The Walking Dead: Season 7, Part 1

Originally posted on January 5th, 2017.

Warning:  There be SPOILERS ahead!  If you don’t want the skinny on all the twists, turns, deaths, and surprises in the first half of Season 7, stop reading now!

Ready?

When we last left our motley crew of survivors, Negan and the Saviors thoroughly had them bent the fuck over…and someone got beat to death with a baseball bat (wrapped in barbed wire, though I’m not sure how much difference a few small cuts makes when your aim is to cave in someone’s skull).  Honestly I expected Aaron to get it since he was the least main character, though my second guess was Eugene – especially since he seemed to have outlived his usefulness and the fact that he was trying to become more survivor-like.  If you pressed me further I probably would’ve gone with Rosita or Sasha just because – narratively speaking – they’ve kinda been dead weight.  I even considered Maggie as the possible victim just as a means of wrapping up the whole pregnancy thread without retreading ground we covered with Lori.

Well I was wrong; no surprise there as I’m apparently terrible at predicting events like these.

In what was already a really, really, really drawn out scene from the Season 6 finale, Season 7′s premiere makes it feel even longer.  Granted some serious shit goes down, but it kinda feels like the punctuation at the end of a run-on sentence.  Anywho, Abraham goes down, and not to be forgotten, tells Negan to “suck my nuts” after the first crushing blow.  The second one drops him for good, and Negan turns poor Abrahams head into something resembling a smashed watermelon with a generous dose of red Jell-O.

Shocking, right?  I guess.  But in my mind Abraham never quite made that leap into the upper echelon of folks like Rick, Daryl, Carol, Carl, Glenn, Maggie, Michonne and maybe a couple of others I’m missing.  Whatever import he carried had passed and he was quickly slipping into non-essential territory.  His death would’ve had a greater impact back when he was at the forefront – namely on the road to Terminus – but as it is he’d just sort of slipped into the background.

So ol’ Abe is dead, Negan is still fucking talking…now what?  Here’s where the real shocker comes.  After all, we spent all summer (figuratively speaking in my case) knowing that someone was going down.  But when Daryl’s angry lunge is met with the sudden and gratuitous execution of Glenn, well, I think my jaw hit the floor along with everyone else’s.  Some criticism was leveled at the scene’s gore / violence / sadism / brutality / whatever you want to call it, but I didn’t bat much of an eye at that sort of stuff.  Yeah, I realize a lot of “squares” got into the show and still squirm at the sight of CG brain matter and latex bite wounds, but I’d been watching zombies eat people along with other depraved acts of violence years before TWD hit the scene.  If the show wants to push people’s buttons with gore and torture and brutality then by all means, go for it, but stuff like that is neither going to make or break an episode for me.  Was it gratuitous and excessive?  Probably, though I think some people forget that this is a horror-themed show and not an action-drama (stylistically speaking).

Back to Glenn though…yeah, I think it was a shitty move to kill him off.  Was his fake death in episode 3 (ish) supposed to foreshadowing or some shit…?  I’ve since read that his death was adapted from the comic book, but as I said in my previous post regarding Season 6, comics and TV are vastly different media and you can’t just transmute one to the other.  What may have worked in the comics (I don’t know, I’ve never read them) isn’t necessarily going to play out the same way on screen, especially when the heightened emotional investment of the viewers is concerned.

After this cathartic yet jolting hour and change of television, the following episode introduces us to “The Kingdom,” replete with horses, spears, “armor,” and a fucking guy in an auditorium calling himself a king.  With a giant tiger.  WTF.  Seriously.  WTF.  (This could well be another case of the comics not lending themselves well to the small screen…)

I wasn’t wild about this largely expository episode, especially as viewed through the Morgan-Carol lens.  Some of that was due to their endless and circular conversation which wore on my nerves fast.  The show is trying to find a place for Morgan but I don’t think they’ve really figured it out yet (respect for life is cool and interesting and all that, but in a world where it’s kill or be killed, you’ve got to go somewhere with it), and Carol is rapidly becoming a second-rate character due to her seemingly random onset of neurosis.  Morgan is torn between the necessity to kill versus one’s ability to change.  Has the show even attempted to reconcile that yet?  No?  Then let’s move the hell on.  Oh, and Carol wants to be left alone?  Do we really understand why?  Is she any closer to telling us?  No?  Then let’s move the hell on.

