What The Walking Dead?
The producers of The Walking Dead have been promising a more explosive season after the dispiriting journey that was season seven, and so far they have seemed to prove themselves. Each character has arrived at a determination and resolve to defeat their formidable antagonist Negan, and it is a level of resolve never before witnessed in Rick's group. All the individual traumas and dilemmas of each character's past, especially those in connection with Negan, ironically have worked against their bat-wielding enemy and only have casehardened their goal to wipe out the indiscriminately violent and tyrannical Saviors. What can be hypothesized about the motivations and personal development of the characters, and what dynamics are at play during this all out war?
Carol is clearly in full force this season. She seems calm, determined, and perhaps even happy, having exited the purgatory to which she had relegated herself in season seven. She has chosen life by choosing to stay with the people she loves and by fighting and sacrificing for them. Though formidable, Carol could be the most emotionally invested in the group, caring deeply about them and willing to do anything for them. This self-sacrificing tendency began to take a toll on her last season, and she was willing to walk away from the people she cares about the most — she even walked away from Daryl with whom she shares a seemingly inextricable bond — to avoid having to make those sacrifices any longer. Has Carol truly reintegrated herself back into the group after her hiatus?
In contrast to the emotionally armored Carol of season seven, she has softened up to her comrades again. This is most clearly evident in her exchanges with Daryl. These two characters have always provided support to each other in the darkest of times. It was Daryl who found Carol in her cabin in season seven, tearfully questioning her about leaving him, and this encounter is what ultimately coaxed her out of hiding. Since her reemergence, it looks as if Carol has fully embraced the group again, and quite literally. In the premiere, one couldn't help but take particular notice of Carol's uncharacteristically casual displays of affection for Daryl when she finds time to hug him while setting dynamite and herding walkers. Daryl returns the hug with none of the hesitant awkwardness with which he typically meets physical affection the rare times he experiences it. Are these kinds of exchanges common between them now?
Melissa McBride has stated that Daryl is the closest person to Carol in this world. Producers of the show have claimed that this season might be more romantic, so was this hug romantic? Surely many fans would like to think so. It could just be that both Carol and Daryl are becoming more emotionally comfortable with themselves and the bonds they've created with others. It's important to remember that Carol might actually be "the most capable fighter," as Morgan has put it, in the entire group. Though her capabilities and strength have frightened her in the past, can she now embrace her strength and do it in peace?
Strangers: Daryl and Dwight
Daryl and Dwight's connection to the doppelgänger myth is reflected in their appearance and character. Dwight is literally lighter in skin, eye, and hair color as well as more gaunt and decrepit because of his brutally inflicted facial scar while Daryl is darker in all respects and wears his own scars that were inflicted upon him in the form of abuse as a child. As for their characters, Dwight exudes desperation and fear while Daryl possesses integrity and a nearly impregnable strength. But, while Dwight has captured Daryl twice, tortured him, and killed some of his comrades, definitely crowning Dwight as the evil of the twins, Dwight has had moments that might indicate there is some goodness in him. This is especially true since Dwight took the risk of surrendering to Rick and Daryl, two people who would have him dead, in order to help them defeat Negan. His two-faced nature, though, still keeps him at odds with nearly everyone. Alternately, Daryl seems to have a nearly unflappable sixth sense when it comes to sniffing out the good and the bad in people, and he is as straightforward as any of the characters on The Walking Dead get. All things considered, Daryl is still having trouble figuring him out. Daryl and Dwight could be the other's exact nightmare. Daryl accentuates the qualities of strength and honesty that Dwight lacks, and Dwight is what Daryl could be if he did not find his group and therefore his strength and self-worth. Daryl's link with Dwight has brought trouble to his group as well, and this fact haunts him. How can men at such odds come together during this war?
