And Still I Smile – The Walking Dead Season 8 (DVD Review)

September is a great time of year to be a fan of The Walking Dead. Each year at this time, Fear is winding towards its annual climax, the web is abuzz with rumours for the next season, and, of course, we get the home media release of previous adventures, just in time for a binge and a refresh before the new season hits screens in October. And so, as YouTube rumbles with how the show are going to write out some of its key players over the upcoming months, I find myself curled upon the couch, merrily making my way through the last days of the war against Negan.

Season eight has been something of a marmite season. After fans were polarised by Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s panto villain throughout the slightly lack-lustre seventh season, they were further outraged by some shocking farewells this year. I shan’t go into too much detail, what with this being a home release review, but suffice to say, no one saw this one coming.

That said, season eight has been a much-needed kick up the arse for a show that had been meandering somewhat since our heroic group’s arrival at the Alexandria safe-zone. Drawing from the comic’s ‘All Out War’ storyline, we see our heroes finally taking a stand against Negan’s tyrannical reign. The action has been incessant, and having rewatched the season over the course of the last forty-eight hours, I can’t help but reiterate what I said in last year’s recap; The Walking Dead is not a show to be watched on a weekly basis; it is designed to be binged.

This season has explored the toll that war has had on our key players; Rick has become hardened to this world, with the symbolic death of Officer Friendly being a major moment when a long lost friend reappears. Morgan meanwhile becomes increasingly unhinged, and Carol gets to showcase more than ever just how far she has come from the early days on the outskirts of Atlanta.

Of course, it is the normal people that war affects the most, and the writing team have done a great job of involving many of the background characters this season, with special mention going to the performances of Cooper Andrews as fiercely loyal soldier Jerry, immediately becoming a fan-favourite in the Ezekiel-centric episode ‘Some Guy’ (one of the show’s most heart-wrenching episodes to date), as well as Callum McAuliffe as Alden, the Saviour caught on the wrong side of the war. Other characters such as Pollyanna McIntosh’s Jadis, Steven Ogg’s slimy Simon and Jason Warner Smith’s Gavin have all been given a chance to shine this year, and it’s great to see that the writers are finally steering away from the comic book blueprints to create some deep and memorable characters. The vignette episodes dedicated to each of these characters have been some of the show’s finest moments, and give a great sense of hope for the show’s future if current internet speculation is to be believed.

But with war comes loss, and this year the show has proved once again that nobody is safe in this world. Not an episode goes by without one death or another, and it’s a credit to the cast that every single one hurts. Whether it’s a character we’ve followed for years, or one who has just stepped up to the plate (or even one that’s entirely CGI), it’s the reactions of those around them that sell it, and sell it they do.

Season eight marks the end of an era for The Walking Dead; a new world begins as the end credits roll, and there have been plenty of moments of catharsis. Sure, there have been subtle call-backs to days gone by, but, more importantly, there has been closure. The episode ‘Still Gotta Mean Something’ is a beautiful portrayal of three different parents who, for various lengths of time, have been dealing with the loss of their children, and it’s testament to the show that whether it’s a course of years or merely days, these characters still carry their baggage with them. And, more importantly, so do the audience.

An exploration into grief, faith, and what it means to be human in a world where humanity is all we have left, season eight is very much a return to form for The Walking Dead. Arguably the best season in years, whether you agree with the final outcome or not, I challenge anyone to not cheer in joy at the final revelation as the two armies meet on the hill-top. Nay-sayers be damned; The Walking Dead is still here, and it’s got more bite than ever.

The Walking Dead Season 8 is available on Blu-ray and DVD on 24th September courtesy of Entertainment One

Created by: Frank Darabont

Prd: Christian Agypt

Scr: Scott M. Gimple, Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore, Matthew Negrette, Channing Powell

Starring: Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan, Chandler Riggs, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Lennie James, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alanna Masterson, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos, Seth Gilliam, Ross Marquand, Austin Amelio, Tom Payne, Xander Berkeley, Khary Payton, Steven Ogg, Katelyn Nacon, Pollyanna McIntosh

Country: USA

Year: 2017/18

Episode Run Time: 42mins

No. of Episodes: 16