Dead Inside: The Walking Dead Mid-Season Recap, 2016 Edition
As a fan of The Walking Dead television show, I could not wait for the start of season 7. My anticipation was not predicated on the “who will Negan kill” question that seemed to dominate the thoughts of many during the summer (I figured it would be either Abraham or Glenn – I was not expecting both!); rather, my anticipation was based on my investment in the characters and the difficult ethical choices they must make to overcome adversity in the absence of civilization. Based on this, it is easy to see why the first half of season 7 was a bit of a disappointment. The characters seemed beaten, hopeless, and ineffectual. This went on for 8 weeks. Eight long weeks. But there was a glimmer of hope at the end of episode 8: Rick’s group is going to fight; hopefully turning around the negative tone and slow pacing of the first half.
Despite my disappointment with the pacing and tone, the first half of season 7 still offered some great scenes and characters and was a necessary step to getting to the next chapter that will unfold in the second half of season 7 and carry over into season 8.
My favorite part of season 7 was the introduction and development of Negan. He is by far my favorite character from the comic and I was anxious to see how Jeffrey Dean Morgan would portray Negan on the TV show.
Some may think that Negan is a one note song; a two-dimensional character. I respectfully disagree, and Morgan’s portrayal managed to capture the key to Negan’s complexity. While some may focus on Negan brutally and gleefully bashing Abraham and Glenn’s head in with his beloved Lucille in forming their opinion that Negan is nothing more than a brutal, sadistic A-hole (I get it – first impressions and all). Additionally, they may point to how Negan mercilessly guts Spencer in the mid season finale as he quips “you have no guts”, then claiming “How embarrassing! . . . you did have guts! I’ve never been so wrong in my whole life!”- as he watches Spencer collapse, his guts spilling out-to further support their claims that Negan is crazy or unpredictable or psychotic. However, Negan is not simply a crazed killer; there is a method to his madness.
Negan represents the Ubermensch, one who has come into a society where values have been obliterated, and he puts forth a new system of values for survival, a “sanctuary”. In Negan’s mind, he is recreating society, and as creator, he is the top dog, the king “savior”. There is no room for other top-dogs or competing values, otherwise society would again collapse. His society is not capricious: you earn what you get. For every action, there must be a consequence (and as Rosita painfully learns when Olivia is killed for Rosita’s failed assassination attempt, it is not a consequence of our choosing). Negan sees himself as fair and pragmatic. He would much rather bend someone (like Rick or Daryl) to recognize his superiority than kill them. He demands to be thanked by Rick twice (first, by not taking their food on his first visit to Alexandria; second in the last episode for killing Spencer-who was trying to deal with Negan to get Rick removed from power- and returning Carl unharmed, even after Carl shot two of Negan’s men). Negan is not necessarily being sarcastic in demanding gratitude, but he genuinely believes he acts for the greater good. If you think about it, in a way Negan is right: if you tally the body count, Rick, Carl and his group killed far more of Negan’s men (unprovoked) than Negan killed of Rick’s group in retaliation (a total of five: Denise, Abraham, Glenn, Spencer and Olivia).
In all, Morgan’s portrayal of Negan captured this and more. We see the restrained emotions (as a leader, he cannot be seen to be easily provoked – everything must be governed) and a flash of empathy (when he notes he forgets Carl is “just a kid”). We also see a flash of anger when Rosita’s sole bullet puts a dent in Lucille. We see that there is a human being still in Negan somewhere – the question is: would Negan be more or less dangerous if he let his humanity come out? Will Negan lose his restraint when he finds out Daryl has escaped? Who will pay the consequences for that?
Season 7 also shifted the major theme of the show, i.e. that a sense of community is necessary for survival, from the micro sense to the macro sense. Our core group was somewhat split up at the end of season six. Season 7 sees those members branching out and struggling. Carol and Morgan find the Kingdom run by King Ezekiel and his tiger Shiva (while both names refer to rather significant religious figures, writer Kirkman has not addressed whether any symbolism was intended; I also loved the portrayal of Ezekiel by Khary Payton; frankly, there was not enough of this eccentric character in the first half of the season, but I hope to see more of him in the second half – but I digress); Tara finds the Oceanside community; Maggie and Sasha go back to the Hilltop community; and Daryl is taken to the Sanctuary. Meanwhile, Michonne, Carl and Rosita all decide to strike out on their own for vengeance, each realizing their solitary efforts are futile. Apart, the group is faced with the bleak prospect of submission as the only way to survive.
While I admit that the episodes dedicated to the development of each different community were plodding and did not move the story along in an exciting way, (in fact, not once was I necessarily excited for the next episode because I had to “find out what happened next”) it was important to show how weak and ineffectual Rick’s group was when fractured, just like each of these community is weak and ineffectual on its own. In the prior seasons, Rick’s group was able to survive due to their communal bond. They beat the Governor, they beat the cannibals at Terminus. Negan figuratively and literally shattered that concept when he shattered poor Glenn’s skull. For Rick’s group to survive, they must now think globally. Reliance on their small community is no longer enough.
The mid-season drove this home when the group is reunited (somewhat – Morgan and Carol are still absent). Rick and Daryl’s bromance is lovingly displayed; Sasha and Rosita (both lovers of Abraham) exchange a knowing glance. And Rick confesses to Michonne, and later Maggie, that he realizes the importance of being together and that they are going to fight.
What to expect in the second half of Season 7
Now that we know that they are going to fight, Rick needs to convince the other communities to join their cause, communities that at present are not exactly ready to join the fight. We have seen little of the Hilltop’s fighting ability (in fact, when the walkers attacked after the saviors intentionally left the gates open, Paul aka Jesus was the only one fighting along with Maggie and Sasha.) The Kingdom has kept the threat of the Saviors from the majority of its community, giving their tributes in secret. Oceanside will kill outsiders on site and are currently safe from the Saviors, plus Tara “swore” to keep their community a secret.
In addition to banding the communities together, they will have to figure out how to arm and train and plan without clueing in the Saviors who seem to show up at the most inopportune times.
As if Rick’s group did not have enough problems, Negan undoubtedly going to go looking for Daryl and will have some form of punishment in store for someone because of his escape. Will Lucille claim another victim before the end of season 7?
Hopefully the tone and pacing of the second half of season 7 will make up for the lackluster, but still decent, first half. The potential is there. Regardless, I will be faithfully watching, analyzing, predicting, dissecting criticizing and praising the show.