Moving on.  I promise I’m not going to spend this much time on each episode.

As the show enters its third episode, “The Cell,” it nearly grinds to a halt.  What could’ve been a more insightful look into the Saviors, or a more sympathetic portrayal of Dwight, Sherry, and their hardships, or a further character study of Daryl, turned out to be a 10 minute story strung out over an hour.  All we do is watch Negan attempt to break Daryl, which doesn’t even work.  We basically expect Daryl to endure whatever the Saviors throw at him, and he does.  What is so frustrating is that the story doesn’t advance one iota.

And then there’s the fourth episode which really tries my patience.  Negan comes to Alexandria, scares the shit out of everyone, and relieves Alexandria of nearly all of its creature comforts and most of its necessities (despite claiming to only want “half”).  Negan talks…and talks…and talks…and talks some more, while Rick skitters around with his tail between his legs, eager to prevent any further deaths.  It’s a little difficult to watch in one sitting, mostly because every uncomfortable moment is stretched and milked and then absolutely beaten to death…before moving on to the next.  It’s like…intense yet stagnant at the same time…I think that’s the best way to describe it.

A quarter way through the season and the ho-hum pace is become obvious.  Can we get a true Negan encounter or at least change the status quo within the next 4 episodes…?  It’s not looking good.

Episode 5 spends most of its time at the Hilltop, still staunchly refusing to actually advance the plot.  Compared to the best of The Walking Dead, this episode is another snooze-fest.  Maggie and Sasha and “Jesus” and Gregory go at it some more and blah blah blah.  The Saviors bring some zombies over in the middle of the night and it seems the only people in the whole damn settlement capable of doing anything about it are sick, pregnant Maggie and Sasha.  Then Negan’s main crony, Simon, comes to town and basically does all the same shit we’ve watched Negan do: talk, threaten, demean, dehumanize, and fucking talk.

What I don’t understand about this episode is Maggie and Sasha’s hard fought battle to stay at the Hilltop.  For the life of me (maybe I missed an important line somewhere or something) I can’t figure out how “going to Hilltop to get Maggie a doctor” turned into “Maggie and Sasha live at the Hilltop now,” seemingly indefinitely.  I could understand if they wanted to hang back a while while she recovered or got her strength back or whatever, but the flavor of their conversations with Jesus and Gregory seem to plainly indicate that their intention is to remain at Hilltop for the long run.  As much as this group has talked about family and helping each other and all that shit, I just can’t understand Maggie and Sasha’s sudden willingness – nay, desire, to remain in Hilltop and leave Alexandria behind, especially without even a word edgewise.

And while we’re on the subject, we’ve got a similar situation going on over at the Kingdom.  Back at the beginning of that episode, Morgan mentioned to Carol that they should stay a week or so while she recovers from her 2 gunshots.  First of all, Carol recovers remarkably quickly from a bullet to the arm and another to the leg, and we know that large amounts of time aren’t passing because of Negan’s weekly visits to Alexandria – the whole first half of this season seems to occur over the course of about 2 weeks.

Anyway, after throwing enough fits, Morgan escorts Carol to the abandoned house outside of but near the Kingdom.  Now then, with Carol obviously capable of caring for herself and Ezekiel looking after her besides, why the fuck doesn’t Morgan promptly return to Alexandria with the news, “hey everyone, there’s this whole other community full of decent people not too far away and they’re receiving regular bitchslaps from the Saviors as well!”  I mean not only would this be the decent thing to do as a member of this “familial unit” but it may also prove to be valuable strategic knowledge that could directly impact the safety of its residents.  Why the hell is he milling around the Kingdom eating pomegranates and smiling at the sun or what the hell ever?  It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  I get that the writers are trying to set up something, but they can’t just scatter our little group willy nilly and suddenly act like they don’t give a shit about their comrades or if their people have a fucking clue where they are, if they’re alive, dead, whatever.  We could at least be given a few lines of dialog as to why they’re not returning to Alexandria.  So far this is something that has really really bothered me about the season.  It just doesn’t seem like these characters would vanish without a good reason and without letting their group know…it just seems wildly uncharacteristic and like the writers are outright forcing them into these situations without valid reasoning.

