(Spoilers ahead for the season 8 premiere of AMC’s “The Walking Dead”)
It’s only been a year since “The Walking Dead” hit its emotional nadir when it made us watch Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) beat two fan favorite characters to death with a baseball bat — not to mention the rest of that hour of television that consisted almost entirely of Negan trying to psychologically break Rick (Andrew Lincoln).
The season 7 premiere was, to be quite honest, just a thoroughly miserable episode, both in terms of content and as a viewing experience. It sucked.
Fortunately, things seem to be different now. The season 7 finale was weirdly cathartic, with a major character death that felt actually triumphant instead of depressing and an actual victory for the good guys. It had its moment of abject misery, sure, when it seemed like Negan was about to shoot Carl in the face as punishment for Rick’s defiance. But then King Ezekial’s tiger burst into frame and ate some of the Saviors and forced Negan to retreat.
Now we arrive in Season 8, and we were treated to a half hour of Rick’s group and their allies from the Hilltop and the Kingdom enacting some kind of multi-part plan to take down the Saviors’ headquarters — all the while fans waited for this plan to go horribly wrong, like all their big plans have done over the past seven years.
But it didn’t happen, and I’m struggling to believe it. I mean, yeah, Father Gabriel is trapped in a trailer with Negan, but that was because Gabriel is just too nice of a person and couldn’t keep himself from trying to save Gregory instead of heading out like he was supposed to. Rick and Pals’ plan went off without a hitch, with a bunch of Savior lieutenants blown up and the Saviors’ base overrun with walkers. Aside from failing to kill Negan himself, they accomplished what they set out of do.
I mean, dang, Rick gave a whole big inspirational speech about how they all have to work together to make the world a better place to kick off the episode, which is almost never a good sign. “The Walking Dead” loves to have Rick rally the troops right before they suffer an incredible defeat, but this time it actually helped steel everyone against the one moment when it seemed like the plan was in jeopardy: when Negan trotted out Gregory in an attempt to browbeat any Hilltop residents with Rick to abandon the cause. None of them left! Rick’s hype speech actually worked!
It’s just so nice to be able to see things work out for a minute. The issue I’ve had with “The Walking Dead” forever is not so much that it’s been a consistent downer, but that it was all downs without any ups. It would pretend like it was going to give you a respite before pulling the rug out from under you. Over and over and over again.
I’m sure everything is going to get horrible again for Rick and co. at some point later this season — it’s just the nature of the thing. But for now it is actually providing them a high point to fall from instead of making them fall off ledge after ledge into an ever-deepening pit. We’d been numb to the misery for so long, and this might actually get the blood flowing again.
That, in turn, will make whatever future pain and suffering that Scott Gimple and co. have in store for our heroes all the more devastating. But it’ll also make the parts in between the pain and suffering far more watchable and rewarding.
In essence, they might actually turn “The Walking Dead” into a show we love, instead of just a show we love to hate.