The first half of The Walking Dead’s seventh season wrapped up last Sunday and if I’m being honest, it’s one of my least favorite half seasons in the entire show. As the show progresses, I find myself being all the more critical of it as we move into what was easily the best section of the comic book series. That being said, it wasn’t the absolute worst thing I’ve ever seen from the series (*ahem* Fear The Walking Dead season two). The first half of season seven exposed the biggest weaknesses of The Walking Dead but it also shined on what I believe to be the show’s biggest strength.
Show and Comic Spoilers ahead
Let’s just get this out of the way now, I’m not going to be discussing the premiere at all. I’ve made my feelings on the cliffhanger/premiere debacle known and it was absolutely something that has tainted my viewership of the show this season. So no, I can’t possibly be as objective here as I would like to be. But let’s start from the top.
Negan has been the focal point of a significant portion of anticipation for fans at this point in the series. I’m not alone when I say that Negan is my favorite character in the comics and the little taste we got from Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the season six finale had me really excited for him this season; it was one of the few reasons I was still interested coming into this season. But I’m in the minority when it comes to show Negan, from what I’ve seen amongst fans.
A significant amount of the reaction I see online is that fans love Jeffrey Dean Morgan because he’s nailed the role as perfectly as they imagined. I just don’t see it. Maybe it was my perception of Negan and how I saw him in my head, but I find Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s portrayal of Negan to be incredibly annoying. The way he delivers the lines and the way he rocks back on his knees when he emphasizes the big words of every sentence he says just irritate me. Negan was going to be a tricky case on tv because he’s an extremely comic-booky character but this has gone to the next level. Not even Ezekiel ended up being this bad. I find Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan to be more tiring and irritating to watch than anything else, especially when he was given more screen time than just about any other character so far in 7a.
And it’s not just Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s portrayal of Negan that bugs me, it’s the writing. I’m not saying Negan was a saint in the comics but he never felt quite as vindictive and rapey as he does in the show. I’m particularly talking about the mattress burning and comments about Maggie in episode four. Maybe it’s because I haven’t read the comics in a while, but I don’t even remember Negan being like that and it bugs me.
Now it’s not all bad with Negan. I felt he was fine in the seventh episode with Carl in the Sanctuary; it didn’t feel as annoying as the rest of the episodes. So if Jeffrey Dean Morgan stops overacting and the writing can just stay in line with the character from the comics, I can start to like show Negan.
Andrew Lincoln is the best actor on this show and it’s not even close. I don’t care who it is, nobody should have more screen time than Rick over the course of a (half) season. Hell, Rick wasn’t even featured in half the episodes in 7a. You can tell that production designed 7a to effectively feature Negan as the main character because of how much fans were looking forward to his introduction to the series. They went out of their way to make sure Negan was in the spotlight to open the season. Look, I love Negan too, but there’s no justifiable reason you can possibly think of to shove Rick to the background of this show (for now).
My biggest complaint with Rick this season is that they’ve once again decided to send him back through the “broken” cycle. Rick completely caves to Negan, which mystifies me. Again, this felt like a way to really pump Negan to the top of the list this season. The whole “cutting Carl’s arm off” thing in the premiere, taking Daryl captive an excessive abuse of Rick felt like way too much to me and they used it to neuter Rick. Did we really have to see this happen to Rick again? What happened to the Rick Grimes we’ve all come to know and love?
In the comics, Rick puts on a face. He lies to the residents of Alexandria and pretends to be giving in to Negan’s control. But in the background, he’s scheming. He never has any true intentions to obey Negan. Some people held out hope that this was going to be the case (i.e. burying guns in fake graves) but it was too obviously not the case. Making Rick give up only for the rest of the group to rally together and motivate him to fight back was an incredibly frustrating and predictable plotline to watch play out. That’s not who Rick Grimes is.
Here we go again with the glaring weakness of pacing in this show. You come back from the finale and have the new big bad viciously murder two main characters, one of which has been with the group since episode one. Then you don’t show the immediate fallout from the killings and wait three episodes to show any follow up with the group?
Did we really need an entire episode once again debating Carol’s feelings and introducing the Kingdom? Did we really need to see an entire episode focused around Daryl sitting in a dark room listening to Easy Street? Did we really need an entire episode at the Hilltop? And my god, did we really need an entire episode about Tara introducing a fifth group (there’s a reason this one is now the lowest ranked episode of the series online)?
There are just so many questionable decisions when it comes to pacing with this show. The obsession this show has with bottle episodes is insane. A huge reason why the final two episodes of 7a were at least decent was because they integrated different plotlines together in one episode. We didn’t need an entire episode about Rick and Aaron on a run or Eugene and Rosita making bullets or Michonne out doing whatever. They could have merged some of these episodes early in the season together and created higher quality episodes or even created room for an additional episode somewhere. The 16 episode format hurts this show because often times, you get a handful of a good ones and the rest are all mediocre and/or unnecessary episodes. And the order of the episodes often times hurts the storytelling. It’s an incredibly frustrating way for a story to play out, particularly if you’re not binge watching the series.
Side note as it relates to character development. No, these episodes don’t count as quality character development. They largely end up being about 90% useless and maybe 10% of actual development, which is why you should be able to combine them together. Then you have cases like Heath, a great character in the comics, who was in a bottle episode and then didn’t even get any attention whatsoever. Tara is not a character that deserves a full episode and I still feel like this show has done a terrible job of integrating any new characters to the group other than Jesus or Aaron. Again, it’s frustrating to watch.
Now we get to the strength of this show. It should be incredibly obvious; a show with source material should stick to its source material. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same; you can change some things up. Some of the best things this show has done was changing up the source material a bit, like when Shane survived to Hershel’s farm or when the Hunters were turned into the Terminus arc. They haven’t hit on every one (I’m looking at you, Andrea) and I don’t like them all (i.e. Richonne) but the show does a good job overall of modifying the source material. What the show struggles with, is inventing its own material.
When this show deviates from the source material, I begin to get frustrated. The writing on this show is just not good enough for it. What the hell is with this Oceanside group? We don’t need another group. Just don’t make Rick give up the guns that Negan never took from him in the comics in the first place. Why do we always need the people in charge to get their fingers in the cookie jar? Take the source material, adapt it to the screen and make changes that you feel improve the material as you see fit. Episodes like “Sing Me a Song” are often the series’ best episodes because they primarily stick to the source material.
The comics became tough to follow at times because there was so much going on that it was hard to keep up with what was going on; and now they’re adding even more to the war for the show. My fear with this show is that they’re just pumping up the two sides so that they can kill a lot of people without having to kill as many of the main characters in the war for the show. The comics are pretty good for the most part; so if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Look, I’m pretty down on The Walking Dead right now and it’s pretty obvious to tell. I used to get all kinds of pumped up to watch this every Sunday night and now I don’t. But with the rest of the March to War arc coming up in 7b and All Out War coming in season eight, there’s still a lot to be excited for. I just hope the people in charge of this show will stop refusing to accept criticism and actually listen. I was so excited every time a new issue of All Out War came out that I went to Newbury Comics first thing so that I could read what happened next.
I don’t rip this show because I hate it, I rip it because it has so much potential and I feel like it’s being wasted on a product that’s not as good as it could be. The Walking Dead constantly fluctuates between stretches of really good and stretches of really mediocre. I want to feel that level of excitement again when the All Out War arc hits the show so please just do it right.