It’s no secret The Walking Dead has been suffering ever since that infamous premiere. Ironically the premiere had garnered the second highest rating for an episode of the series. Unfortunately, that was an indication of where things were about to go. There are a number of factors that have contributed to stagnating numbers for the popular series. Fans can’t really be blamed—no matter how annoying the whining of many disgruntled viewers is—because it’s the show producers who have hit themselves in the foot with this one.
There was always going to be a major fallout from this. No matter how many times we were assured the season premiere would make up for the largely panned finale, the backlash from the cliffhanger was so palpable that there was no way many fans would stick around. We all knew right from get go of season 6 that Negan was coming. The entire buildup to the season was the fact that one of the survivors of Rick’s community was going to meet the bat. And so we persevered through episode after another to reach that moment. Sure, no one wanted a fan favourite to go out but when you’ve planted the seeds to the inevitable, you just have to deliver. The moment the screen cut to black once Lucille was brought down on the unfortunate victim’s head, a sizeable share of the audience was also killed. It was a long 6 month wait to find out the identity of the victim and by that point, it just didn’t matter as much.
This contributes to the cliffhanger gripe. Even before the saviours were mentioned we had several controversial fake outs for a rather cheap shocking effect. Of course, I’m referring to the magical dumpster moment of Glenn. There was no way there would be any positive outcome from this. Either you’d have fans grieving his death or exasperated that they jerked us around for a month only to have him figure out a ludicrous escape tactic. It was the latter. But it didn’t stop there, by this point the show runners had figured out the core group were the ones fans truly cared for, and with Daryl and Glenn holding a special place in the hearts of many, they were used to dangle the feelings of millions of fans on strings. We had Dwight shooting Daryl and having to wait another week to find out the outcome, these kinds of moments just don’t have any meaning left if they are repeated so often and with minimal effect. The writing should reflect in such a manner that episodes shouldn’t rely on shock value to keep fans tuning in each week.
Now we get to present business. Back in Season 4, once the prison arc was done with, the show pitted its characters in several episodes singular in nature, telling smaller stories that had one or two characters bond with one another during times of strife and instability. It worked to perfection. You had friendships form between unlikely people such as Beth and Daryl or Maggie and Sasha, and it felt real and personal. Not only that but this was the best way to introduce new characters in the form of Tara, Abraham, among others. We wouldn’t have cared for them had they just shown up at the prison. This all led to a payoff where everyone was brought back together and the core group expanded. Season 7 has dabbled with just that with much more mixed results.
The reason for this is that now we don’t get episodes focusing on relationships or bonds, they’re based on communities. The Sanctuary, Oceanside, Hilltop have all been explored. But it’s not working, mainly due to the lackluster pacing. Extended episodes don’t serve any purpose than to highlight further misery, they’re all incredibly one noted. It doesn’t help that we’re being introduced to new characters who we don’t care about. And by scattering these episodes here and there, it won’t build anyone up. In order for us to invest in these communities, the people, the stories should have them paired with those we do want to see.
Integral Characters Killed off
Yes, it’s a zombie show, so people die. The Walking Dead has never shied away from killing off its characters. However, that was passable back in the earlier seasons when we weren’t really acquainted with many of them. As the show crossed over half a decade, each main character death was met with significant grief. This had a positive effect to reaffirm that everyone could die, yet it also meant that the herd of impactful characters was being skimmed regularly. In Season 7 we had to face the death of the longest survivor other than Rick, that was Glenn. But Glenn didn’t just leave us with his memories, he took away a portion of the fans. The Walking Dead has always been depressing, but Glenn was one of those that brought in a lot of heart and warmth. Now everything seems sullen, not to mention Abraham Ford was also a fan favorite who offered much needed light moments combined with badassery, he was also clubbed away. These two losses proved to be severe, and Eugene, Sasha or Jesus aren’t enough to fill this very large gaping hole.
I’ll be honest here, I find nothing wrong with Negan. To me he is highly entertaining. The Governor was a superb villain, but he relied more on cunning and scheming to make his mark. Negan on the other hand is a Totalitarian from the get go, a very amusing one at that. He has no reason to concoct any plans as he holds Rick and the other groups leaders firmly in his grasp. So we have an antagonist merrily skipping along each episode singing his delights and knocking anyone down as he pleases. But this just doesn’t resonate with many. The Governor had his turned daughter to add more depth to his character, while Negan has only his cruel – yet funny – quips to rely on. He’s become excessively one note to the point that many are fully aware of what to expect. The episode with Carl had something offer finally, where you get the hint he envies Rick for having a son, something he clearly would like. But this was very minuscule compared to all we have had to endure from him. Perhaps if there had been a couple of flashbacks thrown in to introduce us to his origins we might have a different viewpoint to hold over him, but there’s none of that.
Personally I’d like to see more of him, he’s fun to watch, but that’s just me, and a very sizable portion of the fans have a serious gripe with him now which is hard to ignore.
Finally I think this is the real problem. The Walking Dead has told its best stories with the core group on the run. Whether it was in Atlanta, or the CDC, or the farm, the prison and finally to the road leading to Alexandria. The pace was fantastic, as the show reinvented itself with new settings that kept things fresh. But now everything has been localized, you just know a new threat will arrive at Alexandria and the heroes must deal with it. But there’s nothing interesting about Alexandra, it’s completely bland. While seeing other communities is somewhat interesting, we just don’t care about the people there. Add to the fact that notable characters like Morgan and Carol have been barely seen at all this season in favour of lesser liked persons, it’s not really engaging. For the comic fans, they know what will be up next, and I personally do not like where the story will be leading. For me the Walkers should be centre stage, while human enemies shouldn’t be handed out in droves, they should be hunters like the Terminus foes.
We all know there’s a big payoff to the slow burn story line, but excessive length episodes just to highlight the already known misery is hurting the show rather than making the All out War story all the more special, especially considering all the fake outs have reduced the show’s credibility in that regard.