‘The Walking Dead’ Midseason Premiere Shambles Further from Series Roots

Late last year, when season seven of “The Walking Dead” began, I wrote a review proclaiming my confidence that the season might be one of the show’s best. Evidently, I was wrong. In fact, I was so disappointed that I joined what A.V. Club called “The Walking Dead Quitter’s Club.” But it’s a new year and nothing makes sense anymore, so I figured I’d tune in to the show’s midseason premiere.

The season began with Negan tearing down Rick Grimes and crew and pressing them violently into his service. Over the next seven episodes, Rick and crew bounce between outposts trying to gather support for an all-out war against Negan and his army (a brutal group ironically named The Saviors) while avoiding his ire.

We rejoin our heroes in the mansion at the Hilltop, the farming settlement whose plea for help incited the somewhat disjointed events of this season. After Gregory firmly rejects their proposal for rebellion and the townspeople heroically pledge their support anyway, the group makes their way to the Kingdom, where Maggie and Morgan have lived since the beginning of the season, to recruit soldiers of their own. In a single scene, Rick uses a combination of emotional appeal, inspirational words, and extended metaphor to try to convince the leader of that colony, King Ezekiel, to pledge his entire community to a (perhaps) unwinnable war and break a tenuous but safe peace with The Saviors. He claims to need the night to think, and indeed in the morning rejects their plea, but there are enough obvious cues to be sure that he—or his sympathetic general—is going to say yes before the season is over.

This kind of clichéd plot is what is so jarring about TWD’s seventh season: There’s a startling and sudden dearth of the realism that once made the show such compelling television. Whereas season seven has been mostly cloaked in a sense of invulnerability (there are, after all, a finite number of main characters kill), past seasons saw our heroes struggling for every scrap. In the first few seasons, Rick’s crew didn’t have anything handed to them for narrative convenience: Alliances were tenuous and broke easily, supplies were scarce, and danger was all around. Now, as they move into the relative safety of settlements, and the narrative moves to the larger scale of settlement-to-settlement aggression, the show has lost that sense of weight and consequence.

And it’s not just the larger themes of the show that have suffered—even individual scenes seem to lack a sense of dread. Why can the team disarm an explosive trap while a horde of zombies stumble ever closer, while the music warns of misfortune to come, when in the end everything works out? Why are Rick and Michonne able to miraculously start two defunct cars with a steel cable strung between them and slice their way through the horde to safety, pushing their way through a thick horde of zombies to settle comfortably into the seats? This kind of hubris would have resulted in some kind of punishment for the group earlier in the show’s history. As Michonne says, in a display of optimism that seems completely misplaced in the face of the show’s overarching theme—established by six seasons of critically acclaimed television—“You can smile…We’re the ones who live.”

—Crimson Staff Writer Noah F. Houghton can be reached at noah.houghton@thecrimson.com.

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