Going into episode 6 we’ve got to move forward, at least a little bit, right?  RIGHT!?  Oh no, wait, there’s that girl…and that dude..who somewhat inexplicably hit the road for 2 weeks in search of supplies.  Why Tara and Heath of all people?  Why didn’t a more competent fight – and a more seasoned scavenger for that matter – accompany them or hell, go instead?  Who knows.  It was weird when they mentioned it way back in Season 6 and it still doesn’t make any damn sense.  The 2 most elite members of the A-team (Rick and Daryl) go out on a sorghum run, yet the timid Tara who’s spent a large part of the outbreak in a dark apartment and relative newcomer Heath who’s lived in the relative comfort and safety behind Alexandria’s walls up until the past couple of months are the sole members of this 2 week expedition…?  Methinks this decision was made with a shrug and out of convenience, and I don’t like it, but that’s the way it is.

We catch up with half of the inept duo, washed up on a beach somewhere.  Long story short we’re introduced to the rather odd community of Oceanside…at lest that’s what Wikipedia calls it; as of the mid-season finale, I don’t think it’s been given an official name on the show.  Through one contrivance or another, Tara manages to be like, the only stranger ever not to be shot on sight by this community of, strangely enough, nothing but women and girls.  (Is it just me or is there something ironic about them (lots o’ women) living at the coast and having an endless supply of fish!?)

I don’t know which was more uninteresting: an episode revolving solely around Tara or this fucking Oceanside establishment.  We lost people blah blah, times are hard blah blah, I hope you understand why we can’t trust strangers, blah blah blah fucking blah.  It seems purely like Oceanside is a source of cannon fodder for whatever is going to happen with Negan.  Far too late into the episode do we finally find out that the Saviors murdered all the men and the remaining survivors fled and established the current settlement.  This is of course after they pretended to be cool with releasing Tara and then trying to kill her, something which I’m still not sure I completely understand.  Tara is assisted by a sympathetic member of the group who makes her swear not to tell anyone about the community; Tara eventually makes it back to Alexandria only to find out all the horrible news: her girlfriend’s dead, Ford is dead, Glenn is dead, and the camp now inks out a living under the tyrannical rule of Negan.  Whoopee.  You’d think after all this she would’ve at least confided in someone about Oceanside – maybe not Rosita as she was at the time – but at least someone.  Hell, at least she came back.

We also get a snippet into Tara’s 2 week excursion with Heath, which was far less interesting than it should’ve been.  Basically they didn’t find shit, found an abandoned camp on a bridge (which by the way was a really cool place / idea for an encampment and I would’ve loved to see more of it), and then – not totally unexpectedly – their novice post-apocalyptic survival skills put them smack in the middle of a zombie attack.  And after all that we still have no idea what the hell happened to Heath.  I guess he discovered another settlement, haha.  No but seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised.

I’m ok suspending disbelief, really, I am, but I think it’s a little too convenient that within the span of what must be only a couple of weeks our group has suddenly discovered 4 additional settlements.  Throughout all their travels from Atlanta to whether they are in Virginia they never ran across anything remotely resembling a permanent settlement or long-term community except for Woodbury, Terminus, and maybe that hospital, though I question how permanent that arrangement really was.  More than that though, I can’t understand how the scouts and runners for Alexandria didn’t discover these places, or at least a hint of their existence.  And for that matter, how come none of these places discovered Alexandria?  We’ve yet to find out if any of these places knew about each other (excluding the Saviors, obviously) but so far there’s no indication that the Hilltop, the Kingdom, or the residents of the former or current Oceanside have any awareness of each other.  I’m not questioning the existence of the communities themselves, I just think it’s unlikely for the Alexandrians to encounter 4 of them for the first time in 2(ish) short weeks.

