Put the pros on one side of the scale and the cons on the other, and we are still left (after 7 seasons) with an entertaining and worthwhile show in The Walking Dead. But much like the walkers that shamble around the backroads and forests, the show itself is beginning to rot and is in danger of no longer resembling what we first fell in love with.
The Walking Dead, following a universally-derided season finale cliffhanger, staggered a bit in its follow-up when it really needed to deliver a knockout punch. What we were left with was an uneven season that waffled back and forth in tone and direction from one episode to the next; seeming desperate to cater more to the plummeting ratings and viewer demands than to any semblance of a creative vision. Now we are going to take a look at 15 Ways The Walking Dead Went Wrong in Season 7. There will be spoilers throughout, so make sure you’re okay with that before proceeding!
While it’s completely conceivable your favorite character isn’t one of the core members of Rick Grimes’ band of survivors, you still have to admit there are some undisputed ‘side’ characters in the group. Several members are high profile enough to have stuck around and given meaty speaking parts, but have never had their personalities fleshed out in meaningful enough ways to get you devastated if they die. That’s the point of these side characters: too expendable to love, too lovable to disregard.
What we were “treated” to in Season 7 was a parade of side character development that stuck out like a sore thumb. Father Gabriel went from simpering turncoat to badass gunslinger with a collar in the span of a few episodes-- and the character doesn’t wear it well (more on that later). The much criticized “Swear” episode tried to make Tara the weisenheimer of the group (it was hinted at in previous seasons, but was taken to the extreme in that episode). Sasha went out in an interesting way, but far too much time was spent on her inner turmoil. And then there was the saga of Rosita…
Speaking of emphasizing the wrong people in the wrong way, nothing was more indicative of season 7's problems than Rosita's character arc. Until halfway through Season 6, she was a complete afterthought on the show. For lack of a better term, she was window dressing; a pretty girl in pigtails and skimpy clothing that did little else but strut around and occasionally gank a zombie. Honestly it was pretty disappointing and even distasteful how little she was featured and how wooden she seemed. The only tempering factor was that she was never much more than that in the comics, either.
When Season 7 reared its decomposing head, the pendulum swung far too hard in the other direction, and showrunner Scott Gimple and the show’s writers worked with a religious fervor to breathe some life into the character of Rosita. Understandably, her character might lash out and seem hostile and bellicose; being forced to live in a world gone to hell many times over while having her own grief undercut by the tragedy of Sasha and Abraham’s ill-fated romance. The problem is that actress Christian Serratos never managed to sell surly, and was even less convincing when she swore in Spanish (just the once) as if to remind people that there’s more Latina in her than just her name.
It came on slowly… but as the march from bare bones survival toward thriving and rebuilding went on, there was more time for people to waste their breath catering more toward their own egos and grandiosity and inner monologists than to the collective good. Speeches like the ones we see in The Walking Dead might work for sports movies or Braveheart, but they seem out of place in the zombie-pocked South. It ruins the pacing of the show and often makes the characters giving the speech seem incongruous with the kind of person they are aside from the pep talks.
It seemed like we were out of the long-winded woods last season when Denise got an arrow through the eye mid-blab. It was as though the writers were saying, “We get it. We’ll get things back on track now. We’re sorry.” Unfortunately the pens that be couldn’t help themselves (even Season 6 didn’t stay speech-free), and there has been a slate of expository snooze sessions. The only thing these speeches have inspired in us is the desire to sleep.
The Walking Dead has done action before. There have been a variety of firefights or large scale action that have gone swimmingly in the past (or at least TV, non-HBO swimmingly). Clashes with Woodbury and at the prison seemed plausible (or at least TV, non-HBO plausible). That is why the beginning of “All Out War” between the Saviors and Rick’s group and all the other groups was so disappointing. “All Out War” is what the arc in the comics was called, by the way.
The action was poorly filmed, poorly acted, and wholly unconvincing. Forget for a second that all of the core members of Rick’s group survived the initial battle despite the fact that all of them had Scavenger guns trained on them before a single shot was fired… which is totally unbelievable in and of itself. The problem was in the pacing and movement. The problem was in the characters’ reactions to the recoil or the noise or the chaos of the moment. Never has a scene been more wanting for the shaky Saving Private Ryan camera effects to up the action quotient. We want to thank The Walking Dead for bringing us some action finally. We also want to rescind our thanks because the action was atrocious.
We want to make this clear from the start: we want to like and care about Heath. Heath seems like the sort of guy we can get behind-- skeptical and independent, but ultimately someone with a good heart and some well-placed sense of loyalty. The biggest problem with Heath has been a large flaw of the show in that we just don’t know enough about him. There is so little to go on that it’s difficult to have any sort of emotion for whatever happens to the man.
