Zombification has sort of become a fact of life in The Walking Dead, or perhaps more accurately, a fact of death. Maybe it’s because the characters on the show have dealt with Walkers and the inevitability of their own turning for so long. One thing seems glaring: Three episodes into Season 8, The Walking Dead has forgotten that it’s a zombie show.
Survival has always been the show’s principal focus, and that once meant uncovering the nature of the zombie virus while fending off the seemingly endless hordes of undead. Those were fun times. But now? Survival means several armies uniting to defeat an old greaser with a baseball bat.
The zombies — when they do appear — have become bored, tired, and generic. They’re more often used as MacGuffins than anything resembling a plot focus.
Almost out of necessity, the show throws in random Walkers fairly often because it has to. It often feels totally random, like in Episode 3 when Jesus and Morgan’s group is beset by a small herd while walking along the road. A few randos get chewed, some other randos escape, and none of it really matters.
In most epic shootouts that happen during Season 8’s “all out war,” characters obviously still turn into Walkers after dying. We saw a grim reminder of this when Eric died and turned in Episode 3 after taking a gunshot to the stomach.
Other times, both sides of the battle are sometimes beset upon by random Walkers just from all the noise. In smaller engagements, just about everyone has the sense to “double-tap” any human enemy they come across. That’s just how you have to do things.
But triggering explosions as a way to lure large groups of Walkers seems like the go-to method of mass warfare, effectively translating to the weapons of mass destruction in The Walking Dead’s wars. Daryl demonstrated as much in the Season 8 premiere, and it was far from the first or last time we’ll see this.
The existential conflicts played out in this season between characters set abstractions like hope and peace against anger and war. Jesus vs. Morgan. Rick vs. Daryl. Everyone vs. Negan. Me vs. The Walking Dead. Sadly, it feels like none of these matter, because we’re all forgetting about the zombies.
What happened to the times when the conflict was about the zombies? Everybody always talks about how the conflict between people on The Walking Dead is more important than the one between the living and the dead. But in diving so deeply into faction warfare with leaders like Negan and Ezekiel and Jesus — characters that feel more like caricatures — The Walking Dead makes it hard to care about the war, or anything really.
Even worse, the Walkers themselves have become utterly meaningless. When they do appear, they’re barely even a serious threat — let alone an existential one.
So maybe it’s time for The Walking Dead to consider returning back to basics before it gets lost to the annals of Rick’s feverish future dreams forever?
The Walking Dead airs Sundays on AMC at 9 p.m. Eastern.