AMC’s adaptation of Image Comics’ seminal zombie apocalypse series The Walking Dead has taken a bit of a beating over the course of the past couple seasons by fans and critics alike. Now, don’t shed tears for the show just yet; it’s still a ratings juggernaut, surpassing every other show on cable in its time slot by a huge margin. But ever since the Season 5 premiere, in which Carol, everyone’s favorite June Cleaver turned butt-kicking zombie assassin goes all Rambo on a bunch of cannibals to save Rick and Company, rating have seen a bit of a dip.
In All Fairness, It’s Hard To Top Carol's Big Moment
In fact, except for the Season 7 premiere, the ratings haven’t been anywhere near those once-heady numbers, and the only real reason they spiked then was because the world wanted to know who got their skull caved in by Negan’s baseball bat, Lucille. After the reveal, ratings took their biggest dip between season premiere and second episode in the show’s history, leaving some pundits and fans wondering if The Walking Dead was past its prime.
Despite the downturn in ratings, which, again, are by no means bad, the show still has a lot of gas in its engine. In fact, there are some things Season 8 can do to get back in fans’ good graces. All the elements are there, and they always have been. The show just needs to make a few small leaps of faith, and work outside its own blood-splattered comfort zone.
Right off the bat (pun, totally intended) Negan needs to be more likable. This may sound like a crazy notion considering the atrocious acts he’s perpetrated against some of our beloved (and not so beloved) characters since his introduction in the Season 6 finale. The issue with Negan isn’t that he’s a monster, however -- it’s that he’s monster we don’t understand. The best villains are characters with whom you can empathize. You may not agree with their methods, but you see their reasoning, and if you were in their blood-caked boots, you may do the same, too.
In the comics, Negan is a warped, mirror version of Rick taken to the logical (albeit quite primal) extreme. The reader understands that Rick is one step away from being Negan, and if given the right circumstances, he’d slip into tyrannical governing (something he’s already dabbled with in the show) in no time, flat. The comic book version of Negan represents balance, but in the show, he’s pure chaos, which can only go so far. If viewers can’t come to like him, at the very least, they need understand Negan's motivations, to see through his eyes no matter how awful the view might be. Which leads to an issue the show has always faced: Putting conflict above characters.