In the season premiere, it becomes clear that communication will be fundamental to Daryl and Dwight's relationship and their cooperation in the war against Negan. Written notes have continued to be a part of Dwight's story since season seven. For instance, Dwight's wife ran away from the sanctuary, only leaving behind a difficult note for him about how she cannot trust or be around him any longer. He then uses a portion of that note to frame another Savior for aiding in her disappearance, which led directly to that Savior's fiery fate at the hands of Negan. His wife also left a note for Daryl to help him escape captivity at the sanctuary. Both of these notes were heartbreaking for Dwight, and they both spelled trouble for him with Negan. And, it is important to point out that these notes went one way. Dwight did not leave notes in return. His communications broke down while under Negan's thumb, and then he lost his wife. Now, in episode one, Dwight is seen not merely receiving notes, but he is exchanging them and with Daryl of all people, and he has been doing so since last season. These notes often consist of perhaps one or two words, and they may be exchanged on hand-made chess pieces and crossbow bolts, but it's definitely a start for these two. And, the precious few words they do exchange tend to hold crucial information regarding their plan to take out Negan.
Whatever differences they have and however contentious their relationship may be, finding a way to communicate properly may be the difference between defeat and victory against Negan. It could also eventually mean life or death for those two characters personally.
The creators of the show have been using biblical references extensively since the beginning, but have they taken spiritual allusions to a new level in the premiere? Not only are there allusions to Christianity but also a quote from the Quran is referenced. Certain scenes from episode one take a spiritual tone shift with the use of lighting and sound tracking. The complicated series of flash-forwards which occur in different times in the future take Rick as well as the viewer a bit out of time and space at moments. Is Rick actually in the midst of a spiritual revelation, one that he had to have in order to fight and to win?
There are two flash-forwards that recur throughout the episode, and they each represent two utterly separate futures. The old-man-Rick scene is Rick's present vision for what he wants the future to be. He conjures this vision during times of what look like prayer such as when he is standing by Glenn's and Abraham's graves with his eyes closed. It's as if Rick is invoking the memory of those he has lost as well as his ideal vision for the future in order to motivate him and allay his fear. Rick will not allow his hope and faith in being able to carry out his mission get shaken. In fact, Rick is doubted three times in this episode. He is doubted by Carl, the lookout Savior, and Negan. Rather than letting these doubts penetrate him, they seem to only harden his determination.
A second flash-forward places Rick somewhere in the near future, possibly the patio of a house or church, where he is crying and praying. The most spiritual aspect of this scene is that light passes through a stained-glass window with the symbol of the cross in it and scatters colored light across Rick's face. It's as if Rick has been illuminated or enlightened. Throughout episode one, Rick is seen surrounded in a halo of sunlight as he is rallying his communities. In this flash-forward, It's hard to tell whether Rick is crying out of anguish or joy until we see him flash-forward yet again to his old-man-Rick vision and smile. He also begins to pray out loud and echoes the verse from the Quran he overheard the mysterious traveler say earlier in the episode: "May my mercy prevail over my wrath." Perhaps this is a victorious post-war Rick thanking god, so to speak. Maybe that mantra is what has kept his mission pure.
The writers' use of non-linear time and spiritual imagery is powerful and expressive, but that is not to say that Rick is now necessarily religious. It could be, though, that some kind of spiritual experience is what's bolstering Rick's ability and resolve to fight. What does this say about the nature of survival in this new world?
There is much more that could be said about so many characters in the season eight premiere of The Walking Dead, but putting a spotlight on original fan favorites, Daryl, Carol, and Rick, seemed first in order. Could any of these projections and ideas hold true, and if they do, what does it mean for the next episode in the all out war?
Other Lingering Questions:
- Now that Negan is stuck with Father Gabriel in the walker-surrounded trailer, will we see Negan also have some kind of spiritual experience with him in episode two?
- Where are the Scavengers? Are they still working with Negan, and if not, what could that mean for Rick and his group?
Ciara Cerrato was a projectionist and curator at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, and she currently is a poet and freelance writer in New York.