Please don’t read if you’re not caught up with the show and are not interested in seeing spoilers.
Great cinematography. Lovely music. Wonderfully shot action sequences. Amazing, hard-working actors. Fantastic editing. And then there is the writing, of course. Writing so uneven that it causes genuine cognitive dissonance while watching a show that has everything else completely figured out. It’s enough to make your head explode (har har).
I envy Erik Kain, who was able to have a genuine emotional reaction to the first episode of the seventh season of “The Walking Dead.” I was also jolted by it – but it was a feeling reminiscent of how an essentially hollow but cleverly put together horror sequence can still rattle you. TWD is a beloved but polarizing series for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it teasingly lets you glimpse how great it can be – before repeatedly sinking under the weight of great expectations. Watching it is a bit like watching a beloved basketball team choke under pressure (I’m a Blue Devil, I had vast experience with that during my college years).
I know I said this when season six concluded, but I have to say it again: You can’t populate a show with compelling characters while essentially making them sideshow performers in a drama starring one characters’ leadership/ego. I’m talking about Rick, of course, and it pains me to no end, because Andrew Lincoln is a wonderful actor, and you can tell just how much of his soul he put into both the season six finale and the season seven premiere. It’s a stand-out performance buried under pointless flashbacks and even more pointless, and incredibly ham-fisted, reflections on Whut It Takes To Be A Big, Bad Leader In A Zombie Apocalypse Where The Zombies Aren’t Even The Worst Of It.
I’m over that whole character arc (is it more of character zigzag?), OK? It’s been done to death.
There were several genuinely piercing moments during the season seven premiere, and I do give writers credit for that. I had no doubt that poor Glenn was going to bite it, but I hadn’t expected Abraham to be sacrificed first. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was much better in this episode that he was in the season finale. There was more room for the character to oscillate between sociopathic humor and freakish malevolence.
Unlike many other people, I actually liked the brief moment in which the living and the dead characters were seen enjoying dinner together – life as it should be, not as it turned out, a promise gone forever. Some people thought it was too sentimental, I thought it was bare-boned and emotionally honest. What do we miss most about the dead, after all? The simple moments of warmth and companionship. Shooting the shit over some good food. Watching each other’s children grow up. Stuff like that.
Equally great was the Old Testament-like choice Negan presented Rick with. Chop off your beloved son’s arm, or have him beaten to death and watch as all of your friends get shot. This was a very well-paced, dramatic moment, which also made you feel bad for Carl’s stupid hat (a genius move, when you think about it).
Those moments made the otherwise blah season seven premiere worth watching. I suppose they make the entire show worth watching.
But what I keep going back to is the fact that TWD could be so much better. This season’s premiere demonstrates that all too handily. We didn’t need all of that stupid “fetch me my axe” filler. We didn’t need to sit around twiddling our thumbs, waiting to see who dies – flashes of suspense are great, but when they’re the only thing driving the plot forward, that frankly sucks. Most importantly, The NeverEnding Story (Of Rick’s Ego) is not just a disservice to the other characters, it’s exhausting. It sucks all of the oxygen out of the show.
The focus on Rick is, of course, a focus on the dog-eat-dog world that all of the characters are forced to live in. It is through Rick that we’re meant to understand the brutality of the post-apocalypse. But – and I know I’ve said this before, but it does need to be repeated – the brutality itself is frequently overdone on TWD.
The show is not meant to be an exhaustive take on human nature – it’s horror, it’s going to be pretty one-sided – but a little depth of historic/evolutionary perspective never hurt anyone. Especially if you’ve been doing this for six years already. Come on, guys. Seriously. I love you and all, but come on.
(P.S. Now that Daryl is a hostage, this probably means that the writers have even more room to focus on Rickitus Rex. Please, God, no.)