This has been a big year for The Walking Dead, from the introduction of the long-awaited Negan (portrayed by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), to Lucille’s kill in the brutal season 7 premiere, to Morgan and Carol’s discovery of the Kingdom, led by fan favorite King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) alongside his pet tiger Shiva. As far as world-building is concerned, this season is poised to be the biggest in overall scope. And though ratings have been slightly lower than usual, AMC seems to be doubling down on its faith in the show.

Fans of The Walking Dead have grown accustomed to extended episodes, and the show has already implemented that particular structure this season with episode 4’s ‘Service’ running nearly 90 minutes. Fortunately, there’s good news for fans of this format moving forward.

According to AMC’s online schedule (spotted by the folks at Heroic Hollywood) next week’s episode, ‘Swear,’ will run 10 minutes past its normal 60-minute runtime. The following week’s ‘Sing Me a Song’ will clock in at 90 total minutes, giving us two consecutive weeks of extended episodes. Factoring in the slight overrun of episodes 1 and 3, this season will have more extended episodes than any other.

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This development isn’t actually all that surprising when looking at the history of popular cable shows. FX’s Sons of Anarchy started out mostly adhering to its time frame and steadily built into longer and more elaborate episodes. With such a massive story this season, it was only a matter of time before AMC decided to take this approach with its most successful television show of all time. The fact that extended episodes allow more air time to advertisers makes it a win-win for the network.

If showrunner Scott Gimple can use the extra mileage to tell deeper and more intricate stories, this will only benefit The Walking Dead in the long-run. Given the mixed reception to Morgan’s Negan, this could also prove to be a prime opportunity to humanize the character a little more in skeptical fans eyes and hopefully allow them to warm up to the character as the season progresses.

Some fans may wonder if this is simply a cash grab on AMC’s part in an attempt to simply add more commercials and less substance. But given the show’s recent history of receiving better critical and fan reception as the season develops, it’s completely possible that Gimple will not squander the opportunity to make these extended episodes mean more to the overall narrative.

The Walking Dead returns this Sunday with ‘Go Getters’ at 9pm on AMC.

Source: AMC (via Heroic Hollywood)