Why I hit ‘pause’ on The Walking Dead, Season 7

I’ll try to keep this relatively spoiler-free. First off, I am an avid fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead. I was up to date before Season 7 began and had actually been re-watching from the very beginning. Finally, my partner has only just realised what an amazing show TWD is, so I have again start a fresh round of re-watching with him! Basically: I’m a little bit in love with this show. I’ve never read the comics, though I do enjoy reading about the similarities and differences of one to the other.

We all held our breath for a year (ouch!) waiting for the big, harsh, reveal of Season 7.  And it hurt. Really hurt. It was actually quite a traumatising experience for long-time viewers (side note : my partner watched this as his first introduction to TWD!! While I thought it was a shame as the impact is so forceful if you understand the show’s history, it did drive him to want to watch the rest of the show, so I am grateful!!). The brutality of the episode was something we could never have anticipated – even from a show as gory and gritty as TWD has proven to be in the past. Once the deed was done, it was interesting to see the breaking down of our familiar favourites – in particular Rick, who has never been so fearful, though the basis for Neagan’s over-the-top-ness was already being laid (more on that later).

Like many, I had to overcome an initial hesitancy to get back to watching after that powerful blow. Part of me was terrified of how far they might go if they were willing to go that far, but the ever-curious side of me that needs to know how it all plays out won over, and I continued with Season 7. I must admit that after mentally preparing for an entire week, I could not have been ready for what I would experience with Episode 2….in my opinion, the absolute worst episode of the show’s entirety.

I get it – we all needed a break from the insanity. But for the only time in TWD, I felt that I was in a fairy-tale pop-up book – the introduction of ‘King’ Ezeikiel and The Kingdom being simultaneously other-worldly and yet utterly flat. Throughout the history of the show, the introduction of new characters has brought excitement and curiosity, as we puzzle over what their histories and intentions are. But this stems from the fact that these ‘unknowns’ could so easily be the reflection – or refraction – of the characters we know and love i.e. just like Rick or Daryl or Maggie, they are real people, with real experiences that have led them here or shaped who they are. But with The Kingdom, the characters are so comically outlandish; I cannot relate to them and therefore cannot engage.

Despite really grating on me, I decided to persevere. I don’t care to talk in much detail about the next two episodes I made it through – partly because not a lot happened. We start to delve a little into the history of ‘The Saviours’ – our frightening Neagan-led villains introduced last season. This usually gives us the chance to understand our villians, but with The Saviours, all this exploring seems a little pointless – we see how Dwight struggles with an inner turmoil toward Neagan, however, he then nea-gates (see what I did there!?) by being an evil so-and-so when it is absolutely unnecessary – it’s one step forward, two steps back in trying to engage with such characters.

Although it’s painful to watch what is happening to Daryl (my personal favourite) over these episodes – *spoiler* he’s essentially being tormented and brainwashed in the hopes that he will become a Saviour – it is handled in such a monotonous and repetitive manner (perhaps reflecting the monotony and repetitiveness of his torment), that it grows stale. Especially once it reaches into the 4th episode. This is where I stopped. One of the reasons was actually just that I got sick of Daryl and Rick’s wounded puppy-dog eyes. It’s all just so repetitive and not  in the least engaging. You could save me the trouble now and just tell me if this is essentially an entire season of people looking ‘meaningfully’ at each other while Neagan makes ridiculously irritating quips.

I’m actually also a fan of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and I think he is doing a great job of playing the role he has been given – it’s just the role that is the problem. At first, although over-the-top, Neagan was different to what we have ever seen before and his aloof, tongue-in-cheek manner really did make him frightening. But they keep pushing it, to the extent that he becomes nothing more than a caricature. I no longer find him scary, just plain old annoying. Seems a shame waste that immense trauma you made us all go through at the start of the season.

Each episode so far has been split into a different location/following different story lines with isolated characters. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for TWD, but in this instance, it just hasn’t had the content or momentum to support this format. Each episode has been pretty uneventful (I suppose some would find the introduction of a ‘King’ and his pet tiger to be eventful, but at this point I guess it’s down to personal taste), making it a slow and boring watch. I usually prefer to binge-watch, but had been watching Season 7 week-to-week.  I’m all done re-watching (all six seasons!) and now I’m back here at Season 7, Episode 4. I’ll be binge-watching the rest, so there’s always hope it might be more bearable and take on a little more form.

When it comes to the crunch, my main gripe with Season 7 is that it’s too fantastical. Part of the appeal of the show is the grit that comes from the fact that the characters are realistic and believable – The Kingdom and The Saviours -particularly Neagan -are not feeling very real at all. Then it’s the crawling, monotonous pace – I’d really enjoy it if something even semi-meaningful could happen some time soon. Only time will tell. I’m about to hit the play button again soon – fingers crossed TWD can find rediscover its identity and redeem itself.

 

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