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The Walking Dead Is Recycling a Troubling Amount of Storylines

Are these callbacks or is the show out of ideas?

Liam Mathews

Long-running television shows always run the risk of overstaying their welcome, particularly when it comes to repeating storylines. The Walking Dead is especially susceptible to this as it's set in a stripped-down apocalypse full of zombies and psychopaths with no clear end goal in sight other than to make it to tomorrow. But the sixth episode of The Walking Dead's eighth season, "The King, the Widow, and Rick," was particularly full of stuff that had already happened on earlier episodes of the show.

Let's run down eight references or stories from the episode that were reminiscent of things that had previously happened on The Walking Dead:

1. Carol (Melissa McBride) gained a little boy hanger-on just like she did when Sam Anderson (Major Dodson) latched onto her in the early days of Alexandria. The boy, Henry, wants her to teach him how to fight, the same request his late older brother Benjamin (Logan Miller) had made. She told him that little kids who go into the woods alone either don't come back or come back monsters, which is what happened to her daughter Sophia (Madison Lintz). It's probably not a coincidence that Henry is played by Macsen Lintz, Madison's brother, and the resemblance is unmistakable. (We should also note that young Carl had similar bloodlust as he came of age early in this apocalypse, and that Carol also babysat Lizzie and Mika in Season 4, making her the de facto surrogate mom for wayward children.)

2. Rosita (Christian Serratos) teamed up with another woman from Alexandria -- last time it was Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), this time it's Michonne (Danai Gurira) -- on an ill-advised scheme to go to the Sanctuary. This time they weren't planning to attack it, but they ended up getting roped into an attack anyway after they ran into Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Tara (Alanna Masterson), who are this season's revenge-fueled Savior-killing duo of dumb-dumbs.

3. Rosita blew a guy up with a rocket launcher, just like Daryl did in Season 6.

​Christian Serratos, The Walking Dead

Christian Serratos, The Walking Dead

Gene Page/AMC

4. New character Siddiq (Avi Nash) is an unstable loner killing walkers out of adherence to a strict personal code, like Morgan (Lennie James) used to be.

5. Carol gave Ezekiel (Khary Payton) a pep talk encouraging him to return to leading his people, just like Daryl did to Rick (Andrew Lincoln) in Season 4 when Rick took a step back to recover from losing Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies).

6. Carl (Chandler Riggs) mentioned that his mom once told him to "do what's right," which were her dying words to him.

7. Rick got put in a prison cell naked just like Daryl did in Season 7.

8. Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) wrote an "A" on the outside of the shipping container she put Rick into, a callback to when Rick got put into the shipping container prison marked "A" at Terminus.

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Some of these are obviously intentional callbacks to memorable things from earlier in the series, especially the shipping container "A," the resemblance of Henry to Sophia and Carl's invocation of Lori's last words. But the others are harder to parse. They're not callbacks to moments or images, they're storylines getting repeated. It's tough to tell if we're supposed to think of them as tributes to the show's past or if the show is just running out of ideas and recycling things it did before, sometimes so recently that they're barely even in the past.

The Season 8 premiere was full of callbacks, but that was the series' hundredth episode, so the nostalgia trip made sense. In "The King, the Widow, and Rick," the callbacks felt sort of random, and fans were not warned to look out for them like they were then. And with the exception of the Carol ones, they don't add anything new to what was done before. We want to see characters grow, not make the same mistakes in slightly different configurations over and over again. It sometimes feels like the show is out of ideas and thinks we won't notice that it's going to rocket launcher well yet again.

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Hopefully all these repetitive plots are on purpose and the show is taking us somewhere new for a satisfying payoff. Otherwise The Walking Dead is running on fumes, which is dangerous for a show that wants to go for at least another hundred episodes.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.