Review: The Walking Dead (Season 7)

The sci-fi television show, Falling Skies, was rubbish. The series, about a group of survivors in the aftermath of an alien invasion, was filled with sub-BBC CGI, leaden dialogue and average-at-best acting. I didn’t make it past the second episode before I realised I had (many) better things to do with my time.

At the time I also read a forum which had a whole thread dedicated to Falling Skies.   Those who posted – almost universally – hated it. They panned every episode, every plot twist, every stupid character decision. But something – maybe the initial time they invested, or maybe the forlorn hope it would improve – kept them coming back. Mostly, they pined for the day when the network would finally cancel it and they’d be put out of their misery, free again to watch something good.  It was my first experience of hate-watching.

Which brings me onto Season 7 of The Walking Dead.

The only reason I didn’t throw in the towel this year was for one of the aforementioned reasons those poor souls stuck with Falling Skies – I’ve spent so long with the show I want to see how it ends. But, by God, have they made it hard to keep going.

The final episodethe walking dead of a patchy season 6 offered something interesting, if not new; a nemesis for Rick Grimes. We’d had The Governor already, but the long-foreshadowed Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) had a swagger and a sense of unpredictability that made him seem more interesting.

Unfortunately, his debut appearance also marked his zenith.

Rather than the posturing towards Rick’s defeated group at the end of Season 6 being a front of sorts – a confident display of who’s boss – it transpires that it’s Negan’s entire personality. He is all posture; all swagger; all peacock. We are supposed to view Negan as the biggest, dangerous threat in the show’s history. Instead, Morgan’s performance is too cartoonish and too irritating to find terrifying. Sure, he does scary things like bashing in faces with a baseball bat, but he does it in-between quoting nursery rhymes and walking in that weird, hip-jiggling way he does.

It’s partly Morgan’s fault – he seems to acknowledge this by playing down some of the tics in the second half of the season – but the writing is poor too. There’s no depth to him; no sense of weakness or of who he is. He’s a 2D impression of a bad guy.

I’ve mentioned the writing and, even ignoring Negan, it is the worst it’s ever been. The Glenn fake-out in Season 6 was perhaps the most egregious mistake in the show’s history, and while nothing as bad’s been repeated in Season 7, it’s settled into a painful torpor.

This year, we’ve been introduced to a number of new colonies – Sanctuary, Oceanside, The Hilltop, The Kingdom, that Rubbish Tip – which all needed fleshing out. Leaving aside the bizarre geography of The Walking Dead – how can these places all be so close but never been aware of each other? – the writers spent much of the season focusing on individual outposts and individual characters for full episodes at a time. Sometimes it worked, like the first episode to be set in The Kingdom, but mostly it was a real slog. Thin characters would be drawn marginally thicker and often very little happened to propel the overall story forward.

Let’s look at Rosita as an example of the writing malaise the show’s found itself in: She was never a particularly well-drawn character, but the writers substantially beefed-up her screen time this season 7. And what did we get for that? A character now in a perma-sulk, who cannot shoot a guy from five yards and who makes a ludicrous kamikaze decision later on.  If you’re going to sacrifice plot propulsion at the expense of character development, at least make it a) interesting and b) semi-realistic.

Glacial – often stupid – plotting has been a major issue throughout The Walking Dead, but it’s never been as evident. The show’s strongest suit is its action and it’s criminal that it took 16 – 16! – episodes to get to the battle with Negan.

The show also seems to have a problem with it’s main character. I’ve always liked Andrew Lincoln and he’s done his best with Rick Grimes, but the show has floated so far from it’s moorings that Rick has become a problem. At one point, he was the brave, moral core of the show; he could be relied on to make the right decision. By this point though, Rick as a character is almost irredeemably tarnished. He’s made too many stupid mistakes and he’s made too many uneasy, dictatorial decisions to be the hero any more.

It would be fine if we were moving into Walter White territory but The Walking Dead has steadfastly refused to acknowledge this. In the show’s eyes he’s flawed, but inherently good. In reality, he’s an anti-hero closer now Negan than to Darryl or Glenn (RIP x 2). It’s so frustrating that, as a viewer, we can see it – and even some of the C-grade characters can see it! – but the show can’t, or doesn’t want to.

A sense that resolution is close would be a balm on the varied sores, but we’re not even given that relief. I read somewhere that the moment Eugene admits he’s not capable of developing a cure is the exact moment the show collapses. Since then, there’s been no forward movement; no sense of an ending. Things happen, but in a vaccum. If The Walking Dead was real life, there would be no neat, happy ending, but this is a television show – shows are supposed to end, one way or another.

We’re at a stage where Rick’s crew either find a way to a happy ending or die. As it is, we’re stuck in a post-apocalyptic Groundhog Day where Rick’s group find solace, face danger, beat the danger, find solace etc etc ad nauseam. For all Negan’s supposed danger, the audience know he’ll be beaten and replaced by Season 9. That’s not interesting.

Audience numbers would suggest that fans are losing interest and losing confidence, so maybe the showrunners will eventually cut their losses.

As it is, The Walking Dead is probably at its lowest ebb in it’s history.  It’s prediliction for cheap thrills, it’s incoherent, labourious plotting and writing and it’s reliance on unpopular characters has meant Season 8 will start with a minimum of goodwill.

Stray Observations:

  • Those Rubbish Tip  people were a weird addition, eh?  Why did they all speak in broken English? Their deception in the final episode was fairly fun, but they seem like they’re in the wrong show.
  • I did like King Ezekiel.  Initally it seemed completely stupid, but the backstory was a nice touch. And the CGI tiger isn’t too bad.
  • The writers seem to think their B-list characters are more beloved than they are. Abraham and Sasha’s relationship lasted about 15 minutes of screen-time, so making it a big deal in the final episode seemed odd.
  • Lennie James and Melissa McBride are still the best actors in the show.  Both did well with occasionally ropey material.
  • The guy who plays Eugene continues to be a terrible actor.

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