After a frustratingly-long wait following a frustratingly-deceptive Season 6 finale, the infamous P.O.V. character death is finally revealed midway through the Season 7 premiere. Does it satisfy? Does it infuriate? It all depends on which characters you’re most attached to. Whether such a secretive cliffhanger was a good or bad idea is a matter of personal preference, especially now that the secret is out and we don’t have to think about it ever again. But we all knew this show would be back no matter how last season ended, so now it’s time to see where the dead walk from here.
Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is in charge now. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his people must submit to him or else answer to Negan’s army, Negan himself, or Negan’s beloved barbed-wire baseball bat, Lucille. Under Negan’s command, they’re forced to provide, provide, provide; food, supplies, anything that Negan wants; and they must do this without any guns to fend off the undead still “walking” free. As the weight of their servitude becomes like a fate worse than death, they do what any cornered animal would do: fight back against beyond-impossible odds despite the innumerable deaths it will cost them in order to succeed. In other words: War.
Thanks to the rise of mid-season finales, nearly every season of The Walking Dead feels like two. Rick spends the entire first half of this season as, basically, a depressed mule. Everyone else tries to get him to man up against Negan, but he’s far too focussed on pleasing his new overseer. Daryl (Norman Reedus) doesn’t fare much better as Negan’s new house slave, barely saying two words for his first several episodes. One new character (and the most comic book-ish one to appear on the show thus far) is King Ezekiel (Khary Payton), a man with crazy hair, crazy ideas, and a crazy animal for a pet (you have been warned). Ezekiel runs The Kingdom, a peaceful community whose leaders secretly abide by Negan’s laws. In fact, every community, not just Alexandria where our heroes reside, has a submissive relationship with Negan. As for Negan himself, while he is thoroughly entertaining, he doesn’t feel nearly as threatening as, say, The Governor from seasons past. Despite building up his ruthless unpredictability, he really only kills and maims during the communal TV kill/maim schedule (i.e. season premiere, mid-season finale, season finale), which makes him — you guessed it — predictable. Simon (Steven Ogg), Negan’s right-hand man, is far more lively and effortlessly steals every scene that he’s in (and if you’ve played Grand Theft Auto V, you’ll definitely recognize him!). But we get what we get, and at least what we get here is still pretty entertaining.
The second half, like most shows that cater to the mid-season finale, is where things finally pick up. No longer are characters meandering their way through an 8-episode prologue, avoiding decisions we know they’ll eventually make: “I will not fight.” “I will not kill.” “I will not risk people’s lives.” Because the second half is all: “Fight!” “Kill!” “Sacrifice your lives for the greater good!” Not that it’s a bloodbath. Even the second half of the season is mostly preparation for the finale, but it’s infinitely more satisfying than watching our favorite badass characters bow down and obey the man with the bat. Like previous seasons, characters are divided among several locations, and as such, not a single character is in every episode. You may have to wait two, three, or more episodes to find out what happened to a character you last saw in peril, making this one of the most vital TV shows to binge-watch. But unlike some previous seasons, all of the characters’ story arcs do come together in the end, making the geographical division actually worthwhile. Rick finds his place again as leader, albeit predictably, as he collects guns upon guns upon guns to fight their extremely well-armed enemy. This is not a battle that can be won in a single bloodbath. It’s obvious from their painstaking efforts that the rivalry between Rick and Negan will span multiple seasons, and this mutiny is only the beginning.
With that now-infamous P.O.V. character death mystery finally revealed, fans can now move forward to the next step for The Walking Dead. After 7 seasons, we’ve pretty much seen every type of zombie we’re ever going to see (save for one awesome junkyard zombie in this season). Nowadays, it’s about rebuilding society in a post-apocalyptic world, and the play-by-their-own-rules factions that try to take whatever the good guys have. It’s always been about the human characters, but now the stakes are higher than ever. And the way they all come together at the end of this season creates significant anticipation for the seasons to come. (Like I said before: War.)
3 out of 5