The seventh season premiere of The Walking Dead was the most controversial episode of the series. It’s an episode so violent that a number of shocked viewers quit the show (at least temporarily) out of disgust. Creatively speaking, however, it was not the series’ lowest point. That would come six episodes later with “Swear,” the only seventh-season episode to receive a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes. IMDb also rates “Swear” as the worst episode of the series’ entire run, and it’s not even close.
Those who have forgotten about “Swear” can be forgiven. The entire episode focused on Tara and Heath, two characters viewers had not seen at the time of its airing in nine episodes — eight months in real time. It introduced the Oceanside community, and to date, it’s the last we’ve seen of Heath, who may or may not have died during “Swear.” What was so frustrating about “Swear,” however, is that it took the focus from fan favorites like Carol and Daryl and shifted the narrative away from the main storyline involving Rick and Negan. Instead, we had to spend an hour with two characters viewers cared little about, one of which many had forgotten even existed.
It wasn’t the first time, either, that the writers on The Walking Dead spent an entire episode on two of three characters in a huge ensemble drama. “The Cell” spent most of its time focused on Daryl, for instance, and because the season 7 episodes shifted between communities, we went long stretches of time last season without seeing Carol or Morgan or Jesus, among many others. Ezekiel was introduced in the second episode of the season, but we didn’t see him again after the midseason break in episode nine. Spending that much time away from characters can be frustrating for viewers, and by rotating storylines, it prevented the season from gaining much momentum until the back half of the seventh season.
Thankfully, that kind of storytelling is expected to end in season eight, according to showrunner Scott Gimple, speaking to TVLine.
Because of the narrative that we’re following,” Gimple continues, “the story this season is really spread out among all of the characters. And the story shifts quite a bit in single episodes between lots of different characters on a consistent basis, which is a little more unusual for the show.”
The characters will continue to be spread out, but it’s a relief to know that each episode will shift through a number of characters. Moreover, season eight will pair characters differently, according to Gimple. “We’ll see characters affect one another that we haven’t seen affect one another before, or even just thrown together that we haven’t seen thrown together.”
The season eight trailer previews a few of those unusual pairings: Carol and Tara; Michonne and Rosita; Father Gabriel and Jerry; Ezekiel and Rick; and Enid and Aaron, while it appears that Daryl will be spending a lot of time alone on his motorcycle, in a season that sees him go “rogue.”
Another aspect of season eight that is likely to change is that we’ll get our first flash forward. We know from the season eight trailer that we’ll see “Old Man Rick,” at least a few years after the events of the All Out War. But the time jump won’t come at the end of the season; according to Robert Kirkman, it will arrive in the season premiere. That means we could see timelines shifting between the present and the future throughout the season, and we may even heartbreakingly learn what the future does not hold, namely Maggie and Glenn’s baby.
Besides the All Out War and the non-stop action that entails, there are some other things to be excited about in season eight. We will see a lot more of Negan, but also potentially his death, depending upon how Scott Gimple approaches the source material. Negan’s full backstory may also be revealed in a standalone origins episode. We’ll find out how Pollyanna McIntosh’s Jadis — who is not from Kirkman’s original source material — plays into the All Out War, and who she will ultimately back (or if she’ll play free agent to the highest bidder). Given that the Saviors easily outnumber Rick’s crew in the upcoming war, Rick and co., will also have to resort to a kind of guerrilla warfare, which could mean a lot of mini-capers over the course of the season as the Alexandrians et. al marshal their wits to out-scheme the brute force of Negan’s Saviors.
Perhaps what viewers are most looking forward to next season, however, will be an increase in screen time for two characters who quickly became fan favorites last season: Steven Ogg’s Simon, who plays Negan’s right-hand man, and Justin Cooper’s Jerry, who plays Ezekiel’s right-hand man. Ogg has been promoted to series regular, while Kirkman has promised we’ll see much more of Jerry in season eight.
With a time jump, the quickly shifting storylines, the elevation of fan favorites, and the promise of “lots more killing, and lots more explosions,” all the ingredients exists now for a solid bounce-back season of The Walking Dead.
Season eight premieres on October 22nd.