A year ago, pretty much to the day, I spent a couple of hundred words discussing how television these days is no longer crafted to be watched on a weekly basis. In our world of boxsets and Netflix, binge-watching has become the conquering force in audience habits and, as such, series narratives have adapted accordingly. Season six of the international superhit The Walking Dead was the perfect example of this; when watched week by week, it was a slow, meandering mess, but in the course of a weekend, it was punchy, smart and perfectly crafted. After the tiresome slog that was this year’s output, I was looking forward to sitting down to season seven with a bright new outlook.
Alas, it’s been a hit-and-miss couple of days.
I should advise now that there are going to be SPOILERS ahead, so if you haven’t yet watched to the end of season seven, I would suggest turning away now.
You’ve been warned.
There has been a fair amount of grumbles from fans regarding season seven; “it’s far too violent now”, “how could they kill Glenn, and in such a disturbing way?”, blah blah blah.
The violence, in the world of The Walking Dead, has always existed. What we hadn’t seen before, however, is such sheer brutality doled out on a character that has been a part of the show since the very first episode. Losing Glenn was always going to tough; he was the first person (after Morgan) that Rick encountered after waking up from his coma. As Maggie says in her emotional closing narrative, without Glenn, none of this would have happened. And indeed, without losing Glenn, the show would not be moving forward in the fashion that it is. His death was necessary, the biggest shock, and the greatest drive required to actually strike back at Negan (eventually…). Couple this with the death of Abraham (possibly one of the most bizarrely beautiful deaths the show has ever presented us with), and we had an adrenaline-fuelled premiere that set us up for a great season ahead.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan may, at times, seem overtly clownish, but, when he gets it right, this tomfoolery, juxtaposed with his contemplated madness, is what makes him such a rich and watchable character, and certainly one of the most terrifying foes in this post-apocalyptic world.
So no. For me at least, the issue this year has not been the violence or the pantomiming. The issue has been pacing. The first half of the season, after such a build-up, separated our survivors, giving, rather than an engaging story, seven bottle episodes, some of which (Daryl in the Sanctuary, for example), were great, and some (Tara…), slightly more divisive. Even watching for a second time, the first half of the season slugs along like a donkey stuck in treacle, and it is not until the hilarious and shocking death of Spencer in the mid-season finale that things really start to pick up.
Because they do pick up. In the wake of losing the big guns, characters who have spent the last few seasons stuck pontificating in the background are givien the chance to take centre stage, and with great effect. Cristian Serratos is acting her socks off here as Rosita deals with the loss of Abraham, and her journey of loss is simply heartbreaking. Aaron, played so charmingly by Ross Marquand, has stepped into Glenn’s shoes to become Rick’s new right-hand man on scavenger missions, and, much like his predecessor, seems to get the rough end of the stick at every turn. Seth Gilliam’s Gabriel finally stands up to the plate after last season’s revelations, and has some of the best scenes in the season (his calling Spencer “a tremendous shit” was certainly my highlight of the year!), and the uncertainty of what the hell is going on with Eugene is amongst the biggest questions we’ve been left with.
And what of the new characters? JDM’s Negan has been met with mixed emotions, but hey, each to their own. We’ve also had Khary Payton’s Ezekiel, leader of the harmonious Kingdom, and owner of a freakin’ tiger. Ezekiel’s great, if not somewhat underused, and one can only hope that Payton’s screentime will be increased over the course of the next season (before inevitably being killed off soon after…). And then there’s the mysterious Jadis, played with aplomb by the amazing Pollyanna McIntosh. There’s a lot of speculation surrounding Jadis, apparently an “original” character to the TV series, leading a group of junkyard kids whose allegiances seem to go where the guns are. Comic book fans pose that this may be a reimagining of Alpha, the leader of the upcoming Whisperers. McIntosh refuses to speculate. Whether she is or not, Jadis is one of this season’s best newcomers.
The arc over the second half of the season is faster, it’s more paced. It’s the call to war. Having broken Rick, and indeed breaking up the entire group, in the first few episodes, 7B is all about readying the troops and rallying morale, hopefully setting the scene for some absolute bedlam when season eight begins in October. But it’s also a study of the effects of grief. In the longevity of the show, it will be Glenn’s death that will have the greater effect, but it is Abraham who has had the most immediate; in losing their physical rock, the troops are shaken, and their individual reactions are a fascinating look at different forms of coping. In Rosita, we have the rage. In Eugene, we have seen the desperation to find a new father figure, and the apparent cowardice that comes with siding with the alpha-male. And in Sasha, whose tight-rope walk between life and death has always been a trepid one, we finally see the fall from the big top.
More than ever, The Walking Dead is a show about the human condition, about how we would cope in a world without rules. But now there are rules. Negan’s rules. And heaven help anyone who should stand against them.
Season seven is very much a game of two halves, and, overall, it’s probably the weakest season of the show to date, Does this mean it’s bad? No. The worst icecream you’ve ever had is still icecream, and the worst season of one of the best shows on TV is still a decent watch. It’s the quiet before the storm.
Bring on season eight.
The Walking Dead Season 7 is available on Blu-ray and DVD on 25th September courtesy of Entertainment One
A limited edition Blu-ray pack including a “Spike Walker” statue will also be available from Zavvi.co.uk from 30th October
Created by: Frank Darabont
Prd: Christian Agypt
Scr: Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore
Starring: Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan, Chandler Riggs, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Michael Cudlitz, Lennie James, Sonequa Martin-Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alanna Masterson, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos, Seth Gilliam, Ross Marquand, Austin Nichols, Austin Amelio, Tom Payne, Xander Berkeley
Episode Run Time: 42mins
No. of Episodes: 16