Okay, those of you who are *still* traumatized by the absolutely gruesome season seven premiere of “The Walking Dead” from this past October- the dust has settled and this season is finally over. You can uncover your eyes now and we can talk about our feelings (and you all know I have a lot of them.)
It’s funny how the season six, first-person, “did Negan just kill the cameraman?” cliffhanger finale enraged myself and so many other people for various and all pretty good reasons- but had I known what that cliffhanger was leading up to- I probably wouldn’t have complained that much. I knew things were going to be bad when the show returned, but I didn’t really comprehend HOW bad.
The 7th season of the show faced a lot of criticism these past few months. Some thought it had traded in good storytelling and character development for overly barbaric and perhaps unnecessary violence. Others thought there was too much storytelling and character development and not enough violence- and still others thought there weren’t enough zombies (although this is a common complaint season after season despite the fact that hordes of walkers are still an ongoing thing every few episodes so I don’t typically pay attention to reviews that gripe about that too much.)
And to those criticisms I will say something I never thought I would utter as someone who admittedly tends to be a bit harsh when reviewing this show as a whole- season 7 was pretty perfect, save for a couple of setbacks- which I’ll happily discuss.
Of course, I know that not everyone has caught up just yet- so I’ll be placing my review under the cut/”Keep Reading” button.
Please bear in mind before continuing with my review- I am going to spoil things- a LOT of things- and this is your final warning of the aforementioned spoilers before you press on and keep reading.
And, if you’d like to read my thoughts on the past seasons- I’ve linked them here (just in case!)
And without further delay, let Negan’s cocky, psychopathic and fine self guide you into my review:
The writers behind “The Walking Dead” apparently took the intense scrutiny following season six’s ridiculous, dumbed-down cliffhanger finale into consideration- and then promptly decided to exact revenge on each and every one of their critics ten-fold- because the season seven premiere did not hold anything back. Picking up right where season six left off- with Negan taking his sweet ass time choosing who would be on the receiving end of Lucille, his barbed-wire-wrapped-baseball-bat- with an agonizingly slow game of “Eenie Meenie Miney Mo”. It was ultimately Abraham who was chosen- much to the devastation of fans (of both he AND Sasha- who seemed to have finally found long overdue happiness and stability in her newly established romantic relationship with him.)
Abraham’s death, as gross and gratuitously gory as it was- not at all softened by his last words being defiant and badass- was not the most shocking death of the premiere, however. After Daryl recklessly delivered a punch to Negan’s face following Negan’s taunting of a traumatized Rosita- a punishment in the form of a second, brutal beating was delivered. Not to Daryl, but to fan-favorite and one of the last remaining members of the “Atlanta Five” (characters who have been around since season one)– Glenn. In front of his pregnant wife.
If losing Glenn in such a violent, gory way- including his dying gasps to his horrified wife before Negan finished him off was not enough to make people scream and cry (and there are enough reaction videos floating around YouTube to show that this moment really hit people hard)– it was Lauren Cohan’s performance as a devastated Maggie trying to lift Glenn’s body all by herself until the others came to aid her that felt like enough of a gut-punch to make even someone like me tear up pretty badly. Lauren Cohan was actually one of the standout performers in a season filled with brilliant scenes and actors/actresses- but I’ll get to that in just a moment.
Following such a huge blow to the group and the overall morale, “The Walking Dead” did what it’s consistently done in recent seasons- focusing on select groups of people each episode before reuniting everyone. Not since season two has the whole group been featured in every episode (but then again, the cast was considerably smaller back then)– so in season 7 we saw Daryl’s life as Negan’s prisoner at his compound, The Sanctuary- and I won’t get into that Godawful song they made him listen to over and over at maximum volume as a cruel and unusual form of torture. It’s in this episode we also learn the mechanics of how Negan runs his people- through violence and intimidation. His men are fiercely loyal to him. He has a harem of reluctant wives, including Dwight’s wife- Sherry- who we’d previously seen when her and Dwight had taken Daryl’s bike and crossbow after he’d tried to help them during a chance encounter last season. He has a set of rules and standards for life at the Sanctuary- some of which make sense but the majority of which are tailored to suit him and only him.
We also saw Rick and the remaining residents in Alexandria attempt get acclimated to Negan being in charge (including getting adjusted to Negan’s unexpected visits to take whatever and whomever he wanted from their sleepy suburb), Maggie and Sasha struggling through their grief at the previously established community The Hilltop, where Maggie- still pregnant despite her scare in the previous season- begins to take control of the residents from the hands of the cowardly and untrustworthy current leader, Gregory- who humbly serves and kisses up to The Saviors whenever they drop by.
Tara, who had gone off with Heath on a supply run following the slaughter of the Saviors at one of Negan’s outposts near the end of season 6-gets separated from Heath and finds a lethal seaside community consisting of nothing but women and girls who are in hiding from The Saviors after all of their men were killed at gunpoint. Tara’s escape from the understandably cautious community and return to Alexandria only to learn the fate of her friends and of her girlfriend, Denise (killed last season by Dwight’s shitty aim with Daryl’s stolen crossbow)– was another gut-punch moment in this season- especially since she had seemed so overjoyed to finally be back home.
