Eight episodes down, and we got exactly zero notable deaths in this mid-season finale. Don't "The Walking Dead" creators realize this is "All Out War"?
Yes, we will concede that the looming death we have coming is pretty significant, but it also didn't happen as a result of the war. Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) was painted as this terrifying awful figure, but what has he done since killing Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn (Steven Yeun)? This war is like the old G.I. Joe cartoon -- tons of firepower, zero casualties.
A few red shirts bit the dust, but that was about it for a finale that culminated in the explosive destruction of Alexandria, the occupation of The Kingdom by the Saviors, and a dramatic showdown with Maggie (Lauren Cohan) over The Hilltop with Jerry's (Cooper Andrews) life in the balance. In that latter one, a "red shirt" who was given one line earlier in the episode was the only casualty.
Just like the rest of this season, there was a whole lot of hand-wringing, a lot of talking, a lot of empty displays of firepower. "The Walking Dead" has lost its mojo, and it's losing viewers because of it. But it's not too late.
This is still AMC's flagship show, but there's a reason "Game of Thrones" stays at the top of the cultural zeitgeist -- and ratings heap -- while "TWD" is sliding down both. "Thrones" is still dangerous and unpredictable. "The Walking Dead" is about as unpredictable as an episode of "Full House" these days.
When your "All Out War" storyline leads to the death of a bunch of nobodies and one CGI tiger, you're doing it wrong. Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) dramatically sacrificed her life in the Season 7 finale and somehow that is the last major death on the show, despite eight episodes of war. It's time to thin the herd and let people die, and not just because they're ready to be done with the show as Chandler Riggs (Carl) has been rumored for most of this season -- hell, he got bit before this battle even began, so he doesn't even count as a casualty of "War." It's up to the producers and writers to keep the show unpredictable and let fan-favorites die randomly and unexpectedly.
Be Spontaneous and Unpredictable
Randomly and unexpectedly means that a fan-favorite character can die in episode 5. Unfortunately, today's "Dead" is built around its premieres and finales, with so much extended filler in between them. This year, virtually nothing of any significance happened during the six hours between the premiere and the mid-season finale. What did happen was a lot of walking and talking and hemming and hawing and arguing and yawning as fans fell asleep in front of their televisions. Then, when the mid-season finale failed to deliver on the dangers of "War," the show faces a real risk of those people not bothering to come back in February. If nothing else, fans are being trained that nobody dies and nothing major happens except at the beginning and end of a season, so they don't need to bother with the rest. That's not a great way to run a show.
This episode began with Carl and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) having a heart-to-heart, with the younger grimes imparting words of wisdom on his father. In other words, Carl was going to die. A few weeks back, Aaron's (Ross Marquand) boyfriend Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson) suddenly had a bunch of lines and some tender moments, meaning he was going to die. Ezekiel (Khary Payton) kept saying no one would die during his march with Carol (Melissa McBride) and his soldiers, so of course everyone died. This kind of writing is pandering and lazy, showing a lack of respect for the audience. Don't give a "red shirt" a line so we know who he is when you kill him. That just means you're too chicken to kill someone who matters, and you're pathetically trying to manipulate us into caring about some nobody. We see it coming a mile away, and we're tired of you talking down to us. Surprise us, scare us, wow us, entertain us!
Bring in Fresh Blood
For most of its run, "The Walking Dead" has been a rotating door of characters we fall in love with and then watch die in horrible ways. It's an adrenaline rush for fans, and a cost savings for the show as new cast is cheaper than old cast. When nobody dies, you end up with stars all needing to make a million dollars an episode by your tenth season like "Friends" or "The Big Bang Theory." Bringing in new characters keeps the show fresh, with new relationships forming with the old and new casts. It also opens the show up for those dramatic deaths and losses that rip our hearts out and leave us crying for more. We've proven we can fall in love with new characters over the years, so let's get back to the cycle of death and discovery that propelled this machine forward. Let new blood emerge from the life's blood of our favorite characters. We'll both hate it and love it, but we will be talking and watching.
Another move that looks like a cost-cutting measure, splitting the cast up so we only spotlight a few each episode really jumped the shark when Glenn fell off the dumpster a few seasons back. We spent half a season not knowing if he was alive or not because they just didn't go back to him -- they even removed him from the opening credits to mess with us -- and it's only gotten worse since then. If it's about budget constraints, meaning you don't have to pay salaries for actors that don't appear in an episode, see above for ways to trim the cast and the budget. As it stands, everyone shows up in the premieres and finales, and then things slow to a crawl as we follow one small group after another in those middle episodes. And we know nothing huge can happen, because it has to be held for the next finale when we can finally get the whole cast back together. It's becoming formulaic, and a show about a zombie apocalypse shouldn't have its own "procedural" format.
Shorten Your Seasons (or Pick Up the Pace)
If there isn't enough story to fill sixteen episodes in a season, consider reducing that run. HBO hasn't been hurting for only 10 episodes of "Game of Thrones," and less in recent seasons. The tighter episode count means each episode matters more, and that means fans tune in for every single one of them. With two 8-episode blocks per year to tell one story arc, there's a lot of bloat on "TWD," and it shows in every episode that isn't a premiere or finale. The story sprawls and slows after a premiere, looking like the writers are vamping while waiting for the cast to come together again for the next finale.
If AMC is determined to stick with 16 episodes for monetary reasons, then consider picking up the overall pace. We get the fear of catching up with Robert Kirkman's comic series, but rather than dragging out a story to fill an allotted number of episodes, the creators should give themselves enough credit to believe they can keep the ship moving even if they do catch up with and surpass Kirkman. At this point, there's no reason they must be beholden to his series anyway. Already, they've strayed from the source material, so why not push it even further with all new villains and dangers. Keep the show moving and exciting, and you keep your viewers moved and excited.
"The Walking Dead" comes back in February 2018 to finally let Carl die. We'll see if anyone joins him, or if it just sets up another eight episodes of walking and talking.