We’re halfway through The Walking Dead’s seventh season and so far, it’s been quite the bumpy ride. Although the midseason finale, titled “Hearts Still Beating,” was much more entertaining and better paced than the majority of the episodes that preceded it, this has so far been one of the weakest seasons The Walking Dead has yet produced. Much of the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s overbearing new villain Negan, who quickly wore out his welcome with his terrible jokes and long-winded monologues on pretty much every topic under the sun.
More importantly, this season simply made for boring television and the precipitous drop in ratings since the season premiere seem to indicate that many viewers lost patience with what the show was trying to do. Fortunately, there are still eight more episodes coming in the new year and with a new narrative focused on bringing everyone together for a war with Negan’s Saviors, there is potential for the latter half of season seven to redeem what came before it.
Focus More On Character Development
If the final scene from midseason finale proves anything — other than that leaving off on a hopeful note is much more satisfying than a frustrating cliffhanger — it’s that despite The Walking Dead’s many problems, its core cast of characters are still likable and worth caring about, for the most part. Unfortunately, this is something the show routinely seems to take for granted, especially in the first half of this season, as Rick and Carl seem to be the only two characters in the principal cast who did experienced any sort of growth as characters.
As Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff points out, Robert Kirkman went on this week’s Talking Dead and made a big deal about how fans should be worried about Daryl turning into a killing machine, but his savage takedown of Fat Joey (RIP) seems to stem more from being a unwilling captor of a murderous lunatic for weeks (months?) than some sort of turn towards becoming a murderous psychopath. After all, how bad can Daryl really be when he’s still willing to give Rick the broiest of bro hugs? Hopefully, the latter half of Season 7 will take some of these characters in new directions that result in some actual development, instead of viewers having to be told they should worry about a bit of subtext that may or may not even be there.
Do Something To Humble Negan A Bit
Negan has certainly been one of the most heavily criticized parts of The Walking Dead’s latest season and it has less to do with Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who is actually doing a pitch perfect adaptation of Negan from the comics, and more with how Negan is an unrepentant bully that no one ever challenges. To be fair, most of this season has centered on the fact that it’s very difficult to stand up to Negan because of the power he wields, not to mention that looking at him cockeyed is a good way to get your head bashed in, but having a character who is an incessant (and not very inventive) chatterbox threaten people for an entire half a season doesn’t exactly make for compelling TV. One can only hope that The Walking Dead is playing the long game here by having Negan go unchallenged for so long, only to be brought down to Earth in the latter half of the season when Rick’s group land a decisive blow against him. After all, that toothy grin is just begging to have a few teeth knocked out of it.
Reign In The Negan Show
Speaking of Negan, another reason for why he’s been so hard to put up with this season is because there’s simply been so much of him. Don’t quote me on this, but I’m pretty sure he was in more episodes over the course of the first half of season seven than any other character (5 out of 8). It’s clear that the show’s writers are in love with the character and enjoy writing dialogue for him, but we’re only halfway through the season and it already feels like we’re at the point of oversaturation with this guy.
Given that it’s already been confirmed that Morgan will reprise his role in season eight, we’re stuck with Negan for quite some time, whether we like it or not (and if the show doesn’t deviate from the comics, he’s never going to leave). While it wouldn’t fix all of the show’s problems, making the latter half of the season feel less like the Negan show would go a long way in making him a more tolerable villain and would also free up airtime to let other characters get a word in.
In other words, the less Negan monologues, the better.
Make Zombie Encounters Matter
Surprisingly, one of the best moments from the midseason finale was Rick and Aaron’s adventure through zombie-infested waters in a bullet-ridden boat, primarily because it did something new and interesting with the rote zombie encounter. Watching characters kill walkers got boring somewhere around the third season, but since the show is set in the zombie apocalypse, The Walking Dead has continued to come up with contrived excuses for characters to interact with the undead.
To be honest, I was pretty much convinced that the show would never do anything interesting with zombies again and was content to just put up with watching someone get chased through the woods by a pack of undead for the thousandth time, but this boat sequence proves that The Walking Dead still has some tricks up its sleeve when it comes to inventive zombie set pieces. It would be refreshing if the show pulled back on the zombie encounters in the back half of season seven, and instead reserved them for key moments and judging by the terrifying spike zombie that appears at the end of the newly-released teaser, there’s a chance this could actually happen.
Inject Some Fun Into The Proceedings
The Walking Dead has never been a show with much in the way of joy, but this season in particular was a real slog of miserable material. One question that kept coming up while watching this season was “why am I even watching this?” which is never a question you want to find yourself asking. Since the beginning, The Walking Dead has always been pretty bleak entertainment, but at least it was entertaining and even offered something in the way of hope to viewers that these characters would be alright in the end.
To its credit, the midseason finale did end on a hopeful note and suggested that maybe there is a version of this narrative that ends up going somewhere beyond constant suffering for its characters, but this was really the first season that made it clear that The Walking Dead isn’t entertainment; it’s an endurance test for how much bleakness and violence its viewers can handle before throwing up their hands and moving on. In this era of peak TV, when there are many, many better shows than The Walking Dead competing for our time, punishing your audience for daring to tune in isn’t exactly the best method for retaining that audience and this is something The Walking Dead needs to remedy going forward.
Please Do Something Interesting With Morgan And Especially Carol
Despite both having star billing on The Walking Dead, Morgan and Carol were only in two of the first eight episodes of this season and only had a substantial role in one of them. One would assume that we’ll see much more of them when the season picks back up in February, but as it stands, it feels like the show has no idea what to do with either character, which is frustrating considering Morgan and Carol both suffered from underwritten or poorly conceived storylines last season.
The midseason finale finally picked up with both characters but not much has changed for either; Morgan still doesn’t want to kill unless he has to, which at least has the potential to be an interesting viewpoint when the war with Negan comes, whereas Carol still wants to be left alone for … reasons. It’s frustrating that The Walking Dead has reduced two of its best characters to such shells of their former selves, but on the bright side, there’s always the potential that this downward trend can be reversed when the season returns.
Stop Ignoring Characters For Long Stretches Of Time
Morgan and Carol weren’t the only characters who got the short shrift in the first half of season seven, as pretty much every character not named Negan felt woefully underutilized. This had a lot to do with the show’s questionable episode structure, which largely focused on only a few characters each week instead of jumping back and forth between many, which would have been the better route for a show with such a large ensemble cast.
While I get that many different characters and settings had to be introduced this season, it makes little narrative sense to introduce us to someone like Ezekiel, who in his limited screen time emerges as one of the show’s most fascinating and dynamic characters, and then go weeks — and in this case months, since Ezekiel won’t make another appearance until at least February — without featuring them again. Thankfully, the midseason finale’s structure seemed to indicate the writers are aware of this issue, as it bounced back and forth between quite a few different characters and storylines, but the next half of the season needs to maintain this structure or risk losing even more viewers over disinterest.
More Plot Momentum In Between The Premiere And Finale
Another issue that helped make the first half of season one of The Walking Dead’s lowest points yet was that there was barely any plot development between the premiere and the midseason finale. Now, The Walking Dead has always saved its biggest moments for its most important episodes, as is true with most serialized dramas, but the problem is that hardly anything noteworthy happened in the six episodes in-between. ‘Plodding’ doesn’t even begin to describe the pace of this season, as week-after-week brought episodes hyper-focused on fleshing out how each settlement deals with life under Negan’s rule, but rarely gave viewers a plot worth getting invested in.
For instance, did we really need an entire episode devoted to Tara, a minor supporting character that was absent for almost half a season? Characters like Tara were used as a content delivery method in order to cram a new set of characters and/or setting down our collective throats and the results were a set of eight episodes that largely existed to bring Rick around to the idea of going to war with Negan again, albeit in the most languid way possible. It’s looking like this was all set-up for a back half that will be heavy on action and plot, so hopefully having to sit through the most boring season of The Walking Dead since season two will have been worth it in the end.
Find A Way To Make Us Care About Supporting Characters
The Walking Dead has a large cast of characters, but it still follows a core group, with the occasional supporting role joining their ranks as someone from the core group inevitably dies off. Unfortunately, while it’s easy to get behind characters like Rick, Daryl, or Maggie because we’ve been following them for so long, The Walking Dead has had a difficult time of late with its supporting characters, who have largely been forgettable. Take the mideseason finale for example: two characters are killed off in pretty shocking fashion, but there is no emotional pull with either Spencer or Olivia’s death beyond this initial shock. Spencer was a detestable character for the most part and Olivia was just one of those minor characters who you knew would never step out of the background.
Killing off minor characters is par for the course with a show such as The Walking Dead, but when you attach a major character decision to these deaths — in this case, Rick deciding that’s finally had enough of Negan’s crap and preparing for war — it all rings a bit hollow. Heck, I probably wouldn’t even have been that upset if Rosita had died instead of Olivia, because we still don’t really know much about her besides the fact that she used to sleep with Abraham. The back half of the season needs to do a better job of fleshing these types of characters out because viewers just aren’t going to care about them when it’s obvious that the show’s writers don’t to begin with.