At this point we’ve been diverted every which way – the Hilltop, the Sanctuary, Oceanside…and we really haven’t made much headway going into the penultimate episode of the season’s first half.  Episode 7 is still mostly exposition, though we get a semi-insightful glimpse of the world that is the Sanctuary.  We’re also treated to one of the most balls-to-the-wall moments of the entire series thus far: Carl mowing down a couple of Negan’s men and 110% ready to keep unloading.  Jesus and Carl have both trailed the Saviors back to their home compound, with Jesus choosing to remain hidden while Carl goes into full blown MDK mode.

Carl’s behavior also brings up an interesting point that I alluded to in my Season 6 post concerning Negan’s methods of control.  See, the problem with Negan’s brand of cruelty is that he leaves his subjects with nothing left to lose, which in turn will lead to revolts of the most fervent, determined, and bloody kind.  It would seem to me that people in the midst of this amount of suffering would be so miserable that losing their lives in service of at least trying to break free would be the way to go.  If they die then so what?  Negan has made their lives so fearful and meaningless that they truly have nothing left to lose. This is exactly how Carl acts, and why he’s the only one is beyond me, especially after seeing how downtrodden and afraid and broken the residents of the Sanctuary truly are.  You can’t sustain a rule with violence and fear for very long.  There is only so much pain and suffering that a human will endure before they’re willing to try anything, at any cost, to alleviate this pain.  Maybe this is what we’re building up to – Dwight’s looks of dissention certainly seem to suggest something in the ballpark – but even so, Negan seems to have operated for a very long time, leaving me to wonder how he maintained his rule for so long.

Anyway, the episode tries to gradually build tension throughout Carl’s guided tour (with Negan as the tour guide) of the Saviors’ home, though for some reason I never really got the impression that Carl’s life was in any danger.  Now what Negan might do to the other Alexandrians, well, that’s another story and certainly something worth dreading, but as far as Carl himself, I felt pretty confident that he’d skate through the encounter somehow.

I will say that despite the episode’s shortcomings, it was a great, nay, fantastic showcase for Carl’s character, a guy who’s been mostly relegated to awkward and confounding encounters with the why-the-hell-are-you-here Enid.  Being a young kid at the show’s onset, it was tough to give Carl meaningful arcs or development and he mostly served as a foil for Rick and Lori.  As he’s gotten older though, he’s definitely grown into his character a bit more, and never is that more evident than here in “Sing Me a Song.”

We’ve already established his ultimate badassery via the act of fearlessly popping up out of the truck with a fucking machine gun and pulling the trigger without a shred of hesitation, but there’s another great moment up in Negan’s office (or lounge or whatever) where Carl proves he’s got balls big enough for a dumptruck.  I don’t remember the dialog verbatim, but at one point he calls Negan’s bluff about hurting him and proclaims that if he was smart he’d kill him and Rick right now.  And he’s not just being young and dumb and posturing – he is scared, he is rattled, and he is concerned about the repercussions of his actions, but he’s saying this shit anyway, which is worth about a million points in my book.  What will perhaps go down as one of the greatest lines ever uttered throughout the series (along with Abe’s “suck my nuts” mid-execution) is Carl’s vitriol-filled response to Negan’s, “what do you think I should do with you?” to which Carl retorts, “I think you should jump out of that window and save me the trouble of killing you,” delivered with all the venom and hatred that this post-apocalyptic world has to offer.  BAM.  It don’t get much more badass than that.  Daryl, you’ve got some competition.  I’m not sure Negan quite takes Carl seriously, but I like to believe I detected the tiniest bit of anxiety in his face…I like to think that at least some small part of him was shaken by Carl’s cold, nigh psychotic suggestion.  Ultimately I suspect that Negan will get his comeuppance; I can only hope it’s at the hands of Carl by way of Lucille, and that the event doesn’t scar Carl too much and make him all withdrawn and mopey for a season.  I hope he walks away from Negan’s shattered cranium with his head held high, fully aware that his actions will ripple (for the better) across whatever immediate future there is for the area.  Ol’ “One-Eyed Carl” will definitely be a bright spot worth paying attention to as the seasons wear on.