He played a supporting role in the Tara-centric “Swear” episode, and we still know so little about the guy. Making matters worse is that he disappeared to god-knows-where and no big deal was made of it. When Tara went back to the scene of her separation from Heath, she found what seemed to be tracks and blood, along with a white card with a hole-punch. On that card was a ‘PPP’ or maybe a ‘666’ upside-down. Tara took it, but never showed it to anyone on the show. She never really said anything about Heath on the show after getting back to Alexandria. Nobody really asked about him once Tara got back to them, either. Did the Scavengers take Heath? The Saviors? We don’t mind a mystery, but this is just a completely dropped plotline at this point since there was no payoff by the end of the season (and not even another hint to keep us invested headed into Season 8).
It’s rare, especially with a show this deep in, that a bit player (or seeming bit player) would be the breakout character of a whole season. The second episode of Season 7, though, introduced us to our newest obsession in Jerry. The bodyguard for King Ezekiel of The Kingdom, Jerry seems far too doughy and goofy and positive to have a place in the kill-or-be-killed post-apocalyptic future of The Walking Dead. The fact that he also serves as the bodyguard to the leader of a thriving community makes things extra confusing. Surely there must be more to this man than meets the eye.
We never really got to see anything come of it, though. Jerry, on all trips hither and thither, had an ax strapped to his back or in his hands-- implying that he might be an expert fighter with the weapon. Do we want to see a jolly and tubby guy kick zombie/Scavenger/Savior ass with a huge two-handed ax? You bet your sweet bippy we do! Thus far, though, we’ve only seen Jerry fight using a gun. Yawn. Here’s hoping that he goes full Paul Bunyan in several fights in Season 8.
The Walking Dead has been pretty damn good about not casting name talent for roles (and subsequently skyrocketing them to becoming name talent). Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan and Michael Cudlitz as Abraham were probably the two biggest exceptions to that trend. Most likely the third down on that list was Steven “Trevor from Grand Theft Auto V” Ogg as Negan’s lieutenant, Simon.
Given Ogg’s stature, especially amongst the gamer/’nerd’ contingent that likely has a significant amount of crossover with the show’s viewership, it seemed virtually assured that Simon would play a major role in the season after his unforgettable introduction in Season 6. Yet, as with so many things in Season 7, we were not given what we were hoping for. Simon did have some very good scenes in the season, to be sure. His chemistry with Xander Berkeley’s Gregory (another candidate for 3rd biggest name talent) is unmistakable and will hopefully be milked more as time goes on. But apart from a menacing trip to the Hilltop community after rolling out a zombie bait trap (a welded-shut car blaring music to attract walkers), Simon has yet to show how bad he truly can be.
Xander Berkeley’s portrayal of Hilltop leader Gregory is a magnetic one-- if only for how good Berkeley is at playing one of the most narcissistic and uncaring goobers of a leader that you could imagine. He hits all the low notes that we would expect to see in the caricature of a career politician. His main motivation seems to be self-preservation: of his life, his creature comforts, and of his stature.
While the character makes for an entertaining sort of live action cartoon character amid the mostly gloom and doom backdrop of the rest of the show, that’s almost exactly our problem with this. It is unfathomable that Gregory would still be in any position of power at this point in the apocalypse. It is fairly inconceivable that he’d even be alive at this point… especially since it comes out that he’s never even had to kill a single zombie before. That nobody, even in the relative quietude and safety of the Hilltop hadn’t challenged Gregory for the seat at the head of the table, is preposterous and one of the least believable things about a show in which dead people come back to life to feast on flesh.
This is a complaint that has carried over from the comic books, so don’t feel as though you’re missing out on some great truths here if you only watch the show. Paul “Jesus” Rovia is something of an enigma, and it doesn’t sit well with us that we don’t know what his deal is.
Like his nickname-sake, Jesus seems to be all about love and peace and togetherness. This doesn’t stop him, however, from having an infinite bag of survival tricks at his disposal. He is an accomplished thief, escape artist, confidence man, fighter, and diplomat. There does not appear to be any situation he cannot get out of. Who was this man before the zombies came? How does he know how to fight? How is he so talented at stealing or getting out of restraints? For that matter, with all his skills, why has he not been elected leader despite his own misgivings? There is time yet for some sort of explanation of Jesus’ backstory, but we are upset that this wasn’t one of the places the television show went that the comic didn’t. Somehow seeing this character translated to live action has made him seem even more implausible.
Father Gabriel was an interesting character. Holed up in his own church, broken by the shame of his own cowardice, Gabriel was a good litmus test to see how fall Rick’s group had fallen. That Rick and his crew would massacre Gareth and his Terminus friends inside the church was one of the more shocking/entertaining moments in the whole series. And when Gabriel attempted to betray the group to Deanna at Alexandria his simpering pariah status made the moments when he stepped up to protect baby Judith all the more powerful.
In Season 7, however, everything that made Gabriel a unique character in the world of zombie fiction has been erased. Redeemed, Gabriel decided to focus on learning how to fight, and has essentially abandoned being a man of the cloth. His role has become a racial stereotype that dispenses folksy wisdom peppered with an attitude the old Father Gabriel would have never copped to. When confronted by the Scavengers, he helped to broker a deal with them and Rick without flinching. When confronting the women of Oceanside, he was just another grimy guy with a gun (albeit with a collar on so we know which one he is). All this changes if he is the “little birdie” betraying Alexandria to Negan, but that is so completely far-fetched that it’s only worth mentioning in passing.
