Walking Dead Episode 8.3: When a Show Feels More Like Watching a Video Game
As my group of friends and I were watching Walking Dead episode 8.3 “Monsters”, there was a moment when Ricky and Darryl were stuck in a hallway, shooting it out with the faceless minions known collectively as Negan, that one of my friends shouted out, “It’s like a video game!” I casually nodded in agreement, but that comment was stuck ringing in my ears, and it struck me that her comment perfectly identified what has been wrong with season 8 of The Walking Dead. The show, with this episode being a prime example, really has devolved into little more than a live-action video game.
It was only a matter of time. The show’s glacial pace and wash-rinse-repeat plot formula was bound to strain its welcome and expose some of the show’s flaws. The war against Negan was coming. We knew it. They only built to it across a whole season, but the sole focus on nothing but the battles and without any actual character development has resulted in a season that feels inert despite the explosions and loud noises.
But there are a lot of explosions and loud noises. Like video games, though, there doesn’t feel like there are any real emotional stakes, no consequences. Despite the dire circumstances, was there ever a point that you actually felt like any of our heroes were in real jeopardy? I know, I know. There was Aaron’s boyfriend! The boyfriend of a minor character doesn’t count. I would definitely rank Aaron as a minor character. His screen time usually amounts to one of the guys filling the screen; his boyfriend was given even less of an identity (and screen time). I can’t even remember the guy’s name nor do I wish to expend the energy necessary to look it up. He was the very definition of a red shirt, cannon fodder, given just enough connection to our core group to maybe make his loss strike some emotional chord, however fleeting. It’s a cheap ploy, especially from a show that has largely prided itself in its everyone’s expendable attitude. But thanks for finally giving gay men in the show a meaningful emotional moment, even if it was as one of them was dying. Maybe eventually Jesus will quit being portrayed in such an asexual manner and will find a guy of his own. Doubtful, but it could be interesting. Maybe roads could lead to Aaron. At least it would give Aaron more to do.
But let’s reign this thing back in to the whole video game comparison. Video games do have a story, one that’s usually rooted in the action that you need to complete and broken up with cut scenes. This episode exemplified that structure. You could totally see each mission set before Player 1. Listen to Morales talk about your character in a simple cut scene before being sent on your hallway shootout mission. Make it through the zombie-infested smoke. Player 1, choose whether you want to play with Jesus or Morgan in their face-off. Cue cut scene featuring inspiring words from King Ezekiel, follow that with new action mission. But like a video game, all of this action is done with little threat. It’s going through the motions. It’s lazy, and we deserve better than that.
We know that the mid-season premiere will likely provide a hefty punch – and likely one episode in between. But the emphasis on slowing everything down, stretching a season-long story line into two has resulted in frustrating plotting and precious little true character growth. I hope somewhere along the way, someone places and end point or at least loosens the reigns enough to allow the story to unspool at a more satisfying pace.
One of my favorite moments of the episode came from the conversation between Rick and Morales. I appreciated that someone called out Rick, labeling him a monster. To be fair, Rick might well be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Wherever he goes, people die. He brings the apocalypse to groups that had been relatively untouched or had been surviving pretty well on their own. I can’t think of anything more monstrous than that. I’ll never understand why people choose to follow him again and again. I guess they know there wouldn’t be a show any more if they didn’t follow him.