Although we do learn a little bit more about the Saviors, particularly that they live under the same oppression as the other communities, if not worse, it’s still just a big ol’ dose of Negan talking and talking and talking and talking.  Perhaps most importantly we’re witness to a punishment known as “the iron,” and thereby clued in to the reason behind Dwight’s gruesome disfigurement.  I realize that Dwight’s been built up to sort of be Daryl’s nemesis ever since their first encounter, way back in pre-Savior days, but the writers also seem to be setting the stage for Dwight to play a crucial role in the inevitable uprising against Negan.  The real suspense in this episode happens as Negan escorts Carl back to Alexandria…but then he just talks and talks and talks some more.  It’s not all bad necessarily, there’s just too much time and focus dedicated to how charismatically twisted Negan is.  I think it’d be more productive if he let go of his schtick for just a moment and really clue us in to why he is the way he is and what he’s really trying to prove or accomplish beyond being a power-mad sociopath (and maybe that’s all he is).  

I mean even back in the days of the Governor, at least he did some good amidst whatever issues he had.  He had his dark side and his cronies and Merle on hand to take out the trash, but he wasn’t simply depraved for the sake of being depraved.  He built something.  And then he actually built something again.  There was definitely a piece of his brain dedicated to being a crazy shit, but he also did a lot of what he did because he thought it was the right thing to do and because he was genuinely interested in protecting his people and creating a purposeful life for them.  Does Negan actually think he’s building something or accomplishing anything?  Was he the product of some other tyrant or has he always been this way?  Was he ever the victim?  Is there anything or anyone he genuinely cares about?  Is there really any purpose behind this rampant acquisition and exploitation beyond his instant gratification?  These are all things that would give Negan a lot more depth and make his copious amounts of screen time far more justifiable.  Maybe we’ll learn more.  I hope so.  Right now he’s basically the devil incarnate, and while that may account for some quick thrills, pure evil isn’t all that interesting.

Ok, deep breath, mid-season finale…is this too gonna fizzle out or will we finally be propelled into something other than Negan bitch-dom or some new group of shacks and shanties and another cadre of scared-as-hell survivors?  In a nutshell, this is easily the best episode of the season thus far, though that’s not necessarily high praise.

We pick up where the previous episode left off and watch the group splinter even further: Michonne goes out on her own, Spencer ventures out, Rick and Aaron desperately seek supplies for Negan, and Rosita berates Eugene in taking her to the machinist shop to make her a single bullet.  It’s kind of a lot to keep up with but ultimately I think the episode reconciles these threads well enough – certainly better than they have in quite a while.

Rick and Aaron provide us with the most interesting sojourn whereby they track down a now-dead survivor’s cache of supplies.  The problem?  They’re all loaded onto a boat on the other side of the pond…a pond filled with anchored zombies.  Lo and behold there’s a boat at the shore…but it’s been riddled with bullet holes.  This is tangential and a minor point, but I never understood Rick and Aaron’s approach to using the small boat.  Their strategy was to go as fast as possible and hopefully cross the relatively short yet treacherous distance to the larger boat full of supplies.  Using pieces of wood they row and do alright until about the halfway point where they’re almost overtaken by zombies, Aaron falls into the water and is nearly killed.  What I don’t understand is why didn’t the guy in the rear row slowly and more cautiously while the guy in front killed upcoming zombies and bailed water out in the meantime.  At the slow rate that the boat was filling with water, someone continually bailing out water would’ve been able to keep it afloat indefinitely.  I mean it doesn’t really matter since they were able to collect the supplies without injury, it just seemed like one of those situations that could’ve been handled much more safely.

Beyond that though, I don’t understand why they didn’t just walk around the pond and get at the boat from the other end.  We see the mysterious mis-matched boot man peering from behind, and it’s easy to see that the pond wouldn’t have taken more than a few minutes to walk around.  Regardless, I did kinda like the idea of a boat as a supply cache in the middle of a pond “guarded” by anchored zombies.  

