On the last season of “The Walking Dead,” the show had presented viewers with the smallest glimmer of hope in the second half by showing us that, when the showrunners really put some thought into it, it’s able to maintain a satisfying arc that engages the audience and makes them care about what’s going to happen next. It may have only been a few episodes, but they proved it was still possible, even this late in the game. That’s not to mention the incredible episode that explored Morgan’s backstory in the first half, or the fact that the promising new villain was finally introduced at the very end of the season (albeit at the end of a bland and repetitive episode). All this is to say that there was still hope for the show, despite the fact that it’s merely been shuffling along for at least the last couple of years, content with very little in the way of character or plot development. Would season seven finally be the one that breaks the mold and shows us what this show can truly be?
When we last left our group of survivors, they were in quite the spot. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and several others had been captured by Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and were being punished for having killed several of the latter’s men. It is eventually revealed that it was Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) that Negan beat to death with his bat at the end of the last season. However, after Daryl (Norman Reedus) punches Negan in a blind rage, he retaliates by also killing Glenn (Steven Yeun). Once Rick and his people are completely subjugated, they are allowed to return to Alexandria (minus Daryl, who is taken as a hostage), but it is made perfectly clear that they will be giving a good portion of their supplies to The Saviors from now on, which necessitates going out and finding enough to meet the quota. However, it’s not long before rumblings of fighting back begin, and after a little more hardship along the way, Rick and his people finally decide that it’s time to do something about it.
To its credit, this latest season of “The Walking Dead” starts off on a pretty good note. The premiere is tense, gripping, and has you hanging on to see how Rick and co. are going to get out of this one (and this is despite the terrible decision last year to leave the first death as a cliffhanger). You could even say that this good note extends into the second episode, which has Carol (Melissa McBride) and Morgan (Lennie James) arriving at a colony known as “The Kingdom” and meeting King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and his people (including his awesome right-hand man Jerry (Cooper Andrews)).
However, it’s right after this that the show falls right back on its old ways, with very little in the way of plot and character development to be found. It’s fair to say that most of the remaining episodes are merely filler, stretching out a season that doesn’t have nearly enough material to fill an entire 16 episodes. That’s not to say that they’re all bad episodes, for even within the other 14, there are 2-3 good ones to be found, even among the filler.
Take for instance, the seventh episode, “Sing Me a Song,” which has Rick’s son Carl (Chandler Riggs) getting captured after a botched assassination attempt. The episode serves no practical purpose, and yet, it’s still fascinating to watch just for the sheer awkwardness of having Negan show Carl around his compound, with his intentions never being clear throughout the entire ordeal. Or take episode 13, “Bury Me Here,” which has a member of The Kingdom attempting to sacrifice himself to spark a war with Negan (which King Ezekiel has decided against). There’s a great amount of character development to be found here, especially with Morgan (he always seems to get the best episodes), once again giving you a taste of what the show is like when its most important elements are front and center.
Even the season finale ended up being mostly-satisfactory. It may contain a number of repetitive scenes, and a completely unnecessary series of flashbacks that was merely an excuse to bring back a character one more time, but there’s a fair amount of spectacle involved when it comes to the big confrontation, and as I’ve said a few times before, if the show is not going to focus on the fundamental elements, then it should at least be entertaining.
Looking at the season as a whole, though, that leaves a multitude of episodes that just didn’t cut it. When we have to watch entire episodes focusing on things like Daryl sitting in a cell, Negan showing up early and raiding Alexandria, an unimportant character finding a bland community living in the woods, or Rick and Michonne (Danai Gurira) going out and looking for guns, then you can clearly see the desperate lengths that the showrunners are going to to fill up their entire 16-episode season. It’s become more than obvious for the last few seasons now that they simply don’t need that many, and that the sensible thing to do would be to chop it down to a more reasonable number like ten, thereby forcing them to concentrate on what matters most and leaving out all of the filler that the show desperately needs to lose.
Season six had indeed been a step in the right direction, what with nearly half the episodes actually contributing to getting the show moving in some way, but here in season seven, we find that number reduced once again, showing that it still has a long way to go before it can get up to a satisfactory level. We’ve already heard promises from those in charge saying that season eight will unfold at a much faster pace, which doesn’t really say much in regards to the narrative or characters, but perhaps they mean to rely on sheer entertainment alone to give it the kick-start it needs. After all, with an arc called “All-Out War,” what else would you expect? Season seven may have been a major letdown, but perhaps there’s something grand right around the corner. For the sake of the fans and everyone else still holding on, let’s hope it’s there. 2/4 stars.