But perhaps one of the most interesting side-stories was Carol and Morgan’s arrival (and Carol’s recovery after being seriously injured in the season six finale) at The Kingdom- run by the extremely charismatic and REALLY GOOD LOOKING King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) with his pet tiger- yes, I said tiger- Shiva. In an episode that was both comedic and touching- something I think we all needed- we got to understand Ezekiel’s bizarre King Richard’s Faire persona a little better. The Kingdom, too, serves The Saviors on a weekly basis delivering foods and supplies to a designated meeting spot well beyond The Kingdom’s borders- but Ezekiel, a former stage actor and zookeeper, hence the theatrics and the tiger- keeps the deal a secret from his people (only allowing a handful of his “Knights” to assist him) as a means to protect them from the brutality and horrors beyond their walls. He’s a good guy who seems keen on helping Carol through her ongoing internal struggle- and quickly became one of my favorite characters in record time.
Of course, all of these groups and communities eventually intertwine. Negan’s brutality and overstepping of boundaries pushes everyone to the brink. After a failed assassination attempt on him by Carl, Negan- impressed by the teenager’s balls of steel and complete lack of fear- returns the boy to Alexandria (giving stowaway ninja Jesus and desperate-to-escape Sherry the chance to break Daryl out of his holding cell at the Sanctuary in Negan’s absence and get him safely to The Hilltop) and kills not only Spencer- who had it coming, to be honest- since he wanted Negan to kill Rick and put him in charge of Alexandria, instead- but also sweet as sugar Olivia in an act of punishment after Rosita takes a shot at him and fails miserably. He also cuddles Judith and cooks spaghetti for Carl while he waits for Rick to return- which was a whole new level of terrifying.
This gives Rick- who had been compliant with serving Negan and The Saviors as a desperate means to keep his people safe- the final kick in the ass he needed to want to fight back. With Michonne’s flawless self encouraging him- Rick enlists the aid of his friends at The Hilltop, including Daryl-in-hiding- and starts to rally the troops, which led us into the second half of the season in that warm and fuzzy “hell yeah!” way.
Apart from gripping performances by Lauren Cohan, Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha and the introduction of Ezekiel’s lovable and goofy sidekick, Jerry (Cooper Andrews)– it’s in the first half of the season that some of the Saviors themselves are breakout stars. Problematic Dwight (Austin Amelio) is given a pretty tragic backstory- one that explains the scarring on his face, his loyalty to The Saviors and to Negan- and his reluctant acceptance of his wife being a plaything. I also really enjoyed the scenes featuring Negan’s right-hand-man, Simon (Steven Ogg)– who is still a bit of a mystery but is by far one of the funniest and most fearsome of the Saviors with his quips and expressions.
In the second half of the season, however- we see one character in particular go from grieving and relate-able to completely reckless and unlikable. I’m referring to Rosita who- devastated by the death of Abraham- not only gets Olivia killed and Eugene taken prisoner after her piss-poor aim backfires- but also plays an indirect role in the death of another beloved character in the season finale. Rosita’s impulsiveness and shitty attitude towards other, more established characters made her almost impossible to watch whenever she was on screen- matched only by Daryl who didn’t seem to learn his lesson after what had happened with Glenn and continued making rash decisions that nearly got other people killed. ENOUGH ALREADY. SOMEONE HOLD THESE IDIOTS ACCOUNTABLE.
I digress. Surrounded by Saviors, outnumbered and out-gunned- the latter half of the season revolved around Rick & Co. evading Negan’s suspicions while attempting to scrounge up weaponry and manpower. Ezekiel is reluctant to fight- afraid of endangering his community- and only caves after the young son of a deceased friend is shot and killed by one of the Saviors during a trade gone awry (this death also deeply affects Morgan- who up until that point is still living under his boring-as-fuck “all life is precious” creed.) Maggie, Sasha and Jesus are preparing The Hilltop for battle- with Sasha and Rosita planning their own secret-side-suicide-mission to take out Negan themselves without Maggie knowing.
… Remember when I said Rosita is indirectly responsible for another death? Yeah.. Guess what genius was leading the charge without thinking things through. I bet you that you’ll never guess….
Tara once again enters the Oceanside community of women to take their weapons and anyone willing to fight back against The Saviors- and then there are the Dumpster Divers- a peculiar group of thieves and weirdos who somehow maintain greasier looking hair than Daryl that live inside a junkyard Rick stumbles upon after one of them infiltrates Alexandria and briefly kidnaps Father Gabriel. After a trade agreement- he enlists their help with defending his community.
Perhaps the most surprising aid comes from Dwight- who after being pushed to his breaking point- goes to Rick to offer his services in both slowing Negan down and killing him after what had been done to him and his presumed dead wife Sherry (who fled the Sanctuary after freeing Daryl.) On the flip side, it’s the captured Eugene who unsurprisingly but still hilariously cracks under pressure- swearing his allegiance to Negan and being more than willing to do his bidding in exchange for protection (and pickles.) WE WERE ROOTING FOR YOU, EUGENE. WE WERE ALL ROOTING FOR YOU. HOW DARE YOU.