Possibly the worst episode of the season (which is saying a lot given all the stinkers) was “Say Yes”. Being forced to hunt for weapons to get the Scavengers to fight alongside Alexandria, Rick and Michonne ventured off together for some bonding time. The episode was aimless and meandering; accomplishing little to nothing. An episode-long road trip that did nothing to further the story of the show, a great deal of criticism has been deservedly piled on top of it.
The idea behind the episode was likely to show how deep the bond between Rick and Michonne had become, and how well-suited they are for one another. To show this, we are just shown them giggling together at inappropriate times that don’t match up with their personas otherwise (and getting busy in the sack). Apart from finding pudding we’re led to believe they’re all business except when exploring abandoned carnivals? Not likely. It is difficult to express how disappointed we were in this episode. We’d like our hour back.
There was a time when an extra long episode of The Walking Dead was a special treat to be hyped for and savored. This season, it felt more like a threat. The whole season felt as though it was holding its breath in between Negan killing Abraham and Glenn and “All Out War”. Yes, the show had to set up the dynamic of the other communities and build up how untenable life under the yoke of the Saviors truly was in order to make the march to war seem plausible. And yes, there were some really fantastic episodes this season that hearkened back to what we love about the show (our personal favorite was Carol getting all “gee golly gosh” in “The Well”). But for all that, it seemed completely counter-intuitive that the creatives would want to extend this season for any reason other than added advertising revenue.
A total of four (!!!) episodes had a runtime over an hour each. The remaining episodes ran the typical 42-49 minutes (although “Rock in the Road” clocked in at 51 minutes). So much of the extra length was unnecessary posturing. Length for length’s sake is no treat at all. Very little of the extra length went to more story advancement. And it would be naive to think that cuts could not have been made or episodes shifted around slightly to keep everything more uniform in length. The biggest clock chewer warrants his own entry and will be discussed later.
One area where the show clearly outshines the comic is in the concept of weaponizing the undead. The Saviors have Sanctuary barricaded with a gauntlet of biters pinned to set positions and ready to take down any would-be trespassers (in fact, it was rather disheartening to not get to see Rosita and Sasha make their way through before their failed assault). The boat being boobytrapped with floaters was a nice touch, too. But it was Winslow, the bladed zombie with an armored head, that stole our hearts.
The fight between Winslow and Rick was thrilling (especially because Rick did not make it out unscathed)... even if the Scavengers had to idiotically call the perch before Winslow’s death pit “The Up Up Up”. In a world where the thriving and surviving settlements of the world would have had time to understand and cope with the undead menace, it is bizarre that more hadn’t been done to make Winslow and more as either a form of siege weapon or protection. We wanted more than one scene with zombies that look like medieval Cenobites. Hopefully the Scavengers have more up their sleeves.
The events of The Walking Dead are meant to take place just a handful of years after the initial zombie outbreak. Things have progressed far enough where some people may have lost their humanity to the wasteland and turned to cannibalism (Terminus), nihilism (the Wolves), or unrepentant bullying and extortion (the Saviors). What could not have happened so soon was the Mad Max-lite WTFery of the Scavengers.
The group talk like they’ve all been clubbed in the head by Lucille. They have haircuts that would cause a barber school freshman to faint. They have names that Gwyneth Paltrow wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole. So what is their deal? Are they a LARP group that survived and took things too far? Are they a group of escaped mental patients? Are they performance artists who couldn’t handle the rigors of reality and had a collective psychotic break?
Whatever the case is, we don’t like it. In a season full of shark jumping, this group of dweebs that talk like Yoda recovering from a stroke takes the cake. We have never wanted so many people killed off just to take the pain away (not even Nicholas and the Baker clan were this bad). The only way we’ll forgive this misstep is if the writers do take the mental patient route. It would at least explain why Jadis (groan) is such a horrible negotiator.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a fine actor, and likely a fine man. When his casting as Negan (one of our all-time favorite fictional characters) was announced, we were swooning. The rumored Kevin Durand would have been an inspired choice but Morgan had the chance to own the role in a way few other actors could dream of. That is why, with a heavy heart, we have to declare Morgan and his Negan the absolute worst thing in a season full of bad things.
Comic Negan became such a fan favorite instantly for far more than his legendary swearing. The character was brash and bombastic and as subtle as a bat to the head (literally). No character said more of what he thought than Negan, and no character thought more hilarious and brutal and terrifying things than Negan.
Morgan’s Negan is a stewer. So much time (literally, since his performance forced the show into multiple extended episodes) was spent with Morgan attempting to pause for effect that we found ourselves watching the clock on our phones more often than watching Negan. Quiet-loud-quiet is no way to play the man. The show is hedging their bets and trying to make him seem semi-charismatic, but it is not working. His implied abuse of his wives makes him too much of a monster to root for (unlike the comics), but his inability to get his point across even with his bat has neutered the character as a threat.
Where do you think the show went off the rails? Did this season disappoint you? Let us know how you really feel in the comments!