and honor? These questions are explored by the decisions and actions of the protagonists, making the latter half of this season feel less like Michael Bay’s lost B-roll tapes and more like an intelligent discussion on the ethics of war amidst an aura of loss and suffering.

As for the actual plot of season 8B, a series of small conflicts eventually culminates in the final confrontation between our triumvirate and Negan’s forces. Most plot lines are wrapped up snugly: Simon and his traitorous peers are disposed off, Dwight is punished by Negan and eventually forgiven by Daryl, and the Oceanside finally joins in on the fight against Negan. These and other subplots converge when the triumvirate finds itself the victim of a surprise attack by the Saviors, but the interference of Eugene in the production of ammunition proves to be vital to the triumvirate’s victory, for the Savior’s bullets turnout to be be rigged, leaving the Saviors defenseless. In the (admittedly short and anticlimactic) final battle, the Saviors surrender and Rick and Negan clash for the last time in a one on one brawl, wherein Rick slits the throat of his adversary. Had the season ended there, this half-season would’ve been mediocre at best, but Rick, convinced by the merciful language of his son, chooses instead to spare Negan and keep him as a symbolic first step toward rebuilding the old world. Keeping Negan alive in spite of his evil deeds doesn’t go without protest, however, and the conflict between Rick and those who believe he can’t be left alive will certainly continue into the following seasons.

Overall, season 8B of The Walking Dead is a 7/10. The interesting themes explored throughout its entirety create the impression of character development in a series where characters tend to remain staid for long periods of time (I’m looking at you, Daryl); maybe next season we’ll even see some progression if we’re lucky.

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The Walking Dead, Season 8B: Surprisingly Subtle?