King Ezekiel rides into Alexandria with his medieval times troupe of warriors, and it’s funny and satisfying in the most absurd way. We’re seven seasons into The Walking Dead, and the writers need to embrace this silliness more often. The rails fell off a long time ago. The show has built itself a world of over-the-top cartoon characters, so why not lean into them?
Instead, showrunner Scott Gimple and his crew seem to think they’re making prestige TV. I cringed during Maggie’s speech in the final moments of this week’s finale, “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life.” It attempts to honor Glenn and bring the entire series together with some profound statement about family and survival. However, it’s forced, unearned, and frankly makes no sense given the context of the episode. The writers think they’re poetic, but come across as pretentious.
When a season ends, it’s helpful to look back at the premiere and see how much progress has been made since then. If you do that here, you’ll realize not much has changed in the last sixteen episodes. Both the premiere and finale carry a similar message. As Negan says, “Rick doesn’t know shit.”
How are we supposed to keep rooting for Rick when he makes one awful plan after another, resulting in the deaths of so many of his followers? Maggie’s speech about the virtues of life becomes even more absurd when you consider the slew of bodies lining the grounds of Alexandria. The premiere and finale are so similar, Rick even repeats the exact same line of dialogue in both episodes, claiming he’s going to kill Negan. It was sad and helpless last October, and it remains so now.
I’d be able to overlook a lot of the filler and wheel spinning of this series if the actual plot points – once we actually reach them – are well-executed. But this show cuts corners. Its characters act in the service of plot, while it should be the other way around. Take Sasha’s plan in the finale, for example. It’s actually clever, and having all of those scenes with her listening to music in the dark really builds up the mystery of where she is, and what she’s going to do. Yet the entire time I couldn’t help but think about how lazy the writers were in putting her in this scenario. A few weeks back, she just ran into the Saviors compound on her own. It was all but suicidal. There had to have been a better way, one that was more respectful to Sasha as a character.
Then there are the narrative conveniences. Most notably, Ezekiel’s army riding in at the last possible moment and saving Rick from another impossible situation. It’s bad enough that Rick keeps screwing up, while we’re supposed to feel sympathetic towards him. Combine that with the plot armor he wears, and the fact that we know he’ll always prevail in the end, and it becomes even more frustrating to watch. The show leans on lazy, overused action movie beats.
Despite all of these issues, I can’t help but feel slightly optimistic about next season. Finally, everyone is together. The war can finally begin. But then I think about where we were this time last year. The season six finale was also lackluster, but I took solace in the possibilities provided by the new dynamic introduced with the Saviors. Most of those possibilities never came to fruition, and instead we were left with season seven – the series’ weakest to date.
So is The Walking Dead just stringing us along at this point? It gives us four or five strong episodes in a bloated season of sixteen, which is just enough to keep us hanging around, hoping it will turn a corner. Either way, I won’t stop watching this show. I’ve already tried and failed multiple times.