Caspase-8 is a cysteine protease activated by membrane-bound receptors at the cytosolic face of the cell membrane, initiating the extrinsic pathway of apoptosis. Caspase-8 activation relies on recruitment of inactive monomeric zymogens to activated receptor complexes, where they produce a fully active enzyme composed of two catalytic domains. Although in vitro studies using drug-mediated affinity systems or kosmotropic salts to drive dimerization have indicated that uncleaved caspase-8 can be readily activated by dimerization alone, in vivo results using mouse models have reached the opposite conclusion. Furthermore, in addition to interdomain autoprocessing, caspase-8 can be cleaved by activated executioner caspases, and reports of whether this cleavage event can lead to activation of caspase-8 have been conflicting. Here, we address these questions by carrying out studies of the activation characteristics of caspase-8 mutants bearing prohibitive mutations at the interdomain cleavage sites both in vitro and in cell lines lacking endogenous caspase-8, and we find that elimination of these cleavage sites precludes caspase-8 activation by prodomain-driven dimerization. We then further explore the consequences of interdomain cleavage of caspase-8 by adapting the tobacco etch virus protease to create a system in which both the cleavage and the dimerization of caspase-8 can be independently controlled in living cells. We find that unlike the executioner caspases, which are readily activated by interdomain cleavage alone, neither dimerization nor cleavage of caspase-8 alone is sufficient to activate caspase-8 or induce apoptosis and that only the coordinated dimerization and cleavage of the zymogen produce efficient activation in vitro and apoptosis in cellular systems.