The first half of The Walking Dead season 7 is over and with it, as always; joy, sorrow and some disappointment. Though for many Walking Dead fans, it’s a break we feel we deserve.
The following is a spoiler filled recap of the episodes that have aired so far, followed by some of my general musings.
Episode one, ‘The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be’ was, to use a one word summary would be ‘shocking’. While viewers were more than prepared for a character death, virtually no one saw the two deaths coming.
Readers of the comic book know how violent Negan can be and even those who’d only seen him in the previous episode will have gotten a feeling for his unforgiving nature, so perhaps it came as no surprise. Negan’s baseball bat, Lucille, takes Abraham first (who heartbreakingly makes a peace sign at Sasha moments before) and then after Daryl’s outburst, he kills Glenn.
This was one of the strongest episodes of the season, it flitted between the night of the deaths and Rick’s reaction the following day as Negan takes him out for a drive. Rick is shown as at his weakest and most exposed, an emotionally drained husk just like he was after Lori’s death.
Glenn’s death was painful, especially considering how much we were teased with his ‘death’ last season to the point where it almost felt gratuitous. Yeah, I know he dies in the comics, but considering the show diverts so far from the comic already, would it really have been harmful to keep him alive?
Then again, the point of the episode was to show how serious and dangerous Negan is, and in that respect it delivered. Evidence suggests Negan was always going to kill a second member of the group regardless of what Daryl did.
Episode Two, ‘The Well,’ was another strong episode with the return of Carol, Morgan and a much anticipated introduction to ‘King’ Ezekiel as they enter ‘The Kingdom’ another well-established community.
While I cannot wait for Carol to return to form along with the rest of the group (I know I am not alone in this) I think the portrayal of PTSD is important and the writers deserve credit for this.
Episode Three, ‘The Cell,’ this was a hard one to watch.
We already know from the small amount of backstory we have for Daryl that he was emotionally and physically abused by his father as a child and has never really known love, so watching this episode was really difficult.
Negan gives Daryl the opportunity to join the Saviours, but Daryl admits to Dwight that he refused as he is thinking of someone else. Ever the shipper I am, I like to think that it’s Carol but he could be referring to his ‘brother’ Rick, or Maggie considering he probably blames himself for Glenn’s death, or any number of his new family.
Episode Four, ‘Service,’ surprising absolutely no one in the audience, Negan and the Saviours arrive at Alexandria earlier than they had arranged, by days. During this visit they take half of Alexandria’s furniture, medicine, and all their firearms. Rick calls a meeting and explains how the rules have changed, he is no longer in charge… it’s Negan’s world now.
Eugene is at a loss when Rosita pleads with him to make a bullet.
Episode Five, ‘Go Getters,’ Carl and Enid head to Hilltop to visit Maggie who is recovering after Glenn’s death (episode one had me terrified she would lose the baby). Gregory finds out that the deal with the Saviours was broken and angrily demands that Maggie and Sasha leave, however Jesus steps in and persuades them to stay.
The Saviours arrive at Hilltop, Jesus climbs into one of their trucks to find out where Negan lives, fulfilling a promise to Sasha.
Episode Six, ‘Swear’ this had one of the lowest ratings of any Walking Dead episode, with many tuning out.
I feel this is a little unfair as overall it was compelling; following Tara who gets split up from Heath and comes across Oceanside: a secluded group. The group consists of only women and children; the men in the group were slaughtered by the Saviours. One of the girls in the group, Cyndie, defends Tara and helps her find her way back to Alexandria.
This comes at a price; Tara must swear to never mention Oceanside to anyone else.
I feel at the moment this episode seems almost irrelevant, providing little aside from character development for Tara, but nothing in The Walking Dead is there arbitrarily, we’ll be seeing Oceanside again.
Episode Seven, ‘Sing me a Song,’ is another of the season’s stronger episodes. It stayed with me due to Father Gabriel’s talk with Rosita about her potentially killing Negan.
“We’ll win, we need to wait for the right moment, or create it, together. And you’re a part of that together,”
I’m not crying.. you’re crying!
Jesus jumps off the Saviour’s truck, but Carl stays behind and opens fire on the Saviours, killing some of Negan’s men.
The plan fails overall but Negan is impressed by Carl’s audacity and gives him a tour round the Sanctuary. He also shows his more sadistic side when asking to see Carl’s eye socket. They then head back to Alexandria where Negan makes himself comfortable in Rick’s house and cuddles Judith while Olivia cooks. Meanwhile Rick and Aaron come across a cabin in the middle of a lake during a scouting session.
Episode 8, ‘Hearts Still Beating,’ gave us what we had been waiting for all season… a reunion!
Jesus helps Daryl escape from the Sanctuary. Rick and Aaron row across a lake to the cabin for supplies (we also see a glimpse of someone watching them from across the lake).
When they return to Alexandria, Aaron gets beaten up pretty badly by the Saviours. Spencer tries to cosy up to Negan, bad-mouthing Rick and in return Negan cuts Spencer open, remarking glibly afterwards, “You did have guts. I’ve never been so wrong before in my life”.
Rosita then shoots at Negan, but the bullet hits Lucille instead. Negan orders Arat to kill a member of the group, and she shoots Olivia.
Rick arrives with Eric and Aaron to the aftermath as Negan and the Saviours leave, taking Eugene as a hostage after he confesses to making the bullet. Rosita protests, trying to save him.
There is an emotional scene between Rick and Michonne, where she motivates him once again to become a leader and not give up the fight.
The group travels to the Hilltop and reunite with Maggie, Sasha and Enid. Jesus and Daryl then appear; seeing Daryl and Rick hug for the first time in ages was almost heartbreaking to watch.
And the acknowledgement that Maggie gives when she sees Daryl… the smile that curls up on her lips, tells us that she isn’t mad at Daryl for what he did.
Overall the season was off to a strong start and episode 8 was probably the best in the season, but what happened in the middle? It felt like biting into a pie that contains only air and pastry!
As its cast of characters grows The Walking Dead has developed a horrible habit of basing an entire episode around one character or one small character group.
Whilst this can work with Game of Thrones (where the source material was conceived that way anyhow), it doesn’t hold the audience’s attention in the same way here.
There are a lot of new characters, which again is comparable to Game of Thrones, but it works better in the sprawling land of Westeros because of the large scope and various settings… In the more intimate environs of TWD, we spend most of our time in one place, its hard to keep up (and frankly to care) as the roster expands.
King Ezekiel was amazing, I wanted to see more of him, and his interactions with Carol. Speaking of whom, Carol is barely in this season, and we went weeks without seeing Maggie, Sasha, Carl or Rosita…
While this season has opened up some interesting thematic questions regarding morality, blame, and how right and goodness can be determined in such extreme circumstances, the first half of the season did little to resolve this or deliver the character conflicts and resolutions I was longing for.
Maybe one of my biggest issues with The Walking Dead is that similar storylines keep reappearing again and again with the only variable being that each time the villain is bigger and badder.
We keep seeing characters who we’ve grown to love and who really don’t deserve anymore grief, get tortured relentlessly by charismatic, charming, sadistic villains.
This season the show received a lot of complaints due to its violent content. While I’m not sure what someone would be expecting from a show called The Walking Dead if they find violence so objectionable; the fact remains that if the show runners want to keep such high viewing numbers they need to be careful.
The first half of this season wasn’t at all bad, it just felt a little lacking just like Season 6. That being said; episode 8 gave me hope for the second half of the season.
‘Hearts still Beating’ that is what these characters are; it gives me hope for them, and the reunion with Rick injected some much-needed hope into the series.
At the end of 2016 that was a gift we all needed.
The Walking Dead returns to Fox in February.