Back at home in Alexandria the vibe is as nervous as ever as Negan continues his psychological torment of Carl and Olivia.  (I would include Judith, but obviously she’s too young to have any clue what’s going on.)  And just then big dick Spencer waltzes on over with some liquor in an obvious attempt to curry favor with Negan.  Initially I thought the guy had come around and finally grown a brain and was trying to work some kind of angle, but then he just threw all his cards on the table and basically asks Negan to kill Rick and put him in charge instead.  At first Negan seems agreeable, but I knew better.  (Finally I had an accurate prediction!)  Negan makes 2 excellent points, 1) Rick is the one out there “swallowing his hate” and getting shit done, and 2) if Spencer wants to be in charge so bad, why doesn’t he just kill Rick himself and take charge?  Once it was apparent that Negan saw Spencer for who he really was – a coward – we pretty much know what’s going to happen next, though I will say that I didn’t think it’d be so graphic.

So Spencer is dead, but who really gives a shit?  You’d think that the death of his brother, then his dad, and then his mother would’ve made him into something more than the naive little flake that he was, but no.  I’m not saying I’m glad he died necessarily, but I am glad the writers smartly handled his attempted betrayal via Negan.  I’m impressed that the writers actually gave Negan the capacity to see through Spencer’s pandering instead of some weird situation where we have Negan very openly on Rick’s ass and Spencer behind the scenes trying to subvert Rick’s every move.  One important thing about this scene is that it shows us that Negan is not a diplomat nor interested in diplomacy.  He recognizes Rick’s value as a survivor in this world versus Spencer’s, and chooses this productive enemy over any type of superficial cordiality with Spencer.  Good for you, Negan. I guess.  Sortta.

Directly following the “Evisceration of Spencer,” Rosita throws all her chickens in her only basket and pulls the trigger.  By the magic of television, the bullet strikes Lucille but clearly scares the shit out of Negan.  Some random crony is ready to carve up Rosita’s face, but in true Savior fashion, Negan shows people that it isn’t themselves that will suffer for their own actions, rather it is the innocent that will endure the consequences.  For whatever reason the lady-thug decides to off Olivia, who joins Denise and Deanna and Noah and Jessie and others as a casualty of background-character-who-we-sort-of-start-getting-to-know-gets-killed syndrome.  Oh well.  I seriously thought Rosita was going to get the bat since she seems to have outlived her usefulness.

Now what happens next is 1,000,000,000% perplexing: not only does Negan decide to inspect the casing from the spent round, but he also has a keen enough knowledge of guns n’ ammo to detect that the bullet was clandestinely fashioned.  This seems extremely far-fetched to me, and I’m not sure I even really understand the point of it other than to kidnap Eugene and show us that Eugene has grown a pair when he admits to making the bullet after Tara falsely confesses…then again, hasn’t the show been intent on updating us on the status of Eugene’s usefulness every 4 or 5 episodes…?  Why this?  Why now?

I know that the Saviors cleared out Alexandria’s armory and that having a bullet fired at him would be reason to be suspicious, but at the same time, is it really so hard to believe that Rosita managed to find a gun (and a bullet) while scavenging?  Is “let me inspect this spent casing” really the first thing that runs through his head after being shot at?  When he asks himself where someone got the firearm and the ammo is the first possibility his mind shoots to really, “hmm I bet someone made this damn bullet!”  Did someone make the damn gun too?  He doesn’t seem all that concerned with where she got the actual gun from.  And seriously, how the fuck does he enough to distinguish a homemade bullet?  Had we been treated to a scene or two where it was previously established that Negan had some sort of elaborate knowledge of firearms I could swallow the pill a little easier, but no, right out of the clear blue he’s certain that someone made a bullet.  Whatever.  You get the point.  Couldn’t Negan have nabbed Eugene for some other reason?  Hell, does he even need a reason?

The most significant moments of “Hearts Still Beating” occur as the episode begins to wind down.  Daryl escapes with the aid of Jesus, savagely murdering a scared fat guy who gives us a shred of enlightenment when he pleads, “I’m just tryin’ to get by man, just like you!”  Daryl is understandably beyond all appeals of reason from these people (hence the skull-busting) though I did kinda feel bad for the fat fella.

Also of import is Richard’s (one of Ezekiel’s main soldiers, like the Kingdom’s head of security or something) pitch to Carol and Morgan regarding the Saviors.  The 2 communities seem to be at odds with each other a lot less than the Saviors’ other subordinate settlements, yet the relationship appears tenuous based on the exchange we saw back in “The Well.”  Richard evidently recognizes the volatility of the Saviors and the inevitability that relations will sour and seeks to act proactively despite Ezekiel’s passive and placating nature.  He needs warriors behind him, and he needs help in convincing Ezekiel to go to war.  Carol goes into full-on bitch-mode without a shred of regard or concern for basically anyone, refusing almost to the point of stubbornness.  

Meanwhile, Morgan is so goddamned in love with every scrap of life that he fails to even make any sense, espousing his philosophy to the point of ridiculousness by saying pretentious shit like, “you don’t have to kill them, you just think you have to,” or something of equal flavor and devoid of practical meaning.  I don’t quite get it to be honest, and it almost seems like Morgan is of the impression that just because he doesn’t want to kill someone means that they won’t kill him.  Or all these other folks he claims to give a shit about.  Then as an enraged and dejected Richard departs, Morgan and Carol manage to get into the same tired altercation where Carol just covers her ears and shuts her eyes and shouts, “leave me alone!” until the room is clear.  (That doesn’t literally happen, I’m just so sick of it and her one-track mind.)  It’s a shame because I really thought the vaguely philosophical banter between Morgan and Carol would lead to some interesting conclusions, but all it’s done is spiral into the same tired and ultimately meaningless cyclical gridlock.

Richard then goes and has a Governor-esque moment in his hidden camper full of what I assume to be off-the-record supplies…not really sure what all that’s about but I’m pulling for him and he’s got the sort of mindset that’ll really jumpstart this played out “Negan will fuck your ass up” storyline.  And judging by the previews for the second half of the season he won’t be alone for long.  But he’ll probably die before long, since that’s what happens to tertiary characters right about the time you learn their name and they become a recognizable face.

Then there’s the matter of Michonne, who without hardly breaking a sweat learns where the Sanctuary is.  And then she kills the bitch that drove her there in straight up cold blood.  But she does gain some valuable tactical info about the Saviors, which is a hell of a lot more than anyone else has managed.  She comes home to an absolutely shattered version of Rick (the 2 appear to have gotten pretty serious about each other) and somehow, between her almost anti-inspirational speech about the behemoth that is the Saviors and Rick’s crushing psychological dismantling at the hands of Negan, convinces our fearless leader that the time for war has come.  The A-team marches up to the Hilltop and lucky for them, Sasha, Maggie, and Jesus have all come to a similar conclusion.  Daryl is finally reunited with the group and you know damn well he’s ready to slit the throats of any and every warm body in the Sanctuary. They’ve also got an ally in Richard who’s over in his camper breaking bottles and crying, they just don’t know it yet.  At this point it looks like Oceanside wants to do anything but fight, plus no one knows about them save for Tara anyway, though I think it’s apparent that they’ll somehow be drawn into the coming conflict.

And so the halfway point wraps on an inspirational, borderline uplifting note.  The promise of action seems inherent, but The Walking Dead has a weird way of putting off honest to goodness action and narrative momentum so I’ll try to temper my expectations.  We still don’t know what happened to Heath (do we care…?) and Eugene’s fate is anything but certain (seriously though, how many times can we watch the poor guy oscillate between blubbering weiner and doing something requiring balls…) but otherwise this was a mostly satisfying mid-season finale and a welcome change from the bullshit cliffhangers we’ve become all too accustomed to.

The dead returns on February 12th, and hopefully I’ll be in a position (and remember) to at least catch the encore or encore-encore broadcast.  Overall this hasn’t been the best of front-half seasons, though I wouldn’t consider it a failure, just paced a little too oddly for its own good.  Maybe instead of devoting an episode to the Kingdom, and then another to Alexandria, and then another to Hilltop, and then another to Oceanside, TWD could take 2 or 3 of them an alternate between storylines in a single episode – shows do it all the time.  We get a segment of Alexandria, cut to commercial, come back to Oceanside, and so on.  I feel like this would do a lot to alleviate the choppy, disconnected feeling of the series at this point, and it would also provide some padding for plot threads like those of Oceanside (the episode “Swear”) where we don’t really have a strong lead to adequately carry the show.  As an example, regardless of what you think of Alana Masterson’s acting abilities, it’s just plain fact that Tara doesn’t have enough of an emotional rapport with the audience to carry her own episode.  Conversely, Morgan and Carol are certainly able to do just that, yet fail to (back in “The Well”) because of how the episode is written.  The limitations of TV actually become more apparent when the show hedges all its bets like this, and I sincerely hope that this doesn’t happen again.  They did the same shit back in Season 4 with the journey to Terminus; it was frustrating to watch then and it’s frustrating to watch now.

I liken it to different subjects in school.  In a given 6-ish hour day you go to something like 4 to 6 different classes…stuff like math, English, history, science, music, art, and so on.  What if Mondays were all about math.  You get to school and for 6 straight hours you’re bombarded with nothing but math.  Then comes Tuesday and you’ve gotta study history for 6 hours, and so on.  Now if you really love math, Mondays are going to be fucking awesome for you.  But if you absolutely abhor history, Tuesdays are going to be one long ass unforgiving hell.  The alternative?  Why not study each subject for an hour every day?  Every morning you’ve got an hour of math, and then an hour of science, and then an hour of history, etc.  Sure, you only get to study what you love for an hour of a day, but a) at least you get a little bit of what you really enjoy everyday instead of once a week, and b) that history class that you really can’t stand only lasts an hour.  No matter how bad it is, you’re only 59 minutes away from reprieve, which I think we can all agree is a hell of a lot better than 359 minutes.

There’s another advantage to smaller daily doses as well.  If you’re doing English and only English on Wednesdays, you may cover a lot of ground, but how much of that is going to stick from then all the way until the following Wednesday?  Not only are you dealing with whatever volume of material that can be stuffed into 6 hours, you’ve got to retain this massive block of information for 7 days and in the midst of 6-hour chunks of all sorts of other information!  See what I’m saying?  Now if you approach it the other way, you’ve got a lot less information to hang on to and a lot less time that you’re forced to retain it.

In case my point wasn’t crystal clear by now, I’m saying that devoting entire episodes to a single thread is detrimental to the viewing experience and may actually hurt one’s view of the show.  If, for example, you really just can’t get behind and identify with Tara’s character, then the entire episode of “Swear” is going to be a complete and utter bust for you.  It’s also a jolt to be forced to re-acclimate to a different setting every episode too.  “Ok, so we’re back in Alexandria…wait, what happened last time?  Is so-and-so still here?  Does so-and-so know that such-and-such happened?”  It can be tough to recall the finer details and plot points of past episodes, especially considering that, if you watch it as it airs, it may be 3 or 4 weeks between appearances by a certain character.  So c’mon folks, delegate these stories properly between episodes; if you ask me, this whole method of singularly focusing on a single situation per episode is kinda…well…lazy.

Finally, the other aspect that’s held this half-a-season back is the lack of emotional depth and/or character development regarding our Big Bad.  I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again (and so have others):  Negan’s endless chatter gets fucking boring.  “Less is more” would’ve been an appropriate philosophy when approaching the portrayal of Negan.  His peculiar brand of jovial ruthlessness would make much more of an impression if his monologues were used sporadically and to punctuate certain events rather than outright carry them.  The simple fact is that Negan is a victim of over-exposure.  Now were he an actual person this wouldn’t be so bad, because ideally all this time we spend with him would reveal multiple layers to his personality.  But we never really get to this point.  I also said earlier that Negan is little more than evil for the sake of evil, and while disturbing, it still gets old because all we really see is that he’s doing awful shit because he enjoys doing awful shit and will continue to do so.  He is a very static character in all regards and I feel like this is/was a grievous error committed by the writers. 

It is possible that the latter half of Season 7 can help make up for the lackluster experience of wading through the former half, but we’ll have to see some damn crafty work.  There ain’t room for more than 1 or 2 duds…no more of these hard breaks between threads and lots more advancement of the plot, whatever that may be.  One critic remarked that this first half was like “laying out all the pieces on the new chessboard” and that we “finally got to moving some of them around” going into the 7th episode “Sing Me a Song.”  This is a pretty accurate metaphor (if not a tad euphemistic) for what we’ve seen thus far, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this is a chess match worth watching.

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