For years, The Walking Dead comic book fans were waiting with anxious anticipation for the villainous Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to arrive on the scene and at the end of the show's sixth season, the fans got their wish. With it, of course, came the character's shocking and gruesome introductory murders, and what followed was an understandable amount of misery and suppression on all of the show's main heroes, as Negan proceeded to steamroll them at every opportunity. In fact, one of the biggest complaints that fans and critics through at the zombie series' current season was its overwhelming (some called it gratuitous) levels of darkness and violence.
However, it seemed like that darkness might be finally coming to an end when the series closed out the first half of its season late last year, as Andrew Lincoln's Rick Grimes finally decided he'd seen enough of Negan's tyranny, resolving to get his strength back and prepare to fight the villain once again. According to Lincoln too, it seems like that might only just be the beginning.
Speaking with EW, Lincoln talked about the season's upcoming tonal shift, attributing it to Rick and the others' decision to get up and try fighting Negan one more time, after being beaten repeatedly by the Saviors' leader, and almost losing everything they held dear in the first half of the season. Teasing "the thrill of the fight" in the new batch of episodes, Lincoln said:
“It’s probably the opposite of what you just witnessed. Certainly from Rick’s point of view. You see a man in action again with some of the members of his closest family. There’s a lot more levity, if you can believe that, than you’ve ever seen before in Mr. Grimes. There’s sort of a freedom in him, a feeling that comes from losing everything, and also the thrill of the fight. It’s the thrill of the fight again. He’s back in. All I’m saying is that the band is back together.
There are several episodes that I loved being involved in and it certainly feels very much more like a show that I knew and recognized in the back eight. I loved the episodes that I was in. It’s The Magnificent Seven in the back half. Rather, the magnificent eight episodes. Wait till [episode] 16. I promise you, there is one beat in 16, I dropped my script and started punching the air and did a little jig.”
This should come as a relief to the fans out there who were growing tired of the series' constant beating down of its protagonists, even if it did take even more unexpected deaths in the midseason finale for Rick to finally get his nerve back. Still, though, "levity" isn't a word that one would ever really associate with Rick Grimes as a character, and to hear Lincoln not only so excited about the season's remaining episodes, but about Rick's optimistic spirits and outlook as well, should mean a much-needed change of pace and tone in the second half of what has, so far, been a very dour season.
In addition to Rick's change in spirits, the second half of the season will also give the other communities outside of just Alexandria a much larger role and presence in the series than in the first half. This includes the Hilltop, and specifically, Ezekiel and his Kingdom, along with his pet tiger, Shiva. Many even consider Ezekiel's introduction to the series to be the season's best episode so far as well, so to see him and Rick Grimes working together in the new season should help to give The Walking Dead an interesting new dynamic to play with - especially as they all prep for their greatest battle yet.
The Walking Dead returns February 12th, 2017 on AMC.