The most welcomed combatants to enter the arena are undoubtedly Carol and Morgan, however. Following a tearful reunion with Daryl in which he lies to Carol about what happened with Abraham and Glenn in an attempt to spare her the heartache- Carol learns the truth from Morgan, who is once again pushed into his “Clear” level of insanity following the aforementioned trade-gone-bad with The Saviors. Finally coming back full circle to the badasses we know have been in there the whole time- both Carol and Morgan join forces with Ezekiel and The Kingdom for the final confrontation with Negan ready to take people OUT. It’s glorious.
Which brings us to the finale- in which Negan rolls up to Alexandria with both Eugene and Sasha, who had been taken prisoner following a failed solo raid on The Sanctuary (thanks, Rosita!)– ready to kill as many Alexandrians as possible to send a message to Rick. Eugene, now Team Negan- tries to talk Rick out of the inevitable fight to no avail while Sasha, tucked away in a casket as a somber visual warning to Rick and anyone else who still thinks fighting back is a good idea- lies in wait. It is here that the Dumper Divers turn on Alexandria- having been offered a better trade by the Saviors- and things start looking pretty grim.
The shocking death, and maybe one of the saddest of the season since the premiere- is none other than Sasha, who takes a lethal dosage of poison provided by Eugene while in the casket- all while reminiscing her last hours with Abraham as it takes effect- as a last ditch effort to take Negan out before he can use her against the people she cares about. When Negan opens the casket to try and intimidate Rick by hinting he may kill her himself- the reanimated (and still ridiculously pretty) Sasha lunges- but doesn’t manage to take a chunk out of him- which brought about a whole “what was the point of her death?” feeling to everything. Negan almost gets the upper hand until The Kingdom arrives- with Shiva in tow- and the real bloodbath begins.
Following the death of numerous redshirts (on both sides) but thankfully no more beloved character casualties- Negan manages to escape back to the Sanctuary where he rallies his remaining army with a war cry for season 8- while Maggie’s voiceover closes out the season as we’re treated to the implication that Alexandria, The Hilltop, and The Kingdom will remain allied forces. We’re reminded of Glenn’s sacrifice and his willingness to save Rick in the very first episode of the series way back when- which sort of packaged up season 7 in a whole with a pretty and poignant bow.
Overall, I thought the pacing of season 7 was spot-on. There was plenty of character development, a ton of surprising and shocking moments, enough different stories/arcs intersecting without the overall plot getting convoluted or confusing- and the latter half of the season through the finale really set up what I’m sure will be an epic showdown in season 8 now that we know where most of the characters and their loyalties lie. Not since season 2 have I been so content with how the entire season played out.
But, just a couple of things:
- Can we cut back on Negan’s cheesy one liners?: I love Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and it’s so nice to see such a tremendous actor visibly having so much fun with such a risky and loathsome role- but the one-liners gotta’ go (or at least get cut in half). I get that Negan is a pretty crazy guy but with lines like “easy, peasy, lemon squeasy” being uttered on screen- it sort of makes his bark worse than his bite. He’s teetering on the edge of becoming overly comedic- and JDM is so good at being intense that I’d like to see more of his terrifying side next season, really. Remind me why we’re supposed to be afraid of him, people!
- Rosita and Daryl need to be held accountable for their bullshit: Enough coddling Daryl Dixon. I believe I had said it last season, but it still rings true- I’m tired of his man-pain. Both he and Rosita made reckless decisions in season 7 that resulted in other people being killed or punished- and no one took them to task for it. These two idiots need to become functioning and contributing members of the group who follow the rules or they gotta’ go. End of story.
- God, can we please give Maggie a break? Please?: Maggie lost her father, her sister, her husband- almost lost her baby- and had to put her zombie-fied BFF4EVA Sasha down at the end of this season’s finale. Can we just get her some apple pie, a big pillow, and let her take a rest? She’s one of my favorites and it makes me genuinely sad every time something awful happens to her- which seems to be all the goddamned time.
- Don’t let those trash people get away with being traitors: Although I know the big battle for season 8 will inevitably be against Negan- I’d really like to see Rick set off to punish the oily Dumpster Divers who double-crossed him. Set that dumpster on fire, Rick. Burn it to the ground.
- Now that Carol and Morgan are back- can we keep them?: Having Carol and Morgan finally see the light and come running to help defend Alexandria was one of those feel good moments of 2017. The pair are never better than when they are kicking ass and taking names alongside their friends. Please, I beg of the writers- don’t have them go into hiding again. They’re too good for that and the fans deserve better than watching them crawl back into their shells to mope. LET THEM THRIVE.
- PROTECT JERRY AT ALL COSTS: I’m serious. If anything happens to him- I’m going to lose my shit.
Alright, I think that’s pretty much it. Here’s to a bloody good season. I’m looking forward to season 8!