The Walking Dead has shuffled and moaned through seven seasons worth of walkers, psychotic humans, plot twists and shocking, sudden deaths. The season 8 premiere on Sunday (the series' 100th episode) could mark a new era for Scott Gimple's zombie drama. Though its ratings declined to a five-year low in season 7, The Walking Dead is still popular—if a bit boring. In order to keep this zombie show on the road, Gimple and his team need to shake up the status quo—"all out war," as AMC has described Season 8, may not be enough.
Zombie fans, don't fret. The Walking Dead isn't just a TV show, and Robert Kirkman has written post-apocalyptic stories in the same universe across comics (from Image) and fantastic video games (from Telltale). AMC's former ratings juggernaut deserves a shake-up as big as the one we saw in Game of Thrones season 7, and we've got some suggestions.
Introduce a character with a backstory
Remember when comic book favorite Michonne sauntered into The Walking Dead in Season 2? She shocked Rick as much as she thrilled viewers, wielding two zombies on chains after having hacked their arms and lower jawbones off in an angry power move.
What if Season 8 introduced a character familiar to hardcore fans of the franchise, one who's already proven herself an interesting hero over time? Clementine began as a lovable sidekick in the first "season" of Telltale's The Walking Dead video game, and she became the hero in the second season. Fans who play these games feel like they've known Clementine for years and would cheer her inclusion on the show. Plus, Clementine, a young Asian-American girl, would add diversity to the drama.
Kill an overworked hero
The question on viewers' minds when Season 7 began was: Who will Negan kill? AMC had Walking Dead fans hooked, teasing images of all the heroes staring up at Lucille, Negan's baseball bat, and refusing to confirm which actors would continue appearing throughout the season. Gimple decided to go the comic book route, killing Glenn, but he also had Negan double back and knock out Abraham, too. It was a brutal double whammy, and viewership tanked after that joyless, bloody, depressing episode.
AMC is using two separate tactics to promote The Walking Dead season 8: one, its "all-out war" subtitle promises more deaths and cultural shifts between the conflicting groups. Two, many think pieces have floated online, trying to guess whether the show will kill Rick Grimes off. Rick isn't the most fun character to watch each week, but he's at least a typical hero: unwavering in his beliefs, deeply flawed and predictable. Killing him off would at least force viewers to tune in to see where the show goes without him.
Evolve the zombies
Zombies decay: It's a fact of life on these shows. The "walkers" that Rick and the gang now use as weapons against Negan's followers are a lot more dried up and brittle than the fleshy, oozing monsters we saw in Season 1. What if the zombies started adjusting their behavior and tactics based on their role in the food chain?
The zombies on Walking Dead wouldn't have to suddenly gain sentience and act like highly evolved humans (though that storyline played out well in Stephen King's novel Cell and the British sci-fi film The Girl with All the Gifts). They could instead split into factions by using hunting tactics specific to their body type. Confused? Consider the popular zombie video game Left 4 Dead, which includes a line-up of terrifying zombie "types" for the player to avoid. The Boomer, for instance, was once an obese person, but after being zombified, Boomers vomit a special kind of bile on their victims, and the smell of their rotten insides draws hordes of regular zombies closer. There's also the Jockeys, particularly limber zombies who like to leap down from above and "ride" a human, swiping at them while pinned to their victim's shoulders. The Smoker zombies in Left for Dead have elongated tongues, which they use to trap and hang their human victims, leaving them prone to attack from other zombies.
The Walking Dead has played around with zombie types on occasion, to positive reception from fans and critics. When Rick fought an armored zombie, affectionately named "Winslow," viewers were excited to see the show experiment with its own visuals. But the walkers on The Walking Dead now look and act exactly the same, and that's not helping keep fan interest.
Massive time jump
Don't panic! Many fans found the time jumping in Season 7 a bit tedious, perhaps because neither flashbacks nor flashforwards gave the viewer any useful information. If, at the end of Season 8, The Walking Dead made a massive time jump a few decades in the future, maybe when Carl Grimes is running a human encampment in a world still ravaged by the undead, the writers could drum up some fresh drama and interest.
Fear the Walking Dead pulled off a time jump experiment with minor success, planting viewers during the days when Rick Grimes was still unconscious. But we still don't know what the zombie apocalypse will do to our world in the long-run. How are other nations dealing with the walkers? If humans wipe out walkers in the 10 years that follow The Walking Dead, can a virus resurgence occur?
Because Rick and the gang have been stuck in the deep south for so long, cut off from any media or technology, fans have no idea whether the zombie apocalypse is unique to the United States.
The Walking Dead could widen its scope, dramatically increasing the show's stakes. What if, for instance, the American south has been quarantined, and Rick's friends have been killing each other while Americans in New York City live their normal lives? What if the governments of the world have turned their backs on the United States, calling the zombie virus a curse meant to crush America into submission?
Zombie stories centered in environments other than the United States bring exciting cultural differences into play, and audiences are pretty hungry for them. In 2013, Paramount Pictures adapted Max Brooks' incredible novel World War Z into a terrible action film, but the gist of the book is still pretty cool: different nations would deal with zombies differently. The Walking Dead wouldn't have to completely change up its locale to make this work—the characters could find a way to get a shortwave radio working and listen to a transmission from abroad.
The Walking Dead Season